A Desiring Arab Pt. 01
"Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I'll come up; if not, I'll stay down here till I'm someone else." Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
"Not East, not West, not North and not South- only this spot I am standing on now." Abbas Kiarostami
"Yeki Ya Schehrezade! (Oh Schehrezade, won't you tell us another tale!)" Tales from the 1001 Arabian Nights.
The three quotes above really speak to me and in-some way or another represent, who I am. People often write to me wanting to know more about me and why I do what I do. I have yet to come up with an adequate explanation for them, and thus, I have decided to write these reflective essays, which may go some way to answering these questions.
In many ways, my eroticism is closely linked to my identity and my identity is shaped by the culture I was raised in. A Bisexual Arab Jordanian woman from a Muslim family, makes me a figure of intrigue to many, who hope I will act as a window onto an 'austere' culture. Media fuelled Occidentalis ask the question, 'what really happened beneath the veil?' In many ways my story is a-typical and in others ways part of broader trend in the Arab world.
I am unable to write about trends in eroticism in the Arab world, but for those interested the following publications are a great and necessary resource on the topics I discuss. Joseph Massad- Desiring Arabs, Shereen El Feki- Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, Malu Halasa & Rana Salam- Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design, Abdelwahab Bouhdiba- Sexuality in Islam, Samir Khalaf & John Gagnon-Sexuality in the Arab World, Fatema Mernissi- Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in a Muslim Society and Rebecca Joubin- The Politics of Love: Sexuality, Gender, and Marriage in Syrian Television Drama.
The Beginning- Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)
When writing any personalised essay, I am always struck by the perennial mystery of where to begin. The dictum, "You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends. To get to the heart of the story, you have to go back to the beginning." Is one I will attempt to apply.
My story begins in the Jordanian capital Amman, a place which became a refuge for many people, who would go on to form my family and ancestry. If you probe into my family tree, you'll find ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs, Greeks, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Circassians, Persians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and Jordanians. Most of the mixed ancestry comes via my marital line, my mother's father was Syrian and descended from Ottoman notables and Syrian trading families. Born in Aleppo during the French Mandate, he was always drawn to religion and religious politics.
A tall man at over 6 foot, he was an excellent boxer. He became a Salafist, because he felt Muslim society needed reform and later joined the Syrian Muslim Brothers. Joining an Islamist organisation put him at odds with secular nationalists and fights broke out between them. There's a rumour that once he got into a physical altercation with a young activist from the Ba'ath movement. He punched this guy to within an inch of his life and it's said that the young activist was Hafez Al-Assad, who later went on to become President of Syria and his son is the current president.
He married a Palestinian refugee from Haifa and was settling into life in Syria, when Hafez Al-Assad took power. He fled Syria for Jordan and avoided prison or execution under the Ba'athist state in Syria. He then stayed out of politics, but became personally more religious and this reflected back in my mother who married my father, who was also a Salafist. My father is from a traditional Jordanian tribe, but follows the teachings of Sheikh Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, who was one of Jordan's most important Salafist scholars.
I was born into this union and world. When I was a teenager, I started wearing Hijab (headscarf) and long sleeve shirts and pants. I adopted the Salafist form of public modesty, I also began memorizing Islam's holy book, important scriptures, hagiographies (religious biographies) and religious legal texts. Because of my advance study at an early age, my knowledge of Classical Arabic was ahead of other children. I even began studying other religions from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Besides religion, I was always very good at mathematics and science, but my real passion was (and still is) literature.
By the age of 14, I had read most of Naguib Mahfouz's novels, Mahmoud Darwish's poetry and Nizar Qabbani's poety. I am still an avid reader of Arabic literature, but it was about this age that I underwent profound changes. I learnt enough English to read novels and watch films and my French was quickly catching up too. I remember the long evenings reading Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Charles Dickens's bleak house and Oliver Twist, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice and Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo.
But all my readings and love of learning, could not distract from the physical developments in my body. I had a very difficult relationship between my ideals and sexual development, because I wanted to be the perfect Muslima (Muslim woman). Purity and chastity were paths to obtain moral perfection and would turn me into a virtues individual. For me virtue was the ultimate state, it represented true freedom and gave life real meaning and purpose. The Buddha teaches that exists is suffering and the cause of suffering is desire, which is not too far from the Islamic concept of physical existences is painful and our mortal bodies are like prisons for the soul, which naturally seeks unification with the divine.
But both religions seek to help the individual escape from this pain and reach higher truths. My ideal of virtue was transcendent and sought to reach an appropriate state to receive these higher truths. But as French Revolutionary, Maximilien de Robespierre said, "Virtue with terror is impotent and terror without virtue was blind." And for me, my sexual development represented my own personal 'reign of terror', which threatened to destroy my virtues. I wanted to ascend, but sexuality was making me descend into a dark underworld, and it was at this time I found solace in Dante's the divine comedy. Dante went through the inferno, purgatory and entered into paradise with the help of Virgil the Roman.
My understanding of Awrah (Intimate Parts), was that they represented female weakness and this perception is culturally pervasive. I hated my growing breasts, but by the time I turned 15, my vagina was the real problem. I would wake up in the middle of the night and find my hand touching or rubbing my outer lips. I remember watching music channels one evening, when Christina Aguilera's video Dirty came on. I found myself unable to look away and I crossed my legs and began rocking back and forth in my chair. I was also confused by this, I found the meaty guys a turn on, but I was equally attracted to the red panties of Christina. I couldn't understand this.
