Israel's Top Gay Web Site Celebrates 10 Years Out of the Closet

Number of active surfers on Atraf has already passed 100,000 - though some 41% of users say they are straight.

Israel's primary gay dating Web site will kick off its 10th anniversary celebrations on Friday, marking a revolutionary decade for the homosexual community both online and on the ground.

The number of active surfers on Atraf has already passed 100,000 - and while the site associates itself with the queer community, some 41 percent of regular users identify themselves as straight.

The surprisingly high figure of "straight" surfers can likely be attributed to those who have not yet come out of the closet and are wary of identifying themselves with their picture (even if it is hidden) as "interested in men." These same users often send private messages to people of their same gender.

There are also more registered profiles than actual users on the site. Some members use two or more profiles - one with a conservative picture to attract a potential dating partner and another for one-night stands, using more risque photo, including some with nudity.

Only 20 percent of the surfers on Atraf identify themselves as out of the closet gay men or lesbians, though this figure is not entirely accurate or representative. Many 'closeted' Web surfers are actually openly gay or bisexual, but prefer to use a profile that will appeal to the in-the-closet types.

Competition is high on Atraf between those who label themselves as "boyish" and those who say they are "manly" - the two most prominent tags on the site. About one-third of Atraf members identify themselves as looking for a dating partner and a similar percentage say they are looking for something "for now" - meaning casual sex.

Many members of the community say they are looking for both. "I'm looking for a husband but in the meantime I won't be celibate," writes one member. Some 18 percent of Atraf members say they are "equipped" - but it is not clear what the criteria are for that.

As part of the 10-year anniversary celebrations, Atraf is upgrading the site, which includes nightlife information and blogs. Site managers Eyal Hever and Nir Chedikrin say that they will soon improve the English version of the site, to appeal more to tourists. Also, surfers will soon be able to enter an address (which will remain private) and receive a map of people who live near them with similar interests.

Recently, the tags "HIV-Friendly" and "HIV" were added to the site, which Hever and Chedrikin hope will lessen the secrecy surrounding this subject.

"When those with HIV use this function, they will identify many others in the same situation and will feel more legitimate," Chedrikin said. "The way to identify someone with HIV on the site is the exact same way to identify someone via interest, appearance or age."

Atraf will hold its kick-off party of Haoman 17 in Tel Aviv, featuring DJ Hector Romero.