Sami from Syria
** If you haven’t checked out the first part of the story, check it out here**
Even with my first girlfriend, I never really knew what I wanted with her. I knew something could happen between us, that we could kiss or whatever, but I always had this voice in the back of my head. In our community we often say, would you like the things you do with other girls to happen to your sister? We are a really male dominated society and we take that ownership very seriously. If your sister is going out with men and kissing, it’s a problem, so why would you do that with other girls?
My mom would always tell my brother and I, “It’s not only about you, it’s also about the girl. You might create troubles for her, you should always consider her as a sister and care for her.”
My mom gave us a good picture of girls, she always made sure we knew they were human and they weren’t different than us. My mom is this zen person who taught us we always need to strike balance between what we want and what we should not do.
I always tried to keep that in mind but society’s messages were equally as strong. I thought if I kissed a girl, maybe it would hurt her in some way. Or, it would lead to something really bad and her life would be destroyed. We heard a lot of stories growing up about the “slut” who went with some guy. They would have to get married and then later they would get divorced and then no one would want to marry her. She would end up alone, taking care of the family all by herself. It was confusing to grow up with these two strong messages. I wanted to care for women but I was also really interested in sex.
I started looking for it everywhere I could, which one day lead me to my dad’s closet. I found this magazine that was in English. I think he brought it so I could read it and improve my English but there were a few explicit pictures so he hid it instead. The picture that really stuck out to me was a woman who was wearing a towel, lifting it up and showing a part of her vulva and her pubic hair. That picture stuck in my head for the rest of my life. It was really funny because I showed my aunt the picture and she was like, “what in the fuck are you doing?” It was also really embarrassing for my dad. He hid it again but I managed to find it. I really liked going through his stuff.
Then another time we were at my grandparent’s house and my uncle was flipping through the channels on the TV. He came across something with women in lingerie and he stopped on it just long enough for us to see. The whole thing was in French, so I didn’t understand anything but it obviously was a hotline. Later, I called the number from my grandparent’s house because they had a special thing so you could call internationally. Of course, then my grandparents had a huge phone bill and no idea where it came from.
I don’t know what I expected to happen, maybe I hoped there would be some hot woman on the other end. In reality though, it was just a kind of answering machine that I didn’t understand because it too was in French. It was just about curiosity. I didn’t care about what happened, I didn’t care if I got in trouble. My grandpa was really angry though and wanted to know where these calls came from. He thought our line was stolen and of course I supported that theory. They hired someone to change all of the cables to make sure that this never happened again.
Sissy that walk
Since gender segregation was always a thing, I went to an all boys school. It wasn’t too bad overall. We were taught about anatomy in seventh grade and learned about the reproductive organs. No one ever taught us about condoms though, even though some condoms are made in Syria.
Then there was our religion class. At the end of class every day, there was a chance for the students to ask questions. Our questions were mainly about what does this verse mean, what did Muhammad mean by saying that, what happened in this battle and stuff like that. Once though, someone asked about sex. The teacher told us you need to get married and then you can have sex and children, then you raise them like this.
I think he knew that we were hitting puberty and curious about sex, so he made sure to also scare us about being gay. He told us that if a man touched us in that way, in hell, our skin will open up as a vagina and babies will come out of it and it will hurt for eternity. He then added, if you have anal sex with another man, babies will come out of your ass as well. He really scared us. No one questioned it because being gay didn’t make any sense to us, we didn’t even know what it meant. He said man and man don’t do this; simple as that.
We actually had a friend in sixth or seventh grade who was really feminine. He did gymnastics, was really flexible, and was just feminine in every way. He was almost like a drag queen. He was totally different than all of the kids that we knew around us. For some reason though, that did not really make a difference to us. He was really a friend, he was one of us. At some point, I think he fell in love with my brother and we really didn’t understand that. We didn’t understand that men could fall in love with other men. We knew brotherly love, I would go and die for you because you are my friend love, but that is the only kind of male bond that we knew.
