I was sitting with my brother in the new study (consisting of a table in the hall outside my room) the first night home after a day of phone calls, emails, dead ends, and general excitement, when he blurts out an adjective what I would normally take as an insult from my brother, because…it’s coming from my brother. “you’re complicated michelle.” “what!” “yes, you’re complicated.” I’m two moves away from hitting him but his tone and a little smile on his face keep me still. “what do you mean by that?” “I don’t know. but you just are.” I don’t know how to take this non-insult and somewhat ‘complicated’ observation on his part. most think i’m “easy”. So I accept it saying, “you must be very close to me yassine, because very few people know that.” “bisah?!” “bisah.”
Our relationship is a mix of his insults towards me and my frustration with his masculinity that is always trying to escort me (help me) then push me into walls, letting the neighborhood men know he’s got me. Of course this never works since I either reprimand him or…yes, reprimand him. And between his imitations and insults of me, “you little girl” “you think you know everything” “you think you’re better then me” “you want to be my judge now” he’ll show his affection by either taking it all back with something that contradicts it all or by quietly coming to me with his mind, his troubles, his questions…usually everything he can’t ask others, leaving me with a shit load to answer. They are mostly sexual questions that seem to be provocative on the explicit level, pretending to be superficial and purely for shock value. Sometimes he wants to get a rise out of me and at other times he needs to use me as the never-can-get-shocked-foreigner/dart-board. “are you still sleeping with women?” “oh my god! You want to marry a woman now!” for example:
This morning he asked me whether he should go with his boy friends to see the neighborhood “bitch” at the cost of 50dh ($5) and this evening he simply expressed himself and his grunting noises at the idea of me sleeping with other women. To which he will still want to know in great detail, asking me to show him, “how to eat a women out like butter”
my responses range from: “do you like men? No really tell me its okay. It’s perfectly natural.”
Or “I think you know better then that. I mean, all you’re doing is paying for a woman to hate you. I hope you know she hates you.”
He looks at me somewhat shocked as if the idea never crossed his mind, but he quickly recovers to say, “of course she enjoys it!” we argue slightly.
Of course I don’t actually know if the particular woman he’s calling “a bitch” really hates him. What I do know is that in feminist discourse: “a woman has agency to decide the course of her life, what ever that might be” – that’s me talking
And I wholly believe in this. I pray I never have to have another argument that “you” aren’t the only woman in America with the agency to go down on a man by choice. That other women deserve the benefit of the doubt to be considered full agents without being called “chickenheads” (as if a woman’s subjectivity surrounded whether she gave a man head or not). but I’m not hung up on the party line either without a little complexity.
I know a little about exchanging ones body for money. I know how urgent it is to sometimes claim your immobility and your helplessness with both hands, even if that means saying “I am proud” when the whole world points the finger at you. and together with that, I can guess that of all the many wishes women have–doing this and “being” this (along with the 50dh, shuumah (shame), illness, violence, dishonor, and disrespect), this is probably not one of them.
I’ve had a taste of what it feels like to have your gender for sale in Morocco, since as a foreigner I am the same thing as a whore. This was felt daily walking to school but especially the day I was thrown out of a hotel (which i walked by today) as well as the night I naively strolling into one of those “cafes” thinking they were actually cafés as I did this one particular night with two Moroccan male friends. I entered thinking, “well, thank fucking god! Finally some women in the joint! Young too and all sitting together! Cool, maybe I can join them.” It didn’t occur to me that something might be a little off as the three older women at one table to my right were getting a little loud. A little odd but I continued with my ‘urgently’ intellectual conversation. I faintly noticed some women singing, some wearing a lot of make-up, some looking at me strangely, some a lot older, some a lot younger. I thought it was kind of cool that other tables looked like mine…mixed company. I continued my conversation about some nonsense when a woman at the next table over began yelling. I jumped, a little taken aback, looking over noticing that she was drunk and a little angry although it was repressed. One of those bursts that seems to “come out of no where” appearing random, misdirected, belligerent—-something you can later blame on “drink” versus baring weight or having root.
I looked around me at the women collected at the table, the looks I was getting from both men and women, the singing, the mixed company, the hands on her wrists wailing about, and it suddenly made sense, it clicked.
I became quiet. I stopped talking, stopped listening to the men who brought me. I became very still where I sat, feeling very…helpless. they were wearing jalabas and some were even wearing the hijab, others just non-religious head scarves but a display of modesty nevertheless. The men I was with noticed that I wasn’t interested in talking to them any more. Noticed me noticing, watching, keeping still, hiding whatever it was I was feeling, but exposing that I wasn’t there with them anymore.
One of the men, my friend, interjected to explain that yes, they were who I thought they were.
“why did you bring me here.”
I don’t know if I said that aloud. I hope I didn’t because it wouldn’t have been what I meant to say or how I felt/feel…
I remember him saying, “I did a lot of research on this topic…they are all very unrepentant about what they do. They are all very proud.” Implying that I should save my concern and enjoy/ignore this as best I could, to forget whatever it was giving me pause. gender was a commodity tonight and no matter how I usually run from “me jane/you tarzan” gender politics, I felt my body as a female very present. There was no pretending we were just you and I tonight. I was woman, and you appeared to be free.
