As a person in Iraq, you learn from an early age how to become “lifeless” – absolutely numb with no feelings whatsoever. Everyone here has seen a dead body. Not a normal dead body, but a dead body that is missing some limbs due to some explosion, or one with half a skull because of a shooting. Or just seeing missing limbs scattered on the street.
That’s not the worst of it. It’s what we think when we see these things that are disturbing because no one thinks, “Oh my God, poor soul!” No, we think, “Ugh, now who is gonna clean all the blood from the street!”
As a teenager, you are not only numb to what is going on around you, but you’re also numb to what is going on inside of you. No one cares about you and you don’t even care about yourself. You are made to feel worthless. You are afraid to voice your problems or your ideas. Everyone calls you stupid for having a problem, because for them, in such a state of numbness, what is a problem? I can tell you that most people here are messed up in the head. So, we are numb and worthless. It is even worse if you are a female. You are numb, worthless and nothing but a “piece of meat.”
When I was just a kid I spent most of my time with my brother and my grandmother, who was living with us because my parents spent their days working. All I can remember from that time is how my grandmother used to encourage my brother, who is six years older than me, to curse me and call me bad names because I was a girl. As you can imagine, I hated myself and I hated being a girl. I wanted to die and I did everything I could to be a boy. I dressed like a boy, and I acted like a boy. I was made to believe that being a girl was such a disgrace and I was something really awful. Although my parents weren’t approving of what was going on between the three of us, they couldn’t do anything. Years later, my brother still believes that being a girl is a disgrace, just like most of the local boys think nowadays.
I don’t remember much from elementary school and middle school but I do remember the time I got out of a taxi scared out of my mind. I was sitting in the front seat. I was just a kid and I loved sitting there. My mother was sitting in the backseat but that did not stop the driver from trying to touch me. When we got off I told my mom, who laughed and asked, “Why would he want to do that? You are just an ugly kid!” See, she was surprised because he wanted to do it even though I’m a kid and an ugly one. I hated being a girl even more then, and I still don’t take a taxi home. If I do, I sit in the backseat and stay alert for whatever the driver does.
It didn’t stop there. The stares and sexual remarks begin the moment you start to look like a girl, sometimes as young as nine years old, and it never stops afterwards. I have a half shaved head, I wear boyish clothes and mostly act like a boy. Whenever I go out, there is always someone who shouts, “Are you a girl or a boy?” In a way, I’m glad. Hearing that is a lot easier than hearing something else, but it is not less, well, humiliating and scary, I guess. I get a lot of people telling me that I’m not girly enough, calling me names sometimes. I can’t imagine how much worse it is gonna be if one day I come out as gay to these people!
My brother might have stopped calling me names because of my gender, but it is not because he stopped believing that girls are a disgrace. It is because he doesn’t really see me as a girl. Sometimes, I feel like wearing a skirt, but I can’t because of him. He doesn't want me to look like a girl, because if I looked like a girl, then I will turn into a slut and go sleep with boys, right? That’s what he thinks. Somehow, everything in the world has to revolve around men here, men and their parts. It is a male-dominated community.
What’s our role in this community? Oh, we are just here for sex and babies! The moment you try to do something other than that, bam! You are a “slut!” You can’t work, you can’t study and you can’t do anything. Well, you can, but then you will have to live your whole life with everyone around you thinking you are a “slut.”
When I was in U.S. recently [for four weeks on an exchange program], my brother used to call and say, “Don't talk to boys!” He thinks that if I talk to a boy then I'm going to sleep with him or something, because that's what he does with girls. He sweet talks them into doing what he wants, and if denied then he gets mad. For him it's like, how can you deny a man? He thinks that boys who don't do this are not men, just failures. That being a gentleman and respecting women is a sign of being a failure. Men are sex crazed in Iraq, for some unknown reason. Almost all Arab men are like that, except for the “failures,” as my brother would say.
Laws and rules? What laws and rules! Last time I heard they were trying to enforce a law that allows men to marry nine years old girls without her consent – just her father’s consent.
In high school, a guy as old as my dad tried to rape me. He used to drive me to school everyday and then he started to make me do stuff. When I would say no, he would be honestly surprised that I would say no! Because how can I say no? Isn’t this what all girls want and what they are here for? I quote him: “Why don’t you wanna see my dick? Other girls would be dying to see it!”
Some people would disagree with me, saying that I’m talking in a really negative way and that it is not that bad. But they would only think this because everyone has grown to accept it as the “normal” way of living. There are some people who actually believe that this is the right way to live, that men are everything and we are just sex objects! I don’t know why. Bad education? Bad parenting? I don’t know, but it is pretty disturbing.
Noor, 17, lives in Baghdad.