Freedom is a strange concept.
Most of the time if asked: “What is freedom?”
It would be answered as if an obvious notion: the ability to do and say and act as one wants and pleases exactly how and when one likes.
If this were entirely true then the freest people on earth would be Lindsay Lohan and the entire celebrity culture of the West.
I question freedom because for the poor, or for the working mother or for the young person who can’t afford to travel freely because of debt or job obligations or lack of money this definition of freedom as physical mobility leaves a lot of disenfranchised from the concept of freedom.
For those who live with the threat of violence or retribution for speaking out openly about their opinions or about their sexual orientation or political beliefs, then living in the frame of “public” would leave most of us outside of the West also outside this concept of freedom.
What is freedom then for those of us who can’t define ourselves as free by these standards?
This is a question I ask myself often as I asked myself often as a child because I was raised in an environment where physical mobility was limited, expression of opinion was impossible, and we lived for others and not for ourselves.
If I, like many others, am not able to travel, or unable to express myself on the street or on TV or in any public way, then what is freedom to me? If I as a woman can be violated as I have been violated, if I can be repressed as I have been repressed, if I, like millions of others today have lived or are living as slaves as I have lived as a slave without choice, without option, without worth except for what I can do or give…then what is freedom? If everything outside of me can be attacked or taken away…what is freedom?
My freedom was and is still silent resistance of thought in the face of violence where ever it finds me. However even more than my resistance to anyone or existence counter to anything is the definition of my freedom as my interior life beyond who I am physically and what I have. My interior is mine and in its quiet is also my freedom. My feelings in my sexuality are also my freedom despite a history of violence. My choice to love inside my soul has been my freedom. My prayers with closed eyes and clenched fists or open hands are also a part of my freedom. My mind reaching beyond itself is freedom. Keeping secrets have also been freedom for me. My eternally loud smile is my freedom as my tears falling unexpectedly while hearing others tell their secret stories is also my freedom. Emotion is freedom for me. Feeling is freedom. Living is freedom.
I am one of the lucky ones that can move where I wish these days but this does not define my freedom. Public display of life does not make me free even if I express myself in many public ways, I know that I live in a country where many things are limited, journalist are jailed and teenagers go to prison for kissing in a photo posted on Facebook. I live in a world that is deeply limited and repressive to women (because of danger lurking behind every corner and lack of faith in us as a people) and by that default also limiting to the possibilities of man as well, but I still feel free because I redefined what freedom is to me even if tomorrow my hands can be tied and my body dominated or my movements blocked but as I learned early in childhood, no matter what is placed in front of me, I am free with my quiet infinite spirit.
I like watching people having sex but I don’t like porn
If you have no problem with mainstream porn and neither does your partner, enjoy your hearts out with it.
But for many women, they have a problem with their boyfriends or husbands watching porn which most men watch at some point in their lives to differing degrees usually less when in a relationship. The usual sex advice that you hear from experts is that all men do it so it’s natural and we have to accept it and deal with our own self esteem problems.
I don’t think this response quite covers the issue well enough and simplifies what is a bit more complicated as porn is not organic, it’s created and because its new to our world it’s become a point of confusion to a lot of the relationships.
Porn’s place differs from one couple to the other and relates to each of us differently depending on our sexual histories and psyches. Since I have yet to hear anyone give a helpful answer that takes into account my side or experience I decided to write this.
I like sex. Maybe a bit more than most and I like watching people have sex but I don’t like mainstream porn…meaning 99.99 percent of what we call porn.
On the rare occasion, when I see videos of people who obviously respect the other, who do all sorts of kinky shit, love their bodies and aren’t just acting (because they are in the .01 percent), I get turned on. But this is rare and not what I am calling “porn” in this post.
I once proposed to my boyfriend to visit a famous sex club in France that is run by a woman who designed it to be friendly and safe for women. I don’t want to see actors or manipulated minors or financially marginalized women being used in porn.
My boyfriend rightly has a problem with the idea of a sex club even though it fits the same principle as his porn: watching people have sex. But the interesting difference for me is that these men and women have no need to be there except that they want to be there. My boyfriend is a bit freaked out and naturally so but then again its much better to me than the porn industry whose many participants get there for much less fantastic reasons.
