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TUNISIAN PROFESSIONAL BOYFRIENDS.

Wiser

Major Ratslayer
Recently found an interesting article published in 2016 named :

Mobile orientations: An autoethnography of Tunisian professional boyfriends​

by
Nicola Mai
here is a fragment and the link. xx

Abstract​

Ahmed is a young man working as a ‘professional boyfriend’ in the intimate economy surrounding the tourist industry in Sousse, one of Tunisia’s main tourist destinations on the Mediterranean coast. He and most of his friends and colleagues are also harraga, ‘burners’ in Arabic, a term describing young men burning their documents and yearning for Europe. By performing love to female tourists and by migrating as their spouses, young men in Tunisia embody late modern individualized and consumerist lifestyles, while providing for their families at home. They also embody their ‘mobile orientations’, a term I coined to refer to how migrants inhabit a desired subjectivity by entering the socially available arrangements of objects, discourses, mobilities and affective practices enabling their agency. For Ahmed and his peer group migration is not a possibility, but an existential necessity to become successful men according to the values set by the neoliberal social ontology. By analysing the forms of intimate labour and the mobile orientations they engage in, I problematize the presumption of exploitability of local people within public and academic debates about ‘sex tourism’. In this article I discuss the heuristic opportunities and predicaments posed by my auto ethnographic experience as a tourist who became an ethnographer and filmmaker. I also reflect on the choices I made while analyzing my ethnographic findings and editing my filmed material during post-fieldwork reflections.
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer
They say he who searches, finds. But in Tunisia even if you look hard you find nothing – Bilal.1

Introduction​

‘In my life I have two things. The first is my mother. The second is Europe. If this year I am not going to Europe I’ll kill myself.’ That’s how the filmed interview with Ahmed began, on the rooftop terrace of the apartment he had rented to perform love for Ivana, his female tourist client at the time. I was quite surprised by this inception. Ahmed was a very assertive and vital 21-year-old man. He had not given me the impression of being desperate. Far from it. He was one of the charismatic leaders of the Tourist Shop Boys, a phrase I invented to refer to a group of young men working on commission for a tourist souvenir shop at the entrance of the medina of Sousse. The intimate space of the filmed interview and our relationship of trust gave Ahmed the opportunity to reveal something else about himself. That afternoon, by letting himself bare in front of me he wanted to show me the commodified terms of his intimate labour and the affective and embodied means of production powering it.
The situation was quite awkward. Ivana, the 30-year-old Czech female tourist Karim was working with at the time, was talking to her friend just a few metres away. The terrace was adjacent to the flat and her 5-year-old daughter was playing around us. Neither spoke English much and the terrace was huge. We sat at the other end of it, Karim facing the fading sun. After I finished positioning the camera he took his top off, saying jokingly ‘sweet boy, good boy, 100% American style!’ – a self-advertising courting routine he used to attract potential tourist girlfriends. It produced the desired effect, or rather the desiring affect required; female tourists started smiling and stopped walking by. Ahmed knew exactly how to mobilize beauty according to the racialized and sexualized canons affecting the tourist intimate economy he was working in (Rivers Moore, 2013). By strategically performing his looks to attract tourists, he was working in his favour the geopolitical, racialized and sexualized terms of the colonial (and postcolonial) desire powering the Tunisian tourist sex industry (Young, 1995).
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer

Methodology​

My first Tunisian holiday became the first of three different periods of observation of the average duration of three weeks, that took place between 2003 and 2005, in between which I kept regularly in touch via telephone, email and MSN messenger with Ahmed and Bilal, a 19 year old friend of Karim who was also working as a Tourist Shop Boy. Although they were the two main protagonists of my ethnographic observation in Sousse, this included conversations and observations with at least 15 more young men, whom I met through the Tourist Shop Boys and during my life as a participant observer in Sousse’s tourist intimate economy. The sensuous and affective atmosphere permeating the intimate industry prompted me to take visual as well as written ethnographic notes, which I subsequently edited into a short experimental documentary that ended up being named ‘Mother Europe’.

