Life at № 42
I watched the men talking on the beach with some degree of suspicion. I simply did not understand what was going on, what they were doing, or why. I’d never seen those mannerisms before, the way of speaking. The disgusting (and constant) spitting. Yes, spitting. But strangest of all was the adjustment of genitalia. It was almost like a nervous tic – and contagious. One man would adjust himself, and suddenly other men would shift their weight from one leg to the other and then a little plick/plack. It was just impossible to understand what they were doing. Checking if their penis had run away in the past five minutes? Comforting it after a traumatic experience? Was it to do with the heat in the tropics?
I’d never seen anything even remotely similar in the American Midwest. I know there were male rituals going on. Locker room talk. Wolf whistling on streets and construction sites. Jock/cheerleader dynamics. Belt buckles and cowboy hats. But all of that paled in comparison. Here we had something much more primitive. Much more basic. Barely one step away from swinging from the trees.
The language was highly sexual, sexualised. Built around virility, but in an all consuming way. Anything and everything fit into a binary classification system. Cheering for the correct football team = virility. Wearing the correct clothes = virility. Being born in the right city even = virility. And then there were forms of virility deemed unacceptable in the developed world, from having mistresses to groping – which in this part of the world were lauded and applauded. Simply because they equalled virility.
At first (and second) glance this was going to be problematic for me. Whereas there seemed to be a place for someone like me in North American and European societies – the boy who reads too much, who likes classical music, who’s interested in art – I had landed in a place where all of those things ≠ virility.
Years later I read Abdellah Taïa’s Mon Maroc, and the article he wrote for the NYT (about an event in the book) called a A Boy to Be Sacrificed, and discovered I was not alone. Our locations may vary, the actual events may vary, but the process, the discovery – is that we’re out. As soon as we’re identified as “unuseful” to the system, we understand we’re on our own.
From his article:
A Boy to Be Sacrificed
ABDELLAH TAÏA, NYT
“In the Morocco of the 1980s, where homosexuality did not, of course, exist, I was an effeminate little boy, a boy to be sacrificed, a humiliated body who bore upon himself every hypocrisy, everything left unsaid. By the time I was 10, though no one spoke of it, I knew what happened to boys like me in our impoverished society; they were designated victims….
And I knew that no one would save me — not even my parents, who surely loved me. For them too, I was shame, filth. A ‘zamel’….
It all came to a head one summer night in 1985. It was too hot. Everyone was trying in vain to fall asleep. I, too, lay awake, on the floor beside my sisters, my mother close by. Suddenly, the familiar voices of drunken men reached us. We all heard them…. These men, whom we all knew quite well, cried out: ‘Abdellah, little girl, come down. Come down. Wake up and come down. We all want you. Come down, Abdellah. Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. We just want to have sex with you.’….
I hoped my big brother, my hero, would rise and answer them…. But my brother, the absolute monarch of our family, did nothing. Everyone turned their back on me….
I was never the same Abdellah Taïa after that night…. I began by keeping my head low all the time. I cut all ties with the children in the neighbourhood. I altered my behaviour. I kept myself in check: no more feminine gestures, no more honeyed voice, no more hanging around women. No more anything. I had to invent a whole new Abdellah…. Sooner or later, I would leave it behind. I would grow up and find freedom somewhere else. But in the meantime I would become hard. Very hard.”
Full text at the NYT: A Boy to Be Sacrificed (but he also describes the incident in his first book Mon Maroc which I highly recommend)