Mainstream porn for me is like junk food. We consume knowing that it does nothing really great for us but we enjoy it. Everyone has their own relationship to consumption and what they put into their system. Some don’t eat sugar or don’t smoke to try to live cleaner lives. Others try to quit junk food and quit smoking but don’t ever quit and others don’t really mind and can happily chain-smoke and live on McDonalds everyday of their lives.
Porn as an industry I don’t find to be very healthy for me. When I watch mainstream porn I go there not because it excites me like my boyfriend thinks, as much as to revisit reminders of my own sexual trauma, in a failing attempt to make peace with it under the wrong assumption that if I can face it and reclaim it, get something out of it even as pitiful as a weak orgasm, that I can somehow “win” and move on. Even though probably a much better idea and a much harder one for my self-destructive nature is to quit it all together.
Our lives are confused and complicated. I am very sexually open to others and sexually fluent to lovers. To myself I am honest, curious, and seeking a positive sexuality and looking for enlightenment under sometimes the enormity of heaviness related to my history.
My sexuality is a place where I need healing even though to look from the outside, I seem to speak its language perfectly as I am very expressive in it so much so that my boyfriend worries about my sexuality and its large appetite and my pleasure that doesn’t really have a limit.
One example of his discomfort with my sexuality displayed itself when I took him to a sex shop run by a very nice young man in Tel Aviv who knew all about each product and answered all my questions. I picked out a vibrator and some handcuffs and a little leather whip but my boyfriend put his uncomfortable and panicked foot down to say no to at least one of the items and probably wished he could veto all of them. He was upset most of the drive home and said some unkind things about my sexuality. So throughout the 30 minute drive I thought about the positive side of things, which was that I would be bringing my new toys back to my bed in Casablanca.
My boyfriend is a man who has been to sex shops before but not with a woman. He’s been to a sex show in Amsterdam. He’s seen strippers and he’s done many of the “male” rituals that I don’t really find all that sex positive when you dig into the statistics and realities of the “sex workers” like women in my family and friends that I know personally. But strangely, he had a problem with me trying to share myself with him in a sex positive moment.
Perhaps he is not prepared for sexual honesty from a woman as men take sex as their world and their right.
For women we need a passport and a special visa to get here apparently.
Luckily I know how to navigate this world without shame, but unfortunately I don’t always know how to find the soul of my sexuality. I may be adventurous and a risk taker in sex, I can do all the moves and tricks, but my soul is always seeking on every level Marvin Gaye’s sexual healing.
Porn and My Boyfriend
My boyfriend is a great guy and he knows I am not looking for a man who consumes porn or smokes cigarettes but my boyfriend smokes and watches porn.
It’s his life and he can do with it what he wants. But I don’t like that he is out of breath at 31 when climbing a small hill. I don’t want him to die young especially if this life is all we have together. I am also selfishly worried that he won’t be able to keep up with me in bed as I enter my sexual peak years of my nearing 30s.
And as for the porn, when he finally showed me his favorite sites the first thing I noticed were the ads that featured very young girls along the borders of the page some of which were underage and this is what you see regardless of whatever you were planning on watching and it bothered me deeply. The strong pressure to sexualize female children normalizes what should not be acceptable and endangers children. It seeps into people as it did with my boyfriend who “joked” to his friends that 14 year olds were looking so good these days he might actually end up in bed with one of them. If you can recognize a minor and still socially acceptably joke about sleeping with children we have been brainwashed so thoroughly away from ourselves.
I was sexualized constantly as a child and as an adolescent I was harassed and sexually threatened daily and it hurt me, kept me on the defensive when I should have been blossoming. And it stunts all of us, me and my 14-year-old self, the girls that I feel I want to protect, my daughter and men.
I wonder sometimes how I would feel about my boyfriend looking at sex if it wasn’t situated in the porn industry with its pressure on sexualizing children and abusing women?
If porn was drastically different and there were more depictions of love and more diverse depictions of what women want, it would be very different and better for me to enjoy.
Especially also if men made it another form of our positive sexuality.
But as it stands today, I don’t like it for it’s abundance and imbalance of bad taste.
