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Richard Ammon. While the avenue is divided by a wide promenade full of trees that provide welcome shade in the hot summer months, most pedestrians prefer to stroll along the sidewalks on either side of the street. Lined with restaurants, banks, movie theaters, high-rise hotels, and shops, these sidewalks offer a perfect vista for people-watching.
But because Tunisia is a Muslim country, and only foreigners are allowed to drink alcohol on a terrace. The Berber presence predates the Arab conquest of North Africa.
However, I was never mistaken for a local. I found it nearly impossible to spot any Tunisian I could identify as gay. Nevertheless, same-sex desire, if not a gay identity, is certainly present in Tunisia. The ways in which it is expressed, however, are complicated and sometimes contradictory. In some cases, this adolescent homosexual behavior is considered a stage of life that will soon be left behind, so men who continue the practice into adulthood—or, worse, who still prefer the passive role—are open to criticism, or worse.
In more recent times, however, as a result of global media broadcasts via satellite television and the Internet, Tunisians are regularly exposed to Western notions of gay identity. Nearly every home in Tunisia has some kind of satellite device, jerry-rigged or otherwise. Though sometimes clumsily censored, Western shows with gay characters—like The OC or the Spanish Un Dos Tres, a Fame-style show about a performing arts school—are easily available via satellite dish, as are gay phone sex ads that made me blush.
Because a visible gay identity is often seen in the Islamic world as a product of the West, it is difficult to untangle a rejection of gay identity from a rejection of the West with its profoundly different standards of public behavior and private morality. By the same token, Muslims in Tunisia and elsewhere are also aware of negative representations of Islam in the Western media. As the late Edward Said pointed out, this awareness gives rise to a defensive reaction against the West and all that it represents.