[EXCLUSIVE] Moustafa Daly speaks to the Egyptian refugee combining authentic belly dancing with drag, shortly after she made it to the prestigious 2018 BBC 100 Women.
Curtains up, lights flashing bright, and the unmistakable Shik Shak Shok blasting through the speakers. This is merely just another night in the life of the 25-year-old Shrouk El-Attar. Before taking to the stage - as any self-respecting belly dancer would - she takes one last glimpse at the mirror to make sure it''s all looking good. Suit sparkling? Check. Makeup perfected? Check. Beard on-point? Check. You see, Shrouk isn't the average, dancing-on-the-table, ultra feminine belly dancer you've seen on every Egyptian movie. She's here not only to entertain, but possibly help change lives, the same way hers was completely transformed by a series of unexpected events.
"I must've been in 3rd grade when I first heard the word sodomy, it was the first time I realised that gay people are described or seen in a certain way, and it wasn't a good one," recounted Shrouk - more commonly known as the Dancing Queer - a Conchita-Rise-meets-Fifi-Abdou UK-based Egyptian belly dancer and drag king, of sorts. "I thought, wow, he described them as really horrible, evil people. I didn't think I was horrible or evil, so I didn't want to believe I might be one of those."
Up until that day, Shrouk, who's recently been featured on the prestigious BBC 100 Women of The Year, had firmly believed that everyone was into girls, including other girls, because "how can't you be?"
However it didn't take long for the Alexandria-born to discover that acknowledging her 'attraction to femininity' shouldn't top her list of priorities, because she was already at a major disadvantage being a girl growing up in a severely patriarchal society such as ours.
"My family is slightly more open-minded than the average Egyptian, but I still had to be home at a certain time, and I had to clean my brother's bedroom as well as mine, mainly because I'm a girl who has to prepare for the day she gets married. So yeah, my family was more open-minded, but it wasn't enough for me."At 15, almost a decade ago, Shrouk was on a family trip to the British capital when her mum broke the news that they're seeking asylum there, fleeing domestic violence in Egypt. "I grew up around images of my mum bleeding, and women screaming because their husbands were beating them up. That was normal, you couldn't even go to the police about it," is all Sherouk was willing to share on her family's asylum case.
In London, she found that the protective walls she's been carefully structuring to secure her true-self are no longer a survival necessity; she could actually act as she feels, however getting there came with a hefty price. Two years after settling in the UK, aged 17, her family caught up with her online persona as an LGBTQ+ activist, and things took a dramatic turn for the worse.
"My mum, brother, and sister kept crying, asking me why I would do that to them... like I actually did something personal to them," she exclaimed. "I felt completely unwelcome afterwards, and I had to leave my family's house."
As a result, Shrouk had to go her own way and she submitted her own asylum case on the basis of identifying as queer. From denying and hiding her sexuality for the most part of her life, she was now expected to share it, maybe even more than she had wished for.
"In my [asylum] case, I had to prove my sexuality, which was a really disgusting process. They had my ex-girlfriends talk about having sex with me, and HOW we had sex. Not just that - I had to speak about my first time having it with a boy and how it was like," said Shrouk . "I was describing a sexual experience from when I was 16 to be judged by a 50-year-old white man; it was just really inappropriate. Claiming asylum in the UK is a rather dehumanising process."
After winning her asylum case back in 2013, Shrouk found it to be a privilege that she finally gets to be whoever she wants, which is not something that is shared by her 'LGBTQ+ siblings' in Egypt, nor asylum seekers in the UK. So she began her own form of protest, however it couldn't be further away from being silent.
In charity and political events across the UK and Europe, Shrouk , who has long embraced her body hair, just simply got in a belly dancing suit while donning a fake beard and took to the stage, serving hip-shaking realness complete with Egyptian hit music. Combining authentic belly dancing with drag is simply her way to protest the prosecution of LGBTQ+ individuals and mistreatment of asylum seekers.
"When people think of Egypt, they immediately think of the Pyramids and belly dancing, which is a true Egyptian art. They don't think of us, it's always just the fun and flashy stuff, which is good, but I want them to think of us too."
As a busy electrical engineering student, belly dancing isn't really a full-time career for Shrouk. Her unique style of entertainment is mostly a strong political statement which she uses to raise her voice on behalf of those who can't. She believes the causes she supports are best served lightly."You don't want to just go on stage and talk shit for a while, people aren't going to pay attention to that. People pay more attention to your message when it's fun."Shrouk's drag aesthetic alone may be the most outrageous protest of all. A woman growing her armpit hair and a moustache is not only frowned upon in most human cultures, but would stir straight-up digust from most people, wherever they may stand along the spectrum of believing in women's right to free choice.
"I don't do that just for the performance, this is just what I'm like in real life. I can't be bothered shaving my legs or face and I think it's ridiculous that people think I should shave my armpit hair for them; my body, my rules. For people who want to do it, it's up to them. I just want it to be a choice. So many women naturally have facial hair; it's not a disorder. It's just our hormones, and we should be okay with that. It's sad that people have to go through actual pain to please society."After gaining a fan following and increasing visibility for her unique form of entertainment, Shrouk has been honoured by the UNHCR for her charity work, going on from there to be featured on the annual BBC 100 Women, a list of the world's most influential and inspirational women.
"I think of myself as a very average person, so if people like me can make it on such a list, it is indeed very grounding. I still can't believe it actually, I feel like there're so many incredible women in the world and they all deserve to be on there, it should be like BBC's one million list." In October 2017, following the infamous Mashrou' Leila rainbow concert, Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation decided to ban 'all forms of promotion or sympathy towards the LGBT community on media outlets, in addition to their appearance on media outlets[whoopsie!], on account of it being a 'shameful disease'. Unless an LGBTQ+ individual is going live to 'show repentance and remorse over their sexuality,' they're not to be portrayed in a positive light.
"If we're teaching children from a young age that they can't talk about it, it makes them feel that there's something abnormal, immoral, and shameful about it. If this child turns out to be LGBTQ+ [which a recent study found could simply be due to genes], that's extremely damaging. Homosexuality is found in all species, but homophobia only exists in one, so which one is abnormal? I totally stole that from a Facebook post, BTW."
Because of news such as the above, and despite having travelled to perform in numerous countries to raise awareness or collect funds for the cases she supports, there remains one country she [wisely] won't be stepping foot in anytime soon... Good guessing; it's Egypt.
"Egypt has historically been a very LGBTQ+ friendly country. Homophobia has been exported by colonists like the UK and France... It's ironic that those colonisers are now leading in LGBTQ+ equality and their ex-colonies are still infected by those imported homophobic laws.
I would love to visit my home again. I miss the food, culture, and how friendly everyone is. However that can also be a double-edged sword because you might feel loved and supported, but everyone is also really nosey. I wish I could be back, I really do, but it would be absolutely stupid for me to step foot in Egypt again. I would rather be alive."
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