This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
Bahri* was 18 years old when war broke out across Syria. Four years later, the engineering student and his family decided to flee their home in Damascus for Germany. Now, 25-year-old Bahri's life couldn't be more different to the one he left behind.
When Bahri isn't taking German lessons, or working one of his two jobs as a barman or a cleaner, he likes to relax by becoming a sex slave. "I like being tied up and beaten," he told me. "Besides that, I love it when I'm on a lead and barking like a dog. I like pain, as long as it isn't too hard."
It's a fetish he's had for most of his adult life, but he was never able to live it out in Syria – a country with an extremely conservative and religious culture – where, in some cities, people have been killed as punishment for their sexuality. But in Germany he can, and he is.
I recently spoke with Bahri to find out what it was like to live in Syria and how Berlin helped him discover his sexuality.
VICE: What was it like not being able to live out your fantasies in Syria?
Bahri: Life in Syria was very difficult because there's no freedom. I could've been punished if anyone found out. I've felt this way since I was 13 and watched a film that featured a strong woman. It was then I realised that I liked it when women ordered me around. I didn't know what to do with those feelings at the time, so for the next five years I assumed I was sick. It wasn't until, at 18, I read about it online and realised that I wasn't alone. But I still kept it a secret; I never spoke to anyone about it.
What changed when you came to Berlin?
In Berlin, I had a friend who confided in me that she was bisexual. She trusted in me, so I decided to open up and trust in her. She was the first person to explain that my fantasies were completely normal, and not an illness.
What is it about being dominated that turns you on?
Everything. Whenever someone gives me an order, it makes me feel secure. I'm no longer responsible for what happens, the other person is. At the moment I give up control, that's when I feel strong.
How did it feel to finally become a sex slave?
I met my first mistress online, but I was so nervous about meeting her in person. Initially, we decided to meet in a bar to get to know each other, which helped a bit. But, nevertheless, my heart was still pounding as we made our way to her place. I didn't tell her that it was my first time, but I'm sure she could tell. By the time I was lying under her feet, though, I felt more secure than I had felt in a long time. I would have gladly stayed there forever.
Do your Syrian family and friends know about your fetish?
My family don't know. Back in Syria, I eventually told one female friend. She was surprised but supportive – she was bisexual, and understood what it was like to only live out your sexual desires online. She would love to come to Berlin, but her parents won't let her.
Do you go to dominatrixes?
Yeah, I've been to a dominatrix, but I didn't particularly like it. There's no feeling in it when you have to pay for it. And I find it a bit weird when they do exactly what I tell them.
Do you know many other refugees who have been able live out their sexuality in Germany?
I have a friend who is gay. In Syria, you'd end up in prison for it. You can't just live out your sexuality there – you're brought up feeling like you won't belong. Now we're in Germany, we're free – anything is possible.
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How do women in general react when you tell them you're from Syria?
I've had women simply walk out. Once, I got to know someone who was very nice at the beginning, but when I told her I was Syrian she said she didn't want to speak to people like me. She accused me of only speaking German because her taxes paid for my lessons. Sometimes, I just lie when people ask where I'm from.
Do you feel accepted in Germany?
I know that it's better here in Berlin than in other cities. Still, I don't really feel completely comfortable here. I can sort of understand why some Germans have their prejudices – the media are always reporting on us in a negative way. I know not all Germans are neo-Nazis, just like how not all Syrians are criminals.
Would you like to be in a relationship?
Yes, but it's hard to find a woman who wants to be a mistress. I don't know if I'd have to give up being a sex slave. I couldn't imagine having a girlfriend and a mistress, because I don't want to cheat. That's why, at the moment, I'm looking for an open relationship. I hope I can eventually find a partner who wants to live out my fetish with me.
*Bahri is a pseudonym to protect his identity.
This article originally appeared on VICE DE.