You gotta love it. The human sex drive is a mighty and hilarious thing, and these apps and sites are the gateway through which this veritable force of nature is released across the planet.
I should point out that I was not subject to the death penalty. As far as Qatar is concerned, I'm lost anyway, soul-wise. I'd just get put in prison, maybe tortured, I'm guessing raped, and then deported. But if you're Muslim, the law says death, or at least imprisonment and lashes. And these guys popping up on my screen with their endearingly displayed body parts all looked pretty Muslim. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that sex trumps death. It's the same penalty for all forms of extramarital sex in Qatar and several other countries. People have fucked through plagues that killed a third of the known world and the more recent one that seemed engineered to specifically kill the world's most enthusiastic fuckers.
I once had sex with a guy who told me he climbed into his young wife's hospital bed and they fucked, joyously, memorably, and I'm guessing painfully, just days before she died, and just weeks before we fucked. Except it is surprising, because this is the non-secular Muslim world, and everything we've been thinking for about the last 14 years points to a monolith, a medieval set of values and choice of punishments, not just among the crazies in the hills of Tora Bora or the ruined ruins of Homs, Aleppo, and Palmyra , but in millennia-old civilizations and enthusiastic economic and military allies of the West.
This is one of the many powers of travel. A place never looks the same on the ground as it does from the height of Google Earth or the arm's length of even a responsible news report. This emirate is as against men with other men's penises in them as they are against calling their Prophet a naughty name. But, look at this glowing screen.
Look at those hopeful, horny, possibly brave, mostly young men, erupting out of this tiny desert nation with Goldblumian inevitability. Life will find a way, at least if by life, you mean semen. I had meetings and lunches and suppers and drinks, but amid those, in the early mornings, late nights, and occasionally stolen hours in between when the thing I was doing happened to be in the lobby of my own hotel, I had some sex, and learned a thing or two about the religious Muslim world in the process.
At first, I thought vaguely that these sites and apps would be a good way to track just these sorts of people, my sorts of people, were the government to want to do that sort of thing.
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Saudi Arabia, just a few kilometers west, has been accused of doing just that. And the first couple of guys I messaged back—apologies, guys—were asked more questions than I usually ask about where they were and who they were and could they take an incriminating picture posed just like I say so I know it's you and not some be-robed cop using stolen porn to reel in the unwitting unholy. I didn't always get their names, but with the exception of the one guy in the polo shirt and basketball shorts who didn't have more than two or three words of English or at least didn't offer more than that to me , I did talk with them.
I really like postcoital get-to-know-you talk, with its combination of intimacy, honesty, and stakes-free carelessness that seems to lead to conversations that mostly sound pretty honest instead of fabricated, which would be just as easy. I want to be careful about the guys' personal details here—all but a couple of these guys were Muslim and most were Qatari and so would be candidates for the chopping block—so I'll make some up to obfuscate. There was the bodybuilder who lived with his boyfriend, whom he considered his husband, or the guy with the sprung, rabbit-like body, all nervous energy, who got impatient with my leisurely approach to fucking him, and flipped me in what must have been a practiced wrestling move and got most of the way into me—which I'm fine with but dude, roll on a condom—before I kicked him over and restored order.
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He worked for a big Qatari corporation. Our conversation was much like it has been in other hotel rooms in other cities, talking about home, other trips, other sex.
I asked him if it was tough, having sex with guys here with the laws so strict and scary. He laughed a laugh I've grown accustomed to on the road, the oh-you-stupid-callow-foreigner laugh. No, he said, it wasn't tough. There's a quotation inscribed in the entrance hall of Doha's grand Museum of Islamic Art from the 13th-century historian Rawandi: Then there was a builder who re-upped his annual contract more than half a dozen times instead of going back to his home country. I went to his apartment, which he shared with one other guy who seemed to be out.
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I asked him about the working conditions I'd heard about on the news. I asked another quiet, serious guy, about whether there was any way to meet people in Doha offline. He said there was a hotel bar he went to.
Qataris aren't officially allowed in hotel bars, but it turns out that if you're not wearing your thobe, you aren't assumed to be Qatari. I went to the bar later to see for myself. It certainly wasn't a gay bar, but there were single, young, brown men who ordered drinks they didn't drink and stood at the bar making the same kind of anxious, hungry, hesitant eye contact I've read about in novels and memoirs that describe the North American scene five and six decades ago.
There are many different sorts of what we might call sexual miasmas in the world. There's the confident cruising of catching someone's eye on a street at a time and in a place where catching someone's eye is playful instead of dangerous, or the pressurized pick-up in a club or at a party where the whole reason to be there is to find someone so not to at least try is basically failure, and there's the desperation of that same club or party as the crowd starts to dwindle and you've got no one on the line.
There are more extreme miasmas, like window shopping in a bathhouse, the mash-up of a group thing, or what I assume is the basically RPG approach that takes over in prison. Doha felt like none of those things. Doha felt distinct. The closest thing I can come up with is what I imagine a lumber or oil town might have been like a few decades ago. It had that kind of avidity, an enthusiasm just this side of desperation, a focus on sex to the exclusion of any consideration of relationship or friendship, but with an abiding interest in at least some shared words to place you, place themselves, pick up a story or two, the talk about pent-up unspeakable things as much an attraction for some as the sex.
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