Words: Jason kattenhorn (Editor- In- Chief) and Drew Demetry.
Summer 2021 saw me launch my first Queer Creative Fund through Sassify Zine and I was not disappointed. I was blown away by the queer creative talent that poured in when I launched the open call, so much so that I struggled to make a final decision on the recipient of the £250 being given away.
With any open call I had the challenge of reminding myself that I am not here to judge the art that was received, because art is subjective. What I was looking for was a queer creative project that resonated with me, and challenged me to question what I think I thought I knew about the LGBTQ+ community.
Drew Demetry founder of Nafs.Space was the recipient of the £250. Nafs.Space helps those finding community as queer Swana. It is, “ an online hub for creative queers from the SWANA ( South West Asia, North Africa) community exploring their artistic and entrepreneurial endeavours with the support of each other and other allies.’’
“OUR ETHOS IS ‘BE PROUD’; PROUD OF YOUR IDENTITY, PROUD OF YOUR HERITAGE, PROUD OF YOURSELF AND PROUD OF YOUR WORK.” Drew Demetry.”
We connected with Drew Demetry, founder of Nafs.Space to discuss his queer journey so far and we discuss the importance of celebrating and exploring queerness through art.
Could you tell us about your Queer Journey so far?
Like many queer millennials, my queer journey has been complicated. Navigating self-identity, self-love and being loved. I grew up in a strict Coptic Egyptian household in Copenhagen where self-expression was frowned open. When I finally admitted to myself who I truly was at the age of 15, I had to mentally prepare myself for my future. Denying who I was/am was no longer an option. I began to damage relationships with my family and friends who I believed “won’t understand me” and started to plan my way out of Copenhagen.
I came out to those I wanted to know about me. Being a queer POC in Copenhagen came with a lot of hostility. Contrary to what many may think about Denmark, it isn’t as friendly as its marketed. I began going to gay clubs at the age of 16, where I was used by many older ‘straight’ married men. I was fine with this as it was the closest form of affection I ever had. In the clubs I was either made fun of for my Arab appearance or fetishized. The saying always was “I have never tried an Arab before” – as if I was part of a taster menu for their bucket list of sexual fantasies. I went with it because, although problematic, I felt like a delicacy and all a little gay Arab boy wanted was to be accepted by the white community.
I moved to London in 2006 at the age of 19 as Copenhagen rapidly became too claustrophobic. In London I began to reinvent myself. I wanted to explore all the gay clubs and my sexuality – the clubs in London were the same, no one would look at me and it became apparent that racism bled through all parts of the west. What London did have was a small group of people that were open to listen and make change.
"Although I didn’t find romantic love – I feel in love with my friends, and we were unstoppable."
I then fell in love and like many relationships, the first few months, or in my case, years, were amazing – or so I thought. It took me 4 years into the relationship to accept the red flags. Once I did, it went downhill from there. 4 years later I managed to regained confidence to leave. This was due to my friends at work noticing the volatility and abuse that I chose to ignore.
Outside of work I couldn’t have friends as everything was on my ex’s terms. The creative diverse Queer community I aspired to be a part of in London was not an option whilst in this relationship.
As a reflective Pisces; my inner critic would always ask “what the fuck are you doing to yourself?”. I would asses my reasons for coming to London, which was to feel accepted and to make a difference within the creative industries. I have always worked hard at every job I did, even with no sleep I would still be on time and do what I had to do. The higher up I got in companies, both in fashion and art, I would notice how these aspiring companies were laced with prejudice and venom. This crushed me.
The reason I left a country, moved away from my family was to find my safe space, only to be confronted with the hate I was subjected to back home. From being called emotional, faggot, fairy, fruity, to paki, sand n*****, terrorist, dirty Arab, savage, for being Egyptian. I could never belong in the work place. But I guess this is what happens when a company is run by straight white men. Going to HR never helped. It only made matters worse.
My CV became erratic moving from job to job because there was always some form of prejudice that I could no longer tolerate- I also found it strange how those who noticed the injustice happen at work, stayed quiet. I guess if it didn’t happen to them, it didn’t matter. The feeling of isolation I felt as a child in Copenhagen came back. I was left alone to feel that any experience I had was because of me.
Fast forward to the pandemic and BLM – all the conversations my POC friends and I have had behind closed doors was brought to light. Companies began to become more “diverse and inclusive” to fight the backlash of anything they’ve done in the past – but it was/is still complete bullshit.
A few years on, these companies are still following their vile systemic racism, using POC and Queer bodies to act as a distraction from what’s really going on behind the scenes. No one wants to change because they base everything on capitalism, and suppressing others. It's impressive how white supremacy finds itself in the queer bodies and spaces.
I began reading books about queer theory, researching queer activism, to truly understanding what begin queer actually meant.
For someone who has never heard of the queer SWANA community before, could you tell us what it is?
SWANA stands for South West Asia and North Africa. The term Middle East was coined by colonisers and I personally want to decolonise anything with regards to my heritage and sexual identity. And the abbreviation ‘BAME’ really rubs me up the wrong way. We aren’t a minority- we are marginalised. We aren’t ethnic, we are extraordinary.
We stem from an abundance of creative thinkers, philosophers, poets, artists and mathematicians. Contrary to popular beliefs, queerness existed in the SWANA regions as far back as ancient Egypt and Persia. Our countries would be the centre of the world if colonisers would have left us alone- but alas that is not the case. With what little power I have,
I want to reclaim the beauty that our countries have through our queer communities.
Tell us about Nafs.Space…
NAFS.SPACE came about after noticing the lack of representation of the SWANA community in the creative industries. I noticed that many organisations / companies used (and still use) marginalised communities as optics in their marketing and branding strategies. It's inauthentic and hurtful.
It was only a matter of time to take our creativity into our own hands and lead the conversation rather than be used as a fad for companies to increase their revenue.
I have always believed that the queer community has paved the way for many movements. I am tired of us being used as a commodity in the creative industries.
My favourite moments are when people tell me that they’ve heard of NAFS.SPACE – it makes me feel like I’m doing something right. Working with such incredible artists and creatives and seeing the pure talent within my community warms my heart.
NAFS.SPACE aims to create a traveling exhibition around the world to showcase the amazing artwork that these creatives offer. The obvious end game is to make sure that everyone involved in NAFS.SPACE can create a sustainable life doing what they love whilst helping our community.
How important is celebrating and exploring your queerness as a queer creative?
I think for me, its more about my intersectionality. The things I love the most about myself, my queerness and my Egyptian heritage, are both used against me in many situations.
At times it is hard to celebrate – but exploring it is beautiful. Exploring my queerness beyond the white gaze has been extremely interesting; a lot of unlearning which is so fucking difficult.
The creative process involves a lot of self-reflection; which at times can make you feel very alone.
What is your sassiest anecdote?
Lets’ fuck shit up
What made you happy today?
Waking up at my friend Eshaan’s place. He made me breakfast and bought me coffee and now I am dog sitting his brother’s dog. The dog (Damien) is currently sleeping on my lap as I am typing this. Pure joy