– A Volunteer
To be absolutely honest, upon receiving my assignment to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco, I was so super excited to a point that words can’t explain it all. It was especially welcome since I had been waiting so long to hear the good news from PC’s placement office. I was so excited that I forgot, or should I say it never occurred to me, to look up what the gay scene was like in Morocco, a Muslim country. All I could think at the time, since I only had a few months before my departure, was to find ways to make myself become an effective volunteer to ensure that my time spent serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer would be worthwhile toward the people that I would serve.
Having that said, since I discovered my sexuality, I have never placed an important emphasis on it. I mean, yes indeed, my sexuality is a very important aspect of my overall life. It’s who I am! But at the same time, I refused to have others associate with me with just my sexuality or those who don’t seem to see past my sexuality. To me there is so much more to people that defines who they are as a person than just his or her sexuality.
Once I arrived to Morocco with about 60 other PCVs, I discovered that only a handful of us self-identified as LGBTQ. For the first few months in-country, overwhelmed with all sort of things, I never really thought about my sexuality in the context (now) in a Muslim country, or the gay scene, or my needs for that matter. But before I even knew it, I realized that I was lonely and missed the privileged lifestyle and the freedom of acting and expressing myself and my sexuality freely back in the States. I thought I had it tough growing up discovering my sexuality and all sorts of feelings and emotions overwhelmed my mind, realizing my self- identity, my sexuality, and coming out to certain individuals. Don’t get me wrong, I did in fact have a really hard time. However, compared to gays here in Morocco, they do have a tougher time of it. Like anywhere else, there are people from all sexual backgrounds. It’s just that gays in Morocco like in other Muslim countries have it a lot tougher in so many ways.
I will be completely honest with you based on my experience for the past 22 months. Yes, Morocco is indeed a more liberal Muslims country; however, it’s still a Muslim country, where gays and the act of gay are forbidden. For that reason, gays in Morocco are forced to suppress themselves and their feelings freely toward one another. I can speak from my own experience with honesty. I feel like I have been living a lie and not being true to myself as well as others, especially with the people I’m serving.
Moreover, PC staff during training had given us the worst case scenario about how homosexuals are perceived in Morocco. They placed an emphasis on if we get caught in a gay sexual activity, or drug use, we would be in big trouble. We as PCVs would then have to abide by Moroccan’s laws. We might be put in jail for up to three years without support from PC, the US Embassy, or anyone to that matter. It’s definitely a scary thought! It has got us all worried and scared for our lives, safety and security. Because of that we would have to take ourselves back in the closet at least for the next two years of our service. It’s definitely a sad feeling, serving a country for two years, and the people don’t know the true you. My host family as well as the majority of the people in this country would condemn me to hell if they would find out about the true me. This scary thought has crossed my mind almost everyday of my service.
Gays, especially those who are more effeminate, are often forced to hide themselves for their own protection and for safety reasons. If a male PCV is suspected of being gay, he’s often looked down upon by his community, and his reputation, safety and security will be at risk. Given that my site with a fairly large population is a more liberal site, it’s still a Muslim community. Having that said, I can’t come out to my community, even to my close friends and my host family who I love dearly. They are disgusted by homosexuals and the act of gays, as they have pointed out to me multiple times over conversations we’ve had, yet they’ve also expressed that they are very open-minded people. I know it’s quite confusing. I guess it’s just not in their culture to accept homosexuality. I know religion surely plays a big part in this mentality and ways of thinking. It also, to my belief, restricts people from thinking and expressing freely for themselves.
I would like to think that I am very integrated into my community. However, often times I would feel so out of place because of my sexuality and how it doesn’t fit so well in this Muslim culture and society. Yes, given that Morocco is and might be a more liberal/tolerant Muslim country in some perspectives comparing to other Muslims’ societies, I still often feel un-at-ease and have constant worries for my safety and security if someone in my community were to find out about my sexuality. It, to some degree, affects my integration process in terms of getting to know people and being close with them to the best that I can and vice-versa. For instance, I would almost always have to be careful, think twice, and be cautious about myself with others, and I think that totally affects my relationship with them. For example, often times a good friend, among others, would invite me over for dinner. I would refuse and turned them down because I feared their getting to know me too well.
