Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

You can’t liberate Palestine with your dick

Akram Baker

Growing up in a mixed culture, in the US and in the occupied Palestinian Territories, being both American and Palestinian at the same time, it isn’t surprising that my entire sexual identity was also a convoluted and confused smorgasbord of everything and nothing. Just being a young adult is difficult enough, but when you pair it with the identity crisis that most of us cultural mutts grow up with, it quickly became some kind of monster.

I was born and raised in the beautiful US state of Virginia. An only boy among four wonderful sisters. The only son of an only son of an only son in Arab society. Ugh. Pressure. But my parents were enlightened and educated (my late father was a prominent child psychologist), they were both very progressive Americans yet also traditional Palestinians. My dad was a Muslim born non-believer and my mom has always been a “religion light.” But a part of that traditional, conservative society regressively lingered within them. So we kids were raised with traditional values entrenched in us together with progressive ideals. This led, in addition to many other things, to a screwed up relationship with sex.

To demonstrate this contradiction, the first time I had sex I was 14 years old. While it can be argued if you could even call that encounter “sex”, since it was over before the introduction to AC/DC’s Back in Black was finished, technically, I consummated the deed. My family and I left the US and moved to Palestine right afterwards. I had a few girlfriends during high school, invariably awkward, and concentrated on developing my political self. I never, ever told my family about my relationships because it was completely frowned upon. And it turns out I was better at political activism anyways. However I received one of the greatest pieces of advice from my infinitely wise older sister when I was 16, when she rightly pointed out that I didn’t have a girlfriend (though I denied it vehemently at the time) because I didn’t wash my blue jeans and didn’t clean my fingernails often enough. I basically smelled. I took her advice to heart (admitting this to her only many, many years later) and voila! My romantic life became real.

I had evolved during that time through high school and college into something of a political animal; a true grassroots activist with a flair for the spoken and written word. I had an almost Irish gift for gab. When the first Intifada broke out, I naturally played my role, secretive as it was. I had been arrested and brutally beaten numerous times by the Israeli army and its secret service by this time. I was a hardened veteran in every sense of the word. Politics aside, I had come to gradually understand, if not consciously at first, that my political revolutionary activism was a magnet for the American and Western women who were in Palestine. It was an incredible revelation for a 20 year old who, while outwardly confident, was ultimately a boiling bag of insecurity inside. Women were attracted to my rebellious nature and my political intellect (which at the time was most definitely not as good as I thought it to be, buy hey.. who’s counting?) It gave me enormous comfort in addition to other things, until I was booted out of the country for two years.

I went back to the US to continue my college education, an angry young man who did not want to be there. I enrolled at Western Michigan University, utterly emotionally unqualified to do anything but protest. I was a mess. So I started doing what I was good at: protesting and demonstrating, I quickly won a prominent position in the Palestinian activist community in Michigan and began organizing monthly demonstrations in support of our cause. My mentor at that time was a Mathematics Professor of Palestinian American origin, just like me. He had been deported by the Israelis in the late 1970’s and was a brilliant man, a true friend. I will forever be indebted to him.

One day, I had noticed that a very beautiful blonde American woman had been joining our demonstrations every month. She most definitely caught my eye and I took the bold step of speaking with her. It became very obvious that she was there because she had her eye on me and had adopted the Palestinian cause because of moi! Wow. This was interesting. Let me explain here that by no great deed of my own, I have always had, and continue to have, an absolute and iron clad respect for women that is literally in my DNA. With five incredibly strong and independent women in my family (four sisters and my mother), I was more comfortable around women than men. The idea of misogyny was so alien to me because I had the great fortune of growing up with these amazing women, and I continue to be thankful for that to this day. It is one of my best characteristics and, in truth, I cannot take any credit for having it.

But as The Bard would say, “Therein lies the rub.” After one demonstration where I most certainly signaled my interest in this fine woman, I was invited for dinner at my mentor’s home. As soon as we sat down at the table, he looked at me quite sternly and asked me what was important for me. I said Palestine. He then said, if that is true, then I should not endanger people’s trust in our cause through sexual promiscuity. My jaw dropped and I surely had a stupid look on my face. I quizzically looked at him as he said, “what are you talking about?” He pointed out the attention I had paid to the said woman earlier in the day and he then went on to order me not to sleep with this woman. And then he deadpanned … ( return to title)

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