The Collective Creating a Safer Space for Queer Arabs

Iman El Kafrawi speaks to the Berlin-based collective on exploring identity, queer visibility and how to create safe spaces.

WORDS Iman El Kafrawi  

This article originally appeared in BRICKS ‘The Rise Together Issue’.

Berlin-based collective Queer Arab Barty is a dynamic, safer space, encouraging the exploration of queer Arab identities and the subversion of mainstream attempts to homogenise queer Arabs in Berlin and beyond. More than a dance party, they are a platform encouraging self-expression and conversations. We speak to the collective to explore identity, visibility and safer spaces. 

The lack of safe spaces, whether that be in Cairo or Berlin, is something queer Arabs are fighting to change. Despite Berlin being considered a sanctuary for the queer community, Queer Arab Barty question who these spaces have been created for. The collective explains that although the queer climate in Berlin is promising, they believe that there’s a lack of access to resources for our communities to establish our voices, our physical, social, and economical safety is always in a precarious position. Most queer spaces in Berlin, they explain, cater to white cis gay men and “if you don’t fit this identity, the ‘community’ will rarely care for what you need and offer you a safer space.”  

If you don’t fit this identity, the ‘community’ will rarely care for what you need and offer you a safer space.

Despite this, Queer Arab Barty draws attention to the collectives and organisations such as drag collective House of Living Colours, DJ collective and club night No Shade, queer rave Room 4 Residence and QTIPOC-led organisation, GLADT e.V who are pushing for better representation and awareness within the city. 

The driving force behind Queer Arab Barty was the lack of representation for queer Arabs during Berlin’s annual LGBTQ+ celebration and demonstration — Christopher Street Day. They realised the importance of creating their own space rather than attempting to occupy Berlin’s current queer climate. Collectively, they decided to focus on creating somewhere that celebrates and is representative of their specific queer identities. Queer Arab Barty has first and foremost created a place where we as queer Arabs can feel as though we matter. By doing this, we can be our authentic selves, which they describe as an opportunity to “celebrate and release your inner Haifas, Nancys and of course, your Nawals.”  

Similarly, we see a global rise in queer Arab spaces – from Yalla! Party in Brooklyn, to Pride of Arabia in London. The collective believe that the main difference between these examples and others is cultural representation and agency: “Queer communities have their different voices, collective memories and life experiences. Our differences in that sense should be celebrated and centred, not sidelined for the sake of an imagined homogeneity of community that does not exist.”    

The collective questions, “Is it ever possible for us to be included in spaces without having to compromise our identities?” Queer Arab Barty believes, “It’s better to create our own spaces of inclusion and have the agency to determine the narrative and discourse of these spaces.” However, they think it is also useful to take over existing spaces and decanter the “pale, male and stale rhetorics they embody.” They highlight the importance of acknowledging that queer cultures, taking a forefront in Berlin, are historically created by and for marginalised communities, so the question of inclusion should be replaced with a question of reclamation. 

However, visibility and the act of ‘coming out’ or being visibly queer is not always a possibility for queer Arab people. QAB recognise that visibility can “stretch the limit of understanding, they can expand on discussions and they can kickstart intra and intercultural dialogues.” Yet, they understand that the act of ‘coming out’ or being ‘out’ are “Eurocentric prerequisites of queer identity that may not translate effectively within our cultural and historical contexts.”  

Many of these spaces act as a home for the community – somewhere that being queer and Arab intersects. Queer Arab Barty offer a place where people with the same lived experiences or shared identities can feel safe. Although, the notion of ‘home’ does not always represent safety for a queer Arab person. “We have to be aware that displacement and traumas cannot be solved in a party space, but we try to offer a few hours of safety and de-shame the queer collective memory through celebrating music, aesthetic and behaviour that is usually frowned upon.”  

We have to be aware that displacement and traumas cannot be solved in a party space, but we try to offer a few hours of safety and de-shame the queer collective memory through celebrating music, aesthetic and behaviour that is usually frowned upon.

The community continue to fight for these spaces – navigating entrenched stereotypes that prevent inclusion of queer Arabs. QAB highlight the need for places in which they are not fetishised and are not a performance. To combat these issues, they have a policy against Arab Chasers: “They are usually cis white men and women who decide to come along to sexualise members of our community based on this outdated and inaccurate trope of ‘Arab Masculinity’ that they find so dangerous and thus so appealing.”  

In creating a safer space, Queer Arab Barty explains that they are “actively rejecting the manifestation of any orientalist memories in aesthetics and discourses, while continuously explaining the reasons to our audiences.” To do so, they have a strict policy against appropriation and tokenisation, which states: “playing on anti-Arab stereotypes, dressing in Orientalist garb, or making anyone feel uncomfortable will result in immediate dismissal from the party.” By prioritising the community, they are showing how a queer space should be – allowing people to operate freely. 

Beyond their parties, the collective wants to ensure that the home they eventually create transcends the four walls of a physical space. They hope to make room for conversations and facilitate discussions around discrimination within the community itself. Rather than call-outs, they want to focus on call-ins. “We want to cultivate knowledge and experience through each other. We want to share information and awareness and ultimately recognise how to communicate in a way that does not subscribe to ‘cancel culture’ which as communities of colour, can destroy us from within. We intend to destroy hierarchies, not create and perpetuate them.” In the future, they hope to be able to grow as a community, to claim space and speak louder.  

Ultimately, Queer Arab Barty believe we can rise together to create change. “By not homogenising our togetherness, we can stand in solidarity while acknowledging the varying degrees of privileges we have in our communities and learn about our stark differences.”  

Keep up to date via @queerarabbarty