The Blog

Protection and Identity: A Conversation with Award-Winning Author Danny Ramadan

This year on World Refugee Day (June 20), Muhaddisa Sarwari sat (virtually!) with award-winning author Danny Ramadan to speak about his life as a refugee and LGBTIQ+ advocate, and the launch of his new book Crooked Teeth
 
Crooked Teeth, a queer Syrian refugee memoir, was released in May 2024 to widespread acclaim. The book chronicles Danny’s life growing up as a queer man in Syria, navigating identities, conflict, opposition, and legal challenges. It delves into his years in Egypt as an emerging author during the Arab Spring, his efforts in creating a safe haven for queer individuals in Damascus, his arrest by the Syrian regime, and his subsequent two years as a refugee in Lebanon before being sponsored to come to Canada.
 
Danny confessed that writing this memoir was one of the hardest things he had ever done. “Authors are often introverted, preferring to keep their stories to themselves,” he reflected, adding that society often values extroverts who want to or can speak up. For Danny, fiction had always been a shield, allowing him to tell stories without exposing himself too much. A memoir, however, stripped away that protection. 

Muhaddisa Sarwari is an activist and public speaker for refugee rights and women’s education studying Political Science at the University of British Columbia. She arrived in Canada as a refugee four years ago. She’s a TEDx speaker, Loran scholar, former youth delegate to the United Nations, and currently interns for an organization aiding refugee and immigrant women fleeing violence.

Danny Ramadan is a Lambda-award winning Syrian-Canadian author. His memoir Crooked Teeth was released in May 2024. His novels, The Clothesline Swing and The Foghorn Echoes continue to receive accolades. His award-winning children’s books The Salma Series continues to grow. Ramadan has raised over $300,000 for LGBTQ+ refugees.

In Crooked Teeth, Danny nonetheless balances between telling a compelling story and preserving his privacy. At times, he directly addresses the reader, questioning their interest in his personal life. An anecdote from his travels illustrates this complexity: on a flight back from an International Writers’ Festival in Ottawa, a woman who read the first chapter of his book, filled with uplifting scenes amidst civil war and homophobia, apologized for what she assumed he had endured. Her reaction, based on a simplistic view of Damascus shaped by Western media, underscored the challenges of conveying the full spectrum of his experiences.

Writing the memoir was also a journey of vulnerability and resilience for Danny, who had been asked to write a memoir ever since he arrived in Canada. Initially resistant to the idea, he felt he lacked the agency to tell his story. However, as he gained recognition and confidence over the years, he felt empowered to share his narrative on his terms. Eventually, he found a way to have a balanced conversation with the reader, maintaining openness while setting boundaries.

Danny believes that storytelling and literature are powerful tools for fostering understanding and empathy for refugees, especially marginalized groups within these communities. He highlighted the biggest challenge he faces as a queer person of color with a refugee background: confronting society’s preconceived notions. These stereotypes often do not reflect the true identities of refugees. Just as movies’ portrayal of Middle Eastern music is a Western invention, so too are many perceptions of what it means to be a refugee. Danny’s goal is to challenge these misconceptions and share an authentic story that is raw – that shows not only the dangers and vulnerabilities of being a refugee, but also of the joys, pleasures and aspirations of a population that is not a single body or river of refugees but of people with individual and diverse identities – with different families and communities, different homes and safe spaces. 
Danny’s journey, as recounted in Crooked Teeth, is a testament to the resilience and complexity of identity and community. His story sheds light on the struggles and triumphs of a queer Syrian refugee, aiming to build bridges of understanding and empathy. Through his work, Danny hopes to challenge stereotypes, inspire others, and foster a deeper appreciation for the diverse experiences that shape our world.

Reflections for Action

Refugees come from varied backgrounds with different identities – skin color, sexual orientation, and religious and cultural identity. In order to listen to the stories of refugees, we need to do a lot of work to unlearn and undo much of what we have been taught to assume about some of these categories.

Newcomers, including refugees, often arrive with vastly different backgrounds, stories, experiences, traumas, and levels of access to resources. Equity involves tailoring support to meet individual needs. This might include language classes, cultural orientation programs, mental health support or job training that supports existing experience and qualifications. These offerings and supports need to be widely available, and must be based on listening to the actual needs of individuals rather than stereotyped needs. By providing resources that specifically address each person’s unique circumstances, newcomers can find their way within their new community and society.

Despite differences in identities and background, many aspirations expressed by refugees and newcomers – such as safety, education, employment, and a better future – are sentiments and aspirations we all share. Recognizing this common ground can foster empathy and solidarity.

Refugees are often left feeling marginalized and voiceless. Advocacy and allyship by those within shared communities and countries can support and amplify refugee voices and bring attention to both needs and contributions. Being an ally and standing in solidarity involves more than just supporting policies; it includes standing up against discriminatory practices and fostering inclusive communities. 

Read more about Crooked Teeth or purchase the book by clicking here

Protection & Identity was a collaborative event hosted in honour of World Refugee Day 2024 by:

Carried out thanks to support from the Government of Canada

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