French illustrator based in London, Malika Favre, Kama Sutra project.
French illustrator based in London, Malika Favre, Kama Sutra project.
In Tel Aviv with my girl turning the world over, talking over some wine about love, g-d, childhood pain, signing up to odd sites, depression, lesbian bars, hope, beauty, Moroccan parents, dancing, international ratings of dick size by country, this song, Mizrahi politics…laughing all the way through all the stories. She is my soul sister even though our experiences existed worlds away from each other, we share so many feelings and beliefs. We find ourselves in each others brokenness and strength.
How to raise a child
But no one knows
How to raise a father.” – Stromae
Today after filming my news reports on the rooftops over Casablanca I came home to get ready to go for a birthday party with Shiyara as Wednesday afternoons are school free in the French system here in Morocco.
My camera operator is a long time friend and I felt comfortable filming intimate moments at home with him as he practically lives with us.
As we filmed I finally addressed in our conversation something my daughter asked me about a month ago as we returned from a different birthday party in the taxi. I wasn’t ready to respond at the time. It caught me off guard. All I could do was hug her. This time I wanted to unpack it for my daughter who isn’t yet old enough to express all of her feelings and thoughts in words.
She said, “I want Papa to be your wife. I want you to be the way you were before. Can daddy come here and live with us and my brother too.”
She wanted things the way they were in her imagination and it’s partly due to things I have said as I have tried to keep the past in the most positive light as possible: “Your papa is a good man.” “Your father would do anything to help us live and pay the rent and put food on the table.” “He was a fighter for us. He protected us.” “The best thing I ever did was become your mom and it still remains the happiest time in my life.”
She walked me over to the photo in my hallway of me pregnant smiling at the cameras with henna on my hands next to her father.
“I want things the way they were.” She says, “And I want you to get married for real this time and have someone take your picture at the party.”
She had tears rolling down her cheeks. She didn’t have to tell me how she felt. I could see.
I know my daughter so I took the time to tell her I wasn’t punishing her, nothing that she felt was wrong. I told her something also that I wish someone had told me when I was young: “Honey your father and I are adults. We are fine and we don’t need anyone to worry about us. You are our daughter. You are precious. It’s our duty to care for you, not you for us.”
I walked the line of disclosure like a tightrope. I can’t tell her about domestic violence that was at home when she was a baby. I can’t tell her about the PTSD her father and I struggle with from traumatic childhoods. I have never told her that he is by definition a deadbeat dad. I take both of our responsibilities.
I didn’t want to burst her fantasy but I had to explain a bit. So slowly I said to her, so carefully, as if any word I said could make us fall in under cracked ice and take us both down: “You know…Shiyara…things back then weren’t always so great like you think. You know my love…sometimes….me and your father fought too. You have to trust me honey it’s better for all of us.”
According to the American Census Bureau, 43 percent of children in the US grow up without their biological father in the home and Morocco, it’s about the same.
I took the opportunity to try to teach my daughter the art of gratitude which will serve her well in life.
“If it wasn’t for this new life your father has we wouldn’t have your brother. You love him, he’s your friend. We have to thank g-d for everything we have in life. Life is full of surprises honey. You don’t know what life will give you. It’s a surprise. Maybe you will have a baby brother or sister in the future! Maybe there is a wedding in the future. We don’t know. Life is a surprise we have to be grateful always and see the good.”
“What will happen?” She asked curiously.
“I don’t even know but if someone were to tell you it wouldn’t be a surprise!” as I said this I reached out to tickle her. She screeched and laughed loudly a happiness from her belly to counter the tears from before. There was a magical explosion of joy that evacuated the pain.
As all break ups are painful this was not an exception, but pain is subjective, I thought to myself. Every break up seems to be the worst there ever was, but they all become part of a storyline and lesson plan that eventually don’t invoke pain the way they did or could before.
