By Richard Ammon
A Gracious Man and a Fatal Mistake
My friend George (pictured right) was murdered in Morocco stabbed multiple times by an enraged assailant who escaped the scene immediately after. Three weeks later the police captured the culprit, a young Arab Muslim man who was wearing George’s ring and carrying his wallet in a back pocket. The motive, said the police, was robbery–maybe, I say.
More probably, George hadn’t fulfilled his part of a ‘deal’ with Mustafa, his killer. The deal didn’t involve drugs or contraband or simply money, which police attributed to the killing.
No, the deal was more subtle, more layered. It had to do with ‘sex and consequences’ and George made the mistake of overlooking some issues as time went on and he and Mustafa became more intimate.
An educated American from California, a teacher, a film and theatre critic and a writer, George was well known and respected in London and El Jadida, an ancient town on Morocco’s Atlantic west coast. He moved to Morocco about eleven years ago, as had many European and American artists and writers throughout the twentieth century, (Baron von Gloeden, Oscar Wilde, André Gide, Paul Bowles and Jane Auer Bowles among them) after succumbing to the ambisexual mystique that seethed in the beautiful dark eyes of younger Arab men. It was said of the famous Polish classical composer Carl Szymanowski after his first visit, “he found the uninhibited southern climate to be psychologically liberating and, thereby, an inspiration to his life and work as an artist.”
Romantic, sunny, sensual, mysterious and clandestine–north Africa’s secrets have teased the minds of countless men from the north and from the west for centuries. Whether artist or merchant, whether for sex or love, for inspiration or solitude, for the jumble of the medina scents or the endless sands…life in Muslim Arab Africa for “outcast’ men (as Wilde called himself) is the antidote to materialistic sexually up-tight-white-western-puritan life.
For countless lesser-known men who today wander to the southern shores of the Mediterranean that same allure continues unchanged like the phases of the moon: poor but handsome Muslim men and boys willing to offer themselves to the fantasy lullabies of foreigners in exchange for their own dreams of money or escape.
And that is where the danger lurks.
George knew well the arrangement but he did not know Mustafa, not well enough–less than a year. Previous relationships had turned out well as George served as mentor, godfather, financial benefactor, personal advisor, education provider and job finder in return for the occasional sweet affections of his protégés. When it came time, inevitably, for the young man to marry George became the friendly ‘uncle’ and was received as part of the family. So it had been for many years and George was a contented man with friends and loved ones. With Mustafa, aged 24, another young life was being nurtured and advanced by George, balanced by the younger man’s compliance, What went wrong?
Sex between an ‘outsider’ and a native Muslim Arab is often a bargain, a deal, not a gift of pleasure or expression of feelings–usually. George was very aware of this and didn’t get lost in his own emotions for his paramours. For his part, he returned much more than he received. In exchange for an occasional night together the swarthy younger one had his life changed.
Such was the arrangement with strikingly handsome Mustafa with the hazel eyes and who aspired to be an actor. To his mind, I believe, George was his ticket to fame and opportunity since George had friends and acquaintances in the starry world of film and theatre. Most likely, there were candlelight conversations between them where visions and dreams were voiced–very likely without promises. George knew better than to offer the moon. We can’t know what he really said or what Mustapha expected but over time Mustafa’s imagination collided with the reality of George’s limits. He did not know enough right people and could not put Mustafa’s name in lights. An argument ensued, voices were raised, fury overtook Mustafa and steel flashed. In panic and disbelief Mustafa took what he could–a few items of immediate token value.
I tell this sad tale to make a tragic point: Muslim religion/culture is toxic to non-marital sex, toxic to men who have sex with men (and women with women), toxic to those who love others of their own gender–toxic to the truth of sexual attraction. Consensual sex among Arab Muslim men and foreign guys—in this case an experienced and self identified gay man who knew what gay love was—is a high risk game. George paid with his life but more often it’s the heart that is injured.
