introduction |  melinda

In Arabic

I begin, clumsily, with an excerpt from the call for this issue: "Bridges defy boundaries. They span distances that are physical, imagined or simply felt. They can be as ephemeral as the acts of seeing, the little recognitions, that motivate us to experience 'us' rather than 'them', self instead of other. The abyss they span, and sometimes even what is at their ends, can break hearts, souls, lives. In experiencing exile, in moments of alienation, we may come to see ourselves as so distant from others, our lands, or ourselves, that 'we', or 'they', are reduced to tiny dots on the horizon. The truth of this does nothing to shield us from despair. But seeing the bridges, and sensing their touch, can surprisingly heal us when perhaps we feel most alone. They are passages, they are bold, and best of all, someone already put them in place. In our very imagination of distance, we find that we are nonetheless, inexplicably, here."

Since writing that call I've been thinking a lot about secrets. That bridges are already here is, in some way, a secret. Their presence punctuates the boundaries we protect, remind us we are connected in spite of ourselves. The pieces in this issue and on this very special webmagazine of Bint el Nas, are in their own way the transgressive and compassionate revelations of secrets. They are there for us to discover as well as to re-infuse with mystery - our own mysteries as readers and viewers. They were over there, and now they are here, available to us. Like the banner images for this issue, they are frankly present, but evanescent, too, in the moment we apprehend them.

How, and where, to (re)claim the orange groves to which Nathalie Handal alludes in "Homeland"? Where do we locate the substance of Sunny Yoon's e-mail missive from Korea, the place she was born and to which she returns for a funeral? What bleeds out of mother's clothes in Vidhu Prasann's "Bath"? Does not the secret of the tissues, first possessed by Nazli, kept by the envelope sent to Trans Libano, and then by the hands of Trans Libano, change through its journey? Nadyalec's piece reveals new and existing junctures between sexuality and gendered identity. The ephemerality and intricate entanglement of this place/space is richly palpable in Billie Rain's search for ancestral secrets and hir vivid description: "falling through pages of atlases."

I've traveled along a certain bridge since the inception of my role as guest producer. As the first non-Arab-identified guest producer, I struggled with my newfound identity that actually was a non-identity in this context - or something like that. Located on a new boundary, I owed it to myself, and to you, to ask, how is it that I am an ally? how is it that I myself enact or embody a bridge? and how do I fail this role? One day it struck me (sadly too late to keep the issue on schedule) that I must claim it actively. I must do my best to be a bridge, foster bridges, and witness them. But I would not, and could not, do this perfectly. I had to remind myself that bridges are not perfect. They collapse when they hold too much. They have nicks, they suffer the weight of illusion and compromise, and sometimes they look a lot like the other end than the end closest to you. As did Saif and Leyna in moving through the dimensions of authenticity and discovery in their e-mail exchange, as did Tania Hammidi in once engaging a bridge that today is "uncrossable, ever again," I had to take my own risks.

The risks were well worth it. From the place I stand now, the culmination point of the first to the last journeys - for my life seems inseparable from the production of this issue - the view is breathtaking. Outward from this place, infinitely more bridges span in every direction. Like language, words, shapes, one defines the other, never just itself. They are the ways I am tied to you, that when I pull back, you feel the effects. They include our bodies, equally present and vital in this world, voicing and defining ourselves and each other, yet marked differently. The hand of September 11 assigns new marks in its aftermath, bleeds meaning onto our bodies, some more than others. In the midst of the swirling confusions of marked bodies, raced bodies blend and collapse into sex and gendered ones. How are we, you, Arab women? How are we non-Arab women? Indeed, how are we women? The transgendered/genderqueer presence in this issue - see the bios - includes many individual contributors. They are writing, as all of us, from an ever-changing bridge between their inner selves and their bodies.

There is a new-old bridge between my heart and my hand, bathed in sadness. My hand quivers, feeling new currents, traces paths between container and contents. I breathe in bridge and path. Slow exhale. Another glance. Is the continuing discovery of the body an apt metaphor for how we feel when we find things that have been missing? When from our mouths emerge questions that had dug deep into our tongues, lying resident there for years? This is to be expected, I think. It is the way I feel we end up living - continuing to see bridges within and without, and then experiencing the feelings that follow. To the degree that we can manage outside of our survival, being willing to experience the vertigo of ever new bridges. I wonder to what extent we can find love in the things that cause us pain in their revelation, dormant secrets that explode in our faces. I am reminded of Anna Majhula's poem, in which a bridge pushed its way through solitude and revealed itself as love. These bridges carry so much, issue emotionality by being seen. Thus feel free - to feel feelings as you read, feel free - to follow the emotional journeys of the text and images, wherever they take you.

Through the lens of Bint el Nas, I am continually realizing the intensity of courage and strength that each of you bring to your lives every day, wherever you live, and however you identify. The work you all do and the simple force of your sharing leaves me breathless. I feel honored to stand with you in working on this project.

For my role as host, I welcome you to this issue, and to this bridge. I hope it is gentle.

And for my role as guest, I thank you for allowing me to be here. I treasure that act immensely.

One last word which is the text whose corporeality I most wholly feel. This issue represents a bridge that one truly and deeply beautiful woman, together with the Mujadarra Grrls, handed to me early on, with love, trust, and inspiration of the most important kind.

Issue #8 is dedicated, with heartfelt love, to Laura.

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