By Jamal Saidi
By Jamal Saidi
Morocco World News
Casablanca, May 31, 2012
“After 12 years of its publication, the novel triggers a question: what are the attitudes of the Moroccan Islamist government towards its homosexual citizens?”
In her Une Vie à Trois , Bahaa Trabelsi addresses homophobia in Moroccan society. The novel carries an outspoken message on a subject that has always been a taboo, homosexuality. I argue that she could demonstrate the main types of homophobic behaviors and feelings, which target homosexuals in a Moroccan context.
Une Vie à Trois is meant to reflect the realities on the ground. It can, therefore, be classified as a historical document, which mirrors the experience of homosexuals in a relatively conservative society such as a Moroccan one, and in a given period of time, 2000. Almost 12 years later, it is probably hard to prove that the circumstances have changed since then. Hence, the novel may be still very much relevant to the current situation.
In one of her interviews, the author states that she was inspired by her experience through interaction with Moroccan homosexuals in the light of her social work aiming at fighting AIDS. She met characters that resemble Jamal in the novel. While writing the novel, she was faithful to the reality she encountered. Even the names of the places were left as they were. The novel functions as a mirror, she adds, which would make one feel like “walking in the real world.”1 Before embarking on a journey of exploring homophobia as it manifests itself in the novel, some light should be shed on the meaning of the term. It is defined as an irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people2.
Homosexuality in its turn is described as a sexual attraction primarily to members of the same sex3. There are four main types of homophobia4. The first is personal homophobia, which is about feelings of fear, discomfort, dislike, hatred, or disgust with same sex sexuality. When this is experienced by a homosexual, it becomes an internalized homophobia.
The second is interpersonal homophobia, which differs from the latter in that it is mainly related to behaviors, from name calling, to physical harassment to other acts of discrimination. The third is institutional homophobia. It refers to institutional discrimination by institutions, like government and religious institutions, against homosexuals on the basis of their sexual orientation. The fourth is cultural homophobia. It is linked to social standards and norms, which indicate being heterosexual is better and more moral than being homosexual. Everyone should be heterosexual, consequently4.
Personal homophobia can be best demonstrated through Jamal’s experience in his family life. His mother who may hold firm beliefs that her son is not as he “normally” should be as far as “masculinity” is concerned. She takes advantage of his “feminine” skills, like cooking and washing. However, she abhors him in the sense that he does not engage in activities that are reserved to men. He said, “Ma mère m’a aimé au féminin. Au masculin, elle me méprisait – My mother loves me as female. As masculin, she despised me ” P 11.
In patriarchal sort of societies, Jamal is treated as a woman. He senses, therefore, that he is discriminated against. His brother Selim is given more interest, accordingly. “Selim se pavanait comme un coq dans la maison – Selim strutted like a rooster in the house” P 11. The family then projects a sense of discomfort and dislike towards Jamal who represents homosexual individuals in society. Internalized homophobia, however, seems to be absent in that the characters in the novel do not demonstrate any negative feelings regarding their homosexuality.
Adam, for example, states that he is not afraid of AIDS, which means he believes that being homosexual, shall not necessarily be associated with HIV. This implies he sees no danger in his sexual orientation. Additionally, the homosexual characters in the novel try to struggle for adapting themselves to the conditions in which they live. Adam expresses himself freely in France. “Je me suis découvert émotionnellement et sexuellement – I discovered my self emotionally and sexually.” P 21. In Morocco, though he suffers a lot, he does not blame it on his sexual orientation, but rather on societal norms. The same thing can be said about Jamal. Christophe, on the other hand, enjoys his homosexuality in a liberal and laic country, France.
Interpersonal homophobia, which refers to hostile behaviors against homosexuals, can be very easily spotted in the novel. The most apparent one is the attack on Jamal and his friends. They are insulted and beaten up by a gang of thugs armed with batons. The gang considers them as “Fils de putes, sales pédés, la honte de cet endroit – Sons of bitches, dirty fags, the shame of this place.” P 31. The physical harassment is committed based on personal homophobia. The behavior is justified on the ground that those “creatures” whom the gang is about to beat are “sons of bitch” and “dirty fags and the shame of the place they are found in.”
