The Darker Side of Beirut/ Fadi El Haje

Although illegal, prostitution in Lebanon is in full swing, but in a bizarre secretive form. The Male Prostitution is on the Rise in Beirut. The World's oldest profession became the only option in Beirut for some refugee and undocumented migrant men. By pure coincidence as I work as an immigration and Travel Agents One of my client who has recently arrived in Sydney NSW on a Student Visa from Lebanon (Originally from Syria), later on changed his Visa Status from Student to an Asylum seeker Protection visa for fear of a prosecution for practicing a homosexual act. He requested to remain anonymous for the sake of protecting his identity. We are going to call him “Billy”.

With record numbers of tourists especially during summer, two million visitors to a country of less than four million, Lebanon’s 130 super-nightclubs, where prostitutes dance and meet clients, have been packed; local Lebanese customers have been joined by men from socially conservative Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia, who come here to experience all that they cannot back home.

So important is the multi-million dollar industry – an estimated 6000 foreign prostitutes work in Lebanon annually – that rather than combat it, a branch of Lebanon’s state security services is actually tasked with overseeing the sex industry. It already is, tourism is a major part of the country’s economy. Beirut was ranked by the New York Times in 2009 as the #1 destination to visit. It’s the real Las Vegas of the Middle East, not Dubai.

Speaking anonymously to me “Billy” who is currently living in Sydney as a University Student., Billy is a 31 years old, have normal family of three sisters and two older brothers who are married with kids.

Billy originally came from Syria, Lived in the second capital city “Tripoli” of Lebanon and later moved to Beirut admitted: “The business of tourism depends in part on prostitution. Right now it benefits everyone to keep it going. “Authority knows prostitution largely exist, but not to be known as a sex city. If they wanted to stop it they easily would stop it.”

Billy said “After midnight in Beirut. When most restaurants have closed their doors, most night birds leave the streets and go to seek refuge away from the dark streets in their homes. Only the birds of the night are left to spread their wings. The city starts submerging in calm after a long day of work. But it’s at this hour that Billy’s work begins. Bob is a close friend of Billy, Bob Is an “escort boy” who offers his services to homosexual passers-by. From Rawche, passing by Dora, to Bourj Hammoud is revealed the nightly ballet of male prostitution. An urban phenomena that is spreading more and more and is being practiced with all freedom in a country where homosexuality as well as prostitution are both illegal and punishable with imprisonment by law.

This case of Bob, who has been practicing this profession for the past years, is similar to the case of a hundred other homosexuals who are prostituting in the shadows. Unlike regular prostitutes who are walking the sidewalks every night, this community is not capable of getting past the taboos imposed by religious authorities and social laws.

Q: Is Male Prostitution a new dark side of the Middle East Especially Beirut??

A: Male prostitution is not a new urban event. It has always existed. But what is new, is the visibility, while historically it has always been practiced in the dark and has been hidden from the eyes of the people who do not seek such services. But in practical terms, without trying to carry on a psychological analysis, and without passing any ethical judgment on their practices,

Q: who are “escort boys”., and who are their clients? Are we facing a sexual revolution that is transforming the traditional prostitution model?

A: “My history with prostitution started two years ago before I came to Australia in 2012, at the time where my parents, extremely religious and pious, found out about my sexual preferences but never confronted me about it.  It was dramatic. While they were oppressing me more and more and imposing on me their strict rules, the street has become my only refuge”, declares Billy

"My home embodied a prison cell.  My father decided to save the honor of the family and was threatening me of an honor crime to punish his immoral behavior, from one day to the next, my relationship with my parents deteriorated quickly. The many threats coming from my parents traumatised me. I was afraid of my father who was completely capable of eliminating me from his life quietly. The ultimatums that my father gave me, asking me to admit and renounce to my sexual attraction and if I didn’t, condemn myself to death, convinced me of fleeing my safety haven where I have lived all my life and have grown”, said Billy

While blaming the behavior of his mother as well, whom he perceives as someone who has abandoned him. As a matter of fact, the degree in psychology that Billy’s mother holds, was supposed to give her some sort of indulgence or understanding to the situation and case of her son.

“My mother was the one who was blaming me the most. Her religious baggage has unfortunately overcome her educational and rational reasoning.  She showed me no tolerance. She showed no critical thinking or scientific logic with respect to my behavior that was imposed on me. I did not choose my sexual orientation”, he finished full of regret.”At the time when I left the house I did not have the means to offer myself a comfortable way of living. The money I was earning wasn’t enough to cover the rent and the basic expenses. I had to find another income”, He said.

The night places that represented an escape for Billy at the beginning allowed him to practice free prostitution that does not in any way resemble female prostitution in his opinion.”For men, there are no intermediaries, and the profit is therefore more significant. For women prostitutes, the price can go as low as 10,000 L.L ($10 Dollars). Whereas for us, the minimum would be $50 dollars”. Billy got this new idea from his new circle of friends that he started to make in bars and gay night clubs.

“The numerous people I associated with pushed me to try this path that represented a lucrative business that witnesses a big increase in popularity in the summer season. The gay club night owls saw in me a lot of potential, capable of gaining a lot of profit after a few relations”, he said while once again repeating the advice of his entourage, and their advice with respect to his good looks that gave him popularity in the world of male prostitution and his potential to achieve high gains.

“So I went for it.  The first experience was difficult and I had decided to put an end to this circus. But I needed money to live knowing that I have no other potential to sustain myself financially. I also needed to satisfy my sexual impulses and my desires. I could and I still can take use of my body. For the first time I was choosing to engage in lucrative sexual activity.”

If social and family pressures forced him to leave his home, Billy totally assumes the choice of free prostitution that was naturally and free-willingly imposed on him.  ”Every person searches for means to increase his profits. I could have kept my old jobs. But why would I impose on myself these conditions of living when I can, thanks to prostitution, hang out with the elite who spend loads of money for this kind of pleasure”, continues the young man who in spite of everything would like to try a new life outside Lebanon to fulfill his dream of becoming a stylist. ” An ambition hard to materialise in Lebanon, a country where the success of a business is determined by social connections rather than by competence and business integrity”, explains "Billy" denouncing the paranoia of the Lebanese society who according to him functions in the frame of money laundering, of contacts, and of prostitution.

“Every time that you engage in an abnormal sexual act, the kingdom of heaven and of the creator is shook”, this is what my father used to repeat to me all the time. Words that had their toll on me.” It is inadmissible to condemn someone because of his sexual preferences. Homosexuality is not a crime, nor a choice. Prostitution is the only solution that I could find to the intolerance and to the social rejection”, he said.

After two years of independence, Billy can think outside of the influence of his family. He is master of his body and his destiny “I don’t defend prostitution. But when I remember my father’s words, I ask myself the following. To love a man is it a sin? If yes, I address myself to all men and women who condemn homosexuality: If homosexuality is a crime I admit my guilt, a crime that appears negligible in comparison with the atrocities that are committed every day under our eyes”, concludes Billy.

Clients of male prostitutes in Lebanon reportedly pay about $200 on average for a Lebanese escort. Due to the conflict in neighboring Syria, there has been an increase of Syrian men working as prostitutes in Beirut. The reported price for a Syrian male escort is $50 on average. Most of the male escorts in Beirut cater to gay men



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