Moroccan, gay and unhappy: ‘I prayed to Allah: make me a straight’

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Nassiri (45) is in the kitchen of his apartment in Amstelveen. He is not the type who whines, who quickly hangs his head, but: he is tired. Very tired.

He has two burnouts behind him. But this, what he feels now, is a new kind of fatigue. It is deeper. It is mourning. It’s anger. It is sadness. Lack. Old very. It is, he will put it later in the conversation, ‘all together’.

Dozens of missed calls

It is May 17 when Nassiri wakes up and turns on his phone. Dozens of missed calls from a friend, all panic messages. “Do you know where Said is?” No, Nassiri did not know that. They are friends, see each other going out, Nassiri often called Saïd to check how things were going. “He felt like my younger brother.”

But now Nassiri did not catch Said. That same day, friends hear what they don’t want to hear – and don’t want to believe. Said was found dead in his apartment in Amsterdam. What happened is not entirely clear. No autopsy was performed at the request of the family.

Said probably died from the effects of epilepsy. He has been struggling with this since he was sixteen, after being hit on the head because he was gay.

“Said’s life was beautiful at times,” says Nassiri.

He sat down on his high wooden Moroccan bench in the kitchen with dark red cushions adorned with gold stitching. He points to the other side of the apartment. A dark gray corner sofa. “I always say to my friend Ferdinand: we have a Dutch corner and a Moroccan corner. Just the way I am, actually. ”

Return to Said. That beautiful, 30-year-old young man. “An attention grabber, who liked to be in the spotlight. He had a heavy voice, was almost 2 meters long and had an infectious smile. Really, when he started laughing, you automatically laughed. Even if you didn’t know what he was laughing at . ”

Fortunately, but often not

“He was happy when he was with friends, when we were partying or when we had good conversations.” But it was also often difficult. Saïd was gay, but also Moroccan, from a large Muslim family. “He has struggled for so long, has been so often reviled by some people for who he was. And I know what it is like. That’s why I was always so fond of him.”

Nassiri is also gay and Moroccan. He grew up in a large family with six children in Gorinchem, South Holland. His parents divorced when Nassiri was 10, from that moment on his father became increasingly out of the picture and his mother became ‘a lioness’. “She was really fighting for us.”

There was not much money. The family received clothes from people in the ward and from other relatives. They received food through the church. “I remember a special birthday present,” Nassiri smiles. “There was no money at home, but my teacher knew how spicy it was there. After class, she said: ‘Are you going to sit down?'”

He received a book from the Kameleon. “You will never forget something like that.”

Unrest in the lower abdomen

What he never forgets: that feeling he used to have. Not to put your finger on it, but it was a kind of restlessness, in his abdomen. And he also felt that he couldn’t talk about it. That feeling intensified when he suddenly saw how handsome his art teacher was. “Really such adolescent love,” he smiles. “You don’t do anything with.”

The only difference was, didn’t he ‘feel’ such a thing for a woman? “Yes, right?”

“From my Moroccan culture I learned: you will get married at some point. With a woman. I think my mother understood that I was different. I think all mothers feel that of their children.”

“I often heard that homosexuality was impossible. That was unclean, unnatural. That was not allowed by God. ”

Tossing and tossing

Nassiri grew up with that idea. But yes, that feeling eh, in that gut. It just kept tossing and tossing there. “I remember my first kiss. It was in Gorinchem. In the ice cream parlor, in a back room, with a nice boy. I was so afraid to get caught and then lose everything. My friends, my family.”

“I was also afraid of what God would think of it. I felt a fear I had never felt before. The kiss was nice and terrible at the same time. I went home panicked, shamed, and showered extensively.”

“Crazy,” he says now. “That you can feel dirty because of love.”

He kept it to himself. For a long time. He even prayed to Allah to whomever he wanted to hear. “Make me a straight.”

He’s also tried to fall in love with Moroccan women a few times – maybe that worked. Once he even came home to a ‘nice, pretty, beautiful lady’. “I thought, if I can do it, then with her.”

A fiasco

It was a failure, that first date. “We sat opposite each other at her table at home. Having tea. And I didn’t know what to say or do. What I did know: if I married her, I would make her and myself very unhappy.”

As a young man in his twenties, he now lived on his own, in an apartment in Gorinchem. He went out more and more often. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam, where he was taken by a Moroccan friend (also gay, and also in the closet). “I didn’t take friends to my house. It felt unsafe, scary and confrontational for a long time.”

Not that he felt freer in the pub. He still sees himself standing. Back against the wall – literally but also figuratively. Caught between two worlds. “I did not feel at home in the Moroccan community because of my orientation, but because of my shame and the taboo I grew up with, I was not in the right place in the gay community.”