And it’s hypocritical: across the vast spread of Muslim masculinity, from Morocco to India, it is well known that premarital young men have sex with each other because it’s an age-old tradition and since women are mostly forbidden to them. A woman’s virginity is a badge of family honor at the time of her marriage.
It’s also well known that such widespread homo-sex is vehemently denied and refuted in public. Absurd displays of ‘justice’ against the ‘abomination’ include toppling walls, stoning to death, beheading or imprisonment. Much more common are blackmail by police, punishing glares and cold shoulders that induce shame and guilt. Rejection from one’s family is perhaps the worst penalty. By such cruelty, it is alleged, the purity of Islamic law and Arab cultural norms are self-righteously maintained.
Western gay men say such killing, maiming, jailing or discarding of men for the acts of homosexual pleasure or love is a profound violation of human nature and social justice.
Equally profound, such enmity defiles the gay spirit that strives to live in the hearts of LGBT Muslims worldwide. On countless gay Muslim chat sites there is anguish, guilt, shame and much fear of family discovery–as there is for many LGBT Christians or Jews. The astringent prohibitions of Islam on the naturalness, tenderness and truthfulness of gay love and same-sex desire are heartless. Countless LGBT Muslims live in high anxiety and dark closets ashamed of their inner truth. It is very difficult for them to transcend this blog of fear and loathing
It’s always difficult to delineate the behavior of a minority of people without unintentionally intruding on the reality of the majority. In contrast to the forbidding description of Muslim sexuality here, this writer is very aware of the ‘progressive’ Muslim movement that is gaining momentum in numerous countries. As considerate Muslim devotees, progressives are not homophobic and not anti-Semitic. They are pro-choice and urge equality among genders. Among these open-minded Muslims are genuinely loving gay and lesbian couples and singles (although virtually invisible to outsiders). I do not refer to them here. I also do not refer to men who enjoy casual gay sex with no exchange of money; there are many bisexual Muslim men who are prosperous and would be insulted if sex-money were part of the moment. Nor do I refer to genuinely gay Muslims who need to sell sex with other men as a means of support. At least they are being real about their desire even if their motives are mercenary. I refer here to another sort of sexual creature.
Out of the quagmire of doubled-crossed sexual feelings and cash schemes comes an unwelcome player—a non-gay Muslim guy who cruises gay non-Muslim men using deceptive homosexual behavior. An impoverished and probably love-starved native, hostile to gay sex, uses it to entice and exploit queer men’s sincere desire for intimacy. Gay sex for sale by a straight man. A liar selling lies.
(Was Mustafa really gay or one of these pretenders? I suspect he was both. By killing George was he trying to purge his own homosexual impulses? Was he seeking revenge against his own absent father who preferred to spend time with other men smoking in a café than with his family? Such questions now seem moot, now that both lives have been lost.)
Mustafa was raised to disgust homosexuality but was driven to it by his sex drive and a craving for money. It’s not likely the young man fully desired George (in his sixties) to be his lover but he was certainly a benign father figure as well as an appealing cash source and a hoped-for ticket out of the country—strong enough motives for Mustafa to keep George in his sights and ‘put out’ on occasion. Mustafa’s affectations toward George were sincere enough to lull George into forgetting, over time, to watch the youth carefully until he proved his truth. George was lulled into forgetting what the deal really was, exposing his very real Achilles’ heel for youthful male beauty; in hindsight he didn’t stand a chance against this pretty boy with foul motives.
My own brush with the antagonism that lies beneath Muslim gay sex was far less hazardous than George’s. My husband and I were cruised one evening after dinner as we walked along the harbor in Essaouria. It was less of a cruise than it was verbal badgering by two young natives very intent on taking us back to their place for “what you like”. Their insistent chatter was about sex, about their being students, about how we liked Morocco and about more sex—the usual clap that passes for talk between people who do not know or trust each other. Nevertheless, the young cruisers were attractive enough to be acceptable. Their words were erotic and seductive.
