Saturday, March 17, 2012

Searching for Muhammad: When Did Muslims Become "The Help"?

A guy walks into a bar.

No, not a bar. The guy is dead. And he probably doesn't even drink. He's walking through the pearly gates, knock knock knocking on heaven's door. On the ground floor, St. Peter answers.

"Can I help you?"

"Is Muhammad here?" the guy asks.

"He's upstairs," St. Peter replies.

So up the flight of stairs the guy goes, to the second floor. He knocks on the door. Jesus answers.

"Can I help you?"

"Is Muhammad here?"

"He's upstairs."

So up the flight of stairs the guy goes, to the third floor. He knocks on the door. God answers.

"Can I help you?"

"Is Muhammad here?"

"Yes, he works here. He's cleaning the toilet."

I'm not sure why the guy from Düsseldorf, Germany, told me that joke yesterday. Or why I remember his date of birth (April 26, 1955), but not his name. Or why I remember the joke at all. I never remember jokes, but I can recall this one almost verbatim. And it wasn't even funny.

In fact, although I politely laughed, it didn't even make sense. Was it supposed to play on religious stereotypes? Which religious stereotype casts Muslims as the help. Wouldn't it have made more sense for the main character to be looking for Jemima, or Aibileen (the name of the character Viola Davis played in The Help)? And why did the German feel the need to tell the joke to me?

I had just finished watching a show on the Fox Crime network about female law enforcers in Dallas in which every single detainee -- a crackhead, a drunk, a drug pusher, a teenage hooker, an all-purpose thug, a rifle-wielding maniac with crazy hair -- was black, and all of them spoke English like it was a second language. Racial stereotypes were fresh in my mind.

Like so many guys before him, the German also felt the need to tell me that he isn't attracted to Asian guys. Why does this subject keep coming up in Bangkok? By now, for me, it's a very tired song and dance, but at least he didn't use the same old "That's just what I prefer" excuse. Some guys are breast men, some are butt men, some are dicks. He said he's an eyes guy. He falls for someone because of what he sees in his eyes. Presumably, the shape of Asian eyes precludes him from seeing anything special in them.

I understood where he was coming from more than I understood the joke, which made me a little uncomfortable. I'm not sure what that says about me. And I'm not entirely sure what to make of this: Despite his over-awareness of religion, ethnicity and race (I'm almost certain that if I were white, the conversation would have taken a completely different turn), I found the German somewhat engaging.

That's possibly partly because there were no stupid come-ons, no "top or bottom?," no mention of stereotypes that might apply to me. Not once did he try to touch me there. Our conversation was completely innocent. There wasn't the remotest possibility that it might leave that room, and he seemed to be completely okay with that.

He told me that the older he gets, the younger the guys who pursue him get. His theory is that because a lot of young gay men grow up without a strong bond to an older male (their fathers, or whomever), they end up seeking out father-figure lovers. This made even more sense than his comment about Asian eyes, and that silly joke that cast Muhammad as God's house boy. I'm not sure if it explains why the guys are getting younger for me, too (I seriously doubt that 22-year-olds look at me and see some kind of father figure), but it did give me something to think about.

And the next time I want to get rid of one of those twinks, I'll have the perfect joke to do it for me.
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