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Darling of the month: Dirk Harting and Greg Gorman’s portrait of Divine

1. October 2022

At his desk in the office, you can see that Dirk hasn’t just been here for a few months. The walls are hung full of pictures – most of them are of his darling Divine. Dirk never expected to get the job here – he couldn’t believe it when he got the offer. But after 11 years at the museum, Dirk has grown close to everyone’s heart and it’s hard to imagine the office and the frontdesk without him.

Hey Dirk, why don’t you introduce yourself? Who are you, what do you do here and how did you come to SMU in the first place?

I’m Dirk, I’ve been running the secretariat here for almost 11 years. I actually came here by a very stupid coincidence. After the death of my husband, I had severe depression and was recommended to go to a group for depressed gay men at the gay counselling center. I went, but only once – after that I was exhausted and felt even worse. But there was Kerstin, who ran the group, and she told me “you’d like to start a job again right?” – I’d been caring for my sick husband for six years – and she told me about a job at the gay museum. So I applied and to my surprise it worked out. I didn’t expect it because I was under heavy medication and at the job interview I could hardly open my mouth.

And how do you like it here now that you’re here?

Yes, great! I found my job here. Whereas I only wanted to do it for half a year at the beginning, I’ve been here for 11 years now.

Have there been days when you just wanted to run away?

Yes, of course. More than 90% of the time I really enjoy coming here, all my colleagues are great, it’s a comfortable atmosphere, it’s always interesting, you get to know lots of people. But yes, there is often a lot of stress, you often have to take on tasks spontaneously – and you have to be a bit stress-resistant. This is usually when 10 people want something from you at the same time and are then dissatisfied – artists, curators quite often, because their own exhibition is of course always the most important. But nevertheless I always come back, because it’s fun, it suits me and it never gets boring.

Your darling is Divine…

How did you guess that? (laughs) Well, you can see my T-shirt right away, but have you seen my tattoo here on my hand? That’s one of three. On my leg I have a big Ursula from Disney – the character was inspired by Divine – that was practically the first drag queen on Disney.
The photographer Greg Gorman took this fantastic photo of Divine with the English bulldogs Beatrix and Klaus and exhibition it at the museum when it was still located at Mehringdamm in the permanent exhibition. After we moved to Lützowstraße, it was on display for a long time in A Change of Scenery”. We have several prints of the portrait – one large one and several in small format. My colleague Jörg framed a small print and gave it to me as a housewarming gift for my new flat. Of course I was blown away.

And why is Divine so important to you?

It actually started with the music – in 1982, she performed “Shoot Your Shot”. And then I saw her and I fell in love. Love at first sight wouldn’t even quite describe it, I was really head over heels in love. I thought it was so amazing and I’ve been a fan ever since. I only discovered the films and other stuff later.

Did you also do drag yourself or were you always just a fan?

Strangely enough, although I’ve always been magically attracted to it, I’ve never personally felt the urge. For the Gay Museum I once performed at “Schwutz”, after one of the board members had talked me into it for 3 months. But I was really scared – I had never been on a stage before and then I sang live in front of a few hundred people. But it worked out great, there was a lot of champagne backstage and I drank a whole bottle… by the way, all the artists did that. And that went great, but for me it was a one-time thing.

What would you talk to Divine about if you could have a dinner date with her tonight?

Oh, God, I’d talk her ear off. I’d have a hundred thousand questions, I’d have to take a hundred thousand selfies with her, I’d kiss her maybe. And maybe I’d tell her what she’s missing out on. She died in 1988 at the age of 42 and didn’t even realize what she meant to the community. She is actually the most important drag queen of all time, she opened all the doors, also for television. When she appeared on TV for the first time, people called and complained about what that fat tranny was doing on TV. But because of her, things like that are taken for granted today – especially because she really broke all the taboos, also in regards to fatphobia. She didn’t hide her 180 kilos, but emphasized them and never felt ashamed.

You were given an original portrait print of Greg Gorman’s photography of Divine. Is there anyone you would gift that picture to?

No. Maybe my niece will inherit it one day, but as long as I live it will stay with me. It’s my darling. (laughs)