“If you let any one touch your privates, I will throw you to the dogs,” my dad once told me when I was 12 years old. He pointed at my man parts and marked them private, and that’s when I learnt that whatever is in there is meant to be mine. Privates became the forbidden that no one else is supposed to touch. I wondered about exploring my sexuality through touching myself, but also wondered about what and who decides that this exploration can go beyond being a one-man job and when that could be.
Marking the genitalia as ‘private’ is somehow expected of parents who want to make sure that their kids don’t allow predators in. However, this duty should be followed at the right time with a conversation about sex, which will open the door to speaking about sexuality. In the case of so many young boys and girls growing up in Palestine, privatising our genitalia is done actively but silently, and as for sexuality,it is not even spoken about. This act of keeping our genitalia private is driven by the taboo, the religious Haram– forbidden, and the social Eib – the Arabic word translating vaguely to (yet at its core is synonymous with) ‘disgrace’ and ‘shame’. The contradiction appearing in such an act is that what is ‘made private’ is implemented through the very public discourse of taboo, Haram and Eib.
In the case of so many people who don’t fit into the heteronormative scenario and who still must keep private all aspects of their sexuality, the Eib and the Haram driving the need for this privacy mean that they’re deprived of a safe place to explore their sexuality. This leads to consequences such as struggling on their own with their identity,or for their sexuality to be preyed on in a ‘private’ setting. Keeping sexuality private means people who are victims of rape and sexual violence are to be silenced, otherwise, the public hand compressing the private Eib goes loose, spilling all over the place and creating more Eib.
Such dilemmas have existed all over the world across time, although in different shapes and forms.Even in the Victorian era, and especially for women, sexual behaviours were always meant to remain in the privacy of bedrooms, and they reached the bedrooms having jumped over the prerequisites to that moment. Women came into the arms of a heteropatriarchal beast who was supposed to be the one to rouse their sexuality and desire, while the sexual encounter was still centred around the beast’s pleasure.In some specific settings, some women in intimate moments shy away from exploring their bodies and needs because this might mean that they lack ‘honour’, and their dignity is compromised. These intimate moments don’t reflect the idea that privacy is the core of dignity, or that dignity reflects the freedom to choose what you want to do behind closed doors. For heteronormative sexualities, it means the power is taken from the individuals to decide about what can be made private or not. This also means that a lot of non-heteronormative sexualities are further closeted in the name of privacy, falling back to an era of ‘it’s ok to be different but don’t rub it in the public’s face’.
If an institution, and this includes society, emphasises privacy as a milestone of dignity, they are assumedly giving us the choice of relating privacy to our worth, in other words; because how you feel, or what you do in light of your value and worth matters, we give you privacy as a tool to implement it. This however, verges on an institutionalised control over freedom of sexual expression and the space where it’s expressed. Dictating how and where and when to express one’s sexuality limits further the chances for sexual and gender minorities to exist.
A REMINDER, in the name of the private, the Eib, women don’t get to know that their sexuality matters.
Albeit institutionalised privacy still rules dominantly all over, it is worth mentioning that in the new age of social media, privacy has become a fluid land. The way we express ourselves, dance our sexuality, and crow about our behaviour belongs now more than ever to the public. Social media provides a space for such expression to exist, and along with it, the pressure to surrender our privacy, and a reluctant freedom to share as much of ourselves as we think we want.
At the end, it’s important for young people to be aware that sex and sexuality is part of being human and education must be implemented to ensure they learn the proper way to explore it. In so many countries including Palestine, there is still a lot of policing but more and more people and specifically more women and girls now share details about themselves on social media which is creating an atmosphere that shifts the dynamic of what is Eib and what is private. Privacy shouldn’t be an instrument of control, where marginalised sexualities and genders are its main victims, but a choice. Talking social media, privacy, and sexual expression would need a whole different article, yet it’s worth mentioning that social media is playing a positive role in de-centring Eib away from women and is partially allowing privacy to be a choice rather than an instrument of control. Good things are coming, let’s talk about them and let’s not keep them private.
Cover Image: Pixabay