This inability to distinguish who I was attracted to extended to other music videos, I kinda wanted to sleep with both and be the object of the videos. I wanted to be Christina in the red panties or Britney Spears swinging from a pole and I want to be with them. This confusion was made worse, when I discovered some pornography magazines my male cousin had bought in Lebanon. They were American and I stole a few and hid them. I would find myself looking at the nude models, while masturbating and imagining I was the model and someone was taking pictures of me.
I would feel ashamed after the act, but while masturbating, I was excited and would feel my body warming up. I was becoming a serious pervert and this was made worse when I got my own laptop and using proxies would find good internet porn. I tried everything from softcore to hardcore and found myself watching everything from straight sex, lesbian, bdsm, group-orgy-gangbang to shemale. But I developed a real affinity towards latex, leather and pvc, which I still have today.
There was something about the outrangeness, attention-seeking and unambiguous sensuality and clear expression of sexuality of latex that stuck in my mind. It represented sexual empowerment and a chance to regain control of one's own sexuality. Most of the pornography, I consumed was American and for a while the two things became intertwined for me. Every time I would masturbate, I would image either American men or women, but this was still a profound time of rejection of sexuality for me too. But watching pornography peeked my interest in male gentiles, which I still carry around with me.
The real break came when I was 16 and my female cousin from America came to visit Jordan for the summer. She is two-years older than me and hypersexualised, we became close over the summer and she began telling me about all the boys she had slept with. She shared intimate details of how sex works and even began teaching me how to kiss. But once while kissing me, she sensed my enjoyment and then realized my interest in woman as well as men. One night, she came into my bedroom and climbed into my bed and slid her hand down my panties and began rubbing my pussy. She did this a number of times before she left – this moment changed me- I then gave up on the idea of virtue. I decided to adopt a materialistic view on the world and left religion- I took my hijab off and began buying tighter and westernised clothing. I adopted a social-Darwinist view of the world, which I mixed with Marxism and radical feminism.
My parents were deeply concerned and believed it to be a phase and while they tried to bring me back into the fold, they did give me some space too. I was a sexual creature and I wanted to embrace my sexuality more. When I turned 17, I finally lost my virginity to a Jordanian guy, who was my boyfriend for 3 months. The first time was like nothing I'd imagined, it hurt and he was clumsy, but despite this we continued to do it and he did get better. We had sex 7 times and by the end I was having orgasms.
But for my lack of religiosity, I was making up for in my progressive Arab nationalism. I began pro-Palestine solidarity, but I do have Israeli friends. My beliefs on Israel/Palestine is for a one-state solution in which both Jews and Arabs live in a democratic secular state with equal rights for all and my activism and beliefs put me in contact with Israeli peace activists. I began a relationship with an Israeli-woman from Tel-Aviv, who was also bisexual and had a boyfriend. She was my first lesbian relationship, we would visit each other in both Jordan and Israel and have full lesbian sex. I also had my first threesome between her and her boyfriend. I also became close to Palestinian queer activists.
But my inner slut only really came out into the open when I turned 18. I left Jordan and moved to the United Kingdom and studied at the London School of Economics- I changed everything about me. I became a sex positivist activist and ardent feminist, when I wasn't studying, I was exploring my sexuality uninhibited. I began buying sexy outfits, latex, sex toys and participating in a lot of free love. At the end of my first academic year, I decided to spend the summer exploring sex work, which I hoped to write about. I moved to Amsterdam for the summer and I started out life as a door girl and waitress in one strip club and a sex show club. My job as a door girl was to entice customers in, I would be dressed in revealing outfits and be on show.
It took me a month before I felt comfortable enough to try my hand at stripping and a few weeks long before I participated in a sex show. After two months, I felt the need to try one more thing, which was to work as a prostitute in the red light district. I would stand in a see-through window in my underwear and allure customers in. I lost count of how many paid to fuck me. But I developed a real skill for being cum on.
I left Amsterdam and returned to London and I wrote about my experiences for a magazine. While there, I met an American guy, who became my boyfriend. He had an obsession with being circumcised, he was cut, and regarded it as a loss of masculinity and a form of mutualisation. He also had a kink for being a peeping tom and would encourage me to sleep with uncut guys in-front of him. During sex with them, I had to emphasis my love of the foreskin and spend time playing with it. In Arab culture we regard the foreskin to be dirty and so I was breaking more cultural taboos than he realized.
I decided to take my third-year out of LSE and do a year abroad at Harvard's Kennedy school of Government. It was a vain attempt to keep our relationship going, but it soon fizzled out and I moved on to other men and women. But it was then, that I began to feel a spiritual isolation and emptiness and I couldn't get rid of it. I became a heavy drinker and when I returned to London for my finial year I was a drunken wreck. Despite this, I turned to high class escorting and modelling to help pay for my finial year.
When I left LSE, I went travelling around the world and it was then that I reconnected with my Islamic spirituality. I was drawn to Sufism, but I did not give up my sexuality rather I reconciled to two in the principle of divine love, mercy and forgiveness. I went back to Jordan and began working as a reporter, when the Arab Spring happened and these glorious events spoke to me in a profound way.
But while I felt my society was advancing, I felt the rest of the world wasn't. I am very in-touch with my sexuality and would often turn to literotica for some sexy stories. However, I felt stories depicting Arab and Muslim women where very one-dimensional and did not suit the woman I was nor the women I knew. Which is why I turned to writing. I want to give voice to Arab and Muslim women's sexuality. I hope I am doing them justice.