As my subjectivity became a central methodological tool within my research on the relationship between migration and the global sex industry I decided to write this article in the format of an autoethnography: a writing and research approach that systematically explores the personal experience of the researcher to understand and analyse wider social, cultural and political meanings and understandings (Ellis and Bochner, 2006). More specifically, following Denshire and Lee (2013: 11) I operationalize autoethnography as a strategic assemblage of modes of representation (interviews, ethnographic observation, documentary filmmaking) in order to ‘foreground, through juxtaposing multiple accounts one against the other, an uneasy, unstable relationship between the writer and the self she writes about.’ The article will also analyse the ways in which stylistic and editing choices emerged and evolved in the context of my ethnographic filmmaking in relation to ongoing post-fieldwork reflections. Coherently with its autoethnographic approach, the article will be structured mainly around the narrative unfolding of the encounters, relationships and events through which knowledge happened and developed in the field, rather than through thematic sections and subsections.

The participant observation of Ahmed’s everyday life will be the main red thread of this article, which will present an autoethnographic account of young men working as ‘professional boyfriends’ in the tourist intimate industry in Sousse. The term ‘professional boyfriend’ draws from Heidi Hoefinger’s work (2011) on the plurality of emotional and economic relations through which ‘professional girlfriends’ working in the tourist sex industry in Cambodia participate in the mobilities, lifestyles and socio-economic inequalities engendered by globalized neoliberalism. Building on her work, I will introduce the term ‘professional fiancé’ to focus on the way Tourist Shop Boys produced performances of love that aimed primarily to obtain access to international mobility through marriage. Following Boris and Parreñas (2011), I will analyse how their aspiration to become male spouses shapes the material, affective, psychological, and embodied dimensions characterizing their ‘intimate labour’. Against the automatic extension of the assumed structural exploitation of local women producing such labour to their male colleagues (Sanchez Taylor, 2006), I will show how Tunisian professional boyfriends try to navigate in their favour the commodified terms of successful selfhood engendered by the global onset of the neoliberal ontology.
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer

Fucking tourirists: Doing intimate labour​

‘Our job? I guess we are businessmen’ – said Bilal, the youngest member of the group in front of the camera. He sat next to Ahmed on the balcony of the tourist villa I rented in the beachside outskirts of Sousse. I had invited them both for a joint video interview for the documentary I decided to make. ‘Businessmen? No way! We are sellers!’ – objected Ahmed. By refusing to describe himself as businessman Ahmed was trying to avoid the stigma associated with the practice of bezness. The Tunisian term bezness results from the merging of the French verb for ‘fucking’ – baiser – with the word ‘business’. It is currently used to stigmatize young men sleeping with tourists for financial and other gains.

The Tourist Shop Boys responded to this negative stigmatization by producing a countering stereotype of cheap and sex-oriented tourists: Tourirists. ‘There are no tourists here in Sousse. Only fucking tourirists. 5 million people come to Tunisia each year, looking for sex and sunshine. They don't do any shopping. They buy nothing’ Ahmed once told me. ‘What’s the difference between tourists and tourirists?’ I had to ask. ‘Real tourists spend money. They go to the restaurant, buy stuff. They give. Tourirists are cheap. They stay in their all-inclusive hotels and are only interested in sex. They come here for the Tunisian banana. We call them tourirists because to us they are like terrorists; they destroy everything for us’. That’s how ‘Fucking Tourirists’ became the working title of the second movie of my Sex Work Trilogy2. The title was inspired by Glen Bowman’s seminal essay on the relations between Palestinian men and foreign female tourists and on the way they inverted the geopolitical and symbolic relations of power between themselves and western men by fucking ‘their’ women (Bowman, 1989). I thought that the appropriation of the Islamophobic terrorist stereotype to strike back at the impact of ‘cheap’ and ‘sex-focused’ tourism from the global north was a forceful way to counter the stigma associated to bezness in Tunisia.

