TEL AVIV PRIDE
WITH ITS ANNUAL PRIDE EVENT, DAZZLING BEACHES AND GORGEOUS MEN PARTYING HARD, TEL AVIV IS THE MIDDLE EAST’S GREAT GAY OASIS! STORY AND PHOTOS BY MARC ANDREWS.
There aren’t many cities in the Middle East where you can walk hand-in-hand with your boyfriend down the street without worrying about being hassled, abused or executed. In fact, Israel’s unofficial capital Tel Aviv ( Jerusalem is the official one) is really the only city in the Middle East where you can. That’s why in recent years it has become such a gay oasis, with rainbow-flagged tourists from all corners of the globe flocking to Tel Aviv Pride every June.
While there is a constant air of political uncertainty surrounding Israel (some years there are “security issues” with Lebanon, others it is Egypt and this year it is Syria), not to mention the ongoing situation with Palestinians on the Gaza Strip, somehow you can forget all of that once you enter the gorgeous, gay-friendly bubble of Tel Aviv.
In many ways it’s a city reminiscent of Los Angeles, with a young, hip, hi-tech population and a lifestyle basking in golden beaches, endless hedonistic nights and some of the best frozen yogurt in the world.
For 2013’s Pride party, a record-breaking 100,000 people, many from abroad, took part in the street procession. Many were not gay, but simply happy to show support for the LGBT community (and because the local gays throw a cracking free beach party at the end).
Rainbow flags with the Star Of David, or boldly emblazoned with the word “Peace” were commonplace, setting the upbeat, hopeful mood of the day. This is a parade about visibility, community and bringing people together: gay, straight and the fifty shades of gay in between.
Tourist numbers were on par with last year; the city awash in muscled men sporting designer short shorts and protein powder-powered grins. The city’s gyms were instantaneously bulging at the seams, the main Dizengoff shopping centre changed its evening lights to rainbow colours and the gay bars and clubs were heaving. Local gay online chat site, Atraf, was doing brisk business, too.
Even the La Demence gay cruise through the Mediterranean made sure to stop in the city for a day and night to give passengers a change to taste the tantalizing treats of Tel Aviv. Oddly, everyone had to be back on board before the beach party ended. Cruise organisers – check your calendars properly next year!
Because of the growing influx to Tel Aviv, and thereby greater Israel, of gay tourists, a new business venture, Fabulous Israel – Boutique Gay Travel, was started at the end of 2012. It now sends busloads of tight T-shirtwearing visitors to such unmissable and holy places as Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Gay >>
>> day cruises along the coast of TLV (as Tel Aviv is known to locals) on catamarans were also organised during this year’s week-long Pride, and they were fully booked. This is a new gay business that is definitely going places, as long as the politics of Israel play along.
That’s not to say everyone was as welcoming. Customs officials at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv did a major swoop two days prior to the Pride parade netting around 20 tourists attempting to smuggle illegal substances into the country. Let this be a caution to everyone who travels abroad for a Gay Pride event in any country – it’s simply not worth the risk.
In Jerusalem, gay tourists also have to be aware that this is a city with religious fundamentalists of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths and to be always on guard. Dress code is shorts that cover the knees too, out of respect, and shoulders covered in holy sites. Our tour group encountered no problems the day we visited the holy city, but we had an amusing exchange with a religious shopkeeper just next to the hallowed Wailing, or Western, Wall.
Shopkeeper: You visit Tel Aviv? Gay Tourist: Yes. Shopkeeper: You do sex in Tel Aviv? Gay Tourist: Er, yes. Shopkeeper: You do sex with me? Gay Tourist: No, I’m here with my boyfriend. Shopkeeper: In your group are singles who have sex with me? Gay Tourist: I don’t really know them that well. Shopkeeper: Ask them to have sex with me, then I give you discount in my shop!
While religious sites are a big draw (along with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem), arguably an even bigger draw for the pink dollar are the numerous big dance parties held during the Tel Aviv Pride celebrations. Local lad Eliad Cohen (who confessed in an interview recently he had “entrepreneurial thoughts while at the gym”) was the smart cookie behind the Papa party. He had major competition though from the local Beef Bar which put on its own Tel A-Beef events including one party featuring live sex shows from Israeli porn star Jonathan Agassi. Local DJ legend Offer Nissim spun his beloved trance dance at a couple of Forever Tel Aviv parties, including the closing T-dance party at the Haoman 17 club. Inside it was sardine time as every twink and his gal pal swished their hair to Offer’s set, while outside the muscle boys stripped off their shirts in the dappled sunshine of the big outdoor area.
Israelis know how to party hard and they certainly know how to be direct, too. “We fuck now!” is often their idea of foreplay, so just be aware when visiting that there is very much a ‘live for now’ mentality here that is all-pervasive. In a country with as volatile a political climate as Israel, that’s understandable.
Yes, the Pride parties were amazing. The beach scene was a cavalcade of hot guys in skimpy swimwear (especially at the unofficial gay beach in front of the Hilton Hotel) and the overall atmosphere was of pure unadulterated hedonism. Yet there is still one lingering image from my week’s stay in Tel Aviv that in some ways defines what Tel Aviv is all about. Walking at 6:30am to catch our early morning bus tour to the Dead Sea (you need to get to the desert early before you start to bake) we strolled past Benedicts, the famous all-day breakfast chain. Sitting outside, hunched deep in conversation after sharing an Israeli breakfast, were Eurovision diva Dana International and recently retired porn superstar Francois Sagat. You can’t get any gayer, or any more Tel Aviv Pride, than that. See you next year – mazeltov!
We fuck now! is often the Israeli idea of foreplay, so just be aware when visiting that there is very much a live-for -now mentality here that is all pervasive.
travel tourism takes off in Israel.