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Photo After the incision

a small pain is still pain //  you cut out part of me // do not be surprised that the rest of me left too

After the Incision is a collaborative photo essay by Dena Igusti and Esther Lee about what it means for Igusti to live with the trauma of female genital mutilation. This photo series shows the ways in which FGM, represented by the red tulle, is a romanticized, harrowing, and suffocating experience that is often endured in silence.

i never wanted this // they said no one could touch us // if there was nothing to touch

FGM is an endless cycle of feeling like you have failed your body and in turn, your body has failed you. After it happened, I regretted being naive enough to trust that I was safe up until the moment it happened to me. As a defense mechanism, I pretended that what I endured wasn’t trauma despite my body forever dealing with the physical repercussions of FGM. But I had to remind myself that I was nine years old. I did as much as I could with the little information I was given, and I have to be forgiving of myself and my body for the aftermath.

i heard another body // died from an unwanted hand // the rest of it died shortly after

Enduring the trauma of FGM is way too romanticized. I’m not “brave” for surviving FGM. I was just nine years old and thought my family was doing what was best for me. FGM pushes a false promise that it protects the inflicted by denying feeling. Instead, physical intimacy is just continually met with lingering fear.

As an Indonesian Muslim survivor of FGM, I am tired of the American media using my trauma as a way to justify its Islamophobia and xenophobia. What happened to me should have never happened to me, true—but using my body to hurt my people is far from helpful. Condemning FGM only to justify colonialism is just another instance in which my body is used to enforce terrible ideals, and it’s not as if violent misogyny isn’t prevalent everywhere. I shouldn’t have to be caught between identifying my pain and defending my communities from what they continually endure on a daily basis.

if i chose the hands that killed the same part // i could still live

Understanding and advocating for FGM survivors means realizing how often women are constantly not believed. That our bodies are not only subjected to harm but also distrust. FGM occurs under the guise that a person is “difficult to control” and will become “promiscuous.” How terrible it is to be told that the harm done to us is our own doing.