In the first version of the film, I superimposed my tourist videos of Sousse’s medina and beaches on a faded version – to protect his identity – of Ahmed’s video interview. In doing so I wanted to capture the way his narrative self-representation was embedded within the commodified material and intimate environment of the tourist industry. ‘I sell everything tourists wants!’ he told me half jokingly one day, with a cheeky grin hinting more at his evening job than at his day job at the tourist shop. But it is the more intimate and desperate reappraisal of the commodified relational territory Ahmed was rooted in that captured my attention as our relationship developed. On the balcony that night, when he let himself bare in front of me, Ahmed’s seductive buoyancy in the face of his peers had gone. As the sun set on the Sousse medina, Ahmed let me know about the intimate-economic pressure he was under.

‘I don’t have a father anymore’ – he continued – ‘he spends 2,000 … 3,000 … 4,000 dinars playing cards every night. If my mother asks me to do something, I’ll do it. But I will not do anything my father asks. I do nothing for him.’ I guessed he lost his father the moment he had to pay for his gambling debts, but I did not know what to say. So I said nothing. Ahmed continued. ‘My mother wants me to stay in Tunisia. She needs everything. She needs me; she needs money. Only I give money for my family.’ ‘What happens if you are not able to give money?’ I asked. ‘They tell me to leave. I don’t care because I have lots of friends and girlfriends, Tunisian girlfriends … I have a Tunisian girlfriend and she gives me money everyday. Because she loves me very much.’ It was the first time he talked about her and that he mentioned love outside of the context of his work as professional boyfriend. I was intrigued about his straightforward association of love and money, so I tried to find out more about it.

‘Do you love your Tunisian girlfriend?’ I asked him. His answer made me understand how deeply the economic pressures he was under had pervaded his intimate world. ‘No, I don’t love anybody. Not even myself. I love only one thing, my mother. She is something special for me. I live now with tourists without this (he points to his heart). It’s now with my mother. She keeps it clean for me. Everything I do is for my mother, Ahmed said. He still had a faint smile on his face but the tone of his voice was affecting us both with deep sadness. He continued: ‘in the last month I could not give anything to my family. We have arguments all the time because of this. I spent 135,000 dinars … For this work …’ He looked away at the flat. To make sure he could not be heard. He continued: ‘… for these 20 days. 65,000 dinars for the flat, then for the food, the drinks, everything. You need to do all this if you want it to work. The plan. But the day I get the papers, I will stop all of this. I will leave her and go, directly’, he said with a shine in his eyes, his voice now lightening up.

‘How does the plan work?’ I asked. Ahmed explained that in order to be seen as a ‘good man’ he had to give the European woman a good ‘impression of love’. Being a ‘good man’ meant being able to provide a credible performance of a viable (and marriable) breadwinner. This included paying for the flat and the food while she was visiting, going to work during the day, strategically refusing gifts and ‘going Dutch’ with money in order to perform love in accordance to the separation between the economic and the intimate dimensions characterizing their tourist partners’ cultural constructions of romantic love (Hoefinger, 2011).

‘You have to introduce her to your family’, Ahmed added. ‘I took her home to meet my mother last week, but she refused to talk to her. My mother does not want me to do this. Ivana is not the first tourist I bring home like this, you know …’ But the key activity for a successful ‘impression of love’ is the abundant provision of sex, which was presented as an indispensable trust-building device by all the Tourist Shop Boys. In exchange, what they get is the possibility of having fun and sex in the tourist intimate economy, money transfers to sustain them during the quieter winter months, and a marriage visa, when their love performances are particularly successful. ‘If you want Europe, you have to fuck her everyday. Everyday. That way she’ll know you love her. If you don’t, you are in trouble. I don’t like fucking every day. It’s too much, but it’s important. If you want Europe you have to fuck Europe, and a lot!!’ We laughed, but we had both been affected by his sadness. I could feel it in his voice. Under the weight of so much pressure, so many economic conditions posed to being loved and respected.