I notice with a smug sense of pride that I am unaffected by past resentment even if it took many years because time does in fact heal some wounds. It’s the same smugness I have when meeting up with my ex and his girlfriend. I gloat and I feel a sense of pride that I have “moved on”. I can even imagine their happy lives fulfilled without me, and it makes me feel a superiority that I am no longer attached. My facade of being untouchable crumbles as I realize that I may have gotten over him but not everyone entirely.
I feel a creeping truth in the form of a pain in my chest. I assume it’s my pride pinching me and it’s quietly taking up residence in me secretly beneath the surface.
I shut down the computer and lay in bed turning all the lights off but I don’t fall asleep. I ask myself why there remains that pinching feeling on my chest and where it usually goes to hide itself? It is a resident that I did not know occupied any space and I want to know where it normally lives so that I can evict it. It etches more into my senses as I ask more questions.
This feeling surfaces once every few years or so when I am finally lying alone at night and it comes to fill the space in bed next to me which has kept me filling that space in bed with someone to avoid this moment.
It feels like a small wave building up as the feeling that is sitting on my chest reaches down to whisper in my ear what I now hear loudly in my head:
You don’t want me but I am here. You are afraid because you can’t control or change me but I am The End and one day after everyone and everything else around you is gone I will be here because I am the only thing that is certain. You will end one day and you can’t keep your daughter or your family or any beloved.
My jaw tightens as I lie on the flat of my back now listening to the clock tick loudly down the hallway in the silence of my sleeping city. I swallow the lump in my throat and squeeze my eyes letting gravity push my tears into the curves of my ear drums.
I never knew I was afraid of death but this now explains why so many exes have taken to call me irresponsible as I give planning the future or tomorrow the finger.
I had no idea I linked dying to the idea of love even as I have clung to love to spare me from death as if it were it’s only remedy and cure.
It’s a jumbled mess in my head but I realized last night that I seem to also see the state of marriage as death, I see loving another as the death of the ego, and the end of love as just one smelly rotting corpse where you disappear.
Love is scary because even after finding the one you want to live and die with, “What will happen after we die?” I once asked my ex. “What will happen to you? How will I find you again?” He had no answers. You can’t keep it forever no matter if he or she is the love of your life.
I am sure fear of death is why people buy and collect more than they can ever use and why my mother hoards junk into her small room and why I have avoided sitting Shiva this week with the family I love.
Fear of the all mighty End is also probably why many people stay longer in dying relationships and seek narratives of resurrection and return.
We avoid that phrase “The End”…that marks the last shot of every good movie and everyone who has ever entered us and made us believe in eternity.
I don’t want to admit that death is a part of life and that we all will evaporate in a flash. I will disappear from my daughter as my father did from me. We will all break up from each other and this break up will be bruising even though we had all our lives together to prepare for it.
How liberating it must be to have no notion of ones morality and ones limits and death.
If I had no fear of the End, I probably would not try to control everything. There would be no anxiety because there would be no consciousness of the limitations.
My daughter is roughly the same age I was when I had to acknowledge death so I tell my girl that there is nothing sad in death (although I lie) and I tell her there is nothing to be afraid of (which is true) because life and energy can never be created or destroyed, only transformed. That is the only fact that has always comforted me because I know that for her sake she must not fear dying because if we fear death, we can’t ever really live.
My neighbors include a young man, his son, their nanny and the woman of the house.
In the four years I have lived in this Casablanca apartment I have seen the wife less then 5 times. She never appeared at first so I thought for almost a year that the nanny was in fact the woman of the house because I saw her each and every day (and much more than I would have liked). My daughter even thought the nanny was the mother and wife of the house and I decided not to correct her because then I would have to explain why we never saw the son’s mother with her kid, not even on off days or the weekends. My daughter would have asked me some questions I would feel uncomfortable answering while remaining neutral or free of judgement.
In the last few months there were signs that life had started to change next door. Loud parties and music echoed out of the house at all hours of the day and night. I didn’t think much of it but my daughter of course did. True to her Moroccan roots my daughter asked why there were parties taking place which I of course considered to be their private business. That didn’t stop her from asking the father (in his late 20s) when he once exited his apartment at the same as us, “Why is there so much loud music all the time?” He smiled and was gracious in his usual fashion but I was mortified and answered for him to my daughter that dads were also allowed to have fun too. I excused us and didn’t think much about it again.
