Friday, January 20, 2012

Context for Clitori

We sit on the floor of an apartment in Brooklyn while I drink tea and watch my friend get more and more stoned. She takes out yet another match from the box, handling them preciously.
"These are from Egypt, you know."
She's dressed in the same clothes as last night at the bar. They flatter her curves but somehow seem wrong in the daylight. She is voluptuous, with a spark in her that makes her even more attractive, magnetic even. Every match she lights seems to borrow a bit of her fire. The light in her eyes has been dulled from her habit and from a hard few years in New York.

We met on a plane to Cairo, where we spent the first six months of 2007. That was before the magazine features, before the people were applauded for their nationality, before the political situation was a dinner table conversation topic in America, before the majority of the western world cared. It was during a time of restlessness and buzzing discontent that would eventually lead to revolution. An instance of mob violence had just occurred where men were raping women in the streets, provoked by a celebrity seen belly dancing at a movie premier. The women begged shop owners to let them in and lock the doors behind -- some of them were protected, some of them were left to be ravaged by the dogs of men who couldn't seem to help themselves and assumed blamelessness for their hate crimes.

She holds the smoke in her lungs for a moment, then croaks:
"Don't you think there is anything positive about the gender dynamic there?"
"No, not really."
Her brow furrows as she concentrates on blowing rings.
"But in their homes, the women run the show - they're matriarchs."
"I'd rather have a clitoris."

Female genital mutilation is one of the unspoken horror stories of our time, categorically akin to acid-throwing or foot-binding. It's brutality and prevalence seem impossible to me, impossible that even one person would do that to another, but the fact is that such an atrocity is widely permitted and occurs to millions to this day.
"Over 95% of women in Egypt."
"Yeah, I've heard that stat before," she says.
"Maybe because it's true."
"I dunno man, I had a great time."

I did too. Her and I ran around the feral terrain of Egypt -- from Cairo to Aswan and from Sinai to Siwa -- with the brand of carelessness particular to students abroad, as if it were our playground. For six months we studied music and languages, slept on buses, and haggled for cheap pashminas. We rode camels and horses, went scuba diving in the Red Sea, obsessed over Nubian trance, had boyfriends and girlfriends. We got in fights, went to clubs, smoked hashish, and galavanted in the Sahara until the sun rose from behind the pyramids. We climbed Mt. Sinai, learned folk dances, wrote papers, set things on fire, spent and made money. It was an intense half-year, from which she hasn't quite recovered.

"It was great... but I went off the deep end, man. I stretched myself to every corner of the extreme... and I wish I could have that back. New York's kicking my ass." She coughs smoke, drinks water. "It's too hard to swim here, and too easy to sink."

I can appreciate my home in the west coast with a fuller gratitude in this moment, it's healing and permissive environment that helped me transform my experience of that time, with all it's triumphs and terror, into a context from which I can lead the rest of my life. The contrast between my current experience, vibrantly colored as it is by exercised sexual freedom, and the experience of that 95% of women in Egypt seems too great to exist side by side, but they do.

It's from this awareness that I conduct myself. I drink every droplet of freedom with thirst, and though I'm not particularly religious, I thank God and the universe every day for my clitoris.

For aggregate posts on reproductive and women's rights, check out the posts Slut Shaming and Fascinating Reads: Sexuality in the World.
Read about my misadventures in Istanbul, Turkey in Gypsy Love Curse.
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