While writing about Ahmed’s life trajectory a posteriori, I reflect on Elizabeth Bernstein’s analysis of the way bounded experiences of intimacy, recreational sex and authenticity, such as the so-called ‘girlfriend experience’, are being negotiated in the postindustrial global north, where they emerge within the onset of the service economy (2007: 4–7). Were Ahmed and Ivana involved in a more unequal and transnational version of the dynamics explored in Bernstein’s scholarly work? Was he providing Ivana with an analogous ‘boyfriend experience’? A part of me thought so. That Ahmed was involved in a local declination of these same globalized late modern dynamics. More specifically, he provided his female tourist partners with a strategic ‘fiancé experience’: a bounded performance of love that potentially enabled him to access social and international mobility through marriage. I also thought that most of his female tourist partners implicitly decided to frame this bounded intimate experience through the repertoire of romantic love and marriage to avoid the stigma associated with older women from the global north desiring younger men from the global south (Frohlick, 2009). I was encouraged to think so by the many suspicions I had been witnessing in women’s questionings and by the many times I had seen their understandable doubts set aside by them in the name of ‘love’.
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer
link to the short films, includding "Mother Europe"

SEX WORK TRILOGY​

In my sex work trilogy, I want to explore different experiences of the encounter between migration, tourism and sex work, by focusing on the experiences and perspectives of people selling sex and/or love in order to survive and/or live the lives they chose for themselves. There is a strong relationship between my research and my interest in ethnographic filmmaking, which resulted in the three experimental documentary films forming the Sex Work Trilogy including: - Comidas Rapidas – Fast Bites (Mai 2010; 5 mins) on the relation between ‘errant’ forms of mobility, migration and the engagement of Moroccan and Romanian minors and young men in the global sex industry in Spain; - Mother Europe (Mai 2011; 5 mins), on the relationship between tourism-related forms of sex work and migration; and - Normal (Mai 2012; 65 mins), on the intersection between gender, sexuality, migration, sex work and trafficking. The different aesthetic and filmic choices in each of the three films reflect the methodological and ethical challenges posed by the different research projects informing them. They also express the regimes of visibility enjoyed by available to their subjects, who needed to maintain safety and anonymity as they were stigmatized both as sex workers and as irregular migrants. Normal is currently being submitted to festivals, which is why only the film and character trailers are available on my vimeo profile.

Mother Europe

Nicola Mai
The second film of my sex work trilogy is about a young Tunisian man selling love to Western female tourists in order to build a new life for
 

Butterflies

Major Ratslayer
here's the link.
Thank you Wiser it's a great article. It confirms the ways rats use to trick women for their almighty goal : Europe or another country. It's indeed sad any human has to live this way to achieve what they want from life but it doesn’t justify their deeds. The love for their mothers we heard the same from our own rats as they will always come first. He had other opportunities but there was not enough money involved in working in their own country and he prefere living in Europe, I guess away from the pressure of the traditions in tunisia
 

Mica

Administrator
Staff member
Thank you Wiser, that is so useful.
To have such a professional study on bezness is so valuable.

The term "Professional Fiance" says it all so clearly - thats what they are, they are selling a love experience, an illusion and all this information makes the absolutely clear.

