(December 2016) I came out for the first time and to no one on the roof of the Moroccan house, laying with my arms resting on the cool concrete, the sleeves of the thin cotton top I was wearing catching bits of white dust.
The sun had set just a few hours prior, leaving a quickly darkening sky and stars the only witnesses for what I had left unsaid, even to myself, for so long. The words dangled on my lips like the breath of a lover leaning in for a kiss. The space between infinite, like the silencing depth of a chasm I had affronted in my dreams but never gathered the courage to step into.
The Moroccan house was a building of modest size, three stories, two of which had been converted into a school and the third a small communal living space for an eccentric group of volunteer English teachers, my family and I among them, who called it their home. My family and I lived in the Moroccan house in Berrechid for a little under three months, long enough to outlive many of the short term volunteers and create a kind of community in a country which I would later look back on as being one of the most impactful places and periods of my life.
I’ve said before that I grew up in Morocco and I still believe in this statement. In three months I lived in Morocco more deeply than I’ve lived in any other place. I learned acceptance, love, gratitude, and furthermore experienced many painful realities of life I had never been exposed to before.
I listened to my Moroccan friends struggle with sexism, arranged marriages, overpowering social stigma, and the pressure to honor their families. I walked with them through the streets as their held their heads high above the insults and foul cat-calling on the way to the hammam, to buy bread, in the medina, to the market, everywhere.
I ran home alone with shaking hands and tears running down my cheeks after being harassed by a group of men outside the supermarket. I was warned not to walk alone, especially not after dark, and no one ever had to mention that not having my arms and legs covered was an invitation for harassment; having blond hair and blue eyes was one enough.
These realities in particular forced me to stay for the most part within the safety of the Moroccan house. In the mornings my sisters and I would occupy ourselves with studying or hanging out with the other volunteers and in the evenings we would work in the English classrooms as guest speakers. The basement we lived in was windowless and cold – especially so in the winter when the dry North African cold seeped in through the building’s thin stone walls – but the warm relief of tea steeped in mint and sheba flowed like water from silver teapots in the kitchen.
Above all, the roof of the Moroccan house was our sanctuary. Most Moroccan apartment buildings have a similar design, where above the flats there is an empty terrace to be used by the residents for things like doing laundry, extra storage, and sometimes the keeping of animals. Ours was a white terrace, completely bare spare an ancient rug and a few clotheslines, and hidden from sight by a five-foot high concrete barrier on all sides. It absorbed the afternoon sun perfectly, and despite the irony of Arabic chanting from the call to prayer constantly blaring from the loudspeakers of the nearby mosques and the shrill bleats of goats roaming in the junkyard below to remind us where we really were, on the roof of the Moroccan house you could almost forget. The neighbors couldn’t see us so we sunbathed in bikinis, built a gym, had barbeques and bonfires above a rock stove, and drank decriminalized (though still forbidden) wine from Carrefour.
I think we did these things in a subconscious effort to recreate the tiny luxuries of Western freedom we never realized before we had, but Morocco always found a way to permeate through the cracks.
It did so in the young student who used the language taught to him to say deeply backward comments about women that most Westerners would agree to belong in the 18th century. And in the subtle homophobic remarks made by my friends, whom I know didn’t know any better, but whose words served as a profound reminder that Morocco is a place where you just leave some things unsaid.
I remember I at one point began to feel so isolated from the outside world, from people like me, that I began to talk to strangers on the internet. I met a girl in New Hampshire, living in a parallel universe life, who despite the fact that to this day we’ve never met in real life is still one of my best friends. We bonded instantly and exchanged 100’s of emails and text messages in the span of a few months. It’s not enough to say that she showed me everything I felt and would feel about myself and my identity was real and valid.
Morocco, however, is probably one of the worst places to question and come to terms with your sexuality. Even as a foreigner.
So on a chilly December night a month after moving to Berrechid, in consequence of an especially emotional debate with one of the more fundamentalist Muslim volunteers, I ran to the roof of the Moroccan house so no one would see me cry. In hindsight, I should have said something in that debate, but that’s much easier said than done when you’re 16 and you’ve never said the words you want to say. Not even to yourself.
I don’t remember an exact moment when I realized I was gay. More likely than being one moment I think realization came from the build-up of little moments throughout the span of my childhood. Those which I never connected in the time but remember now with vigor.
Holding hands with a girl from my kindergarten class, the yearning for attention I felt towards my best friends throughout childhood, the lack of desire for attention I felt towards boys going into middle and high school.
How going on dates with boys never felt real, definitely never felt comfortable in the way I thought it was supposed to.
How while standing in the white lit bathroom of sophomore homecoming in a dress and heels I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel comfortable, and I couldn’t understand why I wanted nothing more than home and an escape from the boy who had asked me.
And above all how I would wonder why the happiness everyone else around me felt in their relationships seemed unattainable.
But I never equated any of this to being gay. Nor was being gay something I ever fought to erase from my identity. It was never something I felt was a sin or wrong. It just didn’t exist for me. Of course I knew gay people existed, but growing up I never knew anyone close to me who could link a sense of normalcy and humanity with the label.
And then came the first time I ever felt something for anyone, when I looked into her eyes and felt a chill go through my entire body. I remember physically feeling it spread from my fingertips to my toes, and not even caring that it wasn’t a reciprocated feeling. I was a young teenager wouldn’t have done anything even if it had been. The only thing I could think about was how a term that had been very loosely drifting around my headspace for a year and a half had become in one instant very, very real.
I laid on my shakey bunk bed in the basement of the Moroccan house that night watching as the walls around me crumbled into chalk colored rubble and dust above the foundation.
(July 2018) My parents came with me to my first pride. That in itself is a luxury I know I’m lucky to have. Sprawled out on picnic blankets on the green grass of Cheesman Park in Downtown Denver we soaked in summertime watching the parade go by. Yet more than on the parade and rainbow flags I was fixated on the people lying atop the grass around us. Two women with a baby between then watched from our left. Another couple on our right. The people in every direction formed a multi-color quilt of picnic blankets across the hills of the park. Together they embodied every type of love possible.
I saw for the first time in my life that everything I dreamed to have in my life was attainable. Love, family, community. Maybe I wouldn’t find it for years, but that didn’t matter. For the first time in my life, I felt seen without having to say anything. Because what no one told me about coming out is that you never stop doing it. You do it every day with every new person. And while the words become easier to say, they never stop being scary. No one ever told me about the isolation of queer invisibility. How most strangers will assume you’re straight, how you will bite your tongue every time they ask you about your boyfriend, how you will be afraid to correct them in case you make someone uncomfortable, how you will change she to they when talking about partners, how song lyrics won’t make sense in the way they should. And how your mother will remind you that your life is going to be a lot harder in this way. These are the weights we carry that other people don’t, and on some days they are heavier than others.
Having said all that, there will be a day when you meet someone who makes everything worth it. Someone who will remind you that, beyond everything, sexuality is just a word in the English language. It’s a method of classification which at the core has no real significance. The only thing that will matter is love.
If you are reading this right now that means you made it to the end, so thank you. I originally wrote this article with no intention of ever publishing it. I wrote it because there are words here that I’ve wanted to say for years, yet have never had the opportunity. I am publishing it today because there are words here that I would have wanted to read years ago. And because I came out two years ago, which feels like a very short time and very a long time simultaneously. And finally because in the words of Alicia Mountain, no one should let their life go undocumented in fear.
Published from Barcelona, Spain 29.01.19