I would always have to be careful about how I talk, speak, act, and overall how I presented myself in front of my community, even with the closest people in my community, my host family. I’ve never been good at lying. Hence, it’s extremely uncomfortable when asked by my host family, close friends, and community members at large about my love life, whether I have a girlfriend, or if I want a local girlfriend. When local girls hit on me, I honestly don’t know how to react. And when I try to avoid them, people would ask what’s wrong with me? And when I find local male friends attractive (even if my gaydar might highly suspected that they might be gay), I can’t expressed anything to them because I fear putting my reputation at risk.
I know I was never big on celebrating my gay pride back in the States, but it’s an extreme here, where I would have to hide my true self and identity, each and every moments of every day of my service, and having a constant fear of people seeing the rainbow flag in me. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, and hope that the next day will be better.
Sometimes my loneliness, my so-called needs, and desire to be with somebody have gotten the best of me and have led me to do things that I would never wish to revisit. I mean I have never really thought about the people that I met up with were gay prostitutes and thugs, or even that they can cause harm and danger to me. During my service thus far, I have made some bad decisions with hooking up with local men where I put my safety and security at risk. I’ve been assaulted and my belongings taken from me. It was definitely a scary moment, but it could have been a lot worse. All I could think of afterward, beside the fact that I was scared for my life and scared to notify PC, was to realize how naïve I could be. I could have gotten myself killed in a worst case scenario. However I was lucky and I’m grateful for that. I have definitely learned from it the hard way. It’s just that at times, it can get lonely and I wish somebody would be there to cope, share, and spend time with. Moreover, I remember when I was hanging out with a fellow PCV and some locals at a park in Rabat. All of a sudden, the fellow PCV and one of the locals got stopped, questioned, and hustled off to the police station by some undercover policemen. It seems as if we have no rights in this country.
On the other side of things, I have accidently stumbled across some hush-hush of discrete gay activity in big cites like Rabat, Fez, Meknes, and Casablanca. It is here I have had some beautiful encounters with some really nice and genuine local men as well as with other PCVs. It is on the hush-hush staying with a low profile, because I didn’t want to put my reputation at risk in my community or jeopardize my safety and security while in-country during my service. Other than that, there isn’t really any gay scene to speak of in Morocco. There aren’t any outlets for gays. There’s one gay-friendly club I know of, Le Village, located in the Ain Diab district of Casablanca, but it’s very expensive.
As gay volunteers, we often get mixed messages from Moroccan guys. Guys in general in this society are very affectionate and show their affection towards each other somewhat freely. They often hold hands when walking in public, kiss each other on the cheek, and caress each other. This is absolutely normal in their culture, like it is some other places in the world. It’s just that a lot of these actions would often in our society be perceived as the behaviors of homosexuals.
Honestly, I don’t know if I were to have had a chance to search and look up the gay scene in Morocco to have prior knowledge and insight of what it’s like to serve as a gay Peace Corps Volunteer in a Muslim country prior to coming, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But maybe it would have, but the feelings of loneliness, being out of place, constant worries about my safety and security, would still have been a factor after I got here.
In closure, despite some of my difficult experiences, I have had memorable moments and outings with local gay men as well as with my fellow gay PCVs. We bonded and shared some beautiful times with each other. One instance which I least expected, involved an extremely attractive PCV who has a genuine and charismatic soul). Let just say, it was a very beautiful experience that I will never forget.
Given that I have had some difficult and challenging situations, I’ve dealt with them in a manner that was most comfortable and suitable for me. I’d made the decision not to report my problems to Peace Corps, but I did reach out to fellow PVCs for moral support. They were extremely helpful. Despite some bad experiences, I did not allow them to affect my service. I’ve learned that I’ve been living in a very different culture, but this could have happened anywhere in the Peace Corps world. Therefore, I’ve dealt with these problems, and learn from them and overcome the challenges. Overall, I have had a good experience. I find my service both very pleasurable and rewarding. I have met interesting people from a different part of the world and from all walks of life.
Anyhow, in a nutshell, that’s my life as a gay Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.
You can contact this volunteer at firstname.lastname@example.org