It is the day before our first in-progress showing of “Knot in My Name (it’s hard to transition when you’re escaping something)” and I am in the rehearsal studio crying. An emotional release I usually allow myself to feel is this time becoming my biggest opening night fear: that tomorrow, as I go on stage, I will begin to weep.
There is something ironic about this fear because at the heart of my show I am attempting to confront the reality that, for decades, white Jewish feelings have come before Palestinian lives. Which is to say that because we, as white Jews, are unable to face the necessary heartbreak of coming to terms with the huge gap between Zionist narratives we were told and the actual reality of ongoing theft and erasure, Palestine and Palestinians are dying.
And yet I worry that my awareness alone of this irony will not serve as sufficient armor as I deal with these issues in a live performance — an emotional minefield when living in the body I currently have. It is a tender, shifting, articulating, transfeminine body that, in some ways, opposes the hard body I learned to call “boy” and had to carry around in order to survive my childhood and adolescence in Jerusalem.
Israel is a violent place towards trans women and femmes, partly because it is a place that raises boys to be soldiers — which means that Transfemininity is a betrayal of the state. Even for medicalized trans folks living in the US, Israel remains a violent place, because a large part of our cross-gender hormones are produced by Israeli company Teva Pharmaceuticals. We are thus forced to choose between our life-affirming transitions and our solidarity with Palestinians calling for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.
How then, does this feminine body confront its relationship to its militant Israeli past, and its militant American-Zionist funding present, all without putting the masc/k back on?
I recall a conversation I had with a friend a few months earlier when Chelsea Manning was released from prison. I described how I saw that first gorgeous photo she posted of herself on Instagram and began to cry: “There was just this softness that came through in her eyes you know? Like how do you survive something that horrible and remain so soft?”
The answer my friend gave was simple: “Maybe she survived because she was soft.”
That is what I wish to cultivate: a tender gaze, staring into impossibly hard realities as a transfeminine act of survival and resistance.
I listen to my breath before the show. I recite a section to myself we call ‘the prayer section.’
Before the dr called me boy
And the state called my birthplace Israel
And my mother called me mi amor
And the Germans called my grandmother Jew
And the drug-infueled hippies called the desert burning man
And the Jews called the desert refuge
And Moses parted the sea
And mom parted ways with dad
And I parted ways with you,
Before I started smoking ‘cause the first boy I loved did,
Before I was a throbbing body conceived by an attempt at making love not war
Or an attempt to erase history and call it home
Before home had a piano and I had a piano and “no one knows me like the piano…” (sings hook from Sampha song).
Before I stole black people’s pop songs and called it my autobiography,
And stole Palestinian people’s land and called it where I’m from
And stole Lenape people’s land and called it where I’m standing here right now.
Before all these words there was silence I think
But I will never know for certain so I will speak.
I go on stage and do what I intended.
“KNOT IN MY NAME (It’s hard to transition when you’re escaping something)” was presented on Dec 1-2, 2017, at the Brooklyn Art Exchange 2017 space grant showing. The performance was conceived, written, and performed by Ita Segev, in collaboration with and co-directed by Tristan Powell, with video design and sound editing by Matt Romein, filmed and edited by Samovar Film Productions, music by Sarit Hadad, and supported by Women & Performance, a journal of feminist theory.
Special thanks to Dan Fishback, Yarden Stern, Rami Karim, Rebecca Rad, Abigail Browde, Idan Segev & Vered Aviv, Daniel Levy, my mother always, the entire Brooklyn Art Exchange staff.