Preface to When We Leave

By guest editor Hila Amit
March 2022

I sit to write this preface the day Putin started a military attack on the Ukraine. I sit in Berlin, Germany, in my apartment built two meters from where the Berlin Wall once stood. Cherry trees mark the path today. They are not blossoming yet, it’s cold and gray here still, end of February, the month no one wishes to be in Germany. My partner, a beautiful pale tall Norwegian dyke, is watching the news coverage: Ukrainians are fleeing in cars, buses, trains. Polish people are welcoming them at the border. Europe is bracing for a new wave of refugees. We watch the news together for a long hour, still struggling with the German we both learned when we immigrated. Eventually I move to the bedroom, to try and focus on writing. I move there also to stop watching the images: tanks, flames, soldiers with guns. I grew up in the Middle East, where images of these sort haunted my days. No, not images: this was the reality of my world. A war was the routine, soldiers were everywhere, all the time. It is the first time, since I left the Middle East, that there is a war on the continent I chose to live on, rather than on the one I left. The images are heartbreaking. If a cool city like Kyiv can fall, any European capital can fall. Rationally I know that there won’t be a third world war. Rationally I know that I am safe where I am. And yet, I think about asking my partner, where would we go if the war reaches here?  

Nayana Guanipa, Sadhana 2021

If Putin takes Kyiv, I think suddenly, then Queer life in Ukraine will come to an end. I’ve followed Russia’s homophobic political propaganda in recent years. I google “queer bars Kyiv” and look at the faces of Dykes who might be on the run now. I look at their faces and then at the blank Word document where I am supposed to write the preface to this issue of WMN Zine. Nayana Guanipa’s work struck me from the first page: both of her works in this issue illustrate a woman’s face revealing itself (or disappearing) in a gray liquid. The faces symbolize both the hiding of our true selves in the process of migration, as well as the constant feeling of almost drowning by the mundane experiences of relocation. I feel sometimes, when I try to express myself in the language of where I ended up living, as if I am talking under an overwhelmingly heavy, thick layer of my past life and language. We—lesbians with an experience of migration, dislocation or displacement—let the world surround us in its thick gray liquid, and we try and reemerge out of this liquid pulp or reality. We strive to arise from within it with a smile. 

We—lesbians with an experience of migration, dislocation or displacement—let the world surround us in its thick gray liquid, and we try and reemerge out of this liquid pulp or reality.

I look at the beautiful art works in the issue, I read the words of poetry, and I remember that no matter what happens around us, we, Lesbian-identified people, will keep on writing and creating. When we leave, like the three earlier issues of WMN zine, is a culmination of beauty and struggle, intimacy and power. This issue features works of art and poetry by Lesbians who have an experience of migration, immigration, international relocation, displacement, refuge and borders. I am grateful to the WMN team for opening up such an important and unique space. May we continue to move where our hearts draw us, may we keep creating art about what we left behind and what awaits us in the future, may we only move when we choose, and to where we choose. And may platforms like WMN keep portraying our works. For all the Dykes. 

Dr. Hila Amit is an award-winning author. She was born in Israel in 1985 to a Jewish family with Iranian-Syrian ethnic origins. She studied creative writing at the Tel -Aviv University and holds a PhD in the field of Gender Studies from SOAS, University of London. Hila Amit’s fiction appeared in Lilith, Jalta, Emrys Journal & The Washington Square Review. Her short stories collection, Moving On From Bliss (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 2016), was awarded the Israeli Ministry of Culture Prize for Debut Authors, and was recently selected as one of the 10 best literary works in Hebrew for the years 2010-2020. Her non-fiction book, A Queer Way Out – The Politics of Queer Emigration from Israel (Albany: SUNY, 2018) was awarded the AMEWS (Association of Middle East Women’s Studies) Book Award. In 2014 she established the International Hebrew School, through which she aims to advance Hebrew learning using a queer, feministic and pluralistic method. She is the co-founder of “Anu אנו نحن: Jews and Arabs Writing in Berlin”, and is curating literary events which bring together Jews and non-Jews with a Middle Eastern heritage together.