A few years ago, I was having lunch with a friend and was sharing what it felt like to keep my secret from my family. I felt guilt at hurting our relationships and the distance it created, I felt fear that they wouldn’t want to associate with me, and I was constantly in hiding. I imagined what it would be like to reveal to them that I didn’t wear hijab and worst case scenarios would replay over and over in my mind. My friend listened to my story and likened my situation with those who are afraid to come out.
I was taken aback. I don’t quite feel like those words aren’t mine to use and I still am searching for my own terms to describe my experience. In a way, I had made a choice to change my outward appearance. But what I grappled with the most were my internal doubts. When I felt like things were in my control, it lead me to believe I brought this onto myself. I chose to walk this path, and therefore I needed to own any consequences, including receiving backlash from others (and myself).
Other times, I let go of this thinking and embraced my fluid identity. I can’t go back and undo the lifelong moments that led to my new perspectives and to who I am today. While my choices shaped part of me, like taking off the hijab, I couldn’t suddenly will myself to believe some of the things I believed so readily before.
I preserved these thoughts to myself. I felt like I couldn’t really share this part of who I was with most of my family until I figured out my answers, my reasoning for all of this. I held on to that excuse and rationalized my reasons for not disclosing parts of the “new me.”
In my lowest moments, I thought I would lose everything, and the respect of those closest to me.
In my highest moments, I knew I had myself and at least a handful of those who supported me. I thought back to some of the hardest moments in my life; the losses, drastic changes, and period of difficult growth. I had a strong spirit and strength in me that allowed me to overcome them, or at least move past them.
I felt the most free in these high moments. I had courage and trust that my worst case scenario would only ever live in the dark recesses of my mind.
But those thoughts were fleeting, lost in the shuffle of every day life. I believed the answer to my existential questions would come quickly, but a couple of years passed. I began to panic, feeling like time was ticking. At this point, several of my siblings knew, but I had held off telling a parent. That’s what I considered to be the tipping point. Until I told that parent, I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing my story publicly to my community.
About one year ago around Thanksgiving, I took myself on a solo retreat that changed everything. I didn’t realize how hard it was to listen to what I needed until I immersed myself in solitude, in nature, in a space far away from my usual self.
I sat outdoors, observed the lines of the trees, and felt the stillness around me. It started with a quiet voice within: You’re ready. It’s time. If you wait to find your answer, you’ll always be in hiding.
That was it. I had to accept myself as is, without an answer. I had to embrace my doubts, embrace the questions themselves. The more I waited, the more I was holding myself back from growing and hearing my truth.
This realization was like a punch in the gut. Fear, excitement, and relief mingled throughout my body and I began to freely weep.
I wrote the letter to my parent that evening. Sitting by the fireplace, I scratched words in my notebook. The words flowed easily, as they had been at the tip of my tongue. Weight came off of me after every written word.
This was the last year of hiding, I decided.