I’m somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean trying to sleep, but my mind is racing. After flying through deadlines to finish THE LINE and launch this blog (!), here I am on Continental flight #687, headed to the International Women’s Film Festival of Israel, but for now alone with my thoughts.
I am going back.
It was exactly this time ten years ago that I moved to Jerusalem. With a duffel bag and a video camera I showed up leaving my American post-college, broken-up heart scattered like glass all over Brooklyn. In Jerusalem I found something of a home, exotic but eventually familiar. I experimented with covering my body (shoulders, elbows and knees mostly), and tried on religious sexual codes for some long and lonely months. Beyond clothing, young religious women in Jerusalem waited for marriage before having sex, and beyond chastity, they were forbidden to touch men at all. Touching was sacred, your body a gift, and this present was to be revealed to the man of your dreams, aka your “soul mate” on your wedding night. Eroticized and heightened to such a degree, eye contact on a bus, or hands brushing at the cash register could be truly electrifying.
This new paradigm made my body felt calloused, desensitized and worn, but by wrapping myself in layers of baggy cotton, I was disguised. The not-sexual-me, in a body of indistinguishable proportions. My secret female powers stashed away, sometimes I felt safe, powerful and in control. Choosing to cover helped me fit in and left me free from blame. Divorcing my power from my sexuality released me from old patterns, and gave me agency to choose between guarding it or giving it away. However, the idea that “innocence trumps experience” left little room for those of us women who had already fallen. Dressing up started to feel like a charade, and I craved the sexual me and my tight jeans again.
My yearlong adventure ended abruptly (with a sexual assault, detailed in full in my film). Back in New York, I didn’t know how to measure what had changed. How could I compare myself now to the person I was before?