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Book Cover of Meat Market by Laurie Penny (Credit: Hana Khalaf)

“There is something paradoxically feminist about the violent inverted logic of eating disorders – a desperate and deadly psychological stand – in for the kind of personal and political freedoms we have not yet achieved. Women and girls who have been denied their own autonomy find a measure of that autonomy in physical and psychological self-destruction of eating disorders: a rebellion by self-immolation, by taking society’s standards of thinness, beauty and self-denial to their logical extremes.” – Laurie Penny, Meat Market: Female Flesh under Capitalism

Some say it was self-harm.

Some think the notion of self-destruction is romantic:

Too many great writers took their lives, after all.

It was destruction, but not in the glorified sense.

It was self-annihilation. Erasure and dissemination of my female body and feminine existence

For many years. Yet I never ceased to be.

It wasn’t just mental

It was outright political.

A screeching cry for justice

For humanity.

Romanticized notions of starvation

combined with capitalism made me call them

Ana and Mia

I looked like them

I was triggering to some, and disgusting to most

They were my only trusted companions.

And today feminism saved me.

Or rather, empowered me to save myself.

I no longer want to die.

Especially not from a fetishized and glamorized

Erotic capital disorder

I will not be a victim of sexual abuse

Nor a textbook case of bulimia

I will continue to fight, love, live, cry and feel.

I will dismantle the systems that made me lose years of my life.

Consumed by hunger and the classic self-hatred

Existing, but not really alive. Not there. Not functioning.

The systems that the voices of many continues to challenges,

yet their structures never cease.

The systems that survive off their disintegration and consumption of lives.

Dreams, laughter and ambition.

Like zombies feed off brains.

The systems that enforce the shrinking of the female body and call for erasure of its power

Masochism will cease to take over.

I no longer want to stick my head in the oven like Sylvia Plath.

My death will not be tragic and won’t have the hint of romance.

The capitalist patriarchy that sucked me dry and left me an empty

Bony shell will never win.

I will never let it happen.

Because my life is worth the fight.

I’m hungry.

Not just for food, but for life

Love, education, air, politics, water, literature, beer and the sun.

For my own sexuality and empowerment.

To reclaim my own body, my long-alienated self.

To occupy the space with my body and voice echoing defiance and unabashed anger.  

I’m hungry

for the perfect imperfections of all humanity.

And for myself.

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مالكش تلمسني حتى لو شلحت trans. You don’t get to touch me even if I stripped (Credit: Ganzeer, b. 1982. Urgent Visions, Brooklyn)

Tattoos are forbidden by their god

Their god who is them

Your body will not enter heaven

The body cannot be a canvas

Skin cannot be art

It has to carry its wounds

Visible, scarred, shamed

Violated with no chance

Of empowerment

The bodies are a cradle of shame

The inherent female guilt

Your yellow dress

Your thigh flower tattoo

Hiding a past of unwanted fingers

Nails. Gnawing at your insides

No, also at your exposed skin

The unexposed too

You are shame… they say

Your tattoos and dress are not art

You are guilty of art, of beauty,

Of being born

You.

A woman.

An object of sin

A site for battlefield

Condemned to a lifetime with your oppressor

Who is your oppressor?

Welcome to the rest of your life.

Too bleak?

Maybe you found your voice

Which unlike Ariel, you never gave for a man

You were robbed of it by centuries of silence

By your ancestor’s rape

Your grandma’s pain

Your mother’s tears

Complicity.

She is you. They are all you.

You are her. You are all of them.

Revolt. Speak up. Don’t smile

A Pharaoh is only one because of you

A woman.

Rise. Rage. Rebel

Against a world that feasts upon your body

And condemns it shameful.

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Macedonian police officers armed with riot gear in front of the Macedonian government building during a Colorful Revolution protest commemorating the death of Martin Neskovski. (Credit: Elena Gagovska)

“Actually, the military is investing a lot of money into programs for women’s equality,” said one of the participants in a workshop during the “Bridging Backgrounds” conference for Macedonian high schoolers about tolerance, interethnic understanding and human rights that was organised with funding from the Davis Foundation. I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. Given that I was a volunteer at the conference and a co-facilitator of the workshop, this wasn’t the most appropriate thing to do. .

“Sorry for laughing; that’s just not at all the feminism I subscribe to,” I said — not because I thought that the statement he had made was untrue, but because we clearly had two very different feminist visions.

None of the other participants or my co-facilitator were surprised that my views differed from those of the buff, toxically masculine Macedonian teenager with the inexplicable and annoying American accent – we’ll call him Nikola. Being the son of a Macedonian military official, Nikola loves the military as an institution: the organization of it, the (morally questionable) work they do, their values, everything. But, beyond this, Nikola loves the US military in particular. At one point during the conference, outside of the formal educational activities, Nikola proclaimed that it saddened him that, as a non-US citizen, he can not become a marine. It seemed to me that Nikola thought of himself as an American and had the accent to prove it. I have met Americans who don’t question the actions of their country or military, but this was something else. When I asked Nikola if he approved of all of the actions the US military has taken, he said yes. When I asked “Even Yemen?”, he had no idea what I was talking about, completely oblivious to the US backing of the devastating two-year-long conflict that has left the country in ruins. To Nikola, the US military is not something to be questioned, but worshiped and even seen as a ground for progressive politics of female liberation.

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Tuvshinzaya during the 2012 Commencement ceremony, held at Rathaus Pankow. (Credit: Personal Archives)

On the BCB campus, it’s not uncommon to find students who switch seamlessly between their three mother tongues. Someone might hesitate before answering the question “Where are you from?” or “Where will you be next year?”

Last month, I sat down in front of my computer to chat with Tuvshinzaya Gantulga, a BCB alumnus who is also always on the move. Born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Tuvshinzaya was studying economics at the American University in Bulgaria when he decided to come to BCB (then ECLA*) to attend its Academy Year program. Before the year was up, he had decided to stay in Berlin and complete his BA studies at ECLA as part of its first graduating class in 2012. Upon his return to Mongolia, he worked in a grassroots NGO, founded the Mongolian Rowing Association, and headed the American Chamber of Commerce in Mongolia. My webcam caught him in Manhattan, New York, where he had just graduated with a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Over the course of a few hours we talked about Berlin, rowing, and education: what does a liberal arts education offer to students who are exceptionally mobile, and what can being mobile offer students who are exceptionally curious?

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Naomi Klein’s most recent publication, now available in the BCB library. (Credit: www.noisnotenough.org)

The eve of the 2016 election in November, while still on exchange in Paris and away from Berlin, I decide not to go to the viewing party that was set up by Sciences Po. Rather, I will stay in my roomy eleven square meter studio and wait for Hillary Clinton’s inevitable win with my Swedish friend. She, who normally studies in Glasgow, didn’t stay up late for the Brexit vote earlier that year in June, assuming like many of us that the sun would rise and the country would have voted to remain. As the November night unfolds and the results roll in, we get ahead of ourselves and figure it’s safe to take a little nap around 1am (Paris Time). The nap lasts longer than planned and we awake around four-thirty. Bleary-eyed, I walk over to the kitchen area of the apartment, a feat accomplished in two small, sleepy steps, and offer to make coffee.

Then, from my left, comes her voice: “Nathan, why are all of these states red?”

I respond: “What?”

Shock.

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Skopje Pride Weekend graphic. (Credit: Igor Delov and Bisera Krckovska)

The first time I attended a Macedonian Pride related event was in June 2016 when I saw African-American intersex-born, genderqueer performer, artist, and generally wonderful human being Vaginal Davis. She projected some of her experimental films and gave one of the most entertaining Q&As I’ve witnessed. Anders Stefanovski — one of my best and queerest friends — and I were then taking part in a celebration of  Pride Month in Skopje under VMRO-DPMNE (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity)’s right-wing, toxically heteronormative reign. The participating crowd was mostly queer and not too big. With Anders still finishing his exam sessions in the Netherlands and the Social Democrats coming to power just a few weeks before this year’s Skopje Pride Weekend, the event felt much different this time around. 

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Alex Beatty as shave ice boy. (Credit: Mrs Beatty)

Alex Beatty as shave ice boy. (Credit: Mrs Beatty)

For two summers straight I sold shave ice to sunscreen-slathered Northerners who arrived in droves to the beaches of Florida with the seagulls that circled like vultures overhead. It was good business for me and the seagulls. When the sky was clear and the temperature broke one hundred degrees, the tourists sweating white bullets would line up for forty feet, their children in erratic orbit like the swarms of mosquitos that hung in the air around the dumpster across the walkway. Occasionally the odd adult would sidle up to my counter and order a ball of sugared ice with dignity and discretion.

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“Sainte Sebastienne” 1992. (Credit: Louise Bourgeois)

I came to Berlin as a person with a complicated love relationship with cities. New York City often grips my heart so close it hurts. The relationship between the city and the survivor of sexual violence–or the survivor of any kind of violence or trauma–is a very particular one. Many stories and cultural narratives refer to the trope of “female intuition,” proposing that women have advanced capabilities to perceive underlying dynamics, know when and how to give love and care, and can even predict the future. Though I do believe that we occupy spiritually evolved forms, I don’t think this “higher plane” is biological. The ability to pick up on and mentally calibrate the unspoken truths that shape our lives lies in our conditioning and lived experiences with terror, with betrayal, with being hurt and punished and subdued. We are required to be alert and sensitive to our environments because we know that our physical and spiritual agency is at stake–our identities, our bodies. This is second and firsthand–learning from the experiences of other women; learning from living, through scar and callous. On the most basic level, hearing our parents tell us to be careful of strangers when we are young and traveling alone on the subway or tram for the first time. Seeing the violence done to our forms dragged as entertainment or exposé across pages of books and television screens. There is nothing natural or innate about it. Feeling the eyes the voices the eyes. The acquisition of psychic capabilities is a laborious process that involves more weight than is typically attached to “exceptional” qualities. It is a thorny gift: one that reminds me both of my own resilience and my experience of trauma.

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