This week Gay City News launches a four-part series from Michael Luongo in which he examines “what changed and what didn’t” since he last investigated gay life in Iraq in 2007. Here’s an excerpt from the first installment:
This visit would be full of stark contrasts. It was as if there were two different Baghdads — at least. I would interview men from Sadr City, one of the poorest, most dangerous districts, who talked about friends killed by sprays of bullets in drive-by shootings, their gathering places firebombed, their names posted on lists, others raped and disappeared by militia-infested police squadrons at checkpoints. I would see a hospital where the bodies of gay men had been dumped, their anuses closed shut from a heavy glue used to torture them. I would visit a safe house, chatting with gay men and transgender Iraqis who hid for safety, yet at the same time were welcoming and life-affirming, teaching me gay Arabic slang and joking about sex with gay Saddam-look-alikes.
And I would meet other men from different parts of Baghdad, young, fashionable, masculine, with far less to fear, who did in fact cruise along the colorful banks of the Tigris on Abu Nuwaz Street and spend their evenings at fashionable cafés popular among gays in West Baghdad, flirting with men they met through the website Manjam as they sat back in comfortable seats visible from the street. I would grow to fall in love with a newly vibrant Baghdad. Not that I didn’t still have much to fear as a visiting gay journalist — from conversations that could be tapped to entrapment, spies, and the bullets of panicked Iraqi soldiers.