An encounter

"If you could choose" - he's standing in my bedroom doorway, adjusting his cap, shifting a little on his feet - and I lose what he's saying for some seconds, maybe longer, taking in his nervous body language; the slight edge of confrontation in him, in the way he keeps his voice stable; his warm and gorgeous smile that comes bursting through every now and then in a gleam of white criss-crossed with the grid of a mouth-guard. If you were filming this as a scene in a movie, you would use that worn out effect whereby the sound in the room goes dull as I think, and then his words fade back in, and I say, "what?" and he repeats the last part.

"If you could choose," he is saying, "would you be gay or straight? You and me, we're gay, right? I can't help that. But I wouldn't choose this, if I could choose." I love the innocence, the simplistic terms of his argument - this is like debating with a seven-year-old! - and reconfigure my gambits accordingly. I think to myself that, perhaps, he has never been able to articulate any of this before, to anybody, and it makes sense to me that his thoughts would be so virginal.

"I would. I would choose to be gay all over again," I say, and I smile at him. I'm naked, lying on my bed. We've just had sex. When it was over he leapt up and cleaned himself, got dressed - and has been talking to me, fully clothed, while I lie there still unmade, for a while now.

He's younger than me, and I know how he feels - or, at least, I have some understanding. I remember saying the same things as him at his age - I would strain my voice with the commanding logic of my position. "Of course it's better, I mean of course it's easier to be straight. Why choose a struggle? Of course you'd pick heterosexuality if you had the choice, you'd be a fool not to." When I was in my early 20s, the thought of being gay for life - of forging an existence along some sort of lines I'd never known, without children, without normality, doing things I didn't know, hadn't been brought up to understand - made my mind swim, and I closed it down. I thought I could defer it forever by never doing anything about it. That stopped my mind whirring and my heart thumping, and it steadied my seasickness a bit..

He, now, is equally impatient with me, equally stunned that I would voluntarily choose this... thing I've been saddled with, and without hesitation. I want to tell him I struggled for years to understand my life, to make sense of my desires, to conceive of the shape of my existence in this world, but that finally I came to know what I am, and to have love for it.

He looks beautiful standing there - leaning, now, against my open door, rubbing his head and putting his cap back on over his glinting short curls. A delicacy in his face, a real prettiness, in his short curly eyelashes and the poise of his cheekbones at a certain angle, bursts through in split-second doses, transfiguring his far more bland handsomeness. He is telling me that homosexuality is wrong in his religion. He tells me that his parents don't know. "Looking at me now, tell me honestly though, you pass me in the street, you don't think, oh, he's gay." I find his pride at passing a sad thing, and a sort of endearing one too if it helps him live his life. I ask him if he has thought about the future, how he intends to live - and he tells me he doesn't want to think about it. "Honestly, it busts my brain thinking about it man, I can't think about that." His parents can never know, he says. Already it's getting awkward because he's in his mid-twenties and never brings anyone home to meet them.

This all began because we got onto the topic of abortion - we had been discussing the Labour party, which he considers weak (he tells me the party needs a leader with big balls, like... Tony Blair) - and he let slip that he disagrees with it. Or, rather, he is amazed that I agree with it. "You... you believe in God?" he asks me. "No," I say. "What, like, no god?" he says. "No god at all." "OK, so you're not even agnostic, is it, like, full on atheist?" - and I say, that, yes, I'm an atheist.

A sub-Richard Dawkins debate had then ensued, prompted by his incomprehension of my worldview ("Why are we here then?", he asks me; "For no reason at all, as far as I can work out!" I reply) and mine of his ("How can there be wrong in a world that was completely created by a God?" I ask him. "Why would a God allow that to happen?"). I am rapidly swimming in a theological morass, as he argues that there was no life on earth before humans, since God made humans from earth; he tells me I have an angel and a demon on my shoulder; he asks if I have ever prayed, and I say no, and he says, desperately, "... Yoga?". He draws a parallel between fucking a person of the same sex and killing someone: both are bad, but if you're gay you can still repent and go to heaven.

I don't know where to begin. I'm torn between wanting to throw him out of my house and wanting, in some patronising and foolish way, to rescue him. I start explaining, ludicrously, about... fossils. He says, "Fossils... like fossil fuel?" And I grab my phone from the floor and google 'fossil' and show him a picture, and say that this was on earth hundreds of millions of years ago, before any humans existed, and he bats my foolishness away, because Darwin and the others, they're just some man, you can't listen to just a man, they lie. The only truth is the word of God. He begs me to read the Quran. I tell him I will, and I sense I'm somehow losing, here. What can I give him, in return? Comfort, perhaps. Some moments of conversation, of listening. I wonder if he knows any other queers at all; if he's out to anyone.

He's looking sheepish now, sucking his teeth. We stayed friendly and respectful throughout - although I may have raised my voice at one point. He had told me that I obeyed the rules at school, and it was the same with religion - "but," I said, "the rules at school have an obvious purpose that I agree with, such as respecting people. What is the reason for a rule not to have sex with another man, what's the reasoning for that?" I know that the fault is mine, I can never understand the religious mind - it is a thinness of understanding in me, that I cannot conceive of a mind that picks and chooses tenets, obeying some and discarding others, abiding by a prevailing orthodoxy and not questioning the order. But now we're humans again, and he says to me, "I hope we can still see each other." "Of course!" I say, considering not least what a bananas lay he is.

Later that evening I Wikipedia the Quran like an idiot, like a sixth-former, a chief. I Google 'gay Muslim groups'. I read an essay, "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World", by Joseph Andoni Massad, which talks about the Orientalist imposition on the Eastern world of a gay/straight binary. "I argue", says Massad,  that it is the discourse of the Gay International that both produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist, and represses same-sex desires and practices that refuse to be assimilated into its sexual epistemology. I show how this discourse assumes prediscursively that homosexuals, gays, and lesbians are universal categories that exist everywhere in the world, and based on this prediscursive axiom, the Gay International sets itself the mission of defending them by demanding that their rights as “homosexuals” be granted where they are denied and be respected where they are violated. In doing so, however, the Gay International produces an effect that is less than liberatory."

I bless my life - this life, that I would choose again, for the paths it takes me down, for the people I meet and the challenge they make to my preconceptions; for the moments of tender sharing or the rough jolts we give one another. The discovery! The taking into one's home of something so unknown, the welcoming of the other! In this essay I see, how could I not, an argument about my own Orientalism, seeking to find a solution (coming out!) for the 'problem' of this man who has been in my life for all of two hours - and yet, he himself presented it to me in those simplistic terms. His parents don't know he's gay. His family can never know. I wonder if he could, in fact, live quite happily by not committing to an identity and fucking as he wants, never naming anything, never committing.

My phone purrs and I look up from my reading. A text. "Have you read the Quran yet?", and an emoji of a face cry-laughing.


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