I didn’t even notice that I had all together stopped seeing the nanny. Months after I still just chalked it up to extremely good luck at timing my anti-social behavior and thought perhaps they took the nanny on an extended vacation minus the father.
I credit myself at both respecting my neighbors private life and being a complete failure at paying attention to small details. It took months before I realized that I had all together stopped seeing the neighbors son until one day on a weekend I spotted him outside with his dad. He had grown up so much I was startled and realized that it had been many months since I last saw him or his nanny or his mother.
I finally added up all the signs. No nanny. No son at home except once on the weekend. A new man living in the house with the father. Parties until late and during the day. I realized my neighbors had separated and I had been completely unaware for nearly 6 months.
Now it made sense why my neighbor was coming to my defense whenever possible and even fighting on my behalf with the housing staff which was unexpected and unusual. His door was open late into the night when he would try to strike up conversations and there were those few extra seconds at the end of every ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ as if a longer exchange was welcome and waiting. I kept our exchanges short because conversations with married men can be read as infidelity here. I had missed all the clues that he was now single and was trying to say “Whatzzz UP!!! Party time! Want to join us next door?”
I wondered how I could have missed something so obvious happening next door to me. Partly I realized it is due to the classy nature of the family. Their separation didn’t include yelling or fighting or loud stressful violent encounters with the furniture or their partners. I had gotten used to this style of separation after living here all these years and it made me happy to know that there can be civilized separations.
Now I glance over at his apartment and pose the question to myself: if he offers would I accept an invitation to join him at home one night…I remembered my wild days post separation when I ran through people like kleenex and although it was fun it was also a necessary messy stage I am not willing to repeat. So it’s probably a no but never say never until you walk through those doors.
I like watching people having sex but I don’t like porn
If you have no problem with mainstream porn and neither does your partner, enjoy your hearts out with it.
But for many women, they have a problem with their boyfriends or husbands watching porn which most men watch at some point in their lives to differing degrees usually less when in a relationship. The usual sex advice that you hear from experts is that all men do it so it’s natural and we have to accept it and deal with our own self esteem problems.
I don’t think this response quite covers the issue well enough and simplifies what is a bit more complicated as porn is not organic, it’s created and because its new to our world it’s become a point of confusion to a lot of the relationships.
Porn’s place differs from one couple to the other and relates to each of us differently depending on our sexual histories and psyches. Since I have yet to hear anyone give a helpful answer that takes into account my side or experience I decided to write this.
I like sex. Maybe a bit more than most and I like watching people have sex but I don’t like mainstream porn…meaning 99.99 percent of what we call porn.
On the rare occasion, when I see videos of people who obviously respect the other, who do all sorts of kinky shit, love their bodies and aren’t just acting (because they are in the .01 percent), I get turned on. But this is rare and not what I am calling “porn” in this post.
I once proposed to my boyfriend to visit a famous sex club in France that is run by a woman who designed it to be friendly and safe for women. I don’t want to see actors or manipulated minors or financially marginalized women being used in porn.
My boyfriend rightly has a problem with the idea of a sex club even though it fits the same principle as his porn: watching people have sex. But the interesting difference for me is that these men and women have no need to be there except that they want to be there. My boyfriend is a bit freaked out and naturally so but then again its much better to me than the porn industry whose many participants get there for much less fantastic reasons.
Mainstream porn for me is like junk food. We consume knowing that it does nothing really great for us but we enjoy it. Everyone has their own relationship to consumption and what they put into their system. Some don’t eat sugar or don’t smoke to try to live cleaner lives. Others try to quit junk food and quit smoking but don’t ever quit and others don’t really mind and can happily chain-smoke and live on McDonalds everyday of their lives.
