Growing up gay in Tel Aviv

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In my series of interviews on how gay guys grew up all over the world, I chatted with Ami, a 39 year old about growing up gay in a suburb 20km from Tel Aviv.

How easy was it to be gay in the place you grew up? Is there a gay scene?

Growing up in the 80s as a kid with a middle-class upbringing, the topic of LGBTQ almost did not exist in my life. As a teenager I was aware of my attraction to other guys, but in those days I was a very shy person who was hiding from himself, doubting if anyone even noticed me.

I wasn’t aware that there were other LGBTQ people like me out there. There wasn’t any gay scene to turn to in those days in Israel. Once in a while I read a story in the papers about a cultural LGBTQ-related phenomenon, or saw an American talk show that brought to the screen a colourful LGBTQ persona, but most of the time the media didn’t represent LGBTQ in a positive light.

1998 marked a major shift in Israel’s awareness as a country towards LGBTQ when Dana International, a transgender woman and a hero of our community, represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest and won. That year the first Pride Parade took place in Tel Aviv and a gay scene started to flourish in the city.

Nowadays Tel Aviv holds Pride festivities during the month of June dedicated to the LGBTQ Community. The city is now rightfully considered by many as the Gay Capital of the Middle East.

But the LGBTQ community is still in the process of forming its identity outside of Tel Aviv, as well as struggling for our rights here. Sadly, as LGBTQ culture became more noticeable in Israel, homophobia related attacks became more frequent.

What are the laws on LGBTQ people in your country, e.g. age of consent, same sex marriage etc?

Being gay in Israel is not illegal. Israel has signed the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, but Israel still suffers from discrimination towards the LGBTQ community regarding marriage and adoption.

Nowadays the LGBTQ community runs a public campaign against discriminatory laws that the government passed against our community, including a strike that was backed by the business community as well as the General Organisation of Workers in Israel.

How old were you when you realised you were gay and when did you realise there was a whole LGBTQ world out there?

I felt different from a very young age, but by 13 I knew I was gay, although I came out much later at the age of 19. That’s when I went to a gay bar in Tel Aviv for the first time and discovered a lively gay culture existed in Israel.

When did you come out? And how did your family and friends react?

I came out at the age of 19 and my mom and dad were worried for me. The weeks before my “coming out” I experienced my first relationship. I was in the closet and hid it from everyone but my mom said she felt that something had changed in me. She expressed her fear that my life would be difficult but understood that was who I was. I had told several of my closest friends at the time and we kept being friends as nothing really changed for them.

Have you ever had any issues with being gay at work or out in public?

In my early twenties I worked mostly in temporary jobs while studying at the university. After dropping out from school I worked at three different places and none of them had any interest in my sexual preferences.

Most of the business community in Israel accepts gay people but the transgender community will attest they experience discrimination when going to job interviews.

Do you have a partner? What was your longest relationship?

I have a life partner. We have been together for almost 18 years, since October 2000, it is my longest relationship.

What are your views on open relationships?

I believe people should live their lives how they want to as long as they don’t hurt someone else. The same goes for open relationships.

Do you remember what your first sexual experience was like?

It was weird, awkward and brief and we were almost fully clothed. Not a memory I would like to dwell upon.

Who is in charge in the bedroom — the top or the bottom?

We are versatile, people should learn to enjoy it all.

Do you use Grindr? If so, what’s the dirtiest thing someone has said to you?

Never used Grindr or any app of that kind. When I was 19 I chatted with gay guys on my computer with mIRC, that’s how I met my love of 17+ years.

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