My Ex and Porn
In the first week of starting to have sex with my ex-boyfriend, we once finished having sex and as I laid down waiting for him to come back to me he went to the couch, opened his computer and started watching porn. I was…well, more then somewhat confused because I was willing and ready to fuck his brains out all day everyday but he had to have porn.
When I was pregnant I was still up for everything but if there was a fight, he would haul off to the living room not touch me and jack off in front of the television. One time I brought him tissues and placed it on his lap hoping he would stop and say to himself, « Hey, what am I doing?» But he didn’t.
I don’t think he knew fully why he acted like this either even though I wrongly thought he had all the answers about himself. What he did tell me that could explain the compulsion was that since he was a little boy, perhaps 8 or younger, he had been raised on it, fed on it, didn’t know how to live without it.
I knew he loved me and was crazy about me sexually but he was addicted to porn to perhaps medicate a part of his soul unsuccessfully.
When it was clear he couldn’t stop, I tried to watch porn with him and get into it with him as a way of accepting him and finding the fun in it. It wasn’t something though that felt good so I chalked it down to unhealthy things with unhealthy people that can’t really make you feel good beyond the fix.
This man was complex and I wonder how our lives would have been 50 years ago in a world minus porn as he was truly romantic. He would do gentle things like bend over to my short frame to put his mouth on some place of my body to gently pull away a small out-of-place-hair with his teeth. He would wash my hair in the bath like I was a child and run a comb through it. He tried to make me laugh as I was in labor and he sat with me on the floor of the bathroom putting boiled cabbage leaves on my bruised and cut up breasts in the first month of nursing. He was a fighter like me. We had both survived bad childhoods, we had both survived homelessness, sexual violence, violence and we live in post-traumatic stress to lesser or greater degrees. Our relationship thankfully ended with both of us still intact despite the unkind things we learned from life and we re-enacted on each other.
Since then I have been with men who are not as addicted to porn or not interested in it at all at this stage in their lives. I try to avoid consumers of porn for a few reasons.
Firstly because I found the more a man watches the worse I find he is in bed. Secondly, it’s not something I want to make in the bubble around me in the future. I would like to live with spirituality in love and a bit of that simplicity from an older time. I want a leader and a friend and spiritual mate who doesn’t feel the need to consume “porn” as I define it here. Even though if this is what you like then who am I judge that as you have your reasons and tastes.
If you are like myself and you don’t fancy main-stream porn, you have good reasons not to be okay with porn especially when you don’t like it for the principles it stands for or the system it perpetuates much like some people don’t use cosmetics from companies that test on animals or buy products that produce in sweatshops.
If you like to see people having sex and your partner too but you don’t like mainstream porn, there are places where you can find sex positive films. As long as it’s open and shared, then why not?
This is a polluted world. I look around me and see the trash on the street and I smell the air. It’s a complicated world but in the world I want to make for myself I want it to be by our rules and spirit and wishes and dreams. We are all polluted but I am allowed to choose to create love and life the way I want to create it.
Love and peace be with you tonight Casablanca!
-Journal Photos by the Radiantmedina and the Author of Sheep
J, my American half Moroccan photography friend who is wise beyond his years, asked me an innocent question: What did you want to be when you were little? When you grew up what did you want to be?
Like…what did you want to be when you were 5 years old or 8?
Like a profession?
I thought for a moment and couldn’t think of anything I wanted to be when I was a kid. I felt bad that I didn’t have a desire to have a profession.
He said: Think back. Way back.
So I thought: When I grow up… ?
I never thought about being a doctor or a lawyer or a police oficier or a nurse or a teacher. I hardly knew what these people did and had never seen my mother or father as one or met anyone that was any of these things unless it was a doctor who I was seeing for an examination.
My wish and what I thought about being was simply being free and growing up and being happy and being great.
That was what I wanted to be.
I wanted my freedom.
I wanted to be free.
Are You Crypto? Returning to Jewish practice after 500 years in religious exile
Watch: Song of Isabel Medina on returning to Jewish practice after 500 years in religious exile ; Music composed by Judy Frankel to a text of Isabel Medina Sandoval which describes the pain of returning to public Jewish practice after 500 years of forced conversions and hiding Jewish family history fearfully. Performed at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe in the Spring of 2011.
