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, to be used, with everyone's
blessing, as easy sexual objects by frustrated men. 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."
Like everyone else, they urged me into a terrible, definitive silence, there
to die a little more each day.
How is a child who loves his parents, his many siblings, his working-class
culture, his religion — Islam — how is he to survive this trauma? To be hurt
and harassed because of something others saw in me — something in the way I
moved my hands, my inflections. A way of walking, my carriage. An easy intimacy
with women, my mother and my many sisters. To be categorized for victimhood
like those "emo" boys with long hair and skinny jeans who have recently been
turning up dead in the streets of Iraq, their skulls crushed in.
The truth is, I don't know how I survived. All I have left is a taste for
silence. And the dream, never to be realized, that someone would save me. Now I
am 38 years old, and I can state without fanfare: no one saved me.
I no longer remember the child, the teenager, I was. I know I was effeminate
and aware that being so obviously "like that" was wrong. God did not love me. I
had strayed from the path. Or so I was made to understand. Not only by my
family, but also by the entire neighborhood. And I learned my lesson perfectly.
So deep down, I tell myself they won. This is what happened.
I was barely 12, and in my neighborhood they called me "the little girl." Even
those I persisted in playing soccer with used that nickname, that insult. Even
the teenagers who'd once taken part with me in the same sexual games. I was no
kid anymore. My body was changing, stretching out, becoming a man's. But others
did not see me as a man. The image of myself they reflected back at me was
strange and incomprehensible. Attempts at rape and abuse multiplied.
I knew it wasn't good to be as I was. But what was I going to do? Change?
Speak to my mother, my big brother? And tell them what, exactly?
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. The whole family. The whole neighborhood. The
whole world. 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
They kept yelling for a long time. My nickname. Their desire. Their crime.
They said everything that went unsaid in the too-silent, too-respectful world
where I lived. But I was far, then, from any such analysis, from understanding
that the problem wasn't me. I was simply afraid. Very afraid. And I hoped my
big brother, my hero, would rise and answer them. That he would protect me, at
least with words. I didn't want him to fight them — no. All I wanted him to say
were these few little words: "Go away! Leave my little brother alone."
But my brother, the absolute monarch of our family, did nothing. Everyone
turned their back on me. Everyone killed me that night. I don't know where I
found the strength, but I didn't cry. I just squeezed my eyes shut a bit more
tightly. And shut, with the same motion, everything else in me. Everything. I
was never the same Abdellah Taïa after that night. To save my skin, I killed
myself. And that was how I did it.
I began by keeping my head low all the time. I cut all ties with the children
in the neighborhood. I altered my behavior. 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. I bent myself to the task with
great determination, and with the realization that this world was no longer my
world. 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.
TODAY I grow nostalgic for little effeminate Abdellah. He and I share a body,
but I no longer remember him. He was innocence. Now I am only intellect. He was
naïve. I am clever. He was spontaneous. I am locked in a constant struggle with
In 2006, seven years after I moved to France, and after my second book, "Le
rouge du tarbouche" (the red of the fez), came out in Morocco, I, too, came out
to the Moroccan press, in Arabic and French. Scandal, and support. Then, faced
with my brother's silence and my mother's tears on the telephone, I published
in TelQuel, the very brave Moroccan magazine, an open letter called
"Homosexuality Explained to My Mother." My mother died the next year.
I don't know where I found the courage to become a writer and use my books to
impose my homosexuality on the world of my youth. To do justice to little
Abdellah. To never forget the trauma he and every Arab homosexual like him
Now, over a year after the Arab Spring began, we must again remember
homosexuals. Arabs have finally become aware that they have to invent a new,
free Arab individual, without the support of their megalomaniacal leaders. Arab
homosexuals are also taking part in this revolution, whether they live in
Egypt, Iraq or Morocco. They, too, are part of this desperately needed process
of political and individual liberation. And the world must support and protect
Abdellah Taïa is the author of the novel "An Arab Melancholia." This essay was
translated by Edward Gauvin from the French.
Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini