Queer Tangier: What you didn’t know about Morocco’s gay phase

Tangier, Morocco, Gay Authors, Gay Travel, Gay Tour
Peter Orlovsky (left), Jack Kerouac (centre) and William S Burroughs (clothed, bottom right) on a beach in Tangier, Morocco.

It was between the late 40s and early 50s when the gay literati of the time began flocking to Tangier, Morocco to escape the conservative landscape of America. Attracted to Tangier’s tolerant approach to sexuality and drugs, some of the largest names in the crew included William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet and Truman Capote.

By day these beatniks and bohemians met in Grand Cafe de Paris, breaking bread and exchanging ideas. By night, they drank in excess, procured prostitutes and indulged in the country’s surplus of drugs, unfettered by disinterested law enforcement.

While Morocco’s political stance on homosexuality has taken a sharp conservative turn, the country remains an important part of queer history and tourism. Not only were Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes scattered in Marrakesh, but tourists can still visit the Grand Cafe de Paris and El Muniria (the homestay where the majority of said authors resided).

Scroll down for five quotes by the most prominent figures who got swept up in Queer Tangier.

Gay Authors, Gay Travel, Gay Morocco
From left: Emilio Sanz de Soto, Pepe Carleton, Truman Capote, Jane Bowles, Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco.

William Burroughs
High on heroin, Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in his seedy Moroccan flat between 1950 and 1953. The novel was semi-autobiographical and featured tableauxs of gay sex so vivid it was banned in America under obscenity laws.

Tangier is one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don’t proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behavior, you can do exactly what you want.

Allen Ginsberg
The father of the beat generation spent a significant period of time in Morocco basking in the country’s relaxed approach to homosexuality. While he didn’t pen any particular work in Tangier, the country’s desert landscape looms throughout his bibliography, such as his poem An Eastern Ballad below.

I speak of love that comes to mind:
The moon is faithful, although blind;
She moves in thought she cannot speak.
Perfect care has made her bleak.

I never dreamed the sea so deep,
The earth so dark; so long my sleep,
I have become another child.
I wake to see the world go wild.

Truman Capote
The Breakfast at Tiffany’s author summered in Tangier. He was fond of the city but warned visitors of its siren call.

Before coming to Tangier, one should say good-bye to all friends – one might never see them again. People had come here for a brief holiday, to settle down and let the years go by.

Paul Bowles
Along with his wife Jane Bowles, Paul lived on the top floor of El Muniria. The couple were legally married despite both of them being sexually fluid if not openly homosexual. During his Moroccan days, Paul wrote The Sheltering Sky quoted below.

Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.

Tennessee Williams
Author of A Streetcar Named Desire and other award winning plays, Williams was a powerful gay presence in the Western art scene. He regularly visited Morocco until the country shifted towards a conservative conscience in the ’60s.

What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.

 

Interested in visiting magical Morocco? Head to outadventures.com to learn about our biannual departures.

 

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