Words by: Omar Khlif
Artworks by: Taha and Omar Khlif

This article is a supplement within “The Wawa Complex” issue
Featured Artwork: “Connection,  الإتصال”, by Taha & Omar Khlif

…to the Body and the Individual and Collective selves, a personal recollection of memories of resilience, fragments of joy, affection, and camaraderie, and the intimacy that lies in between it all. Written for anybody I can call a friend or anyone whose experiences are similar to my own.

I have felt like a sinner for a time so long that I forgot what innocence felt like. The day I realized it, I cried all the tears in my body. I’ve been brave, standing like a mountain of rock, but I’ve also grown numb, hollow, and solitary, although I wasn’t really alone.

One thing has rescued me from that pit: I found a different way to be. I built and nourished some kind of love, different from the one I’ve been chasing. This one comes from within. Yes, I manufacture it myself in a faraway land where no one goes but me. It’s some sort of kindness that goes in many directions, mine included. Born from a desire for wisdom, it comforts, anchors, and soothes me, and helps me grow my roots and blossom into flowers in the Spring. Like any kind of love, it demands care and maintenance. It’s a job to keep it alive, an everyday practice. In constant renewal, it dies out and regenerates and generates kindness in connections when it occasionally extends to touch the hearts of fellow men who seek it.

I no longer plan date nights like bank heists, steal kisses, or run to hide in the shadows to hold my lover’s hand. None of these kisses should have felt so forced, lonely, or threatening. I never want to feel like some sort of criminal ever again, still echoes in my head.

I’ve waited for the bad weather to pass for years, and it did. I blew him a kiss one night, tongue and everything. His lips tasted different than the others. His kiss was warm and loving. Not much happened after. I was left to wonder, once again, what I had possibly done wrong.

It’s such a massive tornado – this whole being queer thing and Arab on top of that. It’s racing thoughts and desolate nights and weirdly brief encounters and awkward car rides in the quest for a touch on the lower back. It’s like the Great Library of Alexandria, a database of people and their collective memories and each one’s personal baggage. It’s everyone around me and me in the middle. It feels like there’s some inexplicable bond that connects us. It’s not all sadness. It’s also grand and exciting, and awkward and funny. We know and recognize each other at the clubs where we like to go and when we do, we smile and wave nervously. It’s intimate and hopeful. I wonder what the big guy up there must think when he watches over all of this – people kissing people who have kissed other people, exchanging saliva, and transferring fragments of DNA. He put us in hostile lands to love, but we still have each other. The love we have for each other is both pure and strategic. It’s a well-intentioned alliance. We learn to only trust a few, to keep our circles small so that no word goes out about you know what. But we also learn to build walls and emotional blocks, to avoid ourselves and avoid each other. The intimacy we crave is sometimes the thing we’re most scared of. The insecurities that we have facing the world, we can also have facing each other.

Is Anything Real?, Taha, 2021
This piece scans the kiss to investigate its veracity and question the sincerity of emotions that arise with it. An equally important question to ask is whether fiction ever becomes reality.

But, in the culture of shame, I will try not to be a seed; I will not bear the rotten fruit of hate.

I will try to give up judgment; judgment withers the daisies in the gardens that I’m growing. I will be kind, to myself and to others. I will cheer for myself when I succeed and pat myself on the back when I fail. I will try to believe in celebrating the little things. I will try to have faith. I will try to be grateful, for everything. I will see where it takes me. Not only that, but I will be a great support system to my community. I will listen to them, uplift them, and protect them. I will try to open my curtains every morning and let the sun come in. And when I sink again, I will pick myself up again and again. 

Anger is a sad burden to carry, so I try to make peace with the things around me that I wish were different. In the city in which I live – a mirror to modern decay and a witness of the crimes of its inhabitants, I take long walks around its neighborhoods, past the old buildings and the dirty pavements, past the people coming my way carrying their bodies like deadbeats and the smells of fried chicken mixed with scents of cigarettes and gasoline. When I walk down these streets, I can’t help but think: Oh, I’m gay

I move from one street end to another. The rest is all a blur, straight lines that I walk on autopilot while I watch my body carry itself in these public spaces. My contemplation is often accompanied by thoughts wandering in self-determinism and universalism, about how fundamental human rights actually are and any ramifications of these “big guy” theories that my poor brain can’t help but dissect the ways in which they relate to the overload of data it’s getting from the five senses and beyond.

“Cross Section, مقطع عرضي”, Taha & Omar Khlif
This piece is a simple visual representation of the complex brains of the people on the outskirts. At the center of this brain, lies a shared Consciousness. It carries all of the knowledge that a community has gathered since its early years of existence. It carries the cognitive heritage, the survival mechanisms, and an ever-growing archive of the stories of those who came and went. Around this source of wisdom, ancestral figures guard the data and guide the new people.

I have often worried about circulating outside with my phone, my earrings on, or a loose butthole. As vulnerable or self-conscious as I’d felt in those moments, I knew my brain was only trying to protect me from situations it read as danger. Paranoia became my closest friend. I sometimes felt like a murderer washing their hands in bleach when removing my nail polish.

My understanding of my own body morphed into a form of evidence that could be used against me. It’s both the weapon and the crime scene. 

Trying to convince myself that my body, whether bare or clothed, doesn’t necessarily have to reflect how I feel on the inside has proved deceiving and counter-productive. Though this was protecting me from the pain of being unable to be one with my body and its fluid expressions, it also deepened the gap in question. I remember the days and nights when I rejected my body in twisted ways and failed it, because I didn’t feel like I could trust it or that it was even mine for me to cherish and look after. 

I remember all the times I looked at it in the mirror and studied its curves, its skin, the hair that grew out of its pores, and despised it all. I called it undesirable and wished to liberate myself from it. I remember all the desires it wished to fulfill and still wishes to, and the kind of love it sought for. A few times I thought to myself, what a pretty waste of young flesh. When my body spoke to me, I could hear it but I didn’t listen. 

Back then, I ran from myself until running was all I could do. I must’ve come out of my mother’s womb agitated and tormented, a mythical supersonic creature that won’t stop or rest until it builds a better world. These dreams of ‘building a better world’ are common, cheap, and mostly driven by delusion. They’re also simple, honest, noble, and innocent. In this better world that I build for myself and my community, I am no longer a sinner who runs in the end. I run toward life and people and I remember innocence.

I might only remember it in a blur, but it’s a start.

  1. “Connection, الإتصال”. In physics, white light is an electromagnetic radiation that combines all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum. In other words, the 7 colors of the rainbow. This white light of connection and intimacy is a white weapon against prejudice.