DALE PECK: The way you became Morocco’s first openly gay writer was a bit of a surprise. You were doing an interview withTelQuel. Do you want to talk about that?

ABDELLAH TAÏA: Yeah, absolutely. That was in January 2006, after my second book, LeRougeduTarbouche, came out in Morocco. TelQuel is an important magazine that is helping to end taboos in Moroccan society: political taboos, taboos about sexuality, about homosexuality. With me, they found a nice poor guy—not a rich Moroccan guy who goes to Paris to have sex with men, returns to Morocco, and never talks about it. So the editors said, “We read your book and there is, among other things, homosexuality in it. We want to make a portrait of you from that point of view. You are homosexual, so do you mind?” I was in the Café de France, in Casablanca. In Morocco there is always a Café de France. If you’re lost in Morocco, just find a Café de France and you will find your way—and maybe something else, too. Because in Casablanca, Café de France is the place where gay Moroccans go to cruise or to find men. If you are coming from another city, like Salé or Fes, and you go to Casablanca and you have no place to sleep, just head for Café de France.

The journalist asked me, “Do you mind talking about your homosexuality?” Of course, I understood immediately that this was a big deal. For me, maybe for all writers, writing is about your own truth, what you experience. It doesn’t matter if other people agree with it. You just say what you have to say. My generation—I’m thirty-seven years old—suffered so much from the separation between culture and us, books and us. Nothing was done to push us to write and to read. I was always angry with the Moroccan intellectuals. It seemed that they were all hijacked by power, by the government, by the king. And I found it inspiring to be gay and not appropriated by the king. So I said, “Okay, let’s have this moment, let’s face the world, and we’ll see what happens.”

PECK: What happened?

TAÏA: I was in Tangiers, promoting the book, and I bought the magazine. I couldn’t believe it: There was my face, my naked face, and these words about me. I came back to the hotel and closed the doors, the windows, even put the sofa and the chairs against the door. I come from a really poor family and grew up with the fear that I am nothing, will always be nothing—and to become a writer is already something. And I was afraid maybe the policemen would come and…

PECK: Arrest you?

TAÏA: Push down the door and arrest me. It’s funny to tell it now, but that was a frightening night in Tangiers. The TelQuel piece was in French, and a month later, there was a similar interview in the Arabic newspapers. That’s when my mother called me and said, “What did you do?”

PECK: Did your mother know you were gay before this?

TAÏA: I think she… They all knew.

PECK: But you never told her.

TAÏA: No. There is no way to talk about anything that deals with the individual, with you. I mean, not only for homosexuals—for everyone, heterosexuals, all people. I love my mother, it’s just—

PECK: It comes through very much in your writing.

TAÏA: Yeah, yeah, I am inspired by her. She’s a real dictator. And I think writers need role models to follow. So as a writer, I follow le dictateur, my mother. But that day she calls me and she is screaming, “Rawrrawrar.” Moroccan Arabic, when we speak, we scream. Other people would say we are savages because they don’t know us. This is our way of being alive. We are there and we speak loudly and there is no reason to be ashamed. This is our way to be. And to speak loudly, why not?

Anyway, my mother screamed, “Why did you say that? Why? We are not like that.” So I told her, “I couldn’t say anything but this. It’s not only about me. It’s about society. It’s about Moroccan society.” And that’s when she answered, “But we are not Moroccan society. Who are we to say that we are Moroccan society?” Meaning, no one taught us that we can influence the society, change it. I had to come to this point by myself, to face my mother and tell her, as I’m coming out, “Yes, I am Moroccan society, too.”