Words by: Jad
Visuals from Film ‘The Blue Caftan ’, by Maryam Touzani, 2022.
This article is part of the “The Wawa Complex” issue

In the past year I had various encounters with men that were previously married, one in particular stood out the most. In this story I recount the events of that day, and reflect on the culture, and environment surrounding so many queer men coming from an older generation.

“I’m going out and I’m gonna have a good time,” I tell myself looking into my bedroom mirror topless.

I lotion my hands, shoulders and elbows, wet my neck with my favorite scent, swipe balm across my lips to taste like the best iteration of a cherry you can get from a tin this cheap, and put on a warm silk blended button up strategically buttoned down to tease my collarbones. 

Keys, cigarettes, wallet, and phone in check, with a breath mint for the road. I jump in the cab, I’m a mere 10 minutes late but vainly think to myself that it’s for good reason.

The guy I’m meeting is pretty discreet, older, and seems to be smart. After he shyly shared some blurry pics on Grindr, we hit it off and decided that we’re really attracted to each other. He sounds like he knows what he wants and  how to have a good time. Sex has been my favorite vice these past few months; I guess it’s resulted from my newfound body confidence, but also from trying to compensate for a “lack” in other areas. My friends call it “feeding the void.”

Maryam Touzani, The Blue Caftan, 2022.

I texted him before moving, he read my message with no response. Ziad* is staying in a small hotel in Hamra. It was the afternoon and the clouds looked like shredded cotton balls that were a pale yellow. Hamra wasn’t pretty populated either that day; it used to be the busiest area in Beirut, but its splendor died over a decade ago. It still dominated a big part of Beirut’s culture in the 1960’s, so many happenings, parties and shops used to happen. I guess it will always be known as the street where everything exists in excess.

When I arrive at the hotel, I notice the lobby and elevator are barely lit. Everything is silent and feels almost deadly. The air gets heavy from there.

I make my way to room 52 where I find an old buzzer with the room number taped on top. Definitely Arial I think to myself. 

Buzzed once, no answer. 

Buzzed again, nothing. 

I knock on the door. He finally opens it.

He looks nicer in person and greets me with the lowest voice possible. His eyes wide, tense almost, and his lips seem to be already wet. I let myself in. 

He dismisses my question about his day, and just takes my hand to smooth over the veins on the back with his thumbs. He just stands there looking into my eyes, very aroused. Still near the door, I make the first move and peck him. I felt like he almost wanted to say something. He immediately runs across the room to close the curtains. The light from the window hits his hand to flash the wedding ring on his finger. From there, he aggressively grabs my hip from under my shirt and starts making out with me, before I have the chance to ask the question. 

I don’t resist, but the dread and questions start brewing. I didn’t know that he’s married, going into this. Should I have asked before the meeting? Should I have assumed that he’s in a relationship? Is this his first time cheating? I’m not necessarily monogamous, but I don’t know if his partner is. I also value the commitments that other people make. Trust is a universally valued concept. Wedding rings are a token of that, and a promise of love.

It starts getting tense and I’m fluctuating between letting go and getting anxious. I go with it, feeling the cold sweat on his spine. He uses his teeth too much and tries to establish his dominance. I don’t let him. My shirt’s off, and my chest is covered with kisses. I’m grunting. I throw him on the bed. “Take control of me, yes,” he whispers. I bite his nipple and he starts moaning ever so gently. I grab his dick from over his boxers, it’s wet and he is almost soft. 

“I- I came,” he tells me, then gets me off of him and asks me to leave. “Can I at least come first?” He refuses, and goes on to explain how this usually doesn’t happen but that he got absorbed in the moment and wants to see me again. I look at the time on my phone. I’ve been in the room for 7 minutes.

“Are you married?”

“No, I got divorced last year,” he says, glancing at his wedding ring and smiling, “I can’t get this off.”

“Oh sorry to hear that, what was that like?” I ask, immediately realizing it wasn’t really the time for him to answer that.

“Yeah, you know, it taught me a lot, but I don’t regret getting married,”

His kids live in the US where they were raised, and his ex, too. I leave, put on my earbuds and decide to walk back home.