“And why should she be repentant? Would you be? especially if you had few choices or none at all? Wouldn’t you say you were proud of yourself when they shame you?
The stories from his research explained why women (and some street boys) did this, ranging from being abandoned by their families, being born to mothers who did the same, being beaten by husbands, forced my husbands, divorced by husbands, forsaken, abandoned…
he said “they’re proud” as if that was the end of the discussion. sounding like so many other [forgive me] male feminists who get it up ‘til here. Hearing the official line and not reading my face.
Would it make you feel better if she cried for you, asking for your forgiveness? Because I wouldn’t do that for you. I wouldn’t give you the pleasure twice…to shame me and then leave me convinced that it’s my shuumah.
what else did you learn from your interviews? Why is this woman yelling… drunk?
They want to get him to pay for as much liquor as possible. This makes him as drunk as possible so he’ll pass out and not be very demanding…and it allows her some escape. You know I think this is bothering you. let’s leave.
Why should it bother me? this is reality. isn’t that what you say here?
the truth is that it does bother me. it bothers me very much that every woman at the bar or in cafes such as these (at this late hour), no matter how young they are, or cute, or plainly dressed, wouldn’t be here unless there was business to be done. I sometimes entertain the idea that she’s smiling at me and I’m on the verge of going over to her because she’s just here to have fun. She’s pretty. She’s young. She isn’t wearing that much make up. She’s dressed like a Smith College student. I smile at her when I see her because I want her to be here for some other reason. I smile because despite all my wishing, I know the reason she’s here. it bothers me like it bothers me when I leave the table and two patrons eye me, murmuring that my friends got a better deal. like it bothers me when I leave my two male friends for the bathroom upstairs and pass more men twisting around to watch me walk up in my white coat which now feels a little excessive, happy, whorish. It bothers me even more when I walk into the bathroom and am nearly pushed out of the way by a woman not looking where she’s going, too busy looking at the floor. I catch her, I smile, gesturing a “whoops!” catching a glimpse of her face. It has been cut on the right side starting from above her eyebrow down to her chin. the gash is thick and runs through the entire middle length of her face. It’s a recent scar. It bothers me that my expression must give my shock away as she glares, pushing past me. I don’t use the bathroom, I didn’t have to use it in the first place. I don’t know why I came up here. I just wanted to get away, but I’m here looking at myself in the mirror. Wondering what it must feel like…even though I know. I know actually more then I’d like to admit. Maybe some of us are lucky not to know this at all. I sometimes express that I “want to know” how it feels, to which she begins freaking out, asking “what the hell is wrong with me!” maybe it’s partly the complex I have been taking on since early on in my life for my sisters: “I’ll take your share and mine if only you could be free.” Maybe it’s because I love my mother and I’d like to know what it felt like for her to exchange her body like this. maybe it’s because I want to be with you. not just “because” for the “sake of suffering” but because we lose our faith sometimes. I’d like to be there with you when you lose yours. I wonder if that’s wrong? I ask because I’ve been told it isn’t right. But I don’t feel that it is either.
Which brings me back to my brother, who I love…strange but true. half of me wants to yell at him saying: “What the fuck is wrong with you!? Have you been absent from every fucking conversation we’ve ever had where I thought we were understanding each other…”
but I don’t say this…I keep looking at my paper saying something equally as jolting like, “I hope you know she hates you for it.” him looking at me with shock, recovering, “she’s a bitch of course she enjoys it.” I look up at him from my books, “no she doesn’t and you know it.” he does and thus proceeds to oversimplify to a point where it’s painfully obvious he’s acting now. I’ve hurt his feelings on a couple different levels. The truth is that despite his abuse, he actually, strangely enough, adores me. would go to bat for me on anything. it takes just one word from me that matches his abuse to bring his 18 year self to sulking…sometimes tears.
Sometimes I catch him between insults saying something half way into being affectionate. “you’re weird michelle.” “what!” I think he’s insulting me again for bubbling over with joy that the men think I’m Moroccan in this jalaba and no one is bothering me! (Christ why didn’t I do this before! I pass.)
“no I mean you’re weird in a good way. a great way! you’re one of the smartest, beautiful…”
I really don’t know what to do with that. “yassine, stop it!”
Noisy, pushy, sulky, dorky, and tonight newly named “asshole” brother of mine is actually a kind kid himself. He knows something about kindness and love although he likes to ignore it. trying to show off that he can “be a man too”, trying to forget the rest in order to plant himself on top of the food chain, but ever step betrays himself. “it’s okay michelle. It doesn’t matter. It’s love.”
I just want to be happy…and faithful. I lose my faith sometimes. so much suffering…I lose my faith at times. Ease my sadness. I lose my faith sometimes. I lose my faith sometimes just trying to get through. Lay your burden down. Lay your burden down. You’re all I need.