All time low

He would have preferred to kiss some of those handsome men on the dance floor. But it took years before he would dare to do that. Unlucky years, that is, with ‘the deepest low’ at 35. “I was so depressed and unhappy that I didn’t want to live anymore. I was so tired of the shame and double life that I was leading. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

With his ‘last powers’ he decided to visit his sister, in her hometown in Belgium. He entered, stuttering and stammering.

“Are you sick?” Asked his sister, startled.

“Maybe,” he replied.

And then the story came. To which his sister replied, “Is that all?” Nassiri laughs. “Yes, I did not expect that. But she is free-spirited. My youngest sister, brother and sister-in-law also know, but I did not dare to tell the rest. Not even my mother.”

There is always hope

It becomes quiet for a moment at the kitchen table. Nassiri is a mother’s child. Still. But he hasn’t seen his mother in nine years. “My family, apart from my sister, broke off contact when they heard about my sexual orientation. But my door always stays open.”

Whether he hopes they read this? Nassiri nods. ”Yes. Of course. You know, there is always hope. ”

Just as his friend Said always hoped for more acceptance of gays in the Moroccan community. “He was a warrior, he couldn’t stand injustice. When he saw someone being disadvantaged for what he was like on the street or something, he jumped in. Said was someone who spoke out after coming out.”

Completely myself

They got to know each other in 2014, through the nightlife and via social media, when Nassiri was long and wide out of the closet. “I was fine. I had even sailed with the first Moroccan boat during gay pride that year. That was an emotional moment. I remember when I walked down that boat and thought: now I can really put myself in the looking at the mirror. Now I am true to myself. ”

Said was a little earlier in that process. He had good contact with his mother and sister, he cherished that, but he was having a hard time. “I always say: you have one first coming in, as a homosexual. You have to find out who you are and accept that you like men. And then comes the coming out. Or not. People have to decide that themselves. Own pace. Own moment. Own way.”

At the words ‘tempo’, ‘moment’ and ‘way’ he hits the kitchen table gently with a flat hand.

Nassiri always says things like that to the young people he speaks from Pink Marrakech, where he speaks and guides many young people who have difficulties coming out of the closet because of their culture or religion.

Uncontested taboo

“Said and I are of generations where homosexuality has not been discussed. Just not. But luckily I see more and more change. Sparsely. Recently a veiled Muslim mother, aged about 50 or 60, came with her gay son to one of our events. That touched me. ”

Because it is so important to talk about it, to make people realize that faith and love don’t have to get in each other’s way. “I still believe and pray faithfully, often go to Morocco and be gay at the same time. I am myself and it feels like a liberation.”

“I almost went under it ten years ago, just like Said. He actually lived far too short to be completely happy.”

How often Nassiri visited him. Especially when he was temporarily in a clinic, due to psychological problems. “Sometimes it was too much for him, that fight. I thought it was tough to see, I recognized a lot.”

Not a bite through the throat

Nassiri would have granted Saïd what he has now. A house, a nice relationship – Nassiri met his friend Ferdinand via the internet. “The first time we made an appointment, we would go out for dinner. After the starter we had already paid. We were so in love that we never got a single bite.”

Nassiri laughs. “Said was also impressed by Ferdinand. He always said: ‘What a handsome man you have!” ”

Then, seriously again: “I haven’t started grieving yet, I think. When do you ‘start’ with something like that? I have to stop thinking that he’s gone and he’s not coming back. I also have to improve myself all the time if I talk about him in the present tense. Said is, I say, instead of was. ”

Not to be swallowed

“I can’t accept that Said struggled like this until his death. And that life was never easy for him. I think that is perhaps the saddest thing that he has experienced such unfortunate times.”

Maybe that’s why Said’s name is mentioned so often. By people in the gay community, but also beyond. He was written about in newspapers, social media, talked about on TV, documentary was shot.

“I find that hopeful. His death brought hope. And he continues to do so.” Nassiri points to a cupboard in his kitchen. There is a plant pot on it. “Forget-me-nots,” says Nassiri. “We passed it on to everyone after Said’s commemoration.”

Do not forget me

During the time when Said is no longer on earth, the green stems have crawled out of the earth. Shot into the air. Flowers will soon emerge. Not only with Nassiri, but with all those visitors who came to pay Said a final honor.

“The grief was great, but so was his goodbye and love. It is bizarre what all that boy has unleashed. If he would look down now. He would laugh so hard.”

Hard. Roaring. And above all: infectious.

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