Although classic works of Arabic poetry use homoerotic imagery, and young boys were often used as the standard of beauty and sexuality in Arabic writing (Boswell, 1980), homosexuality in Arab countries, like sexuality in general, is usually not discussed. It is not uncommon to see men holding hands or walking down the street arm-in-arm on Arabic streets, but for the most part male homosexuality is taboo. Sexual relations in the Middle East are often about power and based on dominant and subordinate positions. Because of this, being the active partner with another man doesn’t make a man gay (Sati, 1998).
Gay men in the Arabic world often limit their interactions with other men to sex, instead of emotionally based relationships. Although attitudes about homosexuality are slowly changing in Arabic cultures, many countries still view homosexuality as aberrant (Sherif, 2004). Overall, we know very little about lesbians in Arabic cultures mainly because Arabic and Jordanian women are very reserved and are uncomfortable talking about sex (Sherif, 2004).
It wasn’t until 2001 that the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders (Gallagher, 2001). This is a significant change for China, which as recently as 1994 openly opposed homosexuality. Homosexuality was seen as a result of Western influences, and it was considered a “Western social disease” (Ruan & Lau, 2004). In India, although homosexual sex is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, several homosexual couples have made headlines recently by publicly declaring themselves married in an attempt to overturn an existing law from 1861 (Predrag, 2005).
Other Asian societies have different views of homosexuality. Buddhism does not condemn homosexuality, and so Buddhist countries generally accept it. In Thailand, for example, there are no laws against homosexuality, and men may live sexually with boys over 13, who are considered old enough to make their own decisions (W. L. Williams, 1990). In fact, General Prem, Thailand’s popular prime minister from 1980 to 1988, and Dr. Seri Wongmontha, one of the most famous and prominent people in the country, both live openly and freely as homosexuals (W. L. Williams, 1990). In Hong Kong the first-ever gay rights protest occurred in 2005 and drew over 350 men and women.