Traveling while LGBT in Morocco
Morocco is a beautiful country full of color and food to wow your taste buds. It is also still illegal to be LGBT in Morocco. Today, I will share my personal experience of traveling and living while LGBT in Morocco.
I am not sure what pulled me towards Morocco. Mostly, I just needed a space to wait out my Schengen visa reset. What I found was a simultaneous feeling of home and discomfort.
Read on for the positives and negatives of solo travel for LGBT in Morocco. This is just my personal experience, so your experience may always differ. Please leave a comment if you resonate with this or have a different perspective. I would love to hear from you!
- Colorful Environment
- The Food & Drinks
- The Weather
- Friendly Locals
- The Hammam
- Cats Cats CATS
- Illegal to be LGBT in Morocco
- Too “Friendly” Local Men
- Trash Everywhere
- Lots of Homelessness
Morocco is a feast for your senses. From the Blue City of Chefchaouen to the intricate Moroccan rugs. Bright colors will always fill your view as you wander through the medinas of each city.
There is an adventurous vibe no matter where you go. Life is also simple here. You can climb a mountain or venture out to the desert. Adventures in Morocco have that exotic quality that will make them extra memorable.
Many people complain about the pushy rug dealers in Morocco. I was aware of this before I went, so when a friendly rug dealer led me with a smile into his shop, I knew what I was coming next! You can say no, so don’t buy anything if you don’t want to.
I got a beautiful rug for my parents cheap. They even shipped it to the US for me. As a long-term traveler, I could have hugged this rug dealer for making my Christmas shopping so simple. He then took me to the rooftop of his shop and told me I could come anytime to sit, read, drink tea, or do yoga. It was a comfortable space with a view of the sun setting over the rooftops of Tangier.
Moral of the story… maybe it is not so bad to get pushed into a colorful rug dealer’s shop 😉
Private Photoshoot in the Blue City of Chefchaouen
The food is delicious and inexpensive. I could eat and order anything I wanted all day without spending more than $10. Morocco has better avocado smoothies than anywhere on this planet. That’s a fact! The secret ingredient is blended dates or figs added to the smoothie. It has such a perfect taste and is even healthier than your average avocado smoothie.
On Fridays, it is traditional to get couscous and Leben, a fermented milk drink. Moroccan society uses Friday couscous as a communal meal to eat together with family and end the week. I eagerly awaited Fridays, not because I wanted the weekend to come, but because most restaurants only serve the couscous on Fridays.
You can not forget about the famous Moroccan mint tea. Wow! If you give me a pot of tea and sit me in front of a restaurant, I will be happy there for the entire day. Whether you are drinking tea solo or with new friends, it is a soul-warming taste that leaves you feeling peaceful.
It is worth spending a few months in this gorgeous country just to eat the food!
Friendly & Welcoming Locals:
The people of Morocco are friendly. It will be easy to feel you belong, as locals are pretty chatty. I could learn a lot about Darija (the local language) this way. If you get lost, someone will notice and offer you directions or even walk you to your destination. There will be invites for tea, dinners, and walks on the beach. You can turn them down or partake. Just go with your instincts and stay safe.
I followed plenty of guys through the winding median walls, and they always took me to my destination. Some of them may want a small payment for their time, but I even had some friendly helpers refuse the tip. Use your intuition to determine who is safe to follow.
During Ramadan, a friend would invite me to break the fast with his friends at la Maghrib. It is the prayer time when the sun goes down, and you can finally eat! As a foreigner attempting Ramadan for the first time, they made me feel included with their welcome.
One night we broke fast with a group of Moroccan men in a small restaurant. Even though I was slightly uneasy, there were zero weird comments and no aggressive behavior. We were simply a bunch of humans enjoying a meal together. They do not need to know you are LGBT in Morocco. Many Moroccan men are respectful and kind towards foreigners, no matter what you hear or what I will write later in this article.
Always remember, no matter what country you are in, and no matter the stereotypes, there are kind, good-hearted people of every gender all over our wonderful world! Just remember to have your guard up when in a new situation or place. Especially as LGBT in Morocco, maintain a higher than normal level of privacy.
In Tangier, there was a fun art scene. You could go to live paintings, dance to Moroccan music in the streets, and check out local photography studios. It was easy to find cultural activities if I needed a break from work. Tangier has bookstores, art galleries, and museums to browse. However, my favorite afternoon activity was reading a book on the beach. The weather here is unbeatable. It’s not too hot or too cold, with a constant light sea breeze.
In the off-season, there are few travelers or expats, but they are still there! There is always a community of foreigners living in Morocco and you can connect via Facebook groups or local meetups.
There are a few bars. The bars that I went to had a speakeasy vibe to them. They were sort of hidden away with mostly shuttered windows. Despite being in a Muslim country, I did not feel too judged as a female foreigner drinking at the bar with some friends. However, I only ended up at a bar maybe 3 times while in Morocco. If you are very into drinking and clubbing activities, Morocco may not be the place for you long-term.
Now onto my favorite part of Morocco, the hammam. The hammam is the equivalent of a Moroccan spa. The staff will drag you into a room with ceramic tables and lather your body with soap.
The aroma is sensational! The air fills with scents of caffeine and spices. Then, they will start the scrubbing. It hurts a bit, and after my first time, my skin was red for days, but it was worth it!
You will feel cleaner than you have felt in your life. A regular shower does not cut it for me anymore. Thus, I am craving a return to Morocco, where I will take myself straight to the hammam.
Cats, cats, and more CATS:
I know I said the hammam was my favorite part of Morocco, but I lied. It is the street cats.