I must add that the guy in the video is clearly delusional if he thinks he can have a good life, house and a car in Europe because Tunisia is so expensive, I had to laugh :rolleyes: I know too many Europeans who can't afford that despite working all their lives. And many homeless people who would not stoop so low as to fake love to try to con someone :(
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer
Thank you Wiser it's a great article. It confirms the ways rats use to trick women for their almighty goal : Europe or another country. It's indeed sad any human has to live this way to achieve what they want from life but it doesn’t justify their deeds. The love for their mothers we heard the same from our own rats as they will always come first. He had other opportunities but there was not enough money involved in working in their own country and he prefere living in Europe, I guess away from the pressure of the traditions in tunisia
this particular man "Ahmed" was recieving money from his Tunisian girlfriend and confessed he had more than one Tunissian girl, there/s no limit nor shame in their greed.
Also the way they try to close their eyes to reality denying they are bezness boys is outstanding. blaming ther victims using the term similar to terrorists " tourirists" "no real tourists come to Sousse...pfff they contact women and men online to go visit them.. they lie even asleep. one thing is true: they dont even love themeselves.
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer
Thank you Wiser, that is so useful.
To have such a professional study on bezness is so valuable.

The term "Professional Fiance" says it all so clearly - thats what they are, they are selling a love experience, an illusion and all this information makes the absolutely clear.

I must add that the guy in the video is clearly delusional if he thinks he can have a good life, house and a car in Europe because Tunisia is so expensive, I had to laugh :rolleyes: I know too many Europeans who can't afford that despite working all their lives. And many homeless people who would not stoop so low as to fake love to try to con someone :(
it rains $$$$ in Europe lol... disgusting behaviour.
 

Lass

Major Ratslayer
Thanks for posting that @Wiser Even though technically it's nothing new for me it still shocks me and hits me really hard to listen/read it.
Did you notice how he said that he hopes he will find a woman with "white heart the same as his" that just left me speechless...that cheeky wee shite actually still sees himself as a good person. My blood is boiling!
 

confuseddotcom

Major Ratslayer
Thank you Wiser, that is so useful.
To have such a professional study on bezness is so valuable.

The term "Professional Fiance" says it all so clearly - thats what they are, they are selling a love experience, an illusion and all this information makes the absolutely clear.

I must add that the guy in the video is clearly delusional if he thinks he can have a good life, house and a car in Europe because Tunisia is so expensive, I had to laugh :rolleyes: I know too many Europeans who can't afford that despite working all their lives. And many homeless people who would not stoop so low as to fake love to try to con someone :(
Agreed, I don’t think there’s ever an excuse for it. Providing a mutually beneficial sexual service - questionable - but faking love and ruining lives just to finance a family/wedding is never ok.

It may sound biased but men that purchase the girlfriend experience usually know what they’re in for. They want a flawless, young (preferably exotic) girlfriend that caters to their every need without asking questions, and love rarely enters the equation.
 

Sabrina

Major Ratslayer
Agreed, I don’t think there’s ever an excuse for it. Providing a mutually beneficial sexual service - questionable - but faking love and ruining lives just to finance a family/wedding is never ok.

It may sound biased but men that purchase the girlfriend experience usually know what they’re in for. They want a flawless, young (preferably exotic) girlfriend that caters to their every need without asking questions, and love rarely enters the equation.
My question where the father get all that money to gamble??? And Ahmed is full of himself! It’s alittle sad but alot disgusting !!!!! What kind of women is he dealing with a sex maniac he’s delusional
 

Sabrina

Major Ratslayer
Yep they’re broke yet always seem to find large amounts of money when they need to. I never did get that. Not to mention gambling is “haram”. Yet what they’re doing is perfectly justified because it’s for their mom, oh ok got it LOL.
And he and all the rest of them have a sad story.....blah blah it’s a freaking deceitful job where they are hurting and using others.. I cannot feel sorry for them
 

Wiser

Major Ratslayer
Yep they’re broke yet always seem to find large amounts of money when they need to. I never did get that. Not to mention gambling is “haram”. Yet what they’re doing is perfectly justified because it’s for their mom, oh ok got it LOL.
His mother met many foreign ladies and was ok with it. That Is where the problem begins: in the criddle. It is hideous how fine they feel with their performance.
 
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