Why my parents were still so adamant about how I looked whilst others couldn’t care less?

This is likely to be a bit long. Anyway, it is only natural to write this long to  off eight years of incubus, just to break the silence. I was born into a religious family, my father – though he had some escapades – was a faithful man. I think even the prophet himself was no match for my mother’s fear and love of God. That’s how they raised me or at least that’s what they believed in. My mother used to teach me prayers even before primary school. I used to attend Quran courses each summer. I remember waking up early in the morning, unlike my peers who were enjoying sleep ins and games out on the streets, to attend the Quran course by the local mosque, enclosed in a maxi skirt and a white cheesecloth. That’s right ; this was back in my primary school years. I was never told “when I must be veiled”. They left the decision to me, but it had always been inevitable. That had been the perception and it was eventually in 2011 that I decided to put on the headscarf. This was back in the summer, whilst still attending the Quran course. I was attending the course with my then  only friend, the daughter of my father’s friend. Upon finding out the beginning of my menstruation in the spring, she told me that the time had come for me to veil up as it was a commandment infraction of which would mean burning in hell. I recall shivering down my spine for I had been raised with a constant fear of God. I did decide to put on the headscarf, just like her. We had this conversation on the school bus. I couldn’t help but look at the date on the radio display, it was July 14th. That unforgettable day marked the beginning of everything. I do still remember the glitter in my mother’s eyes upon hearing my decision. Her little girl was clueless and about to be literally covered, and she was so happy. Such joy emanating from my mother , I then thought, could only be a sign of wisdom. We went out to shop for scarves. I do remember bursting into secret tears upon testing each scarf before the mirror, I looked really ugly. I never had any delusions of good looks, but it was clear that I was becoming even uglier. I remained silent nonetheless. I tried and disliked all the available scarves, and we decided to look for shawls as a last resort. We bought shawls, garments longer than me. I got used to them as time went by, my parents were forcing me to perform salaat. I was forced to do so in the guest room. I recall sitting there, eating candies. I was telling my parents, whenever they came in, that I had completed my prayers. I wasn’t yet aware of anything but I never felt like praying. I finished secondary school in 2013 but did not attend the prom. How could I? I didn’t want to look like someone attending an Islamic memorial service whilst surrounded by friends all dolled up… Then came the upper secondary school entrance and selection period. I had no chance whatsoever to attend an Anatolian High School (public schools with admissions based on high nationwide test scores, acting as a pathway for tertiary education), as I couldn’t take out the headscarf. My school selection form comprised solely İmam Hatip Schools (Religious Vocational High School). I was admitted to one of my top picks without needing a waiting list. I begged my parents, to no avail, to let me attend another school, I knew all along that it was not meant for me. I recall my registration day, and all those tears. The school uniform, the skirt and the scarf, gravitated on me. I still remember how I burst into tears upon wearing the skirt that barely spanned on my ankles. This time my begging worked and my mother accepted to have it tailored ; the skirt was now slightly below my knees. As for the scarf… it was an utter fiasco. I had to put up with that scarf that had no inherent quality and could not be fixed on my head as it looked more like a nylon bag to be flown away by the wind. Here I was.. A high school student with great enthusiasm. I was working hard to do well at school but my 14 years old body could not bear with the fatigue of traveling four hours a day to/from the school. I was sent to a İmam Hatip in İstanbul because of the notoriety of such schools in my hometown. I did try really hard the first year, I did my best not only to learn all those new subjects but also to recite the Quran. Back in the 7th grade nothing less than a certificate of merit was enough for me; I do even recall crying for just getting a certificate of participation. I had none of those certificates issued at the end of the first high school year. It was that summer that I came across social media for the first time. We became friends with the most beautiful girl whom I considered a blessing of the social media. I could feel that something was amiss, but I was yet to figure out the reality. I became fully attached to her. She was the only one that could save me from the surrounding folly disguised as reality. She did later stop talking to me for reasons which I consider absurd even to this day. It was at that moment that I became totally introverted. I realized… I cognized that my first ever love had gone away to another girl. The whole 10th grade was easily one of the