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My Journey Into the Wild Nights of Marrakech’s Queer Underground

Courtesy of Patrick Waechter

After shimmying through two grimy buildings I was taken on a night I'll never forget.

Before the pandemic, I worked as a hotel critic. For 11 years, I went all over the place, moving from one hotel to the next, fronting myself as some kind of expert of hospitality. By the third or fourth year it was beginning to be true, but near the start, I was a mess.

One of the first trips I took for that job was to the Moroccan city of Marrakech. I brought my friend Justin along, who is always fun but is also -- a lot. I wasn't technically supposed to bring friends, but I figured, what could go wrong?

Justin and I were in artificial-chic Marrakech for close to two weeks. We fully experienced six different five-star resorts, rode on camels, did two black soap hammam scrubs, drank way too much mint tea, and shopped for carpets, poufs, and lanterns. But that was all tourist stuff.



Patrick Waechter and a bustling bar and restaurant in the town square. All courtesy of the writer.

On our last night, Justin wanted to find a gay party. We weren't sure if one existed in Marrakech, but we devised a plan to find out. Our suite had a full-time butler, and we were pretty sure he was one of us. Justin went to talk to him. He was resistant at first, but Justin can be very charming. (In fact, he once got a man who offered to buy him a drink to, instead, give him $10.) After a few minutes, Justin returned shaking a little scrap of paper and said, "We're going to a party tonight!"

Around 10 or so, we went out front to request a taxi. The bellman asked where we were headed and Justin handed him the address. "I'll take you myself," he said.

The bellman pulled around the hotel car and drove us to the city center. When we got out, it was eerily quiet. I asked Justin for the address and he slapped his palm on his pocket. "Fuck! I forgot to get it back!" We started looking around for signs of a party, holding our hands to our ears like makeshift bullhorns. It's worked before in L.A. and Berlin, but in Marrakech, nothing. Then, as if on cue, a motorcycle pulled to a gentle stop about 25 feet away.

We couldn't help but notice they were two very handsome men riding in an embrace. Also, there was literally no one else around. The driver looked over and yelled, "You looking for something?"

I replied, "No thanks, we're -- ," before Justin interjected, "Actually, we're looking for this party..."

The driver stopped the engine before looking around and saying, "We know a good party near. Come with us." If I was traveling alone, I would have definitely said no. But, before I knew it, these two guys were finding a place to park their motorcycle and we were following behind them.

We came to a stop at a seemingly unremarkable spot and one of them pointed into a narrow gap between two buildings. "Let's go," he said. Justin went in with his hands up and palms out as if he was being searched at an airport, shimmying between the two grimy buildings. It looked terrifying, but before I could question it, Justin was already too deep in the crevice. I couldn't leave him, so I followed.


A display of herbs and spices at a market in Marrakech. Photo by Taryn Elliott via Pexels.

We shimmied until we came to a roofless triangle-shaped clearing formed by the walls of three buildings. I was worried we were being kidnapped -- but no. There were twinkling lights. There were three wobbly white plastic tables with chairs (you know the kind). There was another, slightly larger table functioning as a bar, where you could get pretty much whatever you wanted so long as you wanted beer, vodka, or cigarettes. We just sat down when a seemingly novice gender-bending performer appeared with a microphone. They started singing in Arabic. We couldn't understand the words and the sound was awful. Still, there was something electric and brave about their energy and we couldn't get enough.

We were there for hours, first with the motorcycle guys, but as their friends kept pulling up chairs the group grew to 10 or more. They polished off multiple bottles. I didn't even finish my second drink. Last call came, then the bill, then everyone scattered except the original two men. Justin and I were left with the full amount, but we were fine with that. It wasn't a lot, and of course we were very happy to support the Marrakech queer underground.

We shimmied back out to the street. Justin and I were going to go back to the hotel, but the guys suggested we go to an after-party. Why not? We got a taxi, and three of us hopped in the backseat. The other guy started to get in front but then remembered his motorcycle was still there. He leaned into the window, wished us all goodnight, and we were off.

I didn't even think to wonder where we were going until I realized we were actually leaving the city. Looking through the rear window, I saw the lights of Marrakech fade to a speck -- then no speck at all. After a few miles through the dark, we turned left up a dirt desert road to a dilapidated-looking village, stopping under this flickering fluorescent street lamp.

I was sure at this point we were not actually going to an after-party, but I had to know how this was going to end. We followed this guy through the village, climbing over piles of rubble and passing a man half asleep leading a camel on a rope. Finally, we stopped at a house. He put a key in and turned the lock but stopped short of opening the door. He looked back at me, his lips quivering as he mumbled something like "wanhanra yeero." I didn't understand. He said again, much more clearly: "100 Euros...for my ass!"

I had heard stories about guys in Morocco who believe that being gay is a sin but justify having sex with men if they are paid for it -- because then it's for survival. I didn't want to pay for sex, but I felt like he and I had a vibe. Maybe I just needed to reason with him. I said, "Hey, man. You don't have to be ashamed. We're all gay here." The moment I said "gay," it was clear we were no longer friends. He leaned back and spun his leg as if to tornado-kick me in the face. He wasn't much of a fighter, though. His shoe barely brushed my chin. Justin grabbed his leg mid-kick, forcing him to lose his balance and fall. We made a run for it. He didn't chase us.

We arrived back to the main road where it was only us, the flickering streetlamp, and mounting stress as we realized our flight was in a few hours. In the distance a beacon appeared in the form of a lone pair of headlights. We ran for the road hoping to flag down whoever happened to be out for a drive through the Moroccan middle of nowhere in the earliest, darkest hours of the morning, not even thinking for a moment that maybe this was a terrible idea. As they got closer, we realized it was not just a car. It was a taxi, a loud old rusted-up clunker of a taxi with peeling sticky seats. But it was a taxi!

We got in and raced back to the hotel, then ran up to our suite to quickly stuff our bags and leave. The butler was already there as well as a team of housekeepers stripping the beds and aggressively fluffing pillows.

"What happened to you guys last night?" the butler asked. "Well..." Justin started off before I pulled him toward the door. I was having none of it. "We have to go," I told the butler. In the end, we made the flight.

Patrick Waechter has been writing about his life for 25 years. He is currently working on a book of short stories called All Over the Place. Follow him at @pswaechter.

A version of this story first appeared in Out's 2021 Hollywood Issue. Jake Borelli is featured on the cover alongside Ryan O'Connell and Alexandra Grey. It is the first print issue under the editorial direction of editor-in-chief David Artavia. The issue is out on newsstands on March 3, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News +.

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