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My body behind the Egyptian flag in my grandma’s home, Cairo, 2011. (Credit: Farah Khalaf)

Where I come from, I’m the devil’s incarnation

The fallen woman

Lilith.

You see, there’s always a dichotomy at play:

The sinner, not the saint.

The whore and the prostitute.

I am the one without a hymen

The one mothers spend lifetimes

protecting their daughters from becoming.

Even by cutting off their clitoris

By subjecting them to a lifetime of neurosis

And depriving them of sexual pleasure

Of their natural ‘birth-right’.

Their birth was a catastrophe

For they lacked a cock

Dangling between fleshy thighs

I am the adulterous. The mistress.

The one who says fucking and not making love.

The one who is unabashed.

“Have you no shame?” they ask in disgust and disbelief

“No.” I say in front of my people.

Those who condemned me

To a lifelong of oppression

And if they could, they would stone me

Scornful laughter and feet stomping

on the jagged streets of Cairo.

“What a whore… She deserves even more.

We pray to Allah that she rots in hell”

The noises pierce through my damaged body

My cracked bones and open skull

My protruding eye

Bloody lips.

I broke out of society’s contours.

Dictating, policing, destroying, desiring and fearing my body.

Am I a fallen woman because I experienced my sexuality?

Or is it because I dared derive pleasure from it?

Perhaps because they couldn’t detect a trace of shame.

Of regret. Of loss.

They believe a woman gives herself up during sex.

For me, it’s a process of mutual transaction: I give and take pleasure.

Never saw it as a form of sacrifice.

Never sensed a lack upon fucking.

And never did I ‘value’ myself less, because a membrane is gone.

I have inked my body and ripped through many skin tissues.

No one seemed to mind when the scars were red and visible on my arms.

The only wound they saw in me was me: The opening between my thighs.

My vagina. I was my vagina and they saw me as colonized by a foreign invasion that they needed to revolt against.

I am the enemy now.

I am a dangerous force to my home.

I’m calling for sexual-liberation and empowerment. But both the women and men fear me.

Or despise me.

I have been condemned to death by stoning.

Come and enjoy the spectacle tomorrow in the main square.

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Modified Pride graphic. (Credit: trinityeverett.org)

“I used to beat on queers.” My dad’s words were pulled from his throat like a prime bass on a fishing line. We watched it, muted, as it fought for air at our feet.

My girlfriend’s hands were clammy with nervousness and July. My family’s hands were blissfully unaware, a few yards away, dancing breezily on the patio, lazily choking the heads of beer bottles, drunk with barbeque. My dad’s hands were across from us, folded calmly, faintly rainbow with past blood.

He taught me how to tie my shoes, how to attach “ma’am: and “sir” to the ends of my sentences. Before I grew front teeth, he taught me not to stick my hands on the stove. I did anyway, I got burned, I should have listened, he “told me so.” I developed a subtle but unwavering faith in him; after all, he had lived forever.

Somewhere, in the pits of my eager subconscious, this faith grew muscles. I learned to trust authority figures like I learned to trust my dad. They told me so, and so I listened, and so I avoided being burned. Teachers, government officials, policy makers, and religious leaders were to be trusted. It was for my own good. I only notice this faith now that it is gone.

I am sure I owe it to that Fourth of July. I was ten years old, stumbling out of the closet with no moral compass of my own. When I approached the light my eyes were dazzled; blinded by a naive heart, I paraded Justine around to my family like the first light bulb. Eureka!

They all thought we would be better off as friends. In a time warp, before my dad grew teeth, he might have assumed that we would be better off as stains on his knuckles. With barbecue sauce still on our shirts, he sat us down and confessed how disgustingly unnatural we were. It was for my own good.

He still bought me a birthday present that year. The “I love you’s” still flowed, unchanged. However, the waters flowed on too, and I have not stepped in the same river since. On that day, a dangerously rebellious question began to sprout on my psyche: “but…why?” Why was person-plus-person love so offensive? Why was everyone offended but me? Who was wrong? Nothing felt wrong. Nothing felt wrong, except him feeling like we were wrong. What else was he wrong about? His opinions on same-gender relationships clashed violently with mine; my sudden doubts about his morality knocked me out cold. The newfound skepticism tasted like fresh blood.

If I continued to let my dad’s lessons mold me, unfiltered by own reasoning, I would be left with an inherited and impersonal rulebook for living. The conflict on Independence Day became a catalyst for my own independence, an acquaintance with truth. I was to counteract, to question, all that I accepted blindly from authority figures. It was for my own good.

 

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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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A Kurdish YPJ fighter with smoke behind her rising from an ISIS held area near the town of Al Hol, Hasakah. (Photo credit: Delil Souleiman)

Make way for the young!

I’d hate to be the one to break it to you

(or no, not really, I don’t care),

but you’re dying soon.

Stop being so selfish, will you?

Are 70 years of living, dominion and destroying not enough?

Make some space

or at least allow us to claim some.

Lift the censorship off our voice, our ideas, our creativity and our eroticism.

Don’t persecute our idealism and turn it into radicalism or cynicism.

Ideas cannot be sent into exile like oppressed bodies

they only get spatially and temporally displaced.

You’re only hindering the inevitable.

The youth will wake up from this death-like sleep

and they will rise,

their voices will be heard and their ideas will materialize,

doing away with your old convictions, structures and oppressive systems.

They say cats are liquid, they fit wherever they sit.

We weren’t liquid.

We weren’t that malleable,

but did we have a choice other than to change our body’s materiality

or disappear into the lurking shadows of a dusty apartment in Tahrir square?

The youth’s hair is greying.

And, no, not just the trendy silver.

The faces are dry

and a wrinkle appears where the frown never ceases.

Many give up, even more burn out.

But some, some have this radical hope

that others call naïve.

And the pharaoh will succumb to the young.

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A mural painted by the artist eL Seed in a part of Cairo inhabited by garbage collectors (Manshiyat Naser) quotes a third-century Coptic bishop: “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.” (Credit: David Degner for The New York Times)

You read the words of Mahmoud Darwish,

his nostalgia, revolution and melancholia swirl the desert dust over times and places

to reach your eye.

Yes, I swear. This is how the tear settled on my dry cheek.

And Nizar Qabbani whose eroticism, love and poetic (but also political) fight for social justice make you tingle and long for something.

You don’t know what it is you seek or long for

something that the poem will never make tangible.

You let the words and language sink in

You notice how smoothly your eyes glide across the Arabic calligraphy on the yellowed pages

How much easier internalizing their words and worlds is getting

You sense the physical and metaphysical barriers dissolving

Barriers of your many selves.

The displaced and the disowned,

or like Edward Said, those “out of place.”

The one that claims she’s home,

but will always have a soft spot for a man who speaks in her tongue.

Tongues intertwine as the barrier gradually shifts

What put it there? How and when did it come into being? Who let it? Who is to blame?

The blame game makes it easier.

You think, dream, make love and write in another’s tongue

Some would say a colonizer’s tongue.

Yours is shackled by a barbed wire,

the same one endlessly running through Palestine, Syria and Iraq.

Is it a barbed wire, or streaks of crimson blood interlaced with dirt left behind from the last missile?

Or perhaps it’s the red wine you spilt trying to reach for the glass

after a touching poem, or a great orgasm.

But you let it.

You were happy about it at some point of time. To be fluent in many other languages

as yours rots and decays like the slums and streets of Cairo.

Cairo.

A permanent layer of dust, grey ashen dust, seems to have settled on everything

from decayed buildings to jagged streets,

to a man’s once white galabeya,

and most probably to the Coptic woman’s black attire.

You just can’t see it, because black hides it all. Even her son’s blood.

You observe as your chauffeur drives you in the air-conditioned car.

You’re disgusted.

You’re disgusted not at the sudden hyper-awareness of your privilege, but at your privilege itself.

Your privilege and pacifism.

You go back to your book.

You’ll write about this, you think.

You should do something

…one day.

But will you?

You arrive at the pub downtown.

Your friends already ordered the red wine.

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On the beach in Alexandria, Egypt (Credit: Farah Khalaf)

On the beach in Alexandria, Egypt (Credit: Farah Khalaf)

Watching the sun’s last rays glisten on the waves of the Mediterranean as its burning flame anticipates being quenched by the Sea’s cool water, I listen to Yasmine Hamdan’s raspy Lebanese dialect as she sings of Sehnsucht and heartache (watch video here) . Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, these are things I have long since experienced.

As the tip of a bottle teases my lips and the icy drink fools around with my tongue and taste buds, I catch myself subconsciously trying to translate the song’s words and expressions into a language he would understand. Maybe I’ll have him listen to it one day. But its artistic and musical value wouldn’t be enough: he would want to understand the driving force behind the creation of this beauty.

The translation was a simple matter of finding the correct vocabulary, but that wasn’t what I was listening for. The soul of the song dimmed with the setting of the sun. The more I tried to find ways to convey it in his tongue, the more the song’s flame and passion became frail and shadow-like, until eventually the melody seemed only a ghost of what it was before I tried to capture it.

The song was lost and I brushed it off. Suddenly, I missed how he makes me feel like the goddess of that glistening golden sun embracing the Mediterranean. I remember this lurking uneasiness I had in the back of my head. A fear of loss. Loss of oneself, loss of language and identity in the process of merging cultures. But I’m starting to see now the malleability of one’s identity and how it’s constantly simply getting richer with the fusion of others’; it is all-consuming, like a sponge, or like the sea.

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a womaN with a BouQuet of wild floweRs foR a head oN my left thiGh”. (Credit: Alona Cohen)

a womaN with a BouQuet of wild floweRs foR a head oN my left thiGh. (Credit: Alona Cohen)

I thiNk of love More than aNythiNg else.

My skin always Bruised very Easily

It is the oNly Physical RepReseNtatioN of How My MiNd experieNces life.

My soul TurNs Black aNd Blue as easily as My skin Does.

From the smallest Bumps, EvEn a Good thinG

If pRessed too lonG, too strongly.

The iNk emBedded iN my skin is the other side of life, the hiGh.

WheN I Got my last tattoo, a womaN with a BouQuet of wild floweRs foR a head oN my left thiGh, the skiN Bruised.

She was Blue, theN Yellow.

It took heR as lonG to Get heR coloR RiGht

As it does me to Get used to life EveRy time.      

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