ARAB-AMERICAN NEGOTIATIONS • by Intesar Toufic

50 minutes until departure

“Just 20 seconds?”

“No.”

“10 seconds?”

“Dude, stop.”

“One second—”

“You can’t do anything in one—”

“So five?”

He laughs.

“Ple-hease!” I try again, squirming in the corner of the hostel couch,
stretching my face and folding my body to the edge of civility, half for
comedic relief, half from crushing desperation.

He breaks eye contact – shakes his head – chuckles – it’s percussive
– forced – trying to hide his first reaction: disgust. Or fear.

“But why?” I cast that note even higher this time, bent on hooking
his mercy. I’m also hiding something, and hope he doesn’t detect my
phonic prowess. It’s part of a greater arsenal.

“My taxi’s almost here, you’ll never see me again!”

“Are you serious?” his smirk wedges small folds into his cheeks – it
started sincerely but is maintained with the will to survive. I don’t buy
his nonchalance – false notes out of an amateur liar – he’s too
privileged to have mastered deceit.

“Yes!” I beg.

Juicier: That impish crackling in his squinted blue eyes could be
mockery, but could also be focus.

This Marine was trained to engage cautiously, even with begging
Arab homosexuals.

I don’t blame him. Mission complete: offensive number two
successful.

16 hours until departure

We, a group of internationals from the hostel, talk over my last Thai
dinner. To my right, Justin: 28, beefy, buzz-cut, Caucasian, Bermuda shorts
wrapping strong legs, gilded with blond hair like honey for an Arab
fruit-fly. Says he’s a drone operator for the US army.

We talk about politics, for we must, for we’re at his mercy. Especially
me. It turns me on, these realistic roles we have: soldier and potential
victim. My begging would be understandable, expected. The Thai
humidity had Justin wearing sandals, porcelain toes on brown
leather, as if fate had giftwrapped what I’d been fiending for this
entire trip: to submissively massage a straight man’s feet.

Facing us, an Afghan pixie fumbles with her liberal arguments.

He’d anticipated her points and adjusts his seat to engage, cocking
the Red shotgun. Her statistics need context. Lowest US
unemployment in decades. He’ll vote for Trump again. He denies
white privilege.

I watch him snipe her arguments like panicking hens.

Enter I: international relations researcher. Gay, Arab & Kinky: the
spice mix of the century.

Before he pounces for flesh, I intercept and finish her off, but gently:

Straight white men have every right to feel left out in today’s liberalborne pyramidal caste of identity politics.

I got this, I let her know. She turns to the colorful curries that cool as
we heat up.

I gain Justin’s intrigue and respect. I engage: White privilege includes
recognizing that African Americans haven’t had the resources to
catch up with Caucasians post-emancipation—a patchy
emancipation at that—therefore on average they’d be less well-off.

That’s what the public sector is for: ensuring equity.

“You’ve read Ayn Rand,” I say with a wink, “read John Rawls.”

He clears his throat. He reloads Red ammo and shoots—his white
friend is unemployed because of the quota system—the military
deserves more funding—war is inevitable.

War is inevitable.

War is inevitable.

“Y’know, that’s a very convenient thing to say when you’re on the
firing end of the gun.”

His eyes flare. Guilt is quickly shut behind toothy guard. I’d drawn
blood.

Offensive number one successful.

45 minutes until departure

“Oh you straight men: so brave, so cowardly. So strong, so weak! So
frisky, so prrrrrudish,” I taunt, “conquered all but explore nothing.

And it’s just a foot massage!”

He chuckles. Good.

I am holding a wet bar of soap. If I squeeze too hard, it’ll slip away. If I
loosen my grip, it’ll slip away. I have to keep morphing between clown
and scorpion.

“Alright, laugh. I guess you’re no straight ally—”

“Dude, I have gay friends—”

“No! If you won’t try receiving love from another man—if you don’t
really put yourself in my shoes—then it’s not sympathy. It’s pity. It’s
respectful disgust. You’re not an ally of conviction, then; you’re an ally of convenience.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. You’d watch them beat me up.”

“You don’t know me, man.”

“Well I do know that if you can’t give me a rational reason why you
won’t let me massage your feet, then there’s something irrational
behind it. You’re afraid.”

He chuckles – more forcefully – smile harder – teeth gritting – face
pinker.

“Justin, you’ve killed a lot of Arabs. Make one happy?”

He exhales. Something leaves him.

“…Okay. Five seconds.”

He extends a leg out. I float and kneel.

My smile could be bigger but I’m not pushing my luck.

I fold my hands gently around his foot. He starts counting. I push my
thumbs into the hard flesh of his sole – I want to knead mercy into
him – I rub a circle – earning my life – my mind is a chrysanthemum –
am I a traitor? – Is he enjoying it? Am I enjoying it? – What happens
next?

He reaches five. Hands off.

“…That’s it?”

“We can go longer, now that you see it’s harmless.”

“Sure, let’s go.”

My hands return, and his eyes squint again. “Interesting.”

I want to make this hard flesh tender, I want him to stop suspecting,
stop fearing me – us – all of us who are Other. I want to love him—
worship him and soothe liberal burns. You’re beautiful. You’re worthy
of love. Some of us need a little help. Some of us are poor. Some of
us are innocent. Peace is also a human tradition. Privilege is not a
bulls’ eye. Liberalism, at its core, is empathy. I’m sorry it hasn’t
applied to you.

I catch him smiling, I glimpse a sweet soul—

A thud from below. Someone is climbing up. He pulls his foot away.

In the airport, I reflect. I didn’t enjoy that as much as I thought I would,
but feel accomplished: I’d conducted soulful diplomacy. I’d healed
something.

Somewhere.


Intesar Toufic was dealt homosexuality, Arabic, and rhythm. This hand is being played notoriously. He sins, writes, and studies in the Far East. He wants to (and one day will) be a big loud superstar, the kind that keeps planets warm and incinerates cosmic filth. In the meantime, he is looking for an agent for an 85K dramatic LGBT romance (involving straight men).


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