On Wikipedia if you put in Cryto-Jews you will find the link that says:
The term crypto-Jew is also used to describe descendants who maintain some Jewish traditions of their ancestors, often secretly, while publicly adhering to other faiths, most commonly Catholicism. The phenomenon arose in the Middle Ages following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 from Spain.
In my family, both parents were raised Catholic. My father’s family was from Spain. Black hair, brown eyes, as Moroccan looking as they come. When I came to Morocco the shock of seeing his face on many men everywhere around me was unnerving. My brother, the first son of the family, was named Israel and we have always followed Judaic food law. I know all the stories of the prophets and my religious education was based in a strange confusing mix of Judaism and Christianity. There was even despite all of this a strong brand of anti-semitism…Myself and my aunt had very strong sentiment of support for Jewish culture and she converted or rather reverted to Judaism when she married my uncle Rosenfeld. I started my love for Judaism in Morocco when I was pregnant and when Moroccans believe that pregnant women crave what their babies need and must get what they want.
My father, as he was dying said he thought our family might be Jewish. I laughed at him because he was always the first one talking badly about Jewish identity which must have been passed on to him and so on. And now, as he was dying and I was 14 years old standing in his living room in West Covina, I tried my best to jokingly laugh off both the revelation that struck me that I didn’t know how to react to, as well as his looming death that was standing in front of my face as his skin yellowed and he lost his ability to cook and think and joke with us but had a strong desire to give us our history before he died.
I had seen our name on a map in Saudi Arabia when I was 7. The adult woman watching us and giving us an hour of schooling that day asked me if that was where our family was from…I said, I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t think I wanted to be from Saudi Arabia but my name was there on the map. I didn’t pay much mind until I was 21 and the day after my birthday, as I was still hung over from the bar scene of New York, I woke up in a haze in Rabat. Shocked, I was completely shocked. I was standing 1000 years in the past looking at the brown dirt walls and the robes that the men wore right out of a scene of a Jesus film.
I was walking into the Medina with the others and got to realizing that the cross walks were purely for decoration purposes, I heard my name all over Morocco. I felt my father’s history. I didn’t think it was a mistake that he died while I was there. Even though my mother and family refused to tell me at the time for fear I would leave Morocco and come home…I think somewhere inside myself I knew it was coming.
I dreamt over and over again for months even before going to Morocco and over again while I was there that someone would come to me as I sat on the stairs on a street in Morocco, and say: Your father is dead. When it never happened I thought perhaps I was just wrong and my dreams were purely a figment of my imagination. My father had cheated death and I would come home and perhaps speak with him, perhaps not, but he would surely be proud and I would tell him more about his name.
When I went to the desert near the Algerian border and drove alone out of the dunes with Abdelilah, I spoke about my father. I smelled the grass and it overwhelmed me. I hadn’t smelt green in days while in the desert and on exiting the desert all I could smell was the color green. I started to breathe and cry as I spoke about my dad, speaking in a tone of closure, in a language as if he had died. I told Abdelilah the family secrets I told no one. I spoke as if all the wrong and hate and love between us was just that…in the end it was just love, even the hate was love, it was love with so many misunderstandings. He died within 24 hours of me speaking of him. I didn’t know until I came back home months later but that moment will never leave me.
I touched something that I didn’t know before I came to Morocco. I accidently discovered in coming to Morocco that this was my fathers’ family’s home, despite hundreds of years of exile both from the land and from his religion when they moved to Spain.
Years later I asked a Jewish scholar about my name as well as other Jewish Moroccans with my name. It is one of the oldest Hebrew names and the people with it have always lived closely with Arabs and later Muslims too whether in Saudi Arabia or the north of Africa or Morocco and later Spain. Medina, has been living in the south and the middle east until they reached Spain and were thrown out, killed for their religion or forced to convert and hide. I think for survival reasons, Jews who were crypto Jews had to be the loudest anti-Semites for their own survival until the generations that followed actually believed it. Like my parents both practicing aspects of Judaism as they railed against it sometimes and both have Jewish blood in the family. My mother’s Jewish relatives come from Europe, Sarah Zimmerman, who settled in the south of the States and my father’s family an unassuming big Catholic family but who are called “Medina”…a Hebrew word.
