Danny Ramadan is a Syrian-Canadian award-winning novelist, public speaker, and LGBTQ-refugee activist who was born in Damascus, Syria.
And it was in Damascus where his flat became a safe space for other queer Syrians. We caught up to talk about the flat, his experiences coming out, sexual citizenship, and the ethics of having sex with your clone.
Follow Danny on twitter or Instagram
Danny Ramadan 00:00
I don’t want to change the world anymore. I am tired of trying to change the heart. I just would like to visit you know, like I would like to eat a certain Sharma sandwich from my favourite shop, I would like to, I don’t know, walk in my neighbourhoods, I would like to go to my favourite church outside of Damascus, I would like to go to, I would like to show Matthew, places that I grew up in. And that will never happen. And, and, and I don’t know what to tell you about that.
K Anderson 00:37
Hello, I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, the podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories they created there, and the people that they used to know. Danny Ramadan is the Syrian Canadian award winning novelist, public speaker and LGBTQ refugee activist who was born in Damascus, Syria. And it was in Damascus, where his flat became a safe space for other queer Syrians. We caught up to talk about the flat, his experiences coming out and sexual citizenship and the ethics of having sex with your own clothes.
Danny Ramadan 01:59
I would say that there’s a lot of misconceptions about what Syria is. There’s a lot of wrong answers out there about what it means to be Syrian, what it means to be from Syria. And those answers are even shared by Syrians themselves. Like it’s quite hard to pinpoint what Syria is because Syria has been in a state of flux for 4600 years now. If you’re going to talk about Syria as a geographical indication, it’s existed after the liberation from the French in the 1940s. If you’re going to talk about the Syrian identity and what it means to be Syrian, it was created by the Syrian regime in the 1970s. So we will all fall under the control of the House that said, dictatorship. If you’re going to talk about it from like the Wikipedia page, Syria is in minor Asia, in Asia Minor, I think you both in English. It’s a country that was liberated from the French in the 40s. Before that, it was liberated from the Ottomans in the early 1900s. Before that, it was occupied by the Ottomans for 400 years. Damascus is the capital which is the oldest inhabited inhabited city in the world. It has been inhabited for the last 7000 years. And the chose it’s really does, because like when you’re walking in the streets of Damascus, you will see that every mosque in downtown Damascus used to be a church. And before that it used to be a synagogue. And before that, I didn’t know they were worshiping fire in there. And you can see on the walls, you can see in the ways that it’s built, that it tells that history. It’s it’s hard to pinpoint Syria because part of the dictation dictatorship of hostile acid and then his son, Bashar Al Assad is that we erased everything that that is before them, and then created this identity of what it means to be Syrian. And, and everything all that history before them was was quite lost, honestly, which you end up then with nationalistic storytelling about the glory of the regime with very limited connections to the actual culture on the ground. It was to close off the COVID answer I have
K Anderson 04:47
no no but like so this kind of limiting identity that doesn’t reference anything from the past.
Danny Ramadan 04:56
It’s like as a person who was born into that mindset as a person who grew up in Damascus. And my family never challenged that mindset, that limited mindset. And I was taught not to challenge it. And then you go through the experience of being a refugee, and you go through the experience of immigrating, and suddenly you are on the other side of the word, trying to understand what it means to be Canadian, and that, by itself, reflect back and forces you to try to understand what it means to be Syrian. So it’s funny that I didn’t actually understood or like I didn’t even try to understand I don’t claim to understand all of Syria. I didn’t, I didn’t start to understand my own position in Syria until I came here to Canada.
K Anderson 05:48
Um, and do you mean that in? Like, when you were growing up, you accepted everything that you were told, and you weren’t kind of given the tools to think critically about things? I mean, have you ever thought critically about you as a white person or as a British person? It is normal for somebody who’s 14 1516 up until you’re in your early 20s. To? To be indoctrinated into an identity? Oh, yeah. Without?
Danny Ramadan 06:26
Yeah, without having the, the space to? To navigate it without having the space to be to question it. In reality, specifically, if that identity is this geopolitical religious identity, it’s this mixture of culture, with religion, with politics and with with with location, that creates an identity that is almost overwhelming. That’s almost you either take it or you are in a void. You don’t have anything else. Mm hmm. Yes, we have, of course, like we have to 23 different sects and religions in Syria, for example, but then they are united within their sex. And then they’re united with the rest of the sex within the political situation. So there’s always one ring that holds you into that identity that you’re, you’re you’re indoctrinated into. There’s always something that it’s keeping you from straying away from that identity. And it worked for the longest time it worked. Until, of course, the civil war in Syria broken 2000 and late 2011 It started as a revolution in early 2011. And then it turned into a civil war, I would say in 2012.
K Anderson 07:52
And so your experiences then growing up and and at some point, figuring out that you weren’t heterosexual. How did how did that play out in your family and in like, personal relationships? Oh, very well, it was fantastic. Everybody accepted me the minute No, I’m joking. No, that never was bad. The episode. Exactly.
Where’s the drama?
Danny Ramadan 08:27
Um, I would say Firstly, it was quite interesting to to navigate that identity because growing up as a gay man, it felt extremely subversive and and it doesn’t only go against the nature of things that heterosexuality of things it goes against the social aspects of things the religion the the politics, the law of the land it’s punishable by three years in prison if you’re caught in the act of homosexuality is punishable by by public shaming, where you are going to be outed to everybody around so they are going to keep you from harming any other more people. So, it felt quite personal, I guess, but what what takes hold is not personal. It felt quite hidden and I had to hide it and I had to keep it to myself and I had to be and I I never rejected it, but I wished it away. If that makes sense. Yeah, I never. I never thought of it as like a negative feeling because I I loved how it felt I loved I love the boy and I love looking towards them longingly and I loved feeling that connection, but at the same time, I wished Get away, I just wished that they could just be like everybody else around me, I come out of the closet when I was around 17. which shouldn’t surprise anybody because I was extremely flamboyant when I was 17. And I, I also come from an extremely dysfunctional family. So it also wasn’t that I, I was worried that I’m going to break their hearts, I wasn’t I didn’t, I still don’t have a lot of care, maybe love, I don’t know, connection belonging towards my family. So. So when I came out, it wasn’t it wasn’t that moment of connection that you might assume you sit down with your dad and, and over coffee while reading the newspaper or, I don’t know, it was it was a moment of conflict or having a fight. And I pulled it out, and I ended up being kicked out. Which in a way, like, the moment if I thought about it, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because it started to allow me to break away from everything that society was pushing on top of me. And I broke free from all of those restrictions. And it allowed me to slowly but surely become the person that I am today. And it allowed me just because we’re talking about this human identity earlier on, it’s allowed me to create my own unique Syrian identity that fits into my understanding of the geopolitical situation in Syria, of what it means to be Syrian of the history of Syria itself, if that makes sense.
K Anderson 11:55
And so, like, this is just thinking about you came out at 17. Do you know like, do you remember when you had your first kind of inkling like, oh, boy, oh,
Danny Ramadan 12:10
I really don’t. It’s it’s I don’t, I don’t know if, if it works this way. Like there is a lot of stories about that first time that you feel an attraction towards a person. But I think it’s way more gradual than this. I was. I had always a best friend in elementary school since I was six. And I just like to be next to that person next to that boy, I’d like to, I was charmed by his jokes. I love the way that he pains. I just wanted to hold hands with him, which, at a certain age, it was totally fine. So up until I was 12, I was holding hands with other boys I was I was connected to them. And then, honestly, like I there is there’s always that story of and then I saw that boy, and I felt moment of breaking within me. But I knew that I was gonna get that that’s that doesn’t actually I don’t know if that happened, at least in my own experience. And in life in real life. I just
K Anderson 13:19
I thought this story was I had a dream and then I woke up in my pants were wet boards. And that’s when I realised I mean, each their own.
Danny Ramadan 13:35
But for me, honestly, like, I cannot pinpoint that moment for you. Even if I try. I can I can look back and see how I was a queer kid since I could ever remember the way I talk the way I love dancing the way I really wanted to create origami flowers when I was young, while all of my like friends and cousins were fighting with guns. I same same.
K Anderson 14:05
Danny Ramadan 14:06
that right? Like there is queerness is not just the sexual attraction that you have towards boys. It’s about your whole personality. And I can tell you that from the earliest memory I remember, my my identity is queer. It’s right there. It’s it’s in the way that I talked to walk to dance and, and what I wanted to play with that sounded like a double undo it wanted to play with
K Anderson 14:36
wow, you know, I mean, you know, let’s not let’s not discount that. And the like so coming like coming to terms with your sexuality. And obviously I’m not trying to paint her as like, one day I woke up and I was like, Yay, you know, it’s it is a gradual thing. Jazz hands Yeah, people maybe can’t see that we’re doing jazz hands. Like how Did you access information in order to better understand it?
Danny Ramadan 15:07
I didn’t. I didn’t until I was around 20. And I moved to Egypt, mainly because the source of information that I had the first the first articles that I read about homosexuality, the first Wikipedia pages I opened were in Egypt, because in Syria, there’s a lot of restrictions on what the formation you receive. There’s this this iron wall that is surrounds the country where every book that is within the country is read by somebody and approved or disregarded the internet, you will only have access to certain websites that are approved by the Syrian government. So it was it was quite limiting when I was much younger and it was word of mouth. We gay people are really good at spotting other gay people. So when I’m getting
K Anderson 16:09
better, I used to be terrible.
Danny Ramadan 16:11
Oh, my gaydar isn’t above average, but I try my best. Now it’s much easier because I can like go to them like Hey, dude, are you sure you like?
K Anderson 16:27
Like dTT that like on the subway? Or, like just walking around the street? Like, hello, I can’t help. But you’re you’re very gay. not gay. Not gay isn’t happy? Yes. Just so we’re clear.
Danny Ramadan 16:54
Yeah, exactly. Um, so yeah, like it was word of mouth. When I was living in Syria, it was spaced, I have to say like, there was there was no conversations to be had, there is no conversation about like sexual orientation and gender identity and sexual practices. All of that came much later when I was in Egypt. And that is when I started being quite more queer rather than gay. I think it’s it’s funny because like, I evolved from a man who sleeps with men into a gay man into a queer man. And that has nothing to do with my sexual practices. It has something to do with my understanding of my sexual orientation and who I am as a human being, if
K Anderson 17:45
that makes sense. And it’s, it’s more than sexual orientation. It’s yet it’s the wider identity. And then, but then, so what I guess I’m struggling with is then how did you like, at 17, which is still quite young. I like how did you come to terms with that and feel able to communicate it? Um, that’s such a, I’m sorry. That’s such a bland question. Tell me all your inner workings now.
Danny Ramadan 18:18
Right. From when you’re 17 Wow, I should have expired. I’m like, as a gay man, you expire at the age of 30
K Anderson 18:28
Danny Ramadan 18:32
I know I joke, like my way of destroying them is joke about them. I joke about them quite a lot. I think. As I said, it was it was it was curious at a times when I was 17. I also ended up living on the streets for a while so I had to fend for myself, I had to, to find a way to to survive. And my queerness came in handy at the time. I also ended up being surrounded by other outcasts I would say or, or holy gins of my endless folks tend to be much more liberal when it comes to sexual orientation. So I also learned, I had a lot of acceptance from that chosen family. And then when I moved to when I moved to Egypt, that’s when I had my own job. I was living on my own, which is something that a lot of our folks are gay men would, would have access to. Because you’re born, you live with your family, you get married, you live with your wife, there’s no like in between bachelor living. So when I became a bachelor living in, in in Egypt, that meant that I can safely Post if that makes sense, which made me very popular.
K Anderson 20:05
Which yeah helps accelerate that exploration right. But But I guess yeah that the the bit before said like being at that position to tell your parents Oh,
Danny Ramadan 20:19
oh, I would love to tell you that it’s all about like activism and I wanted to raise rainbows across across the streets of Damascus and start the first Pride Parade over there but it wasn’t any of this I was naive and I was an angry teenager and it was a troublemaker. I was an asshole, basically. And I, I honestly had a humongous fight with my father, which is not something that is uncommon in my family. I had just connection from my father from an early age. And that fight ended up with me he was questioning my friendship with with a with another person and I was like, just shouted at him to be honest. And I was like, Fuck you. Is my my boyfriend. Something along those lines.
K Anderson 21:13
Danny Ramadan 21:14
Honestly, like again, like I naive defined reject for angry and I like what, 36 year old Danny come out of the closet at that age to his father? That’s a definite No, I don’t think coming out of the closet was the the in any way. Good for anybody who’s involved in that situation? Am I thankful that I did it back when I was 17? Back when I was nice enough to do it? Yes. Because again, it put me on this journey to to be here. With me.
K Anderson 21:56
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. There’s something interesting there about the and please correct me if I’m making massive assumptions, the freedom that you feel if you are from a family that has dysfunction, that that you are not as bound to these feelings of acceptance and, and impressing them, I suppose. That’s maybe the wrong word.
Danny Ramadan 22:24
I I agree with that. I completely agree with that. I think that there is there’s this need in the gay community for us to come out. And coming out as a narrative has been quite hyped. And we forgot why we do it. We forgot that it started in the 90s as a way of normalising in the 80s and 90s, as a way of normalising gay people, specifically in the North American context. And I don’t think coming out is all that grade, to be honest, like, you don’t need to come out. Because basically, when you come out, you’re putting yourself in a situation where your life, your self worth, your respect for yourself is all in the hands of somebody else. And that, that makes no sense to me. Um, if you’re gay, you’re gay. And that’s, that’s between you and yourself. And if you need to save your relationship with your loving mother, and you don’t want to break her heart, because you know that she is extremely conservative and you want to stay in the closet, I would say go for it. Who fucking cares? Just stay in the closet, if that makes sense. Do you know?
K Anderson 23:41
Yeah, no, I mean, yeah, no, I wouldn’t say that. I disagree. And everyone has to make their own decision based on their own circumstances and the context within which they’re living. But at the same time, there is a level of authenticity that you miss, or there’s a level of self policing that you have to enjoy if you are in a situation where, where you’re not able to come out. And I think that’s, that’s difficult emotionally and mentally.
Danny Ramadan 24:17
I mean, at the end of the day, we are to our game, and that I’m assuming here, but we are.
K Anderson 24:23
I haven’t told anyone. Please do. Oh,
Danny Ramadan 24:29
just everybody who’s listening right now. We have a man talking about the the the the value of being in the closet, I would say, I would say yes. 1%. It depends on your circumstance. It depends on all of that. But at the same time it’s, it doesn’t add or take away from who you are as a person. It doesn’t take away your gift card that you’re not out of the closet. It doesn’t give you dislike gold-star if you’re out of the closet, it’s it’s
K Anderson 25:06
Oh, absolutely, no, no. And I mean, and going back to what you’ve said, like the whole kind of movement for coming out is, is because the, you know, the people who led that movement we’re about this should be normalised, this should not be a traumatic experience for anyone, because because it shouldn’t, it should just be something.
Danny Ramadan 25:27
But at the same time, that also like, includes Think about it this way. I’m somebody who lives I don’t know, in the Bible Belt, and North America and the US. And they come out to their family and they’re rejected, they can move somewhere, they can move to Austin or tax, or like, wherever that is the nearest cosmopolitan city that is they can move to, and they can start to live there and their support and their laws, and they’re 100 different million things that they can. They can be supported by. But also, we keep forgetting that we also explored the concept of coming out across the word and make it a value for queer folks across the word. And then somewhere like Syria, and you come out of the closet, you are doomed, you have a challenge now, live, you are an outcast, you are legal. If I don’t know if my father killed me at the age of 17, instead of kicking me out, he wouldn’t even have to go to court. So I would I’m not saying don’t come out if if it fits you, if you are safe, if you know that you have other alternatives. If if it if the value of coming out and creating that authentic relationship with your parents is more important, and way more than the the alternative, then go for it and come out. But at the same time, I completely think that being in the closet is a total complete, valid way of living. There is nothing wrong with that. Again, I say this as an out of the closet gay man who is married to another man and plumbed my homosexuality all over the internet. So
K Anderson 27:19
let’s talk more about the Fonteyn men token. Can you give some examples? of flaunting? I mean, you can go to my Instagram. But no only fans. Yeah, right. Um, well, it’s 2020. You never know. Yeah, yeah. I mean, going back to your point. Yeah, I agree. I guess it’s, it’s, it’s a very simple but very complex concept. Coming out. Yeah. And it’s gonna be absolutely different for everyone. Unless you’re a twin, maybe.
Danny Ramadan 27:53
Unless you’re a twin. Oh, I can. I’m really good at negotiation and like, so bubbles in the brain. So I’d be happy to negotiate that. But um, but um, let’s let’s move on. Let’s have a different. Yeah, I
K Anderson 28:15
mean, not all twins. I’m happy to give you that. But there will be some times when he experiences the same, like, let’s be let’s be real. Okay, do you have a twin? No. Oh, I don’t get to comment on this because I also appropriation. Okay, I mean, you just should be thankful I’m not taking it to a point where I’m suggesting that twins sexually experiment on each other. And how jealous I am that they get that opportunity. And so I still love Spanish movie about that once. Oh, really? Yeah, there’s this title. Damn.
Danny Ramadan 29:02
Yeah, it’s about the twin. Like, two identical twins who are experimenting on one another. Which,
K Anderson 29:10
I mean, it’s totally natural. Like, of course you voted with your twin though. Yeah, of course you word. That’s a lot of self indulgence. Okay, but say like, what about your clone? Do you have different feelings if it’s your clone? Yes. I don’t want to sleep with Mike Malone either. Or just be such a fascinating lesson
Danny Ramadan 29:36
in Hate, hate. That’s that’s disturbing my friend. No. I, I I don’t know. We’ll end up butting heads for sure. Because I’m very stubborn. So we’ll end up like hating each other.
K Anderson 29:54
I think obviously, okay, but like if it was a one night stand, you didn’t talk to each other like
Danny Ramadan 30:00
Well, but forget about sex. Like if I actually met another version of myself, somebody who’s exactly like me in every way, I will find them annoying, I’ll find them self indulgence and annoying and full of themselves, like cocky to the point of being cocky.
K Anderson 30:17
Like, I think I’m not supposed to talk to them. It has gone places I tell this think it would be super interesting. I’m just putting it out there. And you’d learn a lot about yourself and the way that you know you’re perceived during sex. And
Danny Ramadan 30:41
I will, I will hold your hold you to that when cloning becomes legal. Okay, you’re going to kill yourself and have sex with yourself and then report back to us? Well,
K Anderson 30:52
I mean, I think I think I need to patent the business idea of a cloning company that is specifically for sexual acts, I’d probably just need to go jump on that, right.
Danny Ramadan 31:03
I’m sure. Like virtual reality can make that happen without cloning somebody because like, if you clone yourself for a sexual act, what do you do with yourself? After you’re done?
K Anderson 31:15
Well, I mean, my business is take care of her my business would take care of it for you know, am I killing myself in a way? Is the business killing me? How do they know? I mean, that’s capitalism. Right?
Danny Ramadan 31:33
mean, I mean, there’s a market there. I’m sure. You’re, you’re onto something.
K Anderson 31:39
Well, yeah, you had to hear fast. Oh, yeah. So, so when did your flat become a centre hub? I mean, like, at one point, I,
Danny Ramadan 31:54
I’ll have to jump with you. 10 years ahead. Um, so I left Syria when I was 20, when I was 20 1920, something along those lines, lived in Egypt for seven, eight years of the major for six months in Turkey, went back to Egypt travelled around like a maniac. And then I went back to Syria in late 2010. stayed in Syria for a bit went back to them to, to Egypt. And then in 2011, January 2011, I moved full time to Syria. Um, and honestly, like, I didn’t have plans, like I came to Syria, and I was like, I’m just going it’s, there’s a revolution, I honestly thought that the regime is going to fall in six months, which now 10 years later is extremely naive of me. Like, I was extremely stupid to actually believe that. Um, and I wanted to be there for that moment in my life. I wanted to be there I wanted to, I was much more educated and activists, I would say, and the LGBTQ community, and I wanted to be part of that change. So hoping to bring that bring that acceptance into my, my Syrian, my birthplace. Um, of course, the month passed by and the revolution turned into a civil war. And then I was stuck there, like I wanted to leave, but I, I was stuck there for the foreseeable future. At the time, I started working in a newspaper in Syria, and I met this lovely lesbian woman. Now, when I met her, I didn’t know that she’s a lesbian. I honestly did. It was like this sexual orientation done Tango dance between the two of us where we are talking about sexuality, but we never come out to one another. It’s clear to me that she’s a lesbian. I, she told me later that it was clear to her that I was gay, but we never actually came out because of fear of persecution. If we’re, if you’re not 100%, right. Yeah, she’s because she would, she would come to me, she would come to me in the morning, and we’ll be having coffee in the in the office and look out the window. And I would see like, I don’t know, a fancy car and I’m like, Oh my god, I love this car. And she would she would be
like, Oh my god, I
Danny Ramadan 34:16
love this car, too. And you know what else? I love?
gay people. I
love gay people.
Danny Ramadan 34:22
I’m like, oh, okay, so you put in the being subtle. I see.
K Anderson 34:27
Danny Ramadan 34:29
Yes, I swear to God, this actually happened. Like this is her way of giving me the space. This was literally her way of giving me the space to come out of the closet where she would be like, I’m literally talking about like a cousin of hers who is gay. And a friend of hers is a lesbian, but she’ll never actually come out of the closet. We played this game for like three weeks and then I got really bored, to be honest. And I came up to her, like, I went to her one morning and in the office, I was like, Hey, you just so you know, like, I’m gay. Just like, Oh, no, I’m like, you’re a lesbian. And she’s like, Yeah, I am. And I’m like, Okay, cool. Awesome. So we, we, we went out that night, that very evening, to celebrate our coming out to one another. I don’t know what we’re celebrating. It’s It’s It’s Civil War, you celebrate whatever the fuck you consume. So, so we went out to a bar, and we had couple of drinks. And then the bar closes early. So because of the Civil War and the curfew. So we I was like, hey, do you want to hang out to my apartment? And she’s like, Yeah, sure. So she came over to my apartment. And then she called couple of her lesbian friends. And I called a couple of my gay friends. And they came over and we ended up with like a party of 810 people in the apartment. And it was, the thing that stood out the most to me in that space, is the fact that every single one of them have never met somebody who’s from the opposite sex was also queer. So none of the gay men have ever met a lesbian before. And none of the lesbians have ever met a gay man before. The fact that me and my friend found each other, allowed for that segregation to be broken. And then I started inviting more gay friends and cheese started inviting more lesbian friends, and then friends and started to invite friends. And suddenly, we have a house of 150 people who live in there. It was it was a freaking like, I would walk in from my office at five, six in the, in the afternoon. And I would find, find people having sex on my bed,
K Anderson 36:56
that I have no idea where they are. Okay, I want to ask more questions about that. But before I do, can we just get back? So why do you think it is that they gay man never interacted with lesbians or vice versa?
Danny Ramadan 37:12
Well, to be honest, begin with the certain communities are gender segregated communities. So it’s, it’s, it’s quite common, like you grow up until you’re 18. Schools are gender segregated, and they’re in university. Boys hang out with boys and girls hang out with girls and a girl who hangs out with a boy is has a problem with her.
K Anderson 37:39
Okay, so not gender is not a problem with her gender identity a problem with her honour.
Danny Ramadan 37:44
Exactly. So a girl who hangs out with a lot of boys, people will think that she’s a shamoto. She’s, she’s a whore. So universities are not gender segregated, but in a way because of social dynamics. They become gender segregated. Yeah, exactly. Um, so where would a random gay man and a random lesbian woman ever meet them when you work for a newspaper? Well, exactly when they work from us. And women in Syria are not. Not high percentage of women. A lot of women in Syria work but not a high percentage of women in Syria are actually out in the workforce, they get married and they become wives. And they keep they keep up with the home. So um, so the chances of a gay man hanging out with a lesbian is extremely low. And then I ended up introducing all of those gay men to the lesbians and lesbians, the gay men, and we ended up with a party hope the apartment started as a party hub where people who needed a place to crash they weren’t people who needed a safe place to practice love. They could I ended up word word what say it say? Hey, no. Like so. I mean, I I interrupted you before when you were talking about people fucking on your bed. And that’s not like me at all. So I’d like to apologise. Can we? Can you just talk to me more about that and the art of practicing love? The Art of practicing. That should be my The title of my memoir, myself.
Danny Ramadan 39:34
the author of practicing law. Um, well, also think about it that way. Where would a gay man be able to have sex with another gay man except for a car on top of a mountain or in some like abandoned building or something in a place where it’s not common for somebody to live a better life, Syria. is again, a family oriented communities so you live with your family until you, you move with your wife or your husband. So that created a lot of tension, I would say because gay men wouldn’t be able to practice love. And then I created an opportunity. And that opportunity became quite important to my community, which is my house was safe. I had two bedrooms, a living room, I was comfortable with people bringing their boyfriends or girlfriends or even like a random hookup, I don’t care. And I was comfortable with offering this like sex positive space for folks. And that’s how it started really like it didn’t start as as like this hop for people to learn about their sexuality, it started as a safe, safe, safe, sex positive space. And I would walk sometimes, because what I did is that I copied my key. And I told people that they can copy the copies. So people would just make copies of my key and show up whenever during the day, and just hang out. Because again, it’s a safe space to hang out. So I would sometimes walk in and find two boys going at it on in my bed. And sometimes I sat there and watch and sometimes I jumped in and sometimes I was like okay, cool. Good for you. And I went to make dinner. It’s some and how
K Anderson 41:40
often How often did you wash your sheets? Oh, not very often. So what really just like cardboard?
Danny Ramadan 41:55
I guess I don’t know I’m well at the end of the day. You also have to like, I come from poverty friend. Like it was a very like poor neighborhood. It was I didn’t have a lot of money at the time. I didn’t have a washing machine at home. So a lot of times I would wash the sheets on my own. So I I would say that there was a there was definitely something that is that wasn’t clean or sanitary. And that’s
K Anderson 42:27
what we did just imagining the smell when you walk in, like Wow, man, men
Danny Ramadan 42:34
and women. Yeah. All those bodies. And then, and then it turned into a hub because like this was just a space for people to have sex for the honestly. And then it turned into a hub. I traveled to Turkey for three weeks from Syria. Because I was invited to participate in sexual orientation, gender identity, human rights conference. And in there for three weeks, I ended up in this intensive workshop style training on sexual orientation, gender identities, gender practices, biological sex, sexual citizenship, and how all of those things come together to create your identity as a queer person. Right. So what’s so nice
K Anderson 43:28
Danny Ramadan 43:30
that’s a beautiful question. I love that question. Mmm hmm. So, your sexual your sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to. Your gender identity is what in your head as a person regarding your gender, your biological sex, it’s what you were assigned at birth, whether male or female, and then your sexual practices is your what you actually do in in bed. Or in practice, or in daddy’s bed? Yes. More like in Danny’s bed, or what does it that is but but but the thing is about sexual practice before we jump into sexual a sexual citizenship is that the further away your sexual practice is from your gender, your sexual orientation, the less the least happy you are. So you are your sexual orientation is gay. But you live in a society where you’re forced to marry a woman and now you’re sleeping with a woman, then your sexual orientation and your sexual practice are now at odds. And that needs conflict within you as a human.
Now, your sexual
Danny Ramadan 44:46
citizenship is the way society around you views you and where the society puts you in the hierarchy of its own. According to your sexual orientation, gender identities, sexual practices and biological sex, which means I’m a gay man who is attracted and practicing sex with another man. And in Syria, my sexual citizenship was quite negative, because society looks at me quite negatively.
K Anderson 45:22
And is there and is that because, sir, is that the perceived you or whether you, you, the way you identify that
Danny Ramadan 45:31
that? Well, in that example that was that would be the, um, I was kinda in the closet, but, but not really. And I was kind of out of the closet, but not really in Syria, like I was in, in a circle of a closet, if that makes sense.
K Anderson 45:50
I’m covered with like,
Danny Ramadan 45:58
a lot of people knew that I was gay, but I wasn’t walking around with Rainbows, if that makes sense.
K Anderson 46:02
Danny Ramadan 46:04
Yeah. So, um, so basically, if I was out of the closet, like completely out of the closet in Syria, my sexual citizenship would have been completely in the negative,
K Anderson 46:16
but then does so. So just so does that mean then sorry, to labor on this? Does that mean that your sexual citizenship can shift depending on how you’re perceived? 100%
Danny Ramadan 46:28
it shifts ends on who? where you are? Because now that I move to Canada, my sexual citizenship is in the positive is not as good as a heterosexual white man. Because now when when
K Anderson 46:43
is good as intersexual white man like, let’s get real.
Danny Ramadan 46:48
They’re young and newly married. That is like the peak on privilege. Yeah, really marry white men? Yeah, I know. Right? They’re sort of there.
K Anderson 47:01
I have to be careful, because? Well, I’ll give you a pass. Thank you. I’m willing to betray white people. It’s okay.
Danny Ramadan 47:17
The act of between white people is literally resilience. So, yeah, like, yes, it changes according to who is viewing you, it changes according to How comfortable are you? And so so for example, look at it from a different perspective. A person who has sexual orientation is gay, whose gender identity is male, but whose sexual practice is he exclusively sleeps with women, is still seen by the society as having a positive sexual citizenship in Syria, because they are not actually doing the practice of homosexuality. They’re keeping that to themselves, if that makes sense.
K Anderson 48:11
And then the flip side of that is if there is a heterosexual man who is feminine and therefore perceived to be homosexual, his citizenship is in the negative
Danny Ramadan 48:23
1%. Because being your sexual practice is not just about how you’re having sex is not about are you into, I don’t know, SNM or fisting. It’s also about the way that you present your sexuality to the word, your, your your, what’s the word, your gender expression? So your gender expression, your sexual practices are living in the same in the same realm, if that makes sense.
K Anderson 48:49
Yeah, yeah. Okay, so I’ve had my quick lecture on this. Let’s go back to the conference in Turkey. Because I took you took you off track.
Danny Ramadan 48:58
So yes, so I learned a lot of a lot of this language in that conference in Turkey. It was a very enlightening moment. And then I went back to Syria. And I will tell you the the people who would come to my apartment have noticed that humongous shift in my personality, I would have to say between Danny the party boy who wanted to bring vodka and let’s party and maybe throw an orgy into Danny, the, the person who’s talking like, do right now
K Anderson 49:31
now I wanted to like God, why did you bring god dude? Who’s your target audience stick on the track. Let’s come on.
Danny Ramadan 49:47
So yes, I started doing circles sharing events where people are sharing their, their experiences, and then they started an orgy. I was doing I know, right? You start talking about your feelings and then you engage in an orgy that that’s it’s almost therapeutic. Um, and then we, we started having like a movie night, every every week. So every week, I would watch, I would bring, I would download illegally, a queer movie of some sort. So, the bird cage, The Vagina Monologues, queers folk, all of those things, I would download and get people to watch them. And of course, like, the only stories I could find that are on on medium that would attract people are stories of white people, like most folk, like The Birdcage, like The Vagina Monologues. But still, it was a gateway, I would say, gateway drug to all of those folks who are starting to now understand their experiences, who they are, what they do, what it means to be a queer person, what is the difference between being just sexually a queer person versus somebody who understands their their, their, their space, their position within their society? I would say.
K Anderson 51:22
And so I guess so how did people find out about this space?
Danny Ramadan 51:30
I would say word of mouth. It wasn’t mainly more to the mouth. Um, I didn’t like we had a Facebook group, like a locked Facebook group. And I was the admin so I wouldn’t allow anybody I don’t know into the thing. And and for you to be allowed, you have to come into this bedroom. No.
K Anderson 51:53
I just need to verify your authenticity. Come on.
Danny Ramadan 51:59
Just need to see how good you are. No, no, I’m joking. Oh, my God. Um, and we had a Facebook group, and it was quite lively. And we, we just used toward the mouth, because we were worried that we might be arrested for it. Which I ended up being arrested for it. So yeah,
K Anderson 52:24
yes. Yeah. What happened?
Danny Ramadan 52:28
Um, well, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, even if I knew honestly, like I, I was traveling to Jordan for a book related thing. And then when I returned, no, in my way there, I was arrested at the airport. And they never told me why now. And I was arrested for six weeks. Like I they they released me six weeks later. And I honestly don’t know why I was arrested. Like, nobody actually asked, like, nobody provided me with that information. Um, and there’s a lot of reasons why somebody like me would be arrested in Syria, like I was writing under a fake name for the guardian and foreign policy and reporting to the Washington Post. I was working with MPR. At the time, I was publishing, from Twitter, photos and videos from on the ground. interactions with the within Syria, I was running the house, I was I did a million things that a person can be arrested for in Syria. And then lo and behold, there was arrested.
K Anderson 53:46
So it’s not it’s so true that I mean, they had a list to choose from. So there wasn’t, it’s not no one ever said specifically because of the house that you’re running. No, no,
Danny Ramadan 53:57
it’s it’s well, and it killed the house like on the spot. Like when when I got arrested, nobody else ever went back to the house, basically. And the house doesn’t exist anymore. Like the government went in and removed the whole neighborhood. That neighborhood doesn’t exist. It feels really weird to like to look at it on Google Maps, because you Google Maps. Yeah, Google Maps still remembers where the roots were. But see that the houses have been completely destroyed. So it’s, it’s a desert at the moment. They didn’t start to rebuild. But Google Maps still remembers like there’s a road there. There used to be a road there, but it’s a piece of desert at the moment.
K Anderson 54:42
Wow. And so but like So you talked about the killing the space and people stopped using it. How did they know that you were arrested?
Danny Ramadan 54:54
Um, I honestly never asked. I honestly never asked I should ask. I, I go through these six, six weeks later. And I go through these because the people in the house work together on raising funds and they brought the right person and the right person ended up releasing me from from imprisonment. And then I ended up traveling to to live in and then became a refugee there. But I honestly have never asked how they found out. No,
K Anderson 55:39
but thank thank thankfully they did.
Danny Ramadan 55:41
Yeah, thankfully they were. I mean, like, at the end of the day, I was expected to return in like, four days because I was traveling to Jordan for four days and come back. So probably when I didn’t come back and four days.
K Anderson 55:53
Maybe I’m probably Yeah.
Danny Ramadan 55:56
Oh, no, I never actually noticed that. That’s That’s why don’t we, I should I should call her and ask her.
K Anderson 56:11
When I’m rounding out these types of conversations are usually asked something really cheesy about, like, if you could go back. What would you do?
Danny Ramadan 56:21
Oh, you like, it’s I’m suing Canadian. I have a Canadian passport. Right now. I identify as Canadian. I love being Canadian. But also, I’m an author. And I exclusively love writing about Syria. But the last time I was in Syria was eight years ago from like, I left Syria and June 2012. Though, we’re eight years ago, and, and it’s really hard because like I, I was writing a scene in my next novel, and I wanted to get a character to walk in an old neighborhood in Damascus. And I tried my frickin best to remember how the neighborhood is structured, like what supermarkets are there or what like, big, memorable buildings are there that I can like, describe in my scene, like, so I can be authentic about it. And I couldn’t I can treat it, like, completely blacked out blanked out on things like I don’t remember it. And that makes sense. Because like, the last time I walked in that neighborhood was eight years ago. Um, and then you try to you try to go to Google Maps, and you try to like do the Street View where you can like, get a character to walk in the actual Street, but that’s something that Syria doesn’t allow. So Google does not have Street View, and anywhere in Syria, which means that I can just, like, use technology to allow me to go back. I don’t know if I got on a flight. I mean, forget about COVID forget about all of that. If If life was quote, unquote, normal, um, and I got on a flight and I was like, I’m going back to Damascus, I don’t know if I’m going to be arrested again in an airport. That that a possibility. And it’s not like the Canadian government in the Syrian government are on the best terms at the moment. So even if I was arrested, I don’t know if the Canadian government will be able to like get me out. Um, so I would love to take my husband to my place of birth and like show him where I grew up and show him show him my city and show him my history and and get him some authentic Syrian food that only there you can find. But I’m not allowed to and that will never happen I don’t think in my lifetime so it’s like my writing It’s like my my sense of being is is being denied its its its source in a way. And that’s that’s pretty sad. To say that’s not the best. That’s that’s not the best thing ever. And
K Anderson 59:38
if you want to catch a little bit more of Danny, you can find him thirst trapping all over the internet, on Twitter and Instagram. His profile handle is Danny sees it. La spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I’ve been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there, and we’ll be releasing songs over the next year. You can hear the first single which is called well groomed boys and is playing underneath my talking right now on all streaming platforms. If you enjoyed this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribed, left a review on Apple podcasts or just told other people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to. I am K Anderson and you have been listening to loss of spaces