With this in mind, the first thing Jamal’s father does, without demonstrating any sort of hesitation when he sees his son in a sexual position with a man, is to remove him from the list of his family members. “Tu n’es plus mon fils, je ne veux plus te voir – You are no longer my son, I do not want to see you anymore” P 15. He is no longer entitled to come back home, accordingly. The father might not take similar action if Jamal was kissing a girl, of the opposite sex. That is to say, homosexuality, unlike heterosexuality in this case, is a social stigma, which necessitates a quick and strong reaction, behavior, in order to avoid any kind of dishonor and shame. Adam in his turn expresses his constant annoyance whenever he hears the word “Zamel.” “Ce mot qui à écorché mes oreilles chaque fois que je l’ai entendu – This word grates on my ears whenever I hear it. ” P 21. By doing so, he acknowledges being subject to homophobic insult regularly. The character is suffering psychologically throughout the novel mainly due to his homosexuality. “Je souffre – I suffer.” P 134.
Institutional homophobia is vividly reflected in the novel by primarily the police and, seemingly to a lesser extent, religious institutions. When beaten up by the gang, Jamal is advised to leave the place immediately, because if caught by the police his situation will be even worse. “Les flics vont arriver et ça va être pire – The cops will come and it will be worse.” P 31. This is very significant in that cops represent the government, and by large the state. This is perhaps a hint to the possible involvement of the official institutions in homophobic actions against homosexuals. In fact, the Moroccan criminal law states clearly in its article number 489 that, “Whoever had sex with a person of the same sex should be punished by imprisonment from six months to three years and a fine from one hundred twenty to one thousand dirhams. 5”
Trabelsi’s Jamal therefore is guilty, anyway, because by law, homosexuality is an immoral crime in Moroccan. In 2009, a Moroccan minister once said, in response to an association called “KIF KIF,” which planned to organize a conference on homosexuality in Marrakech, “We are determined to fight against any action which aims at affecting negatively our religious and moral values.6” On the other hand, Trabelsi’s Christoph accuses, allegedly, Islamic religion of being responsible of hatred against homosexuals in Morocco when he claims that they are badly treated because religion teaches so. “C’est votre religion qui est contre – It is your religion which is against.” P 127. By doing so, he adds a flavor of discrimination, to the novel, made by religious institution against homosexuals. The Islamic doctrine does not approve of homosexuality. Al Qaradawi, a well-known Muslim scholar, states on his website that the nation of the prophet Lut was punished because of their homosexuality7. He provides two verses from the Quran as the proof on which he based his judgment:
“Do you approach the males among the worlds? And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing” Quran 26: 165,166.8
Though Trabelsi’s Christoph seems to adopt a value judgment tone of speech, he succeeds in confirming Mr. Al Qaradawi’s view on homosexuality in Islam.
Cultural homophobia demonstrates itself through straight marriage. Adam has to adapt to the cultural norms in order to fit into the heterosexual context. He has to get married to fulfill his parent’s wish. Being a homosexual, he has no desire to marry a member from the opposite sex, but his father, as the following conversation shows, rejects and urges him to do so in the belief that straight marriage is a must for every single individual in society.
– ” Je n’ai pas envie de me marie, père. I do not want to get married, father.”
-” Ne dis pas ça, mon garçon. Tout le monde finit par se marier un jour. Do not say that, my boy. Everybody ends up getting married, one day.P38?
Adam then is forced to act against his will. He has to pretend in order to survive. As a result, he has the impression that he plays a role, which he does not master. “Adam a l’impression qu’il assiste à un spectacle dans lequel il joue un rôle qu’il ne maitrise pas. Adam had the impression he takes part in a play in which he plays a role that he does not master. ” P 44. He has to struggle, in a way, against the cultural norms, which have the power to shape his destiny. At the end, he submits under the threat of cultural homophobia. “ Je suis incapable de faire de la peine à mes parents. I can not cause pain to my parents” p 82. He dreams, however, of a world where same-sex marriage can be celebrated. “ Je rêve d’un monde ou je célébrerai mon mariage avec Jamal. I dream of a world where I will celebrate our marriage, Jamal and I. ”P 82.
Jamal Saidi is a Moroccan student currently enrolled in a master program majoring in Moroccan-American Studies at Hassan II University, Faculty of Humanities/Ben M’sik. He is Morocco World News correspondent in Casablanca. You can follow him on Facebook.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed