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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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The rainbow flag is raised during the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila’s concert in Cairo on September 22nd 2017 (Credit: Egyptian Streets)

A brief glimpse on the etymology of the word homosexual in the Arabic language is reflective not only of the widely held belief and internalized homophobia in contemporary Egypt, but also of the nature of the laws persecuting queer bodies and viewing them as a threat to Egyptian society’s morality[1]. Multiple variations exist: Luti is derived from Quranic verses, referring to the practices of male sodomy the people of Lot engaged in that resulted in their destruction in the sinful city of Sodom; the more derogatory Shaz or ilq literally translates to deviant, pervert,  or faggot — mind you, it’s still the most common linguistic utterance used in the Egyptian dialect; the recently coined Mithli, meaning same, is the closest to the English word homosexual or same-sex lover.

Much like feminism — only recently acknowledged in the Arabic language as nasaweya — homosexuality is seen as un-African/Arab or Egyptian. It’s vilified as an imported Western product that tries to taint the Islamic Arab cultural values and lure its youth into debauchery and immorality to further destabilize the region. Homosexuality is also condemned as a pathology that needs psycho-medical treatment or as a major sin. Its sinful nature is interpreted in Quranic verses and Hadiths of the prophet that state how homosexual acts invoke God’s curse on earth and in the afterlife [2]. Alternative interpretations of Queer Muslims reconciling both their religious beliefs and sexual orientations have been made, but they are not recognized as valid by religious institutions or predominantly conservative societies in the East. While there are no laws criminalizing homosexuality, there are plenty of laws that were purportedly put in place to combat prostitution but which actually persecute LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. The charges issued under these laws vary from inciting debauchery to engaging in immoral acts, to inducing sexual deviance[3]; the sentences fall between 1 and 12 years of imprisonment.

Homophobia and violence directed against bodies that dare challenge the heteronormative patriarchal norm are nothing new. So why write about this now? In recent days a wave of allied support and LGBTQ+ pride as well as a counter-hate sentiment in Cairo have taken social media by storm. The events unfolded as follows: the biggest Mashrou’ Leila concert that took place in Cairo this past September saw a bittersweet display of the pride flag. The raising of the flag was met with surprising acceptance and even support by concert-goers and social media posts. Ultimately, however, the government and Egyptian society’s hate, animated by a fear for love and freedom, calls for the punishment of LGBTQ+ bodies and their allies.

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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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A few days before this year’s International Day for Women’s Rights, I came to the realization that I could not attend the annual Berlin Women’s Day demonstration as I had to give a presentation for my course on the 8th of March, Marx Yesterday and Today. Instead of marching for Women Workers’ Rights, I could only discuss theories of labour in an academic setting. Protests are one of the few things that I can say are “my thing,” so I found myself feeling very disappointed at not being able to take part in a demonstration that advocated for a matter with which I am so intimately concerned. 

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► Monday: Gritty Glamour – a Queer Intervention 

This performance not only teleports the audience to Berlin’s nightlife and queer scene, but it also sheds light on the personal stories of queer and drag artists, who constantly negotiate their identity and explore their boundaries. The artists represent a wide range of Berlin’s nightlife figures, from electro queens to punk feminists and drag chanson. They share their perspectives on and understanding of community, sex, love, diaspora, family and their personal as well as stage identity. Moreover, the performance raises the issue of racism in the queer scene against the invisibility of queer post-migrant bodies.

  • When: 20:00
  • Where: Naunynstr. 27, 10997
  • Admission: 8
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► Monday: Transmediale – Alien Matter

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The theme of this special exhibition is neo-cybernetic connections between humans, creatures and technology. The featured artists tackle questions arising in today’s neo-cybernetic environment: Is the world gradually becoming “alien matter” due to a proliferation of artificially intelligent technologies, creating a tension between human and non-human forces?

  • When: 10:00-19:00
  • Where:  John Foster Dulles Allee 10, 10557 Berlin
  • Admission: 3€
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