You were probably the first lesbian couple Bilal had ever hosted. Perhaps it was a unique experience for him, to be peppered with so many questions about women. Women’s relationships to society. Women’s relationships to men. But what if a woman didn’t want to relate to a man? Then what?
You didn’t get to ask.
Being gay isn’t exactly like being in any other minority group. No one can really hide their skin color, sex, age, or handicap. But you can always pretend to be straight.
In some respect, being gay is a lot more like being religious. You have certain “practices” that are incomprehensible or unsavory to others. In order to avoid confrontation, you can keep your “views” to yourself. Just act straight, and everyone gets along. Fit the heteronormative mold.
Unfortunately, this request is more akin to asking a black person to paint his skin white. “We don’t want to know you’re here, so do us a favor and disappear.”
“I don’t care what people do in their bedrooms,” someone who thinks he’s liberal will say. “His sexual preferences are a private matter.”
Wonderful! But in the words of a clever contributor to Autostraddle, sexual orientation is only a private matter if you’re gay.
If you’re straight, it’s public. You’re straight by default, and you can talk about your relationships without reservation. No one bats an eye.
But if you’re gay, you must contend daily with people who do not know this fact, and you must always determine if and when you should out yourself. This is stressful, especially in regions where being gay just ain’t cool.
If you’re straight, then the dogma of religion or social pressure (such as was described by Bilal), no matter how strict it sounds, still fits neatly into the basics of your daily life. And if you’re gay… get the fuck out. You are insane, aberrated, perverted. A casualty.
In some places, they might try to fix you, “corrective rape” you, force you to marry, lie about you. Or just kill you.
Thank goodness you were a lesbian born in America. You are fully aware of your privileges. You enjoy them with little reservation. And the tedium of admitting your sexual orientation can be illustrated here:
Q: How do you know you’re gay?
A: How do you know you’re straight?
Q: Okay. Um, have you ever had sex with a man?
A: Have you?
Q: You know what I mean… have you?
A: Of course. When I’m bored or self-destructive, usually.
Q: And you didn’t like it?
A: I don’t exactly care for it.
Q: Maybe you haven’t met the right guy yet.
A: Really? How many dicks does it take, do you think?
How can you be yourself in more unfriendly environments? In other words, you are queer, but you also pride yourself on being a fiercely independent lady, accustomed to being able to go anywhere, do anything, consume whatever, freely and safely—and without a man as a chaperone.
Behold the following screen shot!
This is exactly half of the unsolicited messages Katie received after posting a couch request in Morocco. Man after man after man.
Katie, exasperated: “I can’t believe this. Maybe I should write in my profile: AND BY THE WAY, I AM A LESBIAN. AND NOT THE THE KIND THAT ONLY LIKES GIRLS UNTIL YOUR DICK SHOWS UP. Then maybe these guys wouldn’t flood my inbox like this.”
Okay, okay. Granted, that was a lot of potentially horny young men—most of whom did not have references, friends, verifications, or anything else to make their offers more legitimate. But what do you know? Maybe men just leap at the opportunity to host two Western girls because that’s just what they do to be nice—flirting and sex aside.
“You’re going to Morocco? I hate that place,” a friendly, sun-burned, British tourist said to you and Katie. “I would be so afraid if my daughter went there. Don’t get me wrong! I think it’s great what you’re doing, traveling around, but don’t forget to take care of each other. Look out for each other. You’re women; and you’re a couple. It’s different.”
You’re keenly aware of it.
Here’s a motto for you: “This is Algarve! If you don’t like it, you can leave!” Enter Kurt, your Couchsurfing host after Bilal.
Oh Kurt… 64-years-old, with a shock of white hair contrasting against red skin, and piercing blue German eyes. One missing front tooth, for character. He wore knee-length shorts, a button-down shirt, and always the same tan vest.
“I have this vest for 15 years. So many pockets. Can carry five kilos on the body! Still like new! Quality, my dear. Quality.”
One thing to know about Kurt: he talks. A lot. Like, a lot! No, really.