There are so many cats everywhere around Tangier and other Moroccan cities. If you love cats, you will be in kitten heaven. I had a few adopted street cats that I would feed daily. They would nap in the sun outside my house and walk through the streets with me. It was great to have some animal friends while exploring a new world!
Now get ready for the bad parts of being LGBT in Morocco…
Back in the Closet
If you are LGBT in Morocco, you will be back in the closet. Being in the closet (again) can have huge implications on your psyche, whether or not you realize it at first.
I am pretty queer. It is hard to say what I am. I don’t place myself under a label, and you can use whatever pronouns you would like with me, depending on the day. Sometimes I will say I am a lesbian, but it’s all fluid and fluctuating.
At first, it didn’t bother me to keep quiet about my identity or sexuality. I told only about four people my real-life story during my time there; a fellow traveler, two Moroccan guys, and my best Moroccan female friend.
Because of the law, I considered my trust in them before sharing my story. Even after I did, I was still paranoid that I had made a mistake. Luckily, they were all incredibly open-minded humans. However, I could have easily told the wrong person and ended up having a problem.
Living while LGBT in Morocco, you can equate to putting yourself back in the closet. I was not interested in pursuing a relationship, so a lack of romantic opportunities was not a big deal to me. However, I underestimated the psychological effect of boxing up my identity once more. I started feeling alone, depressed, and anxious. After many months there, I did not feel like myself at all.
Because I am pretty strong-willed and raised in the western world, I ended up getting into a few arguments with Moroccan guys. My masculine style of dress and way of being confused some locals about what gender I was. It made me fear someone would think I was trans. In the end, I slowly started dressing more feminine to avoid worrying. It never feels good to change yourself based on other people or for safety reasons.
One of my trans friends traveled alone through Morocco, and I worried about her for the entire trip. When she finally told me she had traveled home, I let out a sigh of relief. The fact we need to worry about our LGBTQ friends in the world this way is a shame. Unfortunately, it is also a reality.
Even though I enjoyed being spoken to out in the street by locals, sometimes it was far too much. The constant male gaze was so intense that sometimes I did not want to go outside at all. This feeling came towards the end of my time there. I think for a quick trip it would not be a big deal for you.
There was one time when a guy would not take no for an answer. He followed me to my house in the middle of the day while I shouted at him to leave me alone. Of course, the male guards stationed in every corner did not bat an eye nor help me fend off my unwanted follower. He was still standing there offering a tea date when I slammed my gate in his face.
At night time, there were zero other females outside. One night, I walked home too late from a friend’s house, expecting to grab a taxi. When there was no taxi, I put my hood up to pass as a guy. In the end, a few guys saw me and followed me.
It was the only time in my travels I thought something horrible might happen. I was picturing what I should do if someone grabbed me from behind while trying to remain calm. In the end, they went away somewhere, and I arrived home safely.
Although many locals are friendly, they do not think of women the same way in Moroccan culture. This attitude towards women may put you at extra risk. Just be cautious. This goes for any foreign country.
Another thing about the streets is there is trash everywhere. Some people who lived above me would consistently throw trash out of their windows and into a small green place next to our building.
Business professionals would buy candy bars, only to drop the wrapper directly in front of the store door. I watched this happen time and time again. Finally, I saw this is just the norm here.
Still, just because the locals do it does not make it okay. Make sure you still dispose of your trash properly while traveling.
The last negative about Morocco would have to be the high level of homelessness staring you in the face. People will ask you for money A LOT. You will see people homeless everywhere. It is typical for Moroccan people to give the homeless money. This comes from the charitable virtues taught in the Muslim religion.
Also, be aware that some kids with homes will take advantage of this. I was buying one street kid lunch until I found out she had a home and cellphone while hustling me for snacks. They often leave the kids here to run amok. I have broken up fights where a group of kids was beating a younger kid while adults walked past as if nothing was happening. I found it bizarre and saddening.
Some kids in Morocco sniff a kind of “glue” substance and are not in their right mind. Towards the end of my time in the country, five young kids surrounded me in broad daylight. Their glazed-over eyes stared at my pockets, and I said some not-so-nice things to them. At that moment, I decided not to live in an environment that forced me to be so aggressive with 12-year-olds in the street.
Final thoughts on being LGBT in Morocco
Keep in mind this is just my experience of traveling as LGBT in Morocco. You may very well have a completely unique experience. With all the negatives, there also came many positives. I still feel my soul aching for a nice scrub in the hammam followed by next-level avocado smoothies, and a few chats with the locals.
By the way, “As-salaam Alaykum“ is the local greeting meaning “peace be upon you“. You can answer with “Walaykum As-salaam.“
That said, I hope you visit this wonderful country full of genuine people and beautiful landscapes. I am forever grateful for my time there, as it showed me what many in the global LGBTQ community endure in oppressive countries around the world. Living in Morocco and feeling the restriction first-hand inspired me to research laws affecting LGBTQ people worldwide.
Still, in 2021, there are 71 countries that criminalize homosexuality. In 11 of those countries, the death penalty is still enforceable! (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Brunei, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen)
The laws for LGBT in Morocco are less harsh than in other countries. As a foreigner, keep your head down and avoid PDA. This goes for heterosexual PDA as well.
While traveling, it is important to have pride in who you are, but always protect yourself before anything else. If that means going back into the closet, so be it. You are a visitor and must adhere to local laws in order to protect your freedom.
Use your time in those places to learn more about new cultures and connect with the local perspective. One day soon, I hope traveling while LGBT in Morocco is something we don’t need to discuss because people will be safe and free everywhere. Until then, stay safe and enjoy the experience. There is always something to learn.
Had a similar
or different experience while LGBT in Morocco?
Let me know in the comments!