Everything that I have come to discover in life that has taken me so far away from everyone I’ve known, has seemingly come into my life by accident, and returned me to my self. My coming to Morocco, my interest in cinema my discovery and love for Judaism. It all seems random and by accident but life is wise especially if you don’t listen to logic or the tropes of success. Call it intuition or sensitivity or illogical thinking…but listening to that voice that has nothing to do with Western capitalism or logic or reasoning led me here to Morocco when I was 21 and Morocco led me back to my father and to my Jewish roots and life today.
To feel a connection to something and care about it, to seek out more of what sparks your head and heart especially if it’s not chasing fame or wealth, is so uncool. I am happily very uncool then.
Here they call it Maktoub…but it’s not just destiny. It’s your life to write it as you see fit but there is also a tune in the background I listen to it and it takes me to choices and places that make my heart full beyond anything.
People think and tell me they think I am crazy to stay here when I could have stayed in New York at a successful job on Wall Street and been so unhappy but so wealthy. Here in dirty Casablanca, in my spacious but modest apartment filled with light and my little girl near me, my film work in front of me and enough questioning and struggle to challenge me, with shabbat and hilloulas and friends who are like family, I am happy. Life was not meant to be defined by how much we get paid and how easy it is to be unaffected by discomfort. That is not the point of my life or I would have stayed in America. It was meant to be rich and challenging and a discovery everyday and that is what it has become.
Perhaps one day I will leave here but never fully or for too long.
J and I walked in the rain through the streets of Casablanca until we were soaking wet.
I don’t get to walk at night like I did in the States. I would go out, get soaked, listening to music in the dark. It was probably much more dangerous to walk at night there but people left you alone so you could at least forget yourself. To do this kind of stupid stuff in a macho world over here you need someone male near so that they can’t pull their car over to harass you and remind you of how you appear to them. The joy out of a stroll is to be left alone. You want to be free for a few moments to lose and find yourself again.
It’s an odd concept that you need someone to be free with. Normally freedom means for most being on your own. But sometimes in order to be free you need to feel safe. Safe to express ones self or get wet at night. If you like that sort of thing. 🙂
Saturday rain washed over me. I let my haïr get soaked and felt the universe wash me clean. Taking the heaviness of the week away from me. Watching the cars pass, jumping in puddles, I was more excited than a kid as I walked towards the Rabbi’s house on Blvd Anfa.
K called to go out dancing. J is sleeping over. M is coming to join us. And a man I just met from France wants to skip out on a wedding and go out. We find ourselves packed in my living room turning the world over. I sit with my compatriots smoking late into the night. I talk about blowing off a date and J wants to hear everything from what I think, why I chose X and not Y, what’s going on inside my head.
J treats me like a wonder box. And I love it. J asks me : Why do chicks always fall for the bad boy?
I don’t think girls do fall for the bad boy after a certain point.
He’s only 19 so I thought maybe it’s perhaps because when we are young girls there are a lot of things we can’t do. We aren’t supposed to go out by ourselves, we can’t get angry or violent, we can’t beat up the bully, we can’t open our legs. But a bad boy can. We can’t do certain things but we can live vicariously through the bad boy.
When you get older or wiser we start doing who and what we want, we start being brave, and we start getting angry about certain things that we should get angry about, even if we can’t fix everything. Then one doesn’t need bad boys anymore. And if you still crave the bad boy, maybe it’s because you can identify with him beyond the bad boy persona and see a brother or a soul mate.
In the morning, I wake to J’s music. He sits with me, him working on his beats, myself typing these words in to my computer. We share the sunlight breaking through the clouds that is making the bed warm. He’s a kid with an old soul whose music is perfect for this kind of reflective Sunday where the week starts again and everything is possible.
The week has ended and it’s one of those weeks that you can comfortably close knowing you felt it all, sat with it, did not run away or intellectualize it. Just felt it.
Ed wrote me another note finishing with : “Wedged somewhere in between the lines of your message, (I know because this thought came to me after reading your note), that every second is a new beginning. Literally. New cells in our body are growing, old ones are dying off. Each and every moment, each and every day, it’s always a beginning. a lot will happen tomorrow, and the day after that, and the life after this, and the life after that, and so on and so on until we are at home.”