Culture · Human Rights · Politics · Repatria · Women


The naked truth.


In the newest assault on human rights in America, legislation from the Supreme Court allows security forces to strip search anyone, at any time, for even the most minor of infractions, or worse, the mere suspicion of an infraction.

In her newest article, Naomi Wolf discusses how this kind of sexual humiliation is a tool of political repression, and one that has been used by fascist and genocidal governments in the past, such as Hitler’s Nazi movement.

The initial accounts of these unnecessary strip searches in America are horrifying, and I can only imagine what’s going to happen to all the pretty young women driving alone in their cars.

A friend forwarded me Wolf’s article because it reminded her of a story I wrote years ago —Full Body Search— about a dystopian world so concerned with security that full body cavity searches are routine for airline travel.

Though I wrote the story in 2002, I was not far off the mark as life in America devolves.

Just yesterday finger-pointing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer passed legislation that pushes back the moment of conception to that of the woman’s last menstrual cycle, meaning that once you’ve had your period, you’re considered pregnant under Arizona law. With the flourish of Mrs. Brewer’s pen, the “personhood for zygotes movement”, one that  (among oh so much more) criminalizes miscarriage and forces women to carry stillborn fetuses to term, gains even more traction.

I cannot even begin to unpack the absurdity of this nation, and worse that seemingly-intelligent women are participating in their own oppression.

The phrase “land of the free” is being systematically stripped of meaning.



I’m going on four months living in Boca Raton, Florida.

I’ve never lived in a suburb, and I definitively know now that I am a city girl, through and through. I miss going for walks and finding new cafes to sit and write in. I miss corner shops and nearby botanical gardens. I miss the hustle and bustle of people, public transportation, noise that doesn’t involve industrial strength lawn mowers and freeway traffic.

The weather here is beautiful, and my in-laws’ home is lovely. I am thankful to not be dealing with winter cold and snowstorms, and to have a roof over my head after the disastrous end to my husband’s and my life in Europe — but I am certainly struggling in these limited environs.

As we Americans are being stripped of our rights, I find myself also stripped of any semblance of a familiar life.

Being in a conservative state, I am hesitant to talk with Floridians for fear that the college-educated person in front of me will declare the “fact” that President Obama is a Muslim and a member of the communist party. I don’t want to be asked how I speak such good English or where I’m from. I don’t want to explain where Sri Lanka is and why it is I have an American passport.

When there are only three human beings (and two dogs) with whom you have daily contact, it does start to mess with your mind, and not in a good Christopher Nolan kind of way. This social isolation is self-imposed, I know, and extremely painful for my sociable nature. However, as hard as it is, it feels necessary in order to survive here with some semblance of sanity. But even that seems to be slipping.

My phone was out of batteries for three days and I didn’t even notice. I find myself sometimes sleeping 10+ hours a day. I haven’t had an appetite in going on two weeks. I have nightmares almost every night. I want to reach out to friends here in the States, but keep waiting until I feel better because I’d rather have a happy well-adjusted conversation than needing emotional help and support.

Honestly, the last time I was this depressed was the last time I lived in the USA, and each day I’m reminded of all the reasons why I never wanted to live here again.

But here I am. And no end in sight.

Between the stripping down of human rights and my own bohemian European lifestyle, this American life is wearing thin.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your rights or the life you knew were stripped bare? How did you cope?

©2012 Sezin Koehler, image via

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8 thoughts on “Stripped

  1. Hi Sezin, Tough place to be at, but your writing is good as ever. Glad you have a platform. Use the momentum of your frustration to be creative, for you are, as is proven by this post.
    Reading about the lifestyle situation I see myself walking between deserted front lawns under streetlights and along the wall along the freeway in a suburb of Houston. In that utterly desolate landscape I tried to look for unruly exponents of nature. A walk to the 7Eleven more depressing than uplifting. How glad I was to find myself back in Amsterdam.
    Worse alienation occurred later in a rental house on the golf course in the Texas Hill country, after immigrating to the U.S. (forced because married to American citizen) while waiting for my belongings. I literally did not remember who I was and had been.

    Totally second Anastasia’s suggestion about physical care. Exercise will create endorphins. I’ve seen your notes about water tredding and applaud your Mermaid like Power! Flap that tail girl!

    Although weightlessness in water is fantastic, I recommend weight lifting. I have a tendency to hold my breath when stressed and lifting weights forces me to breathe in, breathe out on the exertion. Even with troubled wrists certain weight baring exercises are possible. Maybe you can use a rowing machine?

    Remember that no situation stays the same, that’s pretty much the only certainty we have in life. Thinks will get better and you will return to a cityscape. xoxo

  2. Hi Sezin,

    I just wanted to add my voice to the others’. I’ve been there too – both in the US and in Germany. In the first case, it was because I felt like an illegitimate foreigner: I looked as if I should fit into white, Southern America but found that I was so out of touch with the entire culture. I was looking around at the world of affluent, educated Americans and saw (for the most part) a kind of self-satisfied, myopic insularity that seemed so diametrically opposed to what we were lucky enough to experience in India and elsewhere. It got so bad that I took to midnight walks through town, crying to myself.

