Excerpted from Sassy Planet: A Queer Guide to 40 Cities, Big and Small by David Dodge, Nick Schiarizzi, and Harish Bhandari © Prestel Publishing, 2021
Jordan doesn’t criminalize LGBTQ+ identities, and trans people can even have their gender marker modified there—but locals say that being openly queer nonetheless carries a huge social stigma in Amman and across the country. Still, homosexuality has been decriminalized in Jordan for consenting people over the age of 16 since 1951. England only partially decriminalized it in 1967, whereas the United States waited until 2003 to get its act together. While Amman has few queer spaces (and many of the visible venues are dominated by the city’s large expat community and tourists), the scene is nonetheless very present, a situation unlike in many neighboring countries, where it has been forced underground.
A queer platform for the Middle East
My.Kali is a website and online magazine (or “webzine,” if you will) covering the Middle East and North Africa. It was established in 2007 by a group of artists, students, and political activists interested in addressing local social problems. The magazine covers a wide range of topics, including women’s rights, LGBTQ+ issues, freedom of speech, and more.
Sassy Planet: Tell us about My.Kali.
My.Kali: My.Kali magazine is a conceptual queer and feminist magazine that publishes on matters related to social issues, queerness, the alternative and underground art and music scenes, gender, sex and sexuality, identity, and orientation. My.Kali serves as a platform and as an alternative form of activism. It reflects unheard marginalized opinions, uncensored voices, and unabashed attitudes. The publication thrives on local and regional pop culture and the underground scene, using its platform to present new artistic and political concepts.
My.Kali builds on the understanding that cultural stereotypes stem from countless factors and discourses that are created and reinforced every day. It addresses these stereotypes through visually engaging features and social commentary with a local and regional flavor. We aim to demonstrate diversity and fight repressive forms and norms with art therapy, photography, and visual innovation. My.Kali is built by many bloggers, emerging and established writers, experimental photographers, and independent designers and artists, who come together from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the diaspora to put together empowering and informative editorial.
SP: How did My.Kali start? And where are your readers from?
M.K: My.Kali was started in 2007 by a young Jordanian/Palestinian student named Khalid Abdel-Hadi, who serves as its editor in chief and creative director. The magazine started due to the lack of both online queer Arab resources and inclusive media and platforms. My.Kali readers stem from all across the MENA region and diaspora.
SP: Where do you think Amman fits in among other gay destinations in the Middle East?
M.K: We try as much as possible not to compare, as we work across the MENA region and each country’s status is different than the next. We wouldn’t promote it as a gay destination, but rather as an amazing destination in general. Amman specifically could be categorized as a gentrified dream, with interesting cafés and bars in secret little corners.
SP: Amman seems surprisingly tolerant and open toward queer people. Is there an explanation for this?
M.K: Amman, the country’s capital, is relatively accepting of LGB people—or at least, middle-class, wealthy, educated queers who pass. Yet trans people, working-class queers, those outside the capital, and anyone presenting as queer in public still face severe repression. In the context of Jordan’s uneven political climate, systemic queerphobia in the rest of the Middle East, and international queer movements that center whiteness, demonize Islam, and treat Middle Eastern queers as either victims or primitives, liberating queer communities is a minefield—one that regularly claims lives. We believe that a huge part of the tolerance here comes from the hard work of our activist community, including our work to establish a healthy visibility and conversation when discussing LGBTQ+ matters.
SP: Do you have any interesting stories, myths, or history to share about LGBTQ+ Amman?
M.K: A gay-friendly bar called RGB (which quickly got a reputation as a gay bar) closed after the owner received a message threatening that if it didn’t shut down, “all its customers will be put in solitary cells.” Another club with an “LGBT following” called Fab was noted late in 2008 to have been opening and closing unpredictably, also reportedly due to threats. These establishments both opened in 2007 and were allegedly the first such establishments to offer an environment in which some LGBT Jordanians were willing to be seen together in public.
My.Kali’s top queer-friendly Amman establishments
Jabal al-Weibdeh, Jabal Amman, and downtown Amman are some of the most friendly areas
Joz Hind restaurant
Shams el Balad, a restaurant, grocery store, and design shop
Maestro bar and restaurant, for music and concerts
Copas Central, for Latin-inspired cuisine
The Corner’s Pub, for music and concerts
My.Kali’s top things to see and do in Amman and Jordan
The fundamentals: “While in Jordan, see the Dead Sea, Petra, and Wadi Rum.”
Downtown Amman: “Walk in the souks, buying all sorts of spices and souvenirs; and eat kunafah at Habibah, hummus and falafel at Hashem, and mansaf (Jordan’s national dish) at Al Quds.”
The “Friday Market”: “Also known as Souk el-Joumea. It’s a large secondhand clothing market located on the edge of downtown. The market is vast so if you want to make it all the way around, you may want to set aside at least half a day. If you have a keen eye you’ll find a few gems every time you visit, from PVC pants and ’90s Calvin Klein jeans to early 2000s army fatigues, parkas, wedding dresses, and everything in between! A lot of the fashions in our shoots come from there; our stylists live for it.”
Rumi Café’s terrace: “We recommend having a coffee here. The cardamom cakes and Iraqi teas are to die for.”
Namliyeh: “Make sure to visit this shop for artisan jams, botanical teas, and raw honey. Their slogan is: ‘We design food experiences inspired by the landscape.’”
CLSTR: “A seasonal underground club. Their dance floor is inclusive and friendly.”
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Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler