IN/VISIBLE, an intervention

For Coming Out Day 2021, COC’s Shakespeare Club is proud to present an intervention at the Amsterdam Museum in the form of a pop-up photo-exhibit entitled IN/VISIBLE – till the 17th of October, daily from 10:00 to 17:00.

Spread throughout the Amsterdam Museum’s permanent exhibition Amsterdam DNA, 14 young LGBTIQ+ individuals are literally “coming out” in the museum. One half of those photographed are up-and-coming activist who fight for the visibility of themselves and their communities. The other half are not (yet) open about their sexuality and/or gender identity; in the photographs, they are visibly invisible.


The exhibition IN/VISIBLE is created through a collaboration between Respect2Love and Wereldcafé.


Respect2Love, a project by COC Nederland, builds strong communities together with bicultural LGBTIQ+ persons (Queer POC) so that they can find the strength to be themselves. The people portrayed as visible in the photo-exhibit all participated in this year’s Respect2Love leadership program.

Wereldcafé is a monthly activity organized by COC Amsterdam e.o., where bicultural LGBTIQ+ persons can meet in a closed setting to find a social network and discuss topics relevant to their personal empowerment. The people portrayed as invisible in the photo-exhibit are regular participants of Wereldcafé. COC’s Shakespeare Club has hosted collaborations between Respect2Love and Wereldcafé several times before, and we’re very happy to do so again during this year’s Best Of-edition.


The photographs and concept for IN/VISIBLE are created by Daniel Cohen. Based in Amsterdam, Cohen works for leading Dutch newspapers, magazines and cultural companies and took portraits of people such as Ai Weiwei, Cliff Richard, Anish Kapoor, Erwin Olaf, Junkie XL and Kendrick Lamar. Self-taught and independent, Cohen enjoys meeting people and creating genuine portraits by cooperating with them closely.

His work is in colour because he sees life in colour.


I’m from Bulawayo, Mthwakazi, a nation in the Southwest of Zimbabwe. We were a separate country before Zimbabwe got into an alliance with the British who brought anti-gay laws there in 1890 and later bundled Mthwakazi into Zimbabwe. It is also in Zimbabwe where I was fired multiple times because of my sexuality.
From the age of seven I knew that I’d become a refugee and flee this country because of the homophobia. Most gay people have struggled with questions like “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I like this?”. Luckily, I didn’t have this. I was always the boy who’s like a girl and nobody really cared.

In my Zulu African culture people like me are called ukuzimaka, roughly meaning metrosexual, a man who is flamboyant. It’s never considered as gay because we never had Zulu words for LGBTQ or cis, straight people, besides old, foreign and derogatory terms for intersex people for example.
Throughout my life I’ve dated predominantly rural men because they have less issues with their sexuality. Since the process of colonization was mostly centered around cities, rural men deal less with internalized colonial laws or the fiction of imported religions.
Growing up, coming from the “hood” I was viewed as quite a rebel. I used to do many human rights projects and my gender presentation has always been quite apparent. The harassment I received and amounts of jobs I lost because of my sexuality and all this, came to a point where I just had to leave. Society at my age also expected me to “grow out” of my “metrosexuality”, marry a woman and have children.
There are little differences between the Netherlands and Zimbabwean cities as Zimbabwe is a highly colonized country. Staying in AZC’s (refugee campuses), however, shouldn’t be considered as living in the Netherlands because 99% of the residents in AZC’s are homophobic with impunity.
The refugee system puts you in isolated areas. Straight refugees can have families, whereas queer refugees can’t. It falls upon a queer refugee to find their own tribe. The mental strain in AZC’s will otherwise absolutely kill you. It’s scientifically proven that within a year in an AZC you’ll lose your mind. Systems don’t listen to black peoples’ complaints; they’ll call you a cry-baby instead. Even in cases of abuse, you need a white Dutch person to talk on your behalf to get anything solved at all.
Queer African refugees often think they’ve found their tribe if they meet other African people in refugee queer spaces. Homophobes go there to pretend and get a permit. You then face a new wave of international stigma and harassment as the talk about you as “a real gay” spreads. This will destroy you if you aren’t proud of yourself. It’s vicious and happens in all Western countries. We’re advocating for separate AZC’s for queer refugees on an EU level. I always tell other queer people public relations rule number one: “don’t hide it, get ahead of the story.”
Being a journalist and activist, I easily found my way here around the networks. I met Simion from Respect2Love, who introduced us to facilitators like Naomie Pieter and Haroon Ali. It was good to hear their stories as minority people. I also tell other queer refugees to socialize with organizations outside of the refugee system. I started “Rainbow Anonymous” to link these two worlds.
The color yellow of my shirt represents belonging. The pink background represents softness and warmth, just like my two-spiritedness. Very few gay men actually are pink, most of them are just average Joe’s. Two-spiritedness like in Native American culture has been part of the human condition since day one. People just act like they don’t know. The X cut out is symbolic for all the fallen queer people who never got to speak in their lifetime. The stepping out in grey, means standing in the concrete jungle. My hands together represents power, ubuntu, the universality of people.

I grew up in a religious community where homosexuality is a very big sin. Being gay is an abomination to your family, community, and church. It can lead to your death.
When I got to know about my desires, it was of course impossible to talk to anyone, so I stayed silent and suffered for years. When I had my first lesbian relationship, I felt so bad about the church’s teachings, to the point that I was mentality and emotionally down. I was fighting my own feelings, scared to lose my life.
I decided to hide myself in a marriage, so no one could be suspicious. I also thought this would be the best way to overcome being gay. But after seven years of dying in marriage, a new love came into my life. Because of the fear to be discriminated and get sentenced to life in prison, I ended up in the Netherlands.
Being here makes me feel safe, but the IND (immigration office) rejected me because they did not believe I am a lesbian. They told me I failed to explain and elaborate about my homosexual feelings. But I was afraid to speak out about this, because in my mind it still was the worst sin.
I think love is a mystery and we humans don’t choose who we fall in love with. Believe in love, in the end love wins. I think churches should teach about love and not execrate homosexuals. Also, African governments should be forced to protect us in our home countries. Being a refugee because of my sexual orientation is not a good experience.

I live in the Netherlands since 2019. Before, in Iran, I studied arts and graduated with a master in sociology. Since august 2019 I work as an assistant producer in the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. Besides that, I volunteer for different (welfare) organizations like Cordaan, helping people with dementia. I love to be in touch with people, to understand them from their human side. Discovering different cultures to connect, instead of being divided.
Volunteer work can be an effective way to integrate into a new society as a newcomer. When you come into a new social setting, it can be complicated to understand this new culture. I’m really happy to have received guidance from Respect2Love with this. Now I really take part and can contribute to this society’s future. I see newcomers like myself as the new citizens of this society.
Through Respect2Love I also got in touch with activists like Naomie Pieter. We spoke about what they’re doing, what their next steps are and why. I’m happy that the Netherlands is an open society, where activism is welcomed, although activists also encounter struggles in this country.
Coming to the Netherlands was very difficult and hard: the travel itself, getting here, the procedure, leaving behind my motherland, friends and family. After a journey like that, you’re not the same anymore. But I’m so happy I did it. One of the gifts I got from my journey is that I found myself, that I got back my personality and that I found a community of bicultural LGBT+ people. I found myself in the Netherlands through its open culture, freedom and LGBT+ rights. Back home I’m still in the closet for friends and family. Here I can develop myself and build a new life.
After a long procedure with the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation Service) I could live with my friend. After that, I lived with a Dutch family and got the chance to travel through the Netherlands. Some people you encounter don’t care who you are, others see you as an “asielzoeker” (asylum seeker) and others actually care for you as a human being. I’ve had people telling me they respect me for leaving everything behind to come here. But not everyone has the chance to travel and discover this country.
I believe that you need to see yourself in the whole pattern of a society. When you sit in the same group of people of refugees, with the same experiences, problems and the same past, you’re in a box. You don’t see what’s happening around you. Seeing myself in the bigger picture of this society, I see a bright future. When I got hacked and received threats from Iran, a group of Dutch friends helped me, the police even helped me. In Iran the police only comes to hang you.
I always had very different experiences here than the people around me. I don’t want to say that Dutch society is ideal. Of course, every society has their own problems, but from what I experienced in the two years I’ve lived here, it really has been. Here at least you have the right to talk about and fight the problems of your country. Some people tend to forget this. My country just told me that I should die, that I couldn’t live in that society.
If people here don’t like us, they don’t have to. But living in this country, they have to respect us, just as I, despite my religion issues, have to respect religious people. Differences make us unique, the multicultural essence in Dutch society is something beautiful. Sometimes you don’t need to smash everything to get your rights. Sometimes it’s just a matter of mutual respect and inner pride. That’s also what my portrait says: I’m gay and I’m proud of myself. I believe people can see this. We need to show our integration: we are police, mailmen, doctors, we are lesbian, gay and members of the LGBT+ community. Successful LGBT+ refugees can be inspiring to others and make a change. I hope bicultural queers know this, that they’re happy, see the positive in life and never lose hope.

There is a lot of negative talk about homosexuality, so I decided not to come out to my family. Because of this I feel like I don’t belong, I feel I’m not allowed to be who I really am. I isolate myself from my family and won’t take part in any activities. To live in isolation is not easy, but I felt it was my last resort, the only way I can survive.
We are supposed to be all equal, but I don’t feel that at all. I feel alone. I wish I had someone in my circle who could understand, who I could talk to without having to wear my mask. I just want to be myself.
To my fellow LGBTQ+ people I want to say: please remember we are also part of society; we want to be treated equally. In the end, life is short, you need to choose for yourself and listen to your heart.

Where I come from, being gay is a crime. Muslims and Christians in my country believe homosexuality is not approved by God and consider it a sin. If someone turns out to be gay, they will be humiliated and rejected by their family and friends.
It has been a very though experience for me, but luckily, I was able to come here to the Netherlands and I have been able to meet new people within different platforms where I could express my sexuality. Most people misjudge me or misidentify me, because of my masculine presence. They think about gay people in stereotypes. But I am proud of who I am.
All I want to say is: don’t judge, don’t criticize others, you don’t know what they have been through. You should be proud when you see someone coming out, we should all be proud of who we are. Don’t let other people’s thoughts define you. Be strong, it is a lifetime journey.

I was raised by my Surinamese mother in a white village called Dieren. There was no Surinamese community there, only a Turkish and Moroccan community. I went to a posh white school. Growing up in Dieren made me super aware of the fact that I am a person of color. This has become a very important part of my identity. As a teenager I took refuge on the internet, trying to find my trans identity. I ended up in a left-wing and queer corner of the internet. Gradually becoming more left and queer, unlike my schoolmates who stayed just the same. Zwarte Piet wasn’t a racist caricature to anyone at school, not even to my fellow students of color. There was only an American exchange student who agreed with me.

All this made my urge to go to Amsterdam even bigger. On top of that, I wanted to find my Surinamese community. In Dieren I formed my identity around my ethnicity, but in Amsterdam I didn’t really feel Surinamese as I didn’t grow up surrounded by Surinamese people. I wasn’t considered a person of color either because I am “white passing” in Amsterdam. This sparked some questions about my identity such as: “Can I still say that I am Surinamese-Dutch if I don’t experience racism because of my light skin color?”

My gender identity doesn’t fit into a box, my sexuality doesn’t, my race/ethnicity doesn’t. On the one hand it’s a struggle. On the other hand I’ve struggled less trying to fit into a box, since I knew I can’t. Some of my identities are even seen as mutually exclusive. Trans people and queer people by default are imagined to be white. One often assumes queer people of color to be non-religious and that they’re not in touch with their families (anymore).
I find it hard that I haven’t come out to my extended family yet, since I have an aunt who’s a very religious Muslim. I don’t want to enforce any stereotype when discussing this with others. Also, people wouldn’t expect my mum to be lesbian or my sister to be bisexual. Non-binarity is always something you first have to explain before they condemn you, while if you tell people you’re lesbian, they’ll tell you right away if they don’t accept you. I always thought about my sexuality that “it’s just an issue for the future, I’ll tell them later.” But then I realized that I’m trans. Well, as long as they’re not bringing it up, I won’t.

In my coming-out, Man.ish Cave has played an important role, because it’s a specific group for BIPOC Transmasculine people. I guess I needed to meet people who are really like me to find out who I am. Like how do you know that you are a trans person of color if you only know white trans people? I also like Man.ish Cave because they bring different social justice movements together. Anti-racism is stronger when it includes LGBT+ people and the LGBT+ movement is stronger when it doesn’t only work for white cis gay men. Just try it, it’s really not that hard.
In general I’m for activism everywhere in all kinds of forms. We need grassroots activism, we need activists in politics. I myself study statistics as it’s an important tool for policies. Later I’d want to go into artificial intelligence. Bias in algorithms shows that the field could really use more people like us. I could also see myself as an activist comedian. I’ve always been a light-hearted activist. In front of a camera I’m always laughing and smiling. Here I wanted to look proud, show that I stand for who I am. That’s what I tried at least.

The LGBT+ community complains a lot about the outside world, the police, the parliament, the government. We want them to change. But there are plenty of problems, like racism, we face on the inside of our community. We don’t support each other enough. We are all LGBT+, but we look at each other like: “Are you transgender?” “Are you feminine?” “Are you wearing make-up?” “Are you a person of color?” Dating apps are full of judgement. I’d want us to at least love and support each other. But the taboos in society are also taught to us. We need to heal, to believe that we are acceptable and lovable.
When I was 21 years old I came out as HIV positive. There’s a big taboo, HIV positive people are considered dirty, dangerous and are being avoided. Instead of helping and supporting each other as a gay community, I lost my community within two months. Also here in the Netherlands I see this superficiality of my queer friends who can’t accept me as an HIV positive gay. It was my own community that made it harder to be myself.
For eleven years I couldn’t accept myself, people’s opinions hurt me easily. I was a prisoner of my own mind. I was looking outside to find my own worth. But I couldn’t see people who did accept me. After my coming-out when everything was dark, I found my light. I realized I was this light all this time, that I can make everything bright. That there’s nothing outside to seek. Shadows, nightmares, light, dreams, it was inside me all this time. Accept yourself. Imperfection is beauty. Have the courage to stand for yourself, for your own truth.
My hope is that we raise awareness about who we are. We have the ability to spread love and positive energy. In the queer community we often focus on our looks, appearances, on outside confirmation. That’s been the only way for me to feel accepted. I hope that we know our value. We as queer community need that, we missed that in our childhood. Two days ago, I shaved my hair as a project of detachment. Do I still love myself without my hair? Do I love myself unconditionally?
I invest in my emotions. In Iran since we have no freedom, we value our time, freedom and energy. Here you have more choices, but life is more empty. There’s another purpose of freedom. In Iran we’re more emotional. For Dutch people, everything is logic. They’re afraid to express emotions, to get attached and get hurt, so they don’t fight for love. They don’t give themselves a chance at love.
I dream of organizing events that will push people to go within. The time is gone that the masters tell us what we do. The answers are inside. You know yourself best. When you look in the eye of fear, the fear disappears. When I told my parents my big secret that I was gay, I couldn’t believe they’d accept me, because this was my reality in my mind. But they did accept me!
In my portrait I see empathy and oneness. I see the deeper meaning in things and connections lately, beyond what we call reality. We are all made by love, the language of all creatures and that which connects us all in oneness.

My parents know I’m gay, and they find it difficult to deal with. I understand where they are coming from, I know how they were raised. I have a strong love for my parents, even if it means I cannot entirely be myself around them. This may sound tragic, but this is how loyal I feel towards them.
When I was 19, I ran away from home. At the time it seemed like the only option I had. I left my community and village, without any regrets. I could not fully develop in a village like that, I needed to be in a city where diversity can be celebrated. My professional life, my friends, and my activism shaped me into the person I am today. I no longer feel any headwind when I’m living my life in big cities.
I cannot force people to be understanding and empathic, but my question to them would be: why couldn’t there be more realities than just your own, and what is it that you are afraid of? To people who find themselves in my situation, I’d say: educate yourself, ask questions and refuse to be dehumanized.

I always knew, but at the age of 15, with the help of the school psychologist, I really realized I’m a transwoman. I’ve felt so much better ever since. Although I struggled a lot with my family because of it. I blamed my religion for the struggle. Later I understood it wasn’t my religion but it was political Islam that caused the problems.
My family thinks that they protect me out of love. But they don’t see how their protection and ignorance is hurting me. My parents already passed away. I had to make a choice to live with my older siblings, or to live life like my authentic self.
I knew at some point that my family and me couldn’t get together. I moved to the capital of Lebanon so I had more freedom. After all the loss, feeling lost, I was introduced to the LGBT organization Helem, meaning “dream” in Arabic. With Helem, for the first time I felt at home, like I belonged. Helem provides psychological help, legal help when people are being jailed for being LGBT.
The more I become myself, as Nancy, the more my family and me grew apart. Of course I tried to talk with them, that it’s not a sin. I’ve been trying with arguments since the age of fifteen, but I surrender. They’re brainwashed by political ideas and that’s just not going to change.
At some point I couldn’t take it anymore. My psychologist knew. She gave me the hope that life didn’t need to end here, that there was a place in which I could exist. I went to the Netherlands because of its LGBT reputation. But hope is dangerous. There is not something like an LGBT paradise.
Since I moved here I believe transwomen cannot exist in Lebanon. Here people also stare at me in the street and I face lots of institutional transphobia, but at least I have the minimum right to exist. In Lebanon I wouldn’t be allowed an identification card as myself. Though I also see a lot of parallels between here and Lebanon.
Here it’s also easier for white cis gay men than for me as a refugee transwoman of color. In white Dutch culture the ableism, transphobia, the discrimination is just more institutionally, it’s less in the street. This is a cultural thing.
Trans healthcare for example is a torture! I should be able to take hormones, change my gender and my name. But I am on waiting lists for years, just to get a diagnosis from doctors that I am in fact a transwoman before I can get anything done at all.
I came here for my freedom. I did try to learn the language though and I do feel attached to this country, but Dutch people showed me I’d never belong to this society. I’m not really Lebanese either. I’m mostly a member of the LGBT community. Respect2Love, Connecting Differences, COC, Regenboog and Prisma group, I wouldn’t have made it in this country without them.
In the refugee camp, the COA treats us like lesser humans, like gold-diggers, at some point I was at point zero again. So no I don’t have to be thankful to this country, they didn’t give me a new chance at life. My LGBT community gave me that.
To my community I say: free your mind from the white colonizer man, from the patriarchal system in your mind! I tried to show this in my portrait as I am passing through the paper. In Lebanon till 2010 they used to call LGBT people perverts, but we trans people call ourselves passers, as we’re passing through one gender to the other.

I was born in Afghanistan but grew up in the Netherlands. I identify as a homosexual man, and as a Muslim.
My family learned about my sexuality in 2014 and was not accepting of it at all. I had to flee my hometown of Almelo, to save my life. I moved to a shelter (safe house) in Utrecht after escaping my family. I was traumatised for many years, but slowly I managed to build up my life. I also got in touch with some LGBTQI+ groups to socialize.
In 2021 my mother passed away. In the end, before she passed on, she accepted me for who I am.
This is the only life we have. Live it the way you want and make yourself strong enough to overcome all these hurdles. That would be my advice to other LGBTQI+ people who have the same struggles and experiences as I had.

When I was fifteen years old, some people in my village caught me and my boyfriend at the time while we were secretly kissing in the bushes, and they beat us up very badly. They cast me out of the village, and I had to run away to the capital of my country. There I was in the closet again because I was scared for people to find out about me.
People in my country, especially the religious people, are against the LGBTQI+ people. It’s because of this situation that it was not easy for me to live in my country. The government wants that all LGBTQI+ people to die. For example, if you are transgender or homosexual, and you get HIV, they won’t give you any medication or any medical support. The people in my country do not see us as human beings, but as people who are possessed by the devil.
In African tradition, they believe in witchcraft and spirits. Even when my dad found out that I was gay came looking for me and took me to a witch doctor. They sat me down, took all my clothes, and then cut a goat’s head above my head and let the blood of the goat cover my whole body. This, they believed, would help to get the devil out of me and make me a “normal” person again. But of course, to me, nothing changed because I am just born like this. So then, my father took me to a church and asked the priests there to pray for me in the hope that it would help to get maybe the devil out of me.
When I was around twenty-seven years old, my family started to put a lot of pressure on me to get married. Just outside the church, where my father took me daily for prayers, there was a kiosk. I always came inside that kiosk to buy snacks and make phone calls. Behind the counter, there was a young girl working. So, one day I asked her if I could pay her to act like she was a girlfriend. And so, she would come to my house to meet my parents. This was of course to show them that now the devil was out of me, and I was in a relationship. And for a while, it looked like the people around me believed it. But this was not a real relationship because I would pay her every month a lot of money so she would pretend to be my girlfriend.
Around that same time, I fell in love with a guy, and we started a secret relationship. But after a few months, my own family caught us inside my house. My boyfriend ran away, but my family caught me, beat me up and took me to the police to be arrested. I was in jail for three days and then a friend came, and we bribed the police with money so they would let me go.
When my family found out that I got out of jail, they were so mad and went to my house and destroyed everything that I had. They started to hunt me down. They even published my photo in the newspaper and went on the radio and TV station to ask if anyone saw me or knew where I was. They also told people to contact the police, to get me arrested again.
Luckily, I had a good friend of mine who took me in, and we made it to get me into safety. My friend got me a document for traveling so I could come to Europe, so that’s why I ended up here in the Netherlands. Now, I can finally be open. There are a lot of activities for LGBTQI+ people and I see that people are free here, not in the same situation as in my country. I hope that more people who are in my situation will find a better future as well.

I’m a simple person, not flamboyant. I don’t like showing off or going out, only with my partner or a friend. As a young person I didn’t understand why I had feelings for men. It made me shy and lose my confidence. It made me stop wanting to be close to my friends and I became a person of solitude. Not because I wanted to be, it was really difficult. I just saw I was different. I thought I was the only person with this problem. On the street I was constantly aware of all eyes on me. Pretending all my life not to be me. On the bus, with my family, in my own house even. I don’t judge people who end their lives, it’s not an easy life.

Back in Nigeria as a lawyer I tried to make a change with openminded lawyers and organizations. But Nigeria is a big country full of lawyers and even gay politicians don’t vote for gay rights. All I can tell my people, is to hold on and to leave the country. Being gay in Nigeria is like living in a cage. Being LGBT there is illegal. Living with another man is illegal, rallying is illegal, an LGBT meeting is illegal, attending a gay marriage, helping a gay person, contributing money to an LGBT organization. According to the law, the punishment for being gay is jail term up to fourteen years, but jungle justice usually results in death. There’s this trend happening on gay dating apps of keeping gay people hostage and blackmailing them over their sexuality, as a business. I’ve seen people being beaten up, being burnt alive. It’s a terrible thing to be gay in a homophobic country.

But I’m here now, happy, safe and free, living in my private apartment. Before I lived in different refugee centers, there you’re not free. It’s weird, I came here for safety, but these centers are horrible, demoralizing and depressing. You have people from different cultures, educational backgrounds, professions, sexualities and beliefs. Gay, homophobic, they treat you like a non-entity.

Here it’s not all perfect, it’s not that people here don’t discriminate, for example because of your color. I didn’t experience it myself yet, but I hear the complaints around me. The fact that Respect2Love (R2L) is bicultural, encompasses people from all continents and all walks of life, makes it different from the rest of COC. People who aren’t recognized in the white scene are being seen at R2L. I recommend queers of color to find a place like that, it’s important to have a community. There were times I felt lonely while waiting for my residence permit, but I didn’t lose hope because of the R2L community.

Now I have a place in this foreign land, I can call home. Before I got to know R2L, I’ve been with Rainbow Anonymous, I’m still there at present. It’s a safe space for LGBT refugees set up by one of us, without homophobes. R2L is a bigger organization, there’s people who mentor us, who taught me a lot about leadership, empowerment and resilience. As a foreigner you don’t know much. Now I know I’m not alone and not the only black person in the community. I know that I can get help in hostile situations and where to get it.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge gives confidence. When people know who they are and their history, it helps to emancipate them. For a lot of LGBT refugees of color who lived in shame and fear all their life, it takes a while to come out as LGBT and adapt to another life here. We should nationalize R2L, to help empower more people. We should also mix into these all-white COC spaces, to bring white, black and brown people together, to empower the community. There’s strength in unity.

The opening in my portrait signifies that the veil that was covering me before, has opened. I can see clearly now. I am no longer hiding now. I am stepping out in the light with pride. Full force. I am stepping out.

I identify as lesbian; I’ve done so for four years. I didn’t come out as lesbian because the first time I had any interest in women, it was just confusing to me. I was in a Christian church at the time.

Basically, my sexual identity was decided for me since I was young. It didn’t occur to me for it to be any different. I also considered at the time, my first relationship to be with my stepbrother. That was a ridiculous situation, no choices were made, and they never could have been made. So, I just carried on in that way, and if a woman tried to kiss me, I was confused, and if a man tried to kiss me, I knew what to do. I was just surviving.

Then I was in a Christian church which helped me to get out of my family, but it didn’t help me with my identity. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about the gay question, as a heterosexual person in church. I thought, I like women as well and I can choose to be with men. I married a man.

Now I must choose between being in my community or being out. I try to travel that choice by having places where I am out. It means that I can’t be open in my community and it means all my friendships and relationships have become very superficial, because I can’t say everything that is happening. I feel like I’m lying all the time.
It’s more cultural than religious though. Religion wise, I feel okay. There is nowhere in the Thora it says a woman may not be with a woman, it’s not even considered sex. Even though culturally it is not accepted, I’m not doing anything wrong. That is also very important to my husband. I found places where I am out, and I have made myself unbribable, which was one of the concerns. So, what are they going to do, tell my husband?

I often find myself very much discriminated against in the LGTB community, because I’m religious and I’m Jewish. I feel more comfortable in places that are not specifically LGTB, just places where they accept gay people. For others in this situation, there is a Jewish organization called Eshel, who I’ve found very helpful.

Before puberty already I was more sexually free, fantasizing about boys, while being brought up in Syria, in a culture of modesty. In my culture it’s like, don’t ask don’t tell, but everyone knows who’s having sex, outside of marriage. There I felt like I belonged because I was the majority but didn’t fit in because of my queerness and liberal values. In the Netherlands it’s the other way around. Here my liberal values are accepted (although not completely), but I don’t belong to the majority. I was so shocked when I got here. I took an almost lethal boat trip to get here, to be myself, to own my body and sexuality and be independent and free. Still people would tell me not to show my body on social media, not to get a tattoo or a piercing and not to speak up.

In Syria, being the majority, I face no racism, everything works in my advantage. The system here is not designed for people like me, I could give you a million examples. My professor telling me I can’t go to the girls toilet, or shouldn’t wear make-up. When I call 112 because of an emergency, the police don’t show up. They don’t take me seriously, especially if one speaks English. Here it feels like I’m a minority of a minority. This country is all about freedom, but a lot of it is fake freedom to me.
I don’t regret coming here. I see migration as a continuum. I claim my Dutchness, without fully adjusting to it. Dutchness in my eyes should be inclusive, not about one specific way of being. I was talking with a friend. We have so many Dutch acquaintances, but it’s difficult to make real Dutch friends. I found it way easier making German, Swedish and Italian friends. White people here I find are just too closed. I tell my fellow queers of color to find people here who are going through the same experience, to ignore the ones who don’t understand, like the white men who have their opinions about us.

On my social media it’s a never-ending stream of attacks of white gay men saying I’m an unthankful nagging princess. That it’s better here than where I’m from so I should be quiet. It’s sad, but I’m not saying anything strange. They are not being told the truth, their education is Eurocentric. I think they should be a bit like the Germans, more humble and ashamed of their colonial history. They should try to educate themselves and to imagine themselves as the other. The West have colonized the Middle-East and many parts of the world. We’re still occupied by The West through capitalism, i.e. modern day slavery. If you understand the war in Syria, you see it’s Russia, China, Europe and the United States starting a war over oil and weapons. Even me fleeing here, it’s because of Europeans to some extent, because of their foreign policy. And yet I have to be thankful.
The Netherlands faces many challenges and is not going to make it without a stronger Europe. We won’t stand a chance against Russia or China. LGBTQ rights and women’s rights will be the cheapest bargaining chip. I also hope that the queer community of color gets stronger, more unified against the Christian conservative wave, more radical and more sexually free. I dream of a sexual revolution, bigger than in the sixties, a queerer one. The heteronormative system doesn’t care who we love, it only cares about sex, about controlling our bodies. In my portrait you see a star cause I’m like a mermaid from the sea. To my fellow queers of color I’d say: we are the future, they should expect us, because we are fucking coming!

The people portrayed as invisible in the IN/VISIBLE photo-exhibit are regular participants of Wereldcafé. Wereldcafé is a monthly activity organized by COC Amsterdam en omstreken, where bicultural LGBTIQ+ persons can meet in a closed setting to find a social network and discuss topics relevant to their personal empowerment. 


If you come from a bicultural background and are LGBTIQ+ or questioning, and want to be in contact with likeminded people, you can contact us at: We look forward to meeting you.