    In Germany, I was a legitimate foreigner without the language. Not a lot better, but at least this was a deficit that I could address. Sometimes I still don’t feel perfectly at home here, as if people don’t “get” me, but those moments of isolation pass.

    I know how hard it is to be depressed in America. My solution back then was to move to France. I realize that’s not particularly helpful. 🙂 Listen, you’ll get through this and you’ll find like-minded people with time. Just know that what you’re feeling right now isn’t a poor reflection on you. On the contrary, it’s what anyone of your background would face when confronted with such a situation.

    Anastasia is right – take care of yourself physically. Exercise always helps when you’re feeling down. And keep us posted on how you’re doing. You’ve got worldwide support!!

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! It’s your first time! 🙂

      Your story sounds so very familiar. Being Third Culture Kids gave us such a great cultural skill set, but sometimes it actually complicates our lives and especially when in backward-minded places like the American south. I think on some level it must be worse to look like you belong, because people would be far more mystified that you don’t think like them and share in the “self-satisfied, myopic insularity” bred here.

      I’ve also considered the stop, drop, and run method of dealing with being here, but economically it’s just not feasible right now, and anyway Europe is in as bad a place with job markets as the US at the moment. *Sigh* So frustrating.

      But as I was telling Elizabeth, the one “good” thing coming from my corner of the ‘burbs is that I’ve no excuse not to finish my novels and in spite of feeling like crap I’ve managed to keep up with it. I can’t say it makes me feel better, per se, but at least I’m being marginally productive.

      I hope that Germany will feel like a true home to you sooner rather than later. And thank you for the wonderful words of encouragement and support! I will indeed keep you and everyone posted. xoxoxo

      1. Dear Sezin,Congrats with this well grounded piece. Your words rsetnaoe for me, even though our background and experiences are very different. I didn’t see the inside of an airplane until I was eighteen, but move around I did. When I hear of people who’ve lived in the same town, the same neighborhood, sometimes the same house their whole life, I can’t imagine what that might be like. I’ve prided myself in being able to leave at short notice, to travel with ease, to live out of a suitcase; dressing a hotel room with a sari, setting up a small altar that reminds me of people I love and places I wish to remember. My sweetheart and I are both theater people and we’re good at setting up and breaking down, for years we moved from one apartment to the next as though our life was a play. I called myself a wanderer until my feet gave up and my body forced me to stay put.Facing my fear to settle down is among the bigger ones I’ve addressed so far. The Dutch Huisje, boompje, beestje , or home, tree and pet meaning to be settled, was the scariest cliche I knew.Like you I was advised to get my hands in the dirt. My Chinese M.D. suggested I’d plant a seed to see how nature worked. I got a small plot and the first months I didn’t do anything but weed. It wasn’t until my sweetheart accompanies me and gently ordered me to put the darn seeds in the ground, that I dared do that. Having a garden was enough of a challenge. It took another eight years before I dared buy property on American soil, first a condo, which enabled us to keep a pet, then we moved into a house with a garden where we planted many trees, and bulbs of daffodils and tulips that reminded me of back home, where I never truly felt at home enough to settle down.I hope you’ll overcome the resistance to feeling mud between your toes, and that you’ll experience what it’s like to plant a bulb and see a flower grow.

  3. Oof. Hard days, Sezin.

    Yes, I have been in a situation where ‘the life I knew was stripped away’: my job, my friends, my family, my culture, my language, my nation. Then my best friend died and my puppy was stolen. Plus some other bad stuff.

    It took me five years to emerge from that deficit. I know the urge not to connect because you aren’t in a good place. Making new, local friends seems impossible. (The few people who befriended me during those dark days must have been ANGELS.)

    Take care of yourself physically as well as you can. And keep talking to us about all of this (my thing happened pre-proper-Internet-connection, so you’ve got a major advantage there) both here, and as many other places as you can stand. Your perspective — personal, political, professional — on issues of the day is SO needed.


    1. Thank you for sharing, Anastasia, and it’s “comforting” to know that I’m not the only one who has gone through periods of such total and complete loss. I’ve also been through your kind of loss before the Internet took off, and it certainly added extra layers of difficulty in trying to reach out, connect, or re-connect. We are really lucky these days, but at the same time it comes with a caveat. Virtuality only goes so far for me these days, but who knows, maybe that disillusionment will too pass soon.

      Your advice to take care of myself physically is really good stuff. I’ve been swimming and going for walks, even though it takes every ounce of willpower to keep it up. Thank you for the encouragement. I really need it.


  4. Just wanted to send you a note saying: it sounds like you’ve forgotten how wonderful you are. Just for a short while. And you’ll get your spirit back! Keep up your writing, it sounds like you are.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Elizabeth. I am indeed keeping up the writing — with so little else to do here, American Monsters II is almost finished and so in that sense the absolute provincialism of the suburbs seems to be quite useful. Are you finding it difficult in China to do the kind of art you want to?

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