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When Lawrence of Arabia was released in 1962, it became an instant classic (and arguably one of the greatest films ever made). It also kickstarted the tourism industry of Jordan, where it was filmed. To celebrate our own LGBTQ+ foray through the Hashemite Kingdom, here’s some homoerotic history about TE Lawrence and the movie that put the country on the map.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, aka TE Lawrence

First and foremost, if you’ve never seen the movie, you may not realize the titular character was a real person: Thomas Edward Lawrence was an archaeologist, army officer, diplomat and writer who frequently passed through Jordan during the Arab Revolt of 1917-18. 

“Really, this country, for the foreigner, is too glorious for words.”

TE Lawrence, in a letter to his parents

What’s so gay about Lawrence Of Arabia… and TE Lawrence himself?

Lots, it seems. While some have speculated TE was a repressed homosexual (or at the very least asexual), there was nothing ambiguous about director David Lean’s treatment. In a 1989 interview with The Washington Post, he was asked if this was a “pervasively homoerotic movie”. Lean responded, “Yes. Of course it is…Lawrence was very, if not entirely, homosexual.”

“Lawrence was very, if not entirely homosexual. We thought we were being very daring at the time: Lawrence and Omar, Lawrence and the Arab boys.”

-David Lean, Director, Lawrence of Arabia

His possible true love was a man…

In real life, TE Lawrence developed a close relationship with a young Syrian named Selim Ahmed, nicknamed Dahoum. They met at the Carchemish archaeological site in 1911. Nothing sexual was ever confirmed, but they worked together, lived together, and even shared clothes.

In the interest of full disclosure, we want to note that while Lawrence was in his early twenties, Dahoum was still a teenager when they met. We would never condone an underage relationship (if that’s indeed what it was), but Dahoum was a big part of Lawrence’s life and we would be remiss to gloss over it. And there was nothing uncommon or untoward about, say, straight men marrying teenage girls back then.

But their time together was brief. Lawrence left Dahoum in charge of Carchemish when he returned to England in 1914, but Dahoum succumbed to a famine and typhus epidemic that swept through in 1916. Lawrence did not learn of Dahoum’s passing until he returned in 1918.

But men having sex wasn’t necessarily gay

In his famous book Seven Pillars of Wisdom (which he dedicated to “SA”, and may stand for Selim Ahmed AKA Dahoum), TE Lawrence noted the soldiers he wrote about didn’t indulge in the “sordid commerce” of public prostitutes. Rather, they “began indifferently to slake one another’s few needs in their own clean bodies – a cold convenience that, by comparison, seemed sexless and even pure.” It may be sexless and pure, but Lawrence goes on to note some soldiers began to justify their efforts more and more, with “friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace”. But definitely not gay!

Gay or not, TE Lawrence had a kinky side

Back in jolly old England after the war, Lawrence began to indulge in some masochistic pursuits with other men. John Bruce, a fellow soldier and writer, admitted to flogging sessions with Lawrence that culminated in orgasm. Lawrence allegedly had Bruce detail these sessions in letters, so that he could relive the flogging a second time. 

Sadly, there is speculation this masochistic fixation arose after Lawrence was captured and possibly sexually assaulted by Turks in Der’a during the war. The experience shattered his fairytale image of life in the Arab world and filled him with profound shame, confusion and intrigue. The subsequent lashings were a way to relive the beatings while also punishing himself in retribution.

Lawrence definitely had gay friends and admirers

Despite all we’ve mentioned thus far, nobody has ever confirmed a gay sexual encounter involving Lawrence himself. Though in his homeland, which embraced a more modern definition of homosexuality, Lawrence gladly associated with ‘out’ men like novelist EM Forster. And Lawrence’s classmate at Oxford, Vyvyan Richards, admitted to being ‘madly in love with Lawrence’.

Lawrence ultimately died an early death, at 46, following a motorcycle accident. He had just delved into an early retirement from public life and was looking forward to living in peaceful seclusion.

Follow in TE Lawrence’s footsteps

For one of the highlights of our Jordan tour, we’ll mount up in pickup trucks to follow Lawrence’s path across the dusty, red sands of Wadi Rum. This scenic ride is as equally thrilling as it is captivating, and we recommend complimenting your wind-whipped keffiyeh with a stylish pair of shades for protection from the sun and sand this journey is famous for.

Other films shot in Jordan with LGBTQ+ connections…

Lawrence of Arabia was the first, but certainly not the last movie with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to be filmed here. Here’s a quick Top 5!

1. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)

This film’s iconic closing sequence was filmed at Petra (which we’ll visit on our trip). This movie wasn’t known for any gay undertones, but dang if Harrison Ford didn’t look fine all dusty in his fedora. Ford retired his role after the latest film in the franchise (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, 2023). But if another film is produced, Mathew Lopez (director of recent gay hit Red, White & Royal Blue) thinks it would be the perfect opportunity to cast a queer person in the titular role.

2. Aladdin (2019)

This live-action remake of the iconic Disney film used Wadi Rum (which we’ll also visit) as a backdrop for the Cave of Wonders and the film’s opening scene. But who’s more gay? The genie (played by Will Smith, who lives under his own cloud of gay rumours) or Jafar – the perfectly manicured and bearded villain that loves to throw shade?

3. Dune (2021) and Dune: Part 2 (2024)

These films took advantage of the Jordanian canyons for their desert scenes on the fictional planet of Arrakis. They also star Timothee Chalamet. He’s not gay, but his breakout role was in the VERY gay “Call Me By Your Name” – which led to him being dubbed “Hollywood’s Straight Prince of The Twinks”. He’s also a fierce ally of the queer community and loves to flaunt a gender-fluid sense of fashion.

4. The Martian (2015)

The Martian stars Matt Damon (a straight actor who also played Liberace’s very gay lover in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra, 2013). In this movie, Jordan stands in for Mars. And once again we’ve found gay speculation in this movie.  The character’s sexuality is never discussed, but he does refer to a crewmate as “handsome”. I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor plays over the end credits. And one could even argue the entire movie is an allegory for the lonely existence of many gay men.

5. John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

A key scene of this franchise was also shot in Wadi Rum. Some wonder if John Wick is discretely bisexual. Regardless, the film is definitely a ‘bromance’ according to the film’s editor Nathan Orloff, who is an out and proud gay man bringing his own queer spirit to the sometimes campy and always entertaining action franchise.

Join us?

At 5 days long, our gay foray into Jordan is robust enough that you could book it as a solo tour. If you’re feeling fancy, you can upgrade to a dome tent during our stay in Wadi Rum. And if you’re feeling extra fancy, you can pair this tour with our gay Nile River cruise through Egypt. Contact us if you have any questions or want to learn more!

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