There was this Iraqi guy who moved to our neighborhood and opened up this tiny supermarket. I think he was in his mid 30s but there was something going on with this guy, he wasn’t like any other adult we knew. He was more like us than he was like other adults. We would go to his store, buy snacks and play football with him all of the time. He was really like us, he was one of our friends. At the time I didn’t get it but as an adult, I see that he had some fairly bad developmental issues.
This really feminine friend was also with us all of the time. He was youngest of seventeen siblings and so he had brothers in their mid 40s. Once the brothers saw him at the shop and they came and intervened. One brother took our feminine friend out and the other brothers started beating up the shop owner.
None of us understood what was going on at the time. We were just kids and even the shop owner had the understanding of a child. I didn’t understand what was going on but now I know. I know that his brothers were aware of his sexuality or tendencies and they were afraid that he would be molested by this older guy. I remember the shock on my older friends face; he didn’t understand what was going on. He didn’t understand why these guys were beating him up.
After that, we didn’t see the feminine kid any more. We checked his house but he wasn’t there. It was traumatizing for us because we really loved this kid. He was so energetic and was filled with this positive fight inside of him. He was a really good personality among us. At the time we really didn’t understand what it is. We thought ok he’s different, who gives a fuck, we play football together, we hang out, we watch movies, that’s all that matters.
This thing called porn
Then when I was in the ninth grade, I had a friend who was two years older than me and worked at a video rental store. One day I was just sitting with him and his friend and he asked if I had ever seen porn before. I said no. They started giggling and brought out a porn. I think it was 70s porn. Everyone had hair, lots of pubic hair, lots of armpit hair. I went to my friends afterwards and said, “guys, there is this thing called porn! We really need to watch it.”
It was really expensive in Syria to have a PlayStation, so these video rental stores would also rent PlayStations for a day. The nice thing about the PlayStation was that they could also play DVDs. I went to this rental place where my friend worked and asked the owner for a porn. He was hesitant but after a while, he agreed.
He gave me a DVD and the Playstation but we still had a problem. I can occupy the living room in my house to play PlayStation but we can’t watch a porn there. We ended up having to rent this small TV, the PlayStation and the porn. It was all money we had. We even had to invite a few more kids to get enough money together. We got this huge cable to hook up everything and started playing FIFA up on my roof. Everyone was really anxious, they wanted to see the first porn of their life.
When the sun started setting, we decided to put on the porn. It was a totally different kind of porn than the one I saw before. It was more modern with this Hungarian porn star with huge tits. Everyone was staring in awe. She was shaved, she was blonde, she was wide, she was like nothing we had ever seen before. It was the first time most of these kids had ever seen a woman’s naked body or penis other than their own. We had never seen an uncircumcised penis as well. One kid actually felt really disgusted and left.
A few years later in ninth grade, I got my first computer. I was the first person in the whole neighborhood to get one. I was already downloading a lot of music and selling it to the kids in my school so it made sense to start doing the same thing with porn. Whenever I would get a floppy disk, I would invite my friends and everyone would watch. My room was basically the porn room for four or five years.
It’s possible that to an extent, our relationship to porn was damaging to us and our relationships. You create all of these assumptions about women, especially in such a male dominated society. Over time, it really shapes what you think about them. For a lot of my friends it was really damaging because porn was their primary source for learning about women. At least I had friends who were girls so I had some kind of contact but a lot of my friends didn’t have that luxury. They didn’t have the courage to even just go to a girl and ask her to be their friend.
The only thing we really learned from porn was humping. Foreplay scenes weren’t really sensual and it was never about the woman, it was always about the man. It was always about getting your thing done and coming. I don’t know how traumatizing this must be for a lot of young women in our society. Especially because women are supposed to be virgins until they are married so a lot of the time, we just ended up having anal sex with really no idea what we were doing.
A lot of these problems are due to the lack of sex education and empathy I think. I am really thankful for my mom who at least tried to raise me and my brother to be empathetic and have a different, more based on reality, view on women.