When I told my family I was going to study in Morocco there was one huge elephant in the room. My sexuality. For those of you who don’t know I am a gay man.
Being LGBT+ brings other challenges that most people don’t have to face. It could be small remarks, bullying, harassment or not being treated the same as others. The list goes on. In choosing to study in Morocco I was setting foot into unprecedented territory of being in a country where homosexuality is not also socially unacceptable but where homosexual acts are illegal.
Article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code criminalises “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex”.
I had made the decision before I went over that I would go back in the closet for my time in Morocco. It was going to be for four months- I spent 18 years in the closet, another four months for my peace of mind and safety would be manageable. I made a new Facebook account, removed my experience of interning at GCN and did a whole social media cleanse clearing any rainbows. It was strange having the feeling of monitoring myself again. Looking at myself fearing, do I look gay? Seeing the music I shared and wondering if this could give me away.
Since coming out I’ve felt so much freer to be myself- I don’t check myself. I don’t put other people’s perceptions ahead of my own. When preparing to go to Morocco, I knew this would change. Although my mother and others worried for me, I wanted to take the opportunity to live and experience another culture. Even if it meant going to that place where I was checking myself again.
When I arrived to Morocco my very first day I had a very strange experience. Checking into my room, I got talking to one of my neighbours in the student accommodation. He welcomed me, asked lots of questions and helped me get set up. He introduced me to his friends. Although when he got to one of the guys there, he just said “he’s gay” and laughed. I felt my heart in my mouth. I couldn’t believe I heard something so early. And I was grateful I hid parts of my life before coming here.
Even though things got off on the wrong foot, that guy who called the other gay and laughed became a friend of mine. I even got the opportunity a few times to give my opinion on how we are all the same. He never knew that I was gay, but he did listen to me.
My first day experiences didn’t’ set the tone for my life in Morocco. I was fortunate to get to meet some other LGBT+ people during my time there, although it was towards the end of my trip. Many people in Morocco viewed me as a European as being liberal and open to different ideas, speaking to me about alcohol, religion and romantic lives. But sexuality still seemed off limits. I only got to speak about it in the closer friendships I developed.
I always say about Morocco that it is too diverse to say Morocco is [blank]. Morocco is everything. There are very wealthy people, there are extremely impoverished people. There are old medinas, smelling like spices, mint tea and organ oil and modern neighbourhoods with trams, skyscrapers and highways. The same is true regarding sexuality. There are people, living semi-openly to friends and family and there are those who could never imagine coming out. I met both there.
It is hard to say exactly what Moroccan attitudes are towards LGBT+ people. As an outsider being gay in Morocco, I could never truly understand the experiences of locals there. I had a privilege as a European that they don’t have. Being gay can be hard in Morocco but the situation is not black and white.
It is sure that Morocco is no gay haven however, it isn’t helpful to view the country entirely homophobic. I met so many kind and open-minded people when I was living there. I met LGBT+ people, like my friend who lives openly with friends and family who support him. The country is changing. Moroccan writer, Abdellah Taïa, known as the “first Moroccan to come out” challenged the country’s anti-gay laws in his second book “La Rouge du Tarbouche” and is an unlikely star.
Being gay in Morocco I gained a newfound appreciation for the privilege I have being LGBT+ in Ireland where discrimination based on sexuality in rare. I experienced and learned so much there, I made amazing memories and even better friends. Going back to the closet was a decision I didn’t take lightly but it was one that worked for me immersing myself in life there. It was hard at times. But I wouldn’t give up what I learned, the experiences I had or the friends I made for anything. And it was one hundred percent worth it.
This is just a small part of my experience of being LBGT+ in Morocco and I would love to write more about it. If you have any questions about my experience on being LGBT+ in Morocco let me know! Get in touch on Facebook or DM me on Instagram!
Until next time,
The Student Explorer