Porn as an industry I don’t find to be very healthy for me. When I watch mainstream porn I go there not because it excites me like my boyfriend thinks, as much as to revisit reminders of my own sexual trauma, in a failing attempt to make peace with it under the wrong assumption that if I can face it and reclaim it, get something out of it even as pitiful as a weak orgasm, that I can somehow “win” and move on. Even though probably a much better idea and a much harder one for my self-destructive nature is to quit it all together.
Our lives are confused and complicated. I am very sexually open to others and sexually fluent to lovers. To myself I am honest, curious, and seeking a positive sexuality and looking for enlightenment under sometimes the enormity of heaviness related to my history.
My sexuality is a place where I need healing even though to look from the outside, I seem to speak its language perfectly as I am very expressive in it so much so that my boyfriend worries about my sexuality and its large appetite and my pleasure that doesn’t really have a limit.
One example of his discomfort with my sexuality displayed itself when I took him to a sex shop run by a very nice young man in Tel Aviv who knew all about each product and answered all my questions. I picked out a vibrator and some handcuffs and a little leather whip but my boyfriend put his uncomfortable and panicked foot down to say no to at least one of the items and probably wished he could veto all of them. He was upset most of the drive home and said some unkind things about my sexuality. So throughout the 30 minute drive I thought about the positive side of things, which was that I would be bringing my new toys back to my bed in Casablanca.
My boyfriend is a man who has been to sex shops before but not with a woman. He’s been to a sex show in Amsterdam. He’s seen strippers and he’s done many of the “male” rituals that I don’t really find all that sex positive when you dig into the statistics and realities of the “sex workers” like women in my family and friends that I know personally. But strangely, he had a problem with me trying to share myself with him in a sex positive moment.
Perhaps he is not prepared for sexual honesty from a woman as men take sex as their world and their right.
For women we need a passport and a special visa to get here apparently.
Luckily I know how to navigate this world without shame, but unfortunately I don’t always know how to find the soul of my sexuality. I may be adventurous and a risk taker in sex, I can do all the moves and tricks, but my soul is always seeking on every level Marvin Gaye’s sexual healing.
Porn and My Boyfriend
My boyfriend is a great guy and he knows I am not looking for a man who consumes porn or smokes cigarettes but my boyfriend smokes and watches porn.
It’s his life and he can do with it what he wants. But I don’t like that he is out of breath at 31 when climbing a small hill. I don’t want him to die young especially if this life is all we have together. I am also selfishly worried that he won’t be able to keep up with me in bed as I enter my sexual peak years of my nearing 30s.
And as for the porn, when he finally showed me his favorite sites the first thing I noticed were the ads that featured very young girls along the borders of the page some of which were underage and this is what you see regardless of whatever you were planning on watching and it bothered me deeply. The strong pressure to sexualize female children normalizes what should not be acceptable and endangers children. It seeps into people as it did with my boyfriend who “joked” to his friends that 14 year olds were looking so good these days he might actually end up in bed with one of them. If you can recognize a minor and still socially acceptably joke about sleeping with children we have been brainwashed so thoroughly away from ourselves.
I was sexualized constantly as a child and as an adolescent I was harassed and sexually threatened daily and it hurt me, kept me on the defensive when I should have been blossoming. And it stunts all of us, me and my 14-year-old self, the girls that I feel I want to protect, my daughter and men.
I wonder sometimes how I would feel about my boyfriend looking at sex if it wasn’t situated in the porn industry with its pressure on sexualizing children and abusing women?
If porn was drastically different and there were more depictions of love and more diverse depictions of what women want, it would be very different and better for me to enjoy.
Especially also if men made it another form of our positive sexuality.
But as it stands today, I don’t like it for it’s abundance and imbalance of bad taste.
My Ex and Porn
In the first week of starting to have sex with my ex-boyfriend, we once finished having sex and as I laid down waiting for him to come back to me he went to the couch, opened his computer and started watching porn. I was…well, more then somewhat confused because I was willing and ready to fuck his brains out all day everyday but he had to have porn.
When I was pregnant I was still up for everything but if there was a fight, he would haul off to the living room not touch me and jack off in front of the television. One time I brought him tissues and placed it on his lap hoping he would stop and say to himself, « Hey, what am I doing?» But he didn’t.
I don’t think he knew fully why he acted like this either even though I wrongly thought he had all the answers about himself. What he did tell me that could explain the compulsion was that since he was a little boy, perhaps 8 or younger, he had been raised on it, fed on it, didn’t know how to live without it.
I knew he loved me and was crazy about me sexually but he was addicted to porn to perhaps medicate a part of his soul unsuccessfully.
When it was clear he couldn’t stop, I tried to watch porn with him and get into it with him as a way of accepting him and finding the fun in it. It wasn’t something though that felt good so I chalked it down to unhealthy things with unhealthy people that can’t really make you feel good beyond the fix.
This man was complex and I wonder how our lives would have been 50 years ago in a world minus porn as he was truly romantic. He would do gentle things like bend over to my short frame to put his mouth on some place of my body to gently pull away a small out-of-place-hair with his teeth. He would wash my hair in the bath like I was a child and run a comb through it. He tried to make me laugh as I was in labor and he sat with me on the floor of the bathroom putting boiled cabbage leaves on my bruised and cut up breasts in the first month of nursing. He was a fighter like me. We had both survived bad childhoods, we had both survived homelessness, sexual violence, violence and we live in post-traumatic stress to lesser or greater degrees. Our relationship thankfully ended with both of us still intact despite the unkind things we learned from life and we re-enacted on each other.
Since then I have been with men who are not as addicted to porn or not interested in it at all at this stage in their lives. I try to avoid consumers of porn for a few reasons.
Firstly because I found the more a man watches the worse I find he is in bed. Secondly, it’s not something I want to make in the bubble around me in the future. I would like to live with spirituality in love and a bit of that simplicity from an older time. I want a leader and a friend and spiritual mate who doesn’t feel the need to consume “porn” as I define it here. Even though if this is what you like then who am I judge that as you have your reasons and tastes.
If you are like myself and you don’t fancy main-stream porn, you have good reasons not to be okay with porn especially when you don’t like it for the principles it stands for or the system it perpetuates much like some people don’t use cosmetics from companies that test on animals or buy products that produce in sweatshops.
If you like to see people having sex and your partner too but you don’t like mainstream porn, there are places where you can find sex positive films. As long as it’s open and shared, then why not?
This is a polluted world. I look around me and see the trash on the street and I smell the air. It’s a complicated world but in the world I want to make for myself I want it to be by our rules and spirit and wishes and dreams. We are all polluted but I am allowed to choose to create love and life the way I want to create it.
Love and peace be with you tonight Casablanca!
-Journal Photos by the Radiantmedina and the Author of Sheep
Even when you walk down the street as a woman here or in most any place, you are reminded that you are a woman constantly whether through the innocent and not so innocent catcalls, the nice looks and the bad ones, and more often times than not, the fear or the perceived fear that you are vulnerable.
Being a woman is defined many times by threat and fear and it’s a not too nice a place to live in and men don’t have to know about this if they don’t choose to dig and discover. Many times they look at you like you are blowing it out of proportion or imagining things.
You are constantly reminded since a young age to be careful and you are reminded that you can’t do everything you want because you should be afraid of this or that or the other so much so that you can’t do small things like just walk outside at night to review your thoughts.
“You’re a woman, you’re a woman; you’re a woman.” So be very afraid, of others and yourself.
The mantra plays and you stop doing what you want to do even if that is walking late at night in the darkness with yourself. But we are used to this as women. We learn to stop ourselves from doing many things we want even getting our pleasure.
Look how women are always stopping their pleasure. They see a delicious dessert, take a bite, feel pleasure, taste the taste, and stop themselves and say “that’s it”.
Do you know how nice it feels to eat something with a pretty girl who’s doing what she wants to do with you, tasting cake and life and really eating it…