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Ahmed Awadallah did this interview with YouTuber, Gay Ali Baba, who creates content on sex, homosexuality, and health. They discussed his motivations for creating his content and the controversy sparked by his use of vernacular language.
Ahmed Awadallah: How did you start creating online content and what were your motivations?
Ali Baba: I didn’t start my channel thinking I knew it all and would advise people on stuff; rather, I wanted to talk about topics I loved and had experience in. I love talking about sex because I’m a khawal and manwhore. I also love talking about psychological matters; this is why I love talking about sex from a psychological point of view, besides my interest in religion. I love humor and fun and have a sarcastic style, too.
When I started, I didn’t have it in mind to play the role of a sex educator, but I love talking about these topics. They’re fun and interesting, and my main goal is to enjoy myself. But I also found that many people would benefit from these topics. It was like killing two birds with one stone.
Some people say I distort the image of homosexuality, but my channel is called “Gay Ali Baba” – I’m representing myself and not homosexuality. I don’t see myself as an activist, and I’m not responsible for how people view homosexuality. If anyone else wants to share a different view, they can create different content.
Others say that all my videos are about sex, but actually, I make more non-sex-related content. Even if it were the other way around, sex is part of humanity’s diversity. Sex is an essential part of life and death. Do you know, for example, that fetuses have erections and that one can ejaculate after death?
I’ve worked in sex education for a long time, and, from my experience, people think that to play such a role one must have a medical background. This may lead to privileging knowledge produced by medical workers over other types of experiential knowledge or knowledge based on respect for minorities. What’s your take on the matter?
That’s an old topic. In Egypt, for example, people used to go to attars (herbalists) to consult them on their health. But now, the internet has opened the way for sharing knowledge. I don’t like talking about my job, but I have so much knowledge because of my experience volunteering in sexual health and personal experience. I have also done a lot of reading and researching.
Actually, I think there is much responsibility involved, and people already see my work as if it were sacred because I’m a media person. Some of my videos on condoms and HIV have caused a lot of controversy, but the content I make is only prescriptive and everyone must do their own research.
In my videos, I always assert that each person must do their own research and only use the kind of protection they really feel comfortable with. It’s the viewer’s responsibility to check and read different sources and opinions to form their own.
Artwork by Mloukhiyyé
You talked about the controversy sparked by your AIDS videos and said that you haven’t used a condom for sixteen years in a different video. Can you tell us more about that?
In my videos, I encourage people to live their lives unapologetically. And I’m not embarrassed to say that I don’t use condoms and I don’t ask anyone else to do the same. The problem is that most people don’t practice what they preach.
I have lived in eight Arabic-speaking countries, and it was a common experience in my sexual encounters to have people insist on using a condom, but once we took off our clothes they would ask “Are you STD-free?” and then hurry to have condomless sex, throwing all their previous talk about condoms out the window.
There’s a feeling of fear and shame if one doesn’t use a condom and I want to break taboos. LGTBQ+ people are shamed by people from outside the community, but mostly they tend to repeat the same pattern within the community. If someone doesn’t use a condom, it does not mean that he is a manwhore or dirty or that he spreads diseases. He is free and you don’t have to have sex with him.
The problem for many is that protection can sometimes reduce sexual pleasure. Fear of disease looms large in the minds of many people who have sex. They cannot experience sexual relationships to the full, spiritually and mentally, nor communicate with their partner(s) deeply and intimately.
We hear many people use words like “fuck” and “shit” in English, but we shy away from using their Arabic vernacular equivalents. And if we do, we are accused of vulgarity and crudity, as if Arabic were lower than English.Gay Ali Baba
Do you think STDs are something one can live with?
Religion and conservative beliefs on sex impact our ideas about health, and there is a feeling of shame when one contracts STDs. However, we must fight this mindset; contracting diseases is normal, whether one belongs to the LGBTQ+ community or not. STDs also occur because of infection, and like other infections, medications or antibiotics are taken until recovery.
You have many followers from within and without the LGBTQ+ community. What are the most common questions you receive from the community?
Questions like, “How should I know if the person I like is homosexual?” or, “How to make them fall in love with me or have sex with me?”
For me, these questions are problematic because they violate other people’s boundaries. When I tell them that, they usually say they don’t want to expose the person. Awareness of personal boundaries is lacking in our culture, and I think we should talk more about it.
Artwork by Mloukhiyyé
I want to talk to you about language. You use vernacular and colloquial language in your content; on one hand, it’s freedom of expression, but on the other, many people have reservations about it. What do you think of this?
They make me laugh. When someone tells me I should use more sophisticated language, I tell them to do the same. By saying this, they mean that those who use such a language belong to a lower class and are less cultured. But class doesn’t define who is more sophisticated and we should accept diversity even in the way we speak.
We hear many people use words like “fuck” and “shit” in English, but we shy away from using their Arabic vernacular equivalents. And if we do, we are accused of vulgarity and crudity, as if Arabic were lower than English. I’m neither a journalist, a doctor, nor a media person for people to demand that I speak in Standard Arabic. We all speak in vernacular, so when I talk about sex, don’t expect me to say “qadib” (standard Arabic word for “penis”) or “mua’khira” (standard Arabic word for “buttock”).
Since we’re on language, I’ve noticed that you use poetry extensively in your videos. Why is this?
In one of my videos, I turned [Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf’s] famous Arabic verses into the following:
I see asses that are ripe for fucking,
And I see penises that are erect for sucking,
And I am the man to do it.
There has been a high demand from my followers for such verses, and I obliged – I enjoy it so much. So, I kept doing it, especially with Tunisian singer Latifa’s songs, such as:
Please don’t cum; I still want to fuck.
Back to your personal experience, tell us how being a public figure on the internet has impacted your life.
Public figure? [Laughing]
It has taught me a lot about myself, increased my self-confidence, and helped me discover that I had a talent I could nurture. It also gave me space for creativity and expression. I’m not seeking fame; I live in Fiji and fame is the least of my concerns. I do it because I like it and because I believe in my content and want it to reach a larger audience.
I also receive messages of gratitude from people who say they feel hopeful and energetic because of my videos and such messages make me happy. They say my videos make them feel like they can make their dreams come true even at an older age whether they are living in the region or elsewhere. I believe that one doesn’t have to leave their country to feel happy. I don’t believe in zakat or sadaqah (In Islam, almsgiving & voluntary giving of charity, respectively), but I believe in karma. Of course, I receive negative comments and threats, but I don’t pay much attention to them. I believe that bullying has a positive aspect and the LGBTQ+ community has to learn to be stronger physically, spiritually, and mentally. Sometimes, this happens through painful experiences, and we must face our fears. The only way to do it is through experience.