I don’t “get” sex. And I’ve never liked talking to Americans about it. I never quite realized it until I talked to expatriates about sex out here in Sana’a. Expats have a habit of dominating every social conversation they have with their desperate yearning for being touched, which makes me wonder what is so great about it for them in the first place. The first thing I noticed when I arrived here is that Americans have their own unique version of immigrant fetishism when they’re ex-pats. I’ve known Pakistani immigrants to fall back on nostalgic fantasies when they feel alienated by American culture, which seems hostile to them, and this usually becomes manifest in religiosity.
Americans seem to have their own version of this. Illicit sex, and other forbidden activities in Yemen like drinking and clubbing, seem to have a new imperative. They become links to the culture that was, and separates many expats from the hostile “native” culture. This becomes much easier given that we are financially comfortable, and most English-speaking Yemenis who talk to us in depth are themselves starry-eyed by these prospects.
I mostly just find it boring, and alienating in its own way. The expat setting has meant that many Americans I speak to here, the men in particular, have more or less degenerated into voicing their unpleasant sexual attitudes, probably because no one is actually getting any.
I have never heard such violent use of language in reference to women I know personally. I’ve certainly never felt so gently shamed for not wanting to join in on what often seems like a parade of commentary and desires emulated from soft and hardcore pornography. It’s like Yemen has brought out everyone’s inner frat-boy in a way that never seemed to be the case in the United States.
I’m aware that I never really associated with people like this over there all too much, but they also weren’t as vocal, and seemingly proud, of the violent underpinnings of their attitudes. For instance, I never heard a man say, in large company, that he enjoys girls who go clubbing a lot, because “They’re too tired to move afterwards.” I’ve also never had a man tell me that he thinks a Yemeni woman we just met, “Would give excellent BJ’s” less than thirty seconds after she left our company.
I find it alienating for the obvious reasons, not the least of which is that I wonder how many friends I know secretly discuss sex in these terms, and just police it when I’m around. Are Americans, the men in particular, really this nasty about it? And I emphasize “Americans” because the other expatriates out here, who are European and Chinese, have never been as bad about this (though the Brits seem to miss alcohol a lot.)
But mostly, I just find it boring. Americans seem to think that their mainstream views on sex are sensational, and libratory, and frequently define them against countries like Yemen and Afghanistan. It doesn’t occur to many of them that their sex lives aren’t actually all too exciting, and can themselves be oppressive, because they rely on frequently macho ideas about gender, and discussing it (themselves boring.)
It also makes me wonder how much these cultural precepts of sex, along with the other celebrated debaucheries like alcoholism and nightclubs, have really dominated everyone’s social behavior so much that they feel bizarrely anxious, and lonely, without them. Especially for people my age. Is it really that hard to live our lives without vodka and empty sex?
Photograph courtesy of Richard Messenger. Published under a Creative Commons License.