From the moment you met, “Oh! And here we must have the one from Seattle. My, you are tall. Take care! Take care, for you are tall. And what’s this? She is sleepy! Come over here. You can place your bags in the back. There is my rucksack. Always in the car. This is for the police—if they stop me. I am prepared, you see, because my car is German, but I am living in Algarve. But they do not know this. To them, I am only a tourist, and I leave in two days. See here? My rucksack. Proof. And I’m on my way. There you are now, oh! So heavy! So much stuff! Come, come, Seattle. Seattle! In Washington. One state about Oregon. I was in Oregon. To eat the bison! A woman–” whatever her name was “–incredible! I followed her there. You see, I have done business in many places. 35 years! International business, managing large infrastructure projects. I have learned many things. I can tell you many things. But first, if you give permission, we go though the mountains. I can take you on a tour of the mountains of Algarve, and at the top, be sure, we can see my house! Ha! Ha!”
He had a way of cracking himself up, lips drawing back and exposing the little nubbin of jelly where his tooth once hung.
“Infrastructure pro–” you began.
“Amazing! These windmills you see here, they are not so good. The problem with wind…” and on he went, for 20 minutes.
You learned quickly that he was hard of hearing, that most of your questions, your responses, probably went unheard. Kurt was incredible in his ability to leap from one train of thought to another, spontaneously, but also deliberately. No matter how often you assumed he was rambling, you would always realize that he was not. Every topic went full circle, and you would find yourself back at the beginning, on the original point.
Kurt explained every aspect of the Algarve, drove you around, bought you beers, took you to markets, beaches, a concert, and broke it all down to a microscopic level. A systemic level.
“Typical Algarve!” he said. “You see, they promote for a concert on the internet. I know because I get the news in my email. The location is “to be announced.” Then, when I find out where the concert is, I have less time to plan. Perhaps I will not have the car. Perhaps it is not linked by a bus. You never know. But they tell you when they want to tell you. Everything is at their speed. Typical Algarve. If you don’t like it, you can leave. And now, we are in Silves, more than one hour early just to buy the tickets. It is the only way. And this man who must open the door, be sure, he is a very unhappy man. He wants the long weekend, but instead he must come here just to open the door. And when I ask him why there is no poster in the window of the theater, he becomes angry with me. I ask questions and he has no answers. It is not his responsibility. Typical Algarve.”
On and on and on about how in Algarve, the people have their own way of life. A special way of life, special systems, special prices, special privileges for the locals. And if you won’t like it, be sure, they will not change for you. If you don’t like it, you can leave.
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Hence the theme: when you are on someone else’s turf, you cannot expect them to behave in a way that pleases you and you alone. Their house, their rules. Play by their rules, and you’ll do just fine.
If you are in a society with different values, different traditions, different opinions about women—about homosexuals—you better be ready to conform. Be patient. Be respectful. And be quiet. Or you invite trouble.
And if you don’t like it, you can leave.
You considered this for some time, curious about how you would have to re-construct your mode of travel for Morocco, given your status of a “very foreign” and “clearly female.” What could you get away with? What troubles would your Western-ness bring? What privileges? What annoyances?
“I’ve never heard of a single woman hitchhiking in Morocco. Only about women who have hitchhiked to Morocco,” you explained. “No problem getting to Morocco. But afterward?”
Every single person you talked to gave you the same uncertain look. “To be honest I wouldn’t recommend it. The buses and trains are so cheap. There’s no point.”
The point wasn’t about saving money—not this time. The point was to know what can and cannot be done.
Feel the situation out when you get there. Act accordingly.
And in the meantime, plan to dress more conservatively. Long sleeves. Pants. It’s not that you will be in danger if you don’t, but you will invite annoyances.
“They will cat call at you,” one woman explained. “That happens. And they will try anything to get your money. But you just tell them to leave you alone. You have nothing to say to them. No money. Leave me alone! That kind of thing. But don’t worry. They are the nicest people. You will have a great time.”
And if you don’t like it, you can always leave. Turn around and get back on the boat, to the safety of Spain.