The Strength to Carry All This

Some of my inks were quite painful, but as I get them I think. “This is easier than it was being homeless,” or “There’s a Nazi out there who could handle this, don’t let him beat you.”

As a person of many mixed identities, I’m in another routine rebirth crisis, since we are constantly rediscovering ourselves.

Since a friend put a safety pin in my ear nearly 20 years ago, I’ve had many more holes made in my ears and face, plus a dozen tattoos. People will ask empty questions like “What does it mean?” but a stamp of a time in your life that makes you feel seen, beautiful, changed, or whatever it is, doesn’t need some “cool story” to be powerful and self-validating. My tattoos have become a sort of ritual. They give me strength to carry “all this.” My most recent is also among my boldest, though funnily enough it is common: The Hebrew words for “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?”. Mine is loud since it is right across my throat in abstract calligraphy. Some of my inks were quite painful, but as I get them I always think to myself, “This is easier than it was being homeless,” or “There’s a Nazi out there who could handle this, don’t let him beat you.”

When I came out as non-binary nearly a decade ago, it was still something many people fought me on. My “secret” to finding acceptance is also a deep shame: I tried to dress like I was wealthy and would disproportionately talk about the white side of my family. That’s what it took to find acceptance in a white queer community, one that touted all the left-leaning values. In addition to tokenizing me, well respected figures in my queer-peer community would casually say things that were antisemitic, then tell me I was just “being sensitive.” When I saw that my acceptance had been conditional, I became disconnected.

But being given the unwelcome foreigner treatment liberated me. With this freedom I moved on in life to heal old pains.

I am the grandchild of an unlikely marriage between a Baghdadi woman and Iraqi-Kurdish man who were bonded by their Jewish faith. Their children would survive the Farhud, become refugees in Israel before the Anfal genocide, then later parent me. I was fated to cycle break or perish. My tattoos give me the strength to carry and tell my story.

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