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Just wanted to share my impressions.
While writing the previous post, a straightforward review of the Park Inn Yas Island, I wanted to get into the back story of the hotel booking and the overall impression that it left, but then decided it would be better to separate the thoughts into a different post.
When me and boyfriend decided to book the Park Inn for an 18-hour layover, I selected the double bed option without even thinking about it. Force of habit.
Then, he said out of nowhere, “Did you book two beds?” “No, why would I?”
We read the reviews and saw that another gay couple recommended getting two separate beds, because in the UAE being homosexual is illegal. Not “participating in homosexual acts”, but simply being homosexual. For residents, the highest penalty is death. For visitors, it’s deportation, fines, or prison time.
It’s also illegal for unwed couples to share a double bed, for what’s it worth.
So after reading that, I completely canceled the first booking and re-booked for two twin beds instead.
Whenever I decide to go anywhere, I realize I am in the realm of different laws, governments, and societies. I try to be sensitive to it. The places I like to visit tend to be other major metropolitan cities, with some rural places here and there (like Alaska).
Abu Dhabi is a major city in the UAE, but it was really the first time I felt like I had to be different just to visit. It made me self-conscious of myself, and created a tension that I might do something wrong by simply being.
But how would they know I’m gay?
Now, if you know me, my sexuality comes across pretty obviously. I don’t mask it but I don’t flaunt it, either. It’s there, and it’s fine.
I’m from the Deep South (Mississippi), so I’m familiar with the discrimination that can happen by doing nothing other than being who you are. But I know the laws here and, for the most part, feel free to be me.
Being in the UAE was the first time where I really felt that it was illegal to be myself. It was a new feeling, but I knew I was in the territory by choice and had to abide by their national laws. Just like any other place I visit.
I knew that the process of rebooking the room could potentially color my experience before I’d even arrived, and even still, I wanted to keep an open mind about a new place.
Arriving at AUH
At a certain point, after becoming a bundle of nerves, I realize that gets me nowhere. So in that spirit, I readied myself for whatever was going to happen at customs. There was no going back at that point, and after 14 hours on a plane, I wasn’t equipped to put too much thought into something I’d done hundreds of times. This was just another customs line in another airport.
The AUH airport is super weird. There were pictures of American businessmen in full suits shaking hands with the locals in their traditional clothing. All smiles. But I got a certain feeling of the place, just like how being in Bratislava gave me a feeling about its renewing vitality. However I was warned by a friend that works for immigration lawyers Melbourne office, I took his words of caution and did not exude to much happiness.
The immigration officer didn’t even look up at me. He grunted, I took my passport back, and went on down the line.
Within minutes, I was at the Etihad chauffeur desk.
But all the while, I could not shake the feeling that I was being watched. Call it paranoia, or psyching myself out, or whatever, but I felt… monitored, somehow.
Hearing about gays being beaten, kicked out of their homes, or taking their own lives – sad as all those things are – is the usual news the gay community is attuned to hearing. That stuff happens in the States on a daily basis. I kept watching my steps. Were they steps, or were they gay steps?
Did I look gay? Wave my hand a little too much? Sound gay? Do something wrong?
Outwardly, I knew that I was fine. But I was thinking these things as the check-in agent handed us our room keys and was perhaps (?) watching us walk away toward the elevators.
Was it OK that we were going into the same room? Did they see where I booked, canceled, and re-booked? I found myself thinking these things – things I’d never considered were now running through my mind. I didn’t expect a police officer to knock on the door or anything, but I knew I had to stay on my best behavior.
Reading articles about medical testing and banning gay travelers in the Gulf States didn’t help anything.
As we walked around the area directly outside the hotel, I had the chance to observe the locals from a distance. I’m very used to seeing Americans walking around, obviously. I have no right to place a judgment on the UAE. But it was different than what I know, and other places I’ve visited – for sure.
This is what travel is all about: immersing yourself in a completely different environment, being out of your comfort zone, and seeing new parts of the world.
I typically like to embed the type of thoughts included here within the reviews themselves, but felt this one should have its own spot.
If you are LGBT and planning to visit the UAE, just know that homosexuality is illegal there. I thoroughly interviewed my friend who happens to be an accident attorney about all the ways I can be safer while traveling there. Book separate beds if traveling with your partner, unless you’re staying at a 5-star resort and have informed them ahead of time. The same would theoretically apply to unwed couples, but that is a lot easier to get away with.
No public displays of affection are tolerated from what I understand, and it’s best to keep a low profile while you’re there.
If I get the chance to go to the UAE again, I’d take it, even knowing all I know now. The architecture is beautiful, the hotels are crazy opulent, and the desert scenery can be hypnotic in its grandeur. Like any place, you must recognize and respect the culture you are choosing to immerse yourself in.
Has anyone else been to the UAE or another place where they have felt themselves to be on the fringes? How does your experience compare?
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