Abdellah Taia - African, Muslim, and Gay

Bonjour. Salaam to all of you. My name is abdellah taia. I am 41. And I am coming from this country where homosexuality doesn’t exist. This country is morocco. For many many years, I thought that I was the only gay person in the country.

Which is so ironic because later I discovered that lots of people are experiencing gay sex in morocco. But still, when you are a kid. And living in a poor family, in a small city called salé.

And you discover that this whole society, neighborhood people around you who are supposed to protect you and to give you love and what you need these people, in the name of the love they have for you, they don’t protect you from the suffering daily insults, daily – in my case – almost daily rapes.

And you feel so much attached to these people because at that time, those people are the only people you know the only people you love. But at the same time, you understand very quickly that there is no way to talk about who you are and what you are experiencing because they are, they are and we are all living with this big obstacle inside of us that doesn’t allow us to say what we are, what we really are experiencing.

The whole neighborhood wanted to rape me. I think they found me an exciting boy. And during the nighttime, there were some drunk people who were shouting and asking me to come down.

Like this, they will have what they needed with me. Of course, everyone in the neighborhood and in my family heard and knew but they did nothing. They just did nothing. And that’s how I decided that I am the only gay person in the country.

Because all the other persons around me, who wanted to have sex with me no one was blaming them or even shaming them or asking them to make apologies or anything.

The only one who was taking the blame, who was judged and pushed in a corner everyday, everywhere, it was only me. So, like all moroccans, I think I have the same way to deal with reality which is of course, you can’t say things.

You deny things. But you can be clever. Like we say in arabic, “mtawar” in morocco, which means street clever. So I decided to be street clever.

And to decide – as I said – to be the only gay in the country. Because otherwise, they would have kept doing what they were doing to me. I have to tell you that at that time, I was only 10, 11, 12.

That’s very important because when I decided that I have to do something to stop them I have to reinvent myself, I have to invent something to keep them away from me.

I was 13 and the only thing I could do is to see what’s in me what’s expressed through me, through my body, through my my moves, gestures, way of speaking, voice that makes them so excited by me and wanted to do those things with me.

I realized that I was effeminate. Of course there is no bad to be effeminate. But at that time, the only solution I found is that I had to stop being in the world the way I was.

Stop speaking the way I was speaking. Stop moving the way I was moving. Stop even looking at people the same way.

It was another way kind of self-killing, a new prison. A prison where I could avoid them. But still a prison because in that prison, I was alone, more lonely than ever.

And with the time, I discovered that and this was I think my victory I discovered that in that prison, that place, that lonely place.

Lonely and surrounded by people by my sisters, my mother, my father and people in the neighborhoods, in that prison, in that lonely place I could, just by designing it myself find, kind of freedom.

It’s a freedom that has maybe no value in the society but for someone like me for the teenager, 13, 14, 15 years old I was, it was a big big victory.

Because from that prison I could see what is society and to give myself the right to be – I am not going to say not ashamed just the right to exist as a human being, as someone who is so much attached to his mother, to his father, brothers and sisters.

So much attached to morocco, to the culture of morocco. So much attached to islam. So much attached to the meaning of the world and the meaning of the world at that time for me it was morocco, only morocco.

I was living in a really poor neighborhood and I would never imagine that someday I will be able to go to paris or even to be here. It was so big between someone like me and those dreams I kept having.

When I discovered I could be that free person in that prison I took another decision and what inspired me for it was the movies, the egyptian movies. Luckily for me, we had egyptian movies and I was able to watch them on moroccan tv with my sisters.

I don’t know if you know the names that I am going to tell you faten hamama, hind rostom, sahad hosseini, nadia lutfi and so many other great egyptian actresses.

Those women, those actresses who were in my house, in my room with the rest of my family just by acting, by being in these films and speaking arabic were making political statements, expressing some freedom.

Expressing some inspirational things that are there in the arab world. Because this is the tragedy for me. It's not that the arab or the muslim world is not free.

When you live there, when you are from there, in the daily life you experience people trying to make it through the barriers and the obstacles.

They do break the barriers. The tragedy is that there is no one to make a link between what they do in their daily life, what they have to invent in order to live and to survive.

So there is no one to make link between what they are, what they do and that official person they are supposed to be and the way they are supposed to act.

And to now, I am 41, I live in paris since 1999. I am so very much attached to those things I have seen. But the connection between what we are deep inside and what is expected from you, it doesn’t exist.

What I want to try to say is that these egyptian actresses helped me so much, much more than maybe my family. So I decided to be a filmmaker and I decided to go to paris and then made it.

But I made it doesn’t mean that that I stopped being attached deeply attached to what is the lives of my sisters in morocco, my nephews, my nieces.

I succeeded somehow to free myself as a gay person. Well, not totally to free myself. There are still a lot of problems, a lot of neuroses to work on.

What I want to say is not because I became a writer and now a filmmaker that this new status makes me far from what is happening in morocco, what is happening in the islamic world.

Morocco is since 1999, is kind of obsessed with homosexuality. The journalists in morocco made a big change. They stopped talking about homosexuality only in condemning words and magazines like “tel quel” like “nichane”, like “al jarida al oukhra” they make a big change.

They stopped condemning homosexuals and they started using a word a neutral word in arabic that expresses what is a homosexual without condemning it, him, her.

And that word is mitly, which is a big difference. So this makes a lot of changes in morocco. You ask a moroccan official a question about his country and about his religion and about the king.

What he or she gives you is always the official answer. The official, he knows, he or she knows that he has to give you. But this answer doesn’t mean at all that this is what he experiences in his daily life.

I hope it is clear for you as it is for me. I freed myself, I live in paris, I became a filmmaker. I was so much angry with my mother and my sisters because they didn’t protect me, they didn’t protect the little kid I was.

But today I am 41, my parents are dead and I understand now that all that suffering now I have to resolve it by myself. And I understand and this is much more important that the way my family was acting the way the neighborhood was acting is just an expression an expression of the way the politics, the people running the country were pushing us to.

We were playing and suffocating each other the way they wanted us to do. And when I understand this, I just cannot say that those years of suffering were only mine. They were also years of suffering of my family and the people around me.

Voila I think it’s I have so many things to say but I have to leave. Just one thing. Two things. When nelson mandela became the president of south africa one of the first things he did: he freed the gay people, he gave them gay marriage.

We are all proud of nelson mandela in africa but no one reminds this. He gave freedom to gay people. And the second thing and this is very important. Just last week in morocco, the day against homophobic, the moroccan authorities arrested three homosexuals and the judge condemned them because homosexuality is still a crime in morocco.

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