Straight in Dakar, gay in Paris

Being openly gay can be a death sentence in many countries, so it often remains in the public closet.

Being openly gay can be a death sentence in many countries, so it often remains in the public closet.

Musa grew up in Dakar, where his parents lived. They were Wolof, and from an even more elite minority within the Wolof: they were property developers. His parents were moneyed, socially well positioned and Muslim. To have un pédé [a faggot] for a son would be a catastrophic disgrace. Even his mother didn’t know, not even in that “not knowing but knowing” way mothers of gay children acquire. Besides, it was against the law in Senegal.

He went to a privileged boys-only school, but his childhood was lonely. He learned to hide his feelings. He lived in terror of exposure.

“I felt I had a white man’s disease,” he explained. It was deeply wrong, woundingly shameful. And as everyone knows, there are no local cures for white men’s diseases. Panic-stricken, Musa started having girlfriends.

But the fantasies about men returned. He couldn’t help feeling aroused, rubbing shoulders at sports, at football in the changing rooms, noticing handsome strangers passing on the street, catching an eye here and there.

He fell quietly in love with one of his uncles. He had erotic dreams at night.

Yet trying to actually picture himself physically with another boy was awkward. He couldn’t figure out how exactly men could copulate. Thinking about it frightened him. He put the idea away. Perhaps he was cured.

After schooling, he went to Paris to complete his economic studies, attending Sorbonne Nouvelle University. One day, a classmate, a white French boy, made his sexuality public by giving a male friend a lingering, exhibitionist kiss in front of everyone in the canteen. At first Musa shunned him, then he became curious. He furtively arranged to meet the boy for a drink. That night turned out to be the first time.

Soon, Musa was having a lot of sex with men. He met all kinds of people. Today, he knows scores of gay people, also through his business, which brings him to Paris regularly.

His parents export African cloth to France. They keep a stall at the Porte de Clignancourt market. He lives close to it, in the 18th arrondissement, a colourful and cosmopolitan area that includes Pigalle’s Moulin Rouge and the red-light district.

I asked Musa if he has met other gay black Africans while in Paris. He said he has indeed, and it does make him feel better about himself. Many of them have opted for a completely gay lifestyle and are what people call “coconut queens”. Some of the less educated even use Dax hair pomade, and he knows of at least two men who use Tenovate cream for skin lightening, though they claim it is to hide blemishes.

Musa’s life in Paris is irreconcilable with how he sees himself when living in Dakar. He knows of one or two closeted cafés in his home city where homosexual men go but, he said, he’d never think of setting foot in such dens. He is not gay, he is “un homme qui a le sexe avec les hommes, you understand?” A man who has sex with men. Gay is some white thing; it isn’t even particularly French. I got the impression he slightly looks down on “gays”.

We had finished our falafel. I hoped this wasn’t goodbye. “You know,” he said, “I have never told my story before. Not like that, from how I came here.”

I asked him if he wanted to meet up again that night; we could go to one of the big clubs on the Champs-Elysées – my treat. “Only if I can fuck you proper, comme animal.” He chuckled wickedly.

In Dakar, he is straight; in Paris, he is gay. In both worlds, I suspect he is as yet unfulfilled. As a successful, erudite young man with international connections, he is immune from family suspicion.

I wondered, silently, if this double life fragmented his personality – made him Jekyll and Hyde. Is his straight life in Dakar more than an elaborate deception? Could it really in fairness be described as a lie? Or is it simply we who are confused?

As we left the restaurant, he said: “You know, I am thinking of going into politics.”

His family is well connected, and he has a good education with a university degree. Doubtless he even knows some political people in Paris.

“But that means public life. Media scrutiny,” I pointed out. “And enemies without principles.”

Musa was smiling.

“You know, you should come to Dakar, to my wedding. It is next month.”

Brent Meersman is a food writer and novelist. This is an extract from his latest book, 80 Gays Around the World, published by Missing Ink

Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman is a political novelist (Primary Coloured, Reports Before Daybreak). He has been writing for the Mail & Guardian since 2003 about things that make life more enjoyable – the arts, literature and travel and (in his Friday column, Once Bitten) food. If comments on the internet are to be believed, he is a self-loathing white racist, an ultra-left counter-revolutionary, a neo-liberal communist capitalist, imperialist anarchist, and most proudly a bourgeois working-class lad. Or you can put the labels aside and read what he writes. Visit his website: Read more from Brent Meersman


blog comments powered by Disqus

Client Media Releases

iStore to launch Apple Nike+ Watch in SA
MTN Business supports SA's entrepreneurs
Soweto communities to benefit from eKasiLabs programme