Belly dancing, queer activism and an inspiration for people who want to find their true self. Darvish is on a journey to make Berlin more authentic.
By: Amanda Sandström Beijer
Photos: Playful Magazine
Darvish’s decision to come from Syria to Berlin was made easy for him since some of his childhood friends werealready living in the city.
“When you know someone in Europe it already encourages the move to that location. My first two years I spent here on a student visa, since I got accepted at Leipzig University and also in Saarbrücken, but I knew that I would start off in Berlin and I consider that decision one of the best I’ve made so far. Berlin is where I was meant to be and it’s where I feel at home.”
Arriving without expectations, and without ever having left Syria, made Darvish open up to all new experiences. He left his heart and mind completely open.
“Coming to a new place to start afresh, you’ve got to have that mentality of openness and acceptance in order for others to be able to accept you. People tend to be scared of the unknown so making yourself transparent allows others to do the same and to be more approachable. So, I never experienced a cultural shock. Whenever someone asks me about my first week in Berlin, I say… ‘I was walking completely naked in a ‘men only’ sauna. That’s how free I felt’.”
“There was a relief in feeling that I can be or do whatever I want, I always craved this kind of independence. Thinking about it now, even back in Syria I had the tendency and will to be independent. And I would choose this city again for exactly that reason: the freedom.”
Today Darvish is part of the vibrant artistic queer community in Berlin, which also means that he is a part of the magic it lends to the city.
“We make Berlin’s night and cultural life alive and energetic, and I’m drawn to this powerful force. You can’t deny the strength of Queer art”.
The freedom, the queer community and the nightlife are the ingredients that make Berlin the place he decided to live in. But the pandemic has left its mark, he says.
“Needless to say, Berlin’s reputation and its clubs make it the raver’s number one destination. Though in the last pandemic year it has lost a bit of its charm I must say. We lost our spaces, and we lost our dancing. We said goodbye to our favorite clubs and venues. But the true Berliners will bring it back even better.”
But Berlin is not just a rose garden. As much as the city is a queer haven for the Darvish and many others, it can also be brutal and harsh. This is shown by the increase in violence towards the queer community.
"Berlin is really good when you are in a good place, and it’s so bad when you’re in a bad place"
“In a way, every metropolitan city has its dark side. In this case it can be noticed by the increase of violence towards our community. That’s why, in my opinion, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to achieving safety for everyone. I always say Berlin is really good when you are in a good place, and it’s so bad when you’re in a bad place. It’s like this energy vortex that sucks you in only to amplify your own thoughts and energy. You must be tough to live in this city and me personally I have proved to myself that I can be strong enough for both myself and for my community – and this is something that I’m proud of.”
Today Darvish is co-organizing the famous Queens Against Borders parties that started in 2015 as a response to several of the political views and ideas surrounding refugee reception. He saw how some politicians tried to make a connection between immigration as a threat to queer culture as it was often linked to extremism and controversial values. For Darvish, the problem was not so black and white. And as a queer identifying person from Syria, he decided to act.
“This is something big that political parties are still talking about even after 6 years, accusing immigrants of importing antisemitism or extreme Islamism. Queer and trans people are in a very specific position where we are very useful in various countries for different reasons since we can be held up as a marker of civilizational sophistication. Where their tolerance towards us is used to cover up other crimes,” he says.
“Therefore, Queens Against Borders allows a platform for those exact trans and queer people to have their own voice to be able to tell their own stories and change the narratives that authorities are misusing. And to create a place where trans- and queer folks feel like they’re safe and they belong. We discuss political and societal issues at our stage in a context of entertainment and through art and culture, in the recent years we have seen how important this is and what it means for our communities. So from here on the only way is to support the others, be it individuals or organizations, and that’s how it should be in my opinion. Together we are stronger.”
The goal of Queens Against Borders is to add more authenticity to Berlin and shine light on the queer community, establish a platform as well as to protect its members. After the pandemic, the group wants to evolve across national borders as well.
“Berlin is diverse and colorful but still lacking proper representation. So far, I haven’t seen correct representation of our community and I’m trying my hardest to change that. Berlin needs authenticity and we bring that to our events. In my own events or at QAB, we try to shine a light on a community that is very often marginalized and give it the chance to connect with the more established queer creative community of Berlin.”
Our dreams are big. Always.
“Our dreams are big. Always. Our goal is to provide a safe platform for many others to be themselves and own their power and their story so as to share their culture, heritage, art, and love for the community. We will be back organizing events soon enough. But for now, we are trying to prepare a Self Defense Workshop for our trans and queer resident artists and anyone that would like to join. Seeing the increase in hate crimes and violence hitting our community we want to provide protection and what better way to protect yourself than knowing how to hit back in self-defense?”
“Another dream of ours is to take our message and spread it to include refugees and artists from outside Berlin. We were very close last year to go to Sweden and Greece but then the pandemic hit so we hope we’ll be able to take this step soon.”
But finding and becoming a part of the queer community was something that helped Darvish to find out more about himself and brought him confidence.
“The journey for me to find myself, before I speak about finding my community, was not so easy. I believe I’m a product of many human intersectionalities, when I arrived in Berlin, I volunteered to various actions for supporting the refugee communities because I wanted to give back to them and be part of their processes. Then I was one of the first who participated in founding the safe space for refugees to learn Voguing which resulted in us founding our own Kiki House with the support of ASDIQA foundation. Afterwards, as I was building my career in performance art, I became an important part of nightlife and club culture. I found confidence in my work there.
"In Berlin it’s easier to find a community that you fit into because there’s something for everyone"
"So, for me to find myself and my personalities in each of those communities and learn more about myself, is a blessing and a privilege and it all goes back to this one thought of having an open mind and receiving new input. But it also comes down to how you take those inputs, repurpose and create something good with it. In Berlin it’s easier to find a community that you fit into because there’s something for everyone.”
On Instagram, Darvish posts his belly dancing videos. For him, the dancing is essential, but it took its time to be comfortable in his own skin.
“I started dancing on stages only four years ago out of mere coincidence and it was never planned as a career, I found my voice through dancing. At first, I was very self-conscious about it and anxious of how people would perceive me. I grew up with the idea that men shouldn’t dance and that they should always present masculinity and never femininity, so I wasn’t comfortable doing belly dance in front of anyone. It took me a while to be very comfortable in my own skin and one thing that helped me to gain confidence was the Voguing community and how it taught me that’s it’s okay to mess up a move or not be precise. I learned how to live with my imperfections but at the same time to have total control of my body. And that by itself brought me power and confidence.”
“When I dance. I’m not only representing myself or my culture. But also, the communities that I’m part of here and my journey through them.”
With gaining more and more confidence and feeling increasingly comfortable expressing the feminine side through dancing, Darvish now inspires others.
“I always say: You cannot truly own anything if you’re not comfortable with it. So first you must be comfortable with who you are. It didn’t come easy in my case either. At the beginning I was not completely happy showing my feminine side, telling myself all kinds of words that put me down. This was particularly true with the body dysmorphia of acting straight and being masculine to be accepted in a clique of our community, which is another problem in itself, but then I realized I must live my true self. We only live once and to spend this life being someone else is redundant. I wouldn’t like to lie to myself anymore and act as if I’m only one thing. I’m so much more and I’m proud to show it. So be authentically yourself and you’ll realize your power.”
The advice for someone that would like to explore their femme sides is to experiment and try different types of clothes.
Remember that clothes have no gender. It’s a piece of fabric and you wear it and not vice versa
“Try them out and explore how you keep it in mind. Remember that clothes have no gender. It’s a piece of fabric and you wear it and not vice versa. Makeup is a tool of enhancement, a way to boost what’s already beautiful and emotions are there to be expressed, it’s what makes us human and a way to communicate, evolve and be. And always, listen to yourself.”