Domestic Violence Survivors Write to their Body Parts to Reclaim the Pieces that Make Them Whole and at Home – The Feminist Wire

Domestic Violence Survivors Write to their Body Parts to Reclaim the Pieces that Make Them Whole and at Home

By Lexie Bean

“Do not be afraid to put this book down. Do not be afraid to pick this book up.

This book is not heavy, but a release for those who have survived.”

This call for space and validation mark the opening pages of Portable Homes, an anthology filled with letters written by domestic violence survivors to one of their body parts. These pages serve as an act of reclamation of survivors’ bodies and the stories they carry–no longer deemed as too heavy or predictable or not worth telling. This is the second anthology given life through Attention: People With Body Parts, a body-positive collective with an emphasis on book-making, movement, and collaborative arts projects.

Attention: People With Body Parts formed after my five-month stay in Hungary and has since manifested itself in two collaborative anthologies, workshops and skill-shares, painted murals, and many performances. My experience as a survivor and my stays in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, and Austria embody histories of occupation and uprootedness, which ultimately inspired this project about bodies and reclamation. The foundation of this work lies within intention of safety and accessibility for participants to rebuild, connect, and heal based upon shared histories and landscapes. Community through the combination of workshops, book making, and performances make stories of survival important and worthy of connection and taking up space. Most importantly, providing the opportunities to build collaborative projects will give survivors of violence authority to re-build their own boundaries and borders.

Domestic Violence Survivors

Cover art for Portable Homes, by Shelby Ziesing

Portable Homes, due to be published on December 10, focuses on survivors of domestic violence and intersecting communities who did not have control over their bodies’ borders and boundaries in times of violence. This anthology carries more than 50 letters that survivors from ages 12 to 60-something  have written to their body parts as an act of reclamation. It is recognition that there are many layers of stories and identities that change what healing and movement means to different bodies. Predominate voices that fill the book come from queer/trans* communities, Eastern Europe, and folks in rural and low-income areas, and other groups with limited access to support centers and transition homes.

To make our Portable Homes project in solidarity with survivors more accessible, we will have a 14-city tour across the United States and Canada in January 2014. Our tour consists of writing and movement workshops in partnership with grassroots organizations at each of our tour stops. All of these designated safe-spaces work with communities of survivors, ranging from centers for children who have incarcerated parents to rape crisis centers to transition homes for domestic violence survivors.

Part of the mission is to give life to the letters and issues that contributors address. Our tour will feature night-time performances with spoken word, contact improvisation dance, and media and visual art from the writers of our upcoming book. This portion of the tour gives survivors authority over how their bodies enter the public space in choosing how to having their pieces represented within a performance space. This form of control and celebration of body parts showcases the many ways in which survivors can move forward and into a body that feels a little more like home.

Upon the completion of our tour in January, we will head off to Berlin, Germany to continue our work with ideas of how bodies and landscapes survive in times of violence through writing, dance, and collaborative arts projects. This would involve working with survivors in Central and Eastern Europe, places that mirror the occupations and uprootedness experienced within a home. These projects will digest how violence enters the bodies of domestic violence survivors and the landscape of surviving countries.

We are always looking to find new ways to collaborate. This requires spaces for peoples to voice their own stories of survival and listening with our own bodies.

Below are two beautiful and brave letters featured in Portable Homes:

Dear Belly Button,

At seven years old, I was convinced that you were the breathing hole for my future baby. I was too afraid to cover you, afraid to hide my future baby’s mouth—afraid that she would feel stuck like my wrists under the blue sheets on that night our stepfather uncovered you.

I wanted you to be able to breathe, to spit out the words that his wet tongue whispered into you like a wishing well. To spit out the bones, the tongue, the cheek; your story is anything but tongue and cheek. You are real; you tether me to four generations of women whose wishes echoed into someone else’s mouth. You remind me of my future baby: the one that knows that his words, his hurt, are not a secret.

Breathe slowly; I will never cover your mouth. My lifelines and un-brushed hair, my beautiful wrists and crisscrossed toes have all heard the news through your wavering breath.

But you survived.

Breathe slowly,

Stay with me

With love,


To my lips:

Zárva. Alva. Tudom, hogy jól.

We slept as innocently as our mother that left me home alone. She chose the man that liked my,

Puszi, pussy, my lips our lips, you carry stories that I carry no guilt in. The boy on Margit Híd stared and stripped you down as you mouthed the words: My home hurt me and találtam egy újat. He could only see the blackness at the back of your throat. As someone that had never had his words bit back, he said your survival is wanting attention. He said that your survival doesn’t, isn’t, won’t. Otthonom bántott és I found a new one.

I have no guilt in ezek az ajkak. They house my heavy and release my hurt. These are my stories, these are the words that I eat and bevesz. Nem bűnös. Nem bűnös, nem bűnös, just as the days you dreamed of sleeping innocently.



To pre-order a copy of Portable Homes, click here.

Send a letter to your body parts:



The book that started this moving movement in 2012: Attention: People with Body Parts.


Domestic Violence SurvivorsLexie Bean is a writer-dancer-activist making her way to Berlin. She recently graduated from Oberlin College in a tiny-town of Ohio. Her letters, poems, dances, and songs revolve around themes of survival, ghosts, bodies, and movement(s). She has previously written with and has been interviewed by Lip Mag, The Brainwash Project, Shameless Mag, The Good Men Project, Adios, Barbie, Soho 20 Gallery, and Mix’d Messages, and is about to publish her second anthology. Most of her time is spent dreaming up content for her body positivity collaborative, Attention: People With Body Parts, and talking in broken Hungarian online with strangers.

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