My spouse and I are not tightly prudish (although usually cautious) so we let ourselves be led to the home of one of the guys who sneaked us into a ground floor room; his nervousness about keeping very quiet made us uneasy. I presumed his family was asleep in the other rooms. In the dark we fumbled around and felt body parts until the sleaziness of the situation (and the realization that these guys were probably not homos) finally flattened any desire we had. We got dressed (we hardly undressed) and headed out into the warm night air and the dim street. They wanted money of course, as we expected.
Since we hadn’t anticipated this pickup we had little cash on us. We gave them most of what we had which obviously wasn’t enough, not what they expected from two white tourists (although probably more than they could make for a week’s work.) Upset and argumentative, they pressed us to go back and get more money from our hotel room. We argued back that no price had been set and we had no more money in our pockets. They followed us, bickering and complaining but held back as we approached the entrance of our hotel and the manager came out to greet us. He immediately sensed the situation and shouted the kids away and ushered us inside.
We felt relieved and foolish a for getting into that situation. Although a little nervous we had not been too worried as we were both bigger than they were. It didn’t occur to us that they might have had a weapon—even more foolish. The unfriendly exchange reminded me, again, of gay men’s vulnerability to the lure of sex from enticing swarthy strangers here, and it reawakened my awareness of the edgy, insincere, hormone-and-money-driven motives that drive these young men to offer phony sex to pale-faced visitors.
Betrayal of Homosexuality
Thinking back on that night and other seductive attempts by non-gay natives (it happened four times during a visit to Morocco and several times in Egypt) and thinking about George, I feel an unhappy sense of resentment toward these street seducers. Although I feel some sympathy for their plight (as I’m sure George did) they do commit an ‘offense’—and are no doubt unaware of it.
For more than a generation we in the west have fought (and died) to gain recognition and validation of our form of same-sex life and love. In the 21st century it is still an uphill battle against bigotry including recent anti-gay marriage amendments that passed in a dozen states in America. Love and its close affiliate sexual arousal (gay or straight) are both highly vulnerable states of being which, between two respectful adults, should be treated with mutual respect and satisfying responses. Often it’s not.
Over my lifetime, living fortunately within a highly developed LGBT culture, I know the truth and profoundness of my homosexually oriented love and erotic desires. I have developed dignity and appreciation for my own queer feelings and for those of my LGBT brothers and sisters who move through similar sentient states. Many modern queer folks subscribe to this affirmation and a healthy sub-cultural ‘norm’ guides our behavior and anticipates others’ behavior: gay love is authentic and is to be prized.
So there is disconnect, an emotional (or at least a social) risk that awaits the foreign visitor when he lands on Muslim Arab soil.
Like dangling fake diamonds before a jeweler, countless appealing Arab boys and young men have become adept at proffering their fake sexuality to outsiders, using eros to seduce, steal or coax money from unsuspecting—or suspicious but vulnerable—non-Arab homosexual men.
Such faux homosexual behavior is offensive to what we have worked hard to validate. These are straight homophobes ‘abusing’ gay men with deceptive sexuality. Sex with other men, for them, is a hollow bargain with little or no appeal or affection. They offer feeble genital manipulation and demand dollars in return. What should be an intimate mutual give-and-take exchange is shot through with hypocrisy, lying and pretense.
I realize that much the same can be said about prostitution in general and across thousands of years and hundreds of cultures. But I think there is a difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality passion for sale and who’s peddling it. The vast majority of ‘sellers’ are hetero women (and some men) who seduce hetero johns (or janes) for ‘authentic’ sex, even if paid. At least they are truthful to their sexual orientation.
But a whole cadre of hetero Muslim men engage in what they feel is forbidden sex, betraying themselves as well as homo men’s desire. They are contemptuous of gay men’s vulnerabilities. They abuse our affections with hollow affectations that can turn quickly into hostility when the situation or price is not right.
Whatever the details of George’s demise, I believe he was betrayed by a confused young soul lost in the cross-currents of his own poverty, sexual desire and religious dogma.