Maryam Touzani, The Blue Caftan, 2022.

Most of my encounters, dates or otherwise, carry a conversation surrounding queer identity. The men I meet who are over 35, who also identify as homosexuals, have been married to a woman at some point. Others, like me, manage to shrug off the “When are you going to get married and have children?” question for so long that it became senseless. I think about all the times I’ve rejected and almost shamed the older guys who told me, “Oh, I’d love to meet you, but I can’t host… I live with my wife and kids.”

These men are often faced with difficult circumstances. Religious families view getting married and starting a family as a rite of passage and an “duty” toward God. Well-off families may view getting married as a means of access to family wealth. There often isn’t remorse for queer people who get caught in intimate settings with their partners; this is when threats of violence or disownment are put on the table. In all of these cases, getting married means security, even if it’s just a cover up.

So, many of these guys never had the chance to be honest with themselves or tried to ignore their sexuality. Queer and non-queer individuals all over the region hold prejudice toward other queers who end up in heterosexual relationships. The reality is that the vast majority of the queer community is not dealt a good hand; they are denied both space and safety to publicly express and embrace their identity. Even today, LGBTQIA+ friendly spaces mainly cater to those with adequate financial resources in Beirut, while most of the community expresses their identity behind closed doors.

Maryam Touzani, The Blue Caftan, 2022.

I leave the hotel and walk home. I don’t intend to interact with anyone for the rest of the day. I put on my earphones. The sky is gray. It’s humid and grim.

I picture Ziad, still married and in his shower, lamenting over the life he could have lived, thinking about how things could have been different if he had made different life choices, drawing an idealistic portrait in his head of another life. I imagine water dripping down his smooth forehead dissolving the tears on his flushed cheeks. Was his sexuality the reason for his divorce? I start wondering. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten married if someone had told his younger self that he wasn’t crazy.

The space to express your authenticity is a real privilege. Coming out is a western concept; our families would try to “solve” our sexualities like they would in any other aspect that is viewed as a problem in our lives. My therapist keeps telling me about how it should be more about letting our families in, as opposed to coming out: no announcement, no statements, just the sheer act of being yourself. It’s introducing small aspects of their life that make them feel happy, like sharing their interests, new attire, being honest about their thoughts and stances. But I imagine this is not widely attainable to everyone. Some parents just genuinely want their kids to be happy, but their idea of that is heavily informed by their patriarchal upbringing and surroundings which doesn’t permit a queer identity.

A slightly older generation of queer men in Lebanon had groups on MSN messenger and met each other on websites like Manjam. It was a way for them to meet people that are like minded, and allowed them to conceal their identities publicly until they met up. The goal of these spaces was hooking up or dating, but it also became a safe online community for many people. One guy told me that he had a two decade long relationship with a man he met on Manjam.

The generation before that was not that lucky. Many of them decided to start a family in their mid-twenties, and didn’t have a clear direction in life let alone a full sense of their sexualities. They knew what they liked, of course, but couldn’t pursue what they wanted. Or, they were queer but didn’t identify as such. Today, when I ask them about it, some talk about hiding from everyone, including their wives, while others talk about being honest with themselves but facing family pressure.

Maryam Touzani, The Blue Caftan, 2022.

As I continue my walk home, I see a bunch of teenagers, dressed in all black, walking my way. Some were taking pictures of themselves with their phones, and others were looking at me in the eye like they were ready to fight. It was a literal embodiment of that generation’s stereotype.
It makes me happy seeing how expressive they are and how they seem to know what they don’t want. They don’t look happy but it feels like this is their truth and they wouldn’t have it any other way. These kids don’t look like they constantly ruminate on the life they could have lived, the people they could be, or how they could have handled certain situations. Their concerns would be totally valid for where they are in life right now, like their grades, do they like the way they look, or even questions like: Do my friends even like me?Why can’t my parents understand me?Am I going to be less stressed when I’m older? While they figure out their identity, sexuality will definitely be a subject, except they might have someone to tell them that they’re not crazy.