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Book Club: Sex and Lies

A collection of personal essays discussing sexual politics living as a woman in Morocco compiled by Leïla Slimani

Having a sex toy brand is a political issue. Selling dildos aside, I never want to lose sight of where this sits within a larger narrative. Afterall, there’s still some places in the world where selling sex toys is illegal (including some American States like Alabama). I wanted to start a book club, amongst other things, as an incentive to keep reading around the topic. And, I hope this can be a discussion rather than monologue, so if you’ve read the book, or have thoughts, let me know.

Kicking off the pseudo-academic year we have:

OR… “Sexe et Mensonges: La Vie Sexuelle au Maroc” as was its original title – Proof that everything in this world sounds better in French.

The testimonies in the book are heart-wrenching and cover multiple accounts of police violence, corruption, rape and homophobia. It’s an uncomfortable read but very tender. Everyone who dares to speak out within the book articulates their experiences with warmth and conviction.

Leila Slimani, who compiled the essays is a Franco-Moroccan writer and cultural ambassador. She’s the sort of person that would be on my dream dinner party guest-list. Previously a journalist working for the paper “Jeune Afrique”, she quit after she was arrested in Tunisia whilst reporting on The Arab Spring. She’s subsequently written several novels including “Adele” her debut thriller about a female sex addict.

I read “Sex and Lies” in one go over three coffees. Although it’s heavy content it doesn’t feel dense, it’s like these people are sat in your front room confiding in you. The account that stood out the most was the interaction Leila had with her housekeeper Jamila. After twenty years sharing a roof, Jamila cuts right through her assumptions of her being quietly conservative, by openly breaching the topics of sex and even prostitution.

This book seems especially evocative considering the protests in Iran right now. The uprisings against Mahsa Amini’s death are a sign that this discontent is not confined to Morocco. In someways, I find myself tongue-tied by the topic: As someone who broadcasts their sexuality openly it’s hard to imagine living in a country where this would be condemned. However, I’m not sure that it would be useful, for me to pass judgement by projecting my Western values into a complex space. I have been to Morocco once in my life. My stand out memory was being taken to a hammam by the hotelier’s wife, where me and "my husband” were staying. We walked to the baths in silence but behind closed doors where I was naked with the other women, the atmosphere was bawdy. At one point a lady in her mid-fifties whipped my ass with a towel, poked my tummy and giggled the word “Ramadan” repeatedly – which I thought was hilarious.

At the end of the book, Leila Slimani writes an eloquent conclusion defending herself against accusations of inciting islamophobia. She grew up in Rabat and everything included is first hand information but regardless, I’m sure she’s seen a backlash. I noted that I couldn’t find her on social media and I wondered whether this was with reason.

All in all, I can only recommend it - If just as a timely reminder not to take our liberties for granted. It’s made me realise how little I know about the Muslim faith in general. I live in a Turkish area but feel totally estranged from Islamic culture even though I reside amongst it. Christmas and Easter are rammed down our throats endlessly. Yet, I had no idea what 2nd Eid was until this summer when the shops on my road were all shut for the weekend. I feel like it’s important people like Leila Slimani exist to bridge between cultures in this way and assure that voices like those in the book find a platform.

Next month book of the month will be "Deep Sniff – “A history of Poppers and Queer Futures” by Adam Zmith.



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