most dreadful periods of my life. I was becoming more aware of my differences, and I was going through a period of self-denial. I kept denying, kept saying “No! “ Having fallen for one girl shouldn’t have meant that I was gay. There were still men around whom I considered handsome. There I was ; unaware of nothing but myself, left all alone and belittled in the world. I searched for answers, searched for a long time. There were many nights of endless tears in silence, constantly in search of a meaning. I did eventually comprehend that I could not be the only one, there should be others feeling like this. I started making friends on social media. I found people, real people who were not judgmental, and I realized that being gay or bisexuality was neither a frightening nor a weird thing. The 10th grade marked my detachment from people I considered friends at the high school. It was a time in my life during which I believed that I could no longer trust anyone else, and the friends I already had sufficed. I did, at the same time, tell my parents that I no longer wanted to go to such a far away school, I could no longer take it. It was also at that point that I was reminded of my obligation to remain there. I had to take the long journey every single day until my graduation. I was forced to share the same habitat with people, who had opposing views, and I had to learn things /ideas that were exactly the opposite of mine. I kept making new friends on social media, I am still in close contact with some of them. I have friends who were never judgmental, and always manage to make me feel good. Social media did also function as a platform for my heartbreaks. I met several beautiful girls whom I liked and loved. I never had a serious relationship though. My high school graduation score did not suffice for admission into my desired universities, and I had to enroll in a rather unwanted department. I just couldn’t stand it, I kept crying for months. My father had enough of my mood, and told me to suspend my studies. I did so and returned home. I started studying for the upcoming university placement exam. That year, in particular, triggered a lot of novelties for me; I kept telling my mother randomly, though she never took it seriously, that I would eventually unveil. When I did finally told her the same thing decisively her feedback was the following : “You want to unveil… very well but for what? You will end up in prostitution”. A prostitute? Knowing and willing to be yourself apparently meant prostitution. I had a girlfriend later that year. We were so much in love. I had always kept my headscarf a secret in my social media interactions and when I timidly came out for her, she said: “I didn’t love you for what you have on your head, why should I then give up on you for it… “ She knew very well that no willingly veiled person would come out like me, timidly. We were so much in love, remember? It didn’t last long. I, than, made another girlfriend, the only person in the world that meant everything to me; my only love. She was a bit shocked upon finding out about my headscarf at first, but she told me that she loved me just the way I was, and that it was none of her business. I couldn’t help, at last, but start asking myself why my parents were still so adamant about how I looked whilst others couldn’t care less. It was in the summer of 2018 that I fully started combating against the headscarf. I had already been losing my beautiful hair, falling down without air or sunshine and because of all the tension and stress. It was a case of early eczema. The doctor, whom we consulted, urged me to let the air in. Here I was, on a mid-summer day and fully covered.. All I could do was to smile… Later on, I moved to another city in pursuit of university education. The move further triggered certain things; social anxiety, failure to self-express and the accompanying self-hatred. It all reached a breaking point, and I reached a decision in December 2018. It was a night full of tears and I was determined to talk about becoming the real me once again with my family, at the very least with my father. He wouldn’t have the heart to turn me down. It was towards the new year that I went to see a friend in Ankara, for the first time without a veil. I cross my heart, and swear on my 20 years of life that it was the best day ever. I didn’t do anything extraordinary with my friend, but knowing who I really am and finally “letting go “ felt so good. I was literally devastated to be later back at the university, caged by the reality. My family didn’t know anything, I could easily unveil there. I was however fully exhausted by leading a dichotomous life, there came a point where it was all or nothing. I went back home in January, and talked to my father. He told me to be patient, to know that this was my “baptism by fire “. He was blaming himself and my mother for having failed to imbue me and my brother with love of God. He went on saying; “This might all look like true happiness to you, but you might as well figure out that you were wrong one day”. That’s when I did break down, and the next day I quarreled big time with my mom over going out without a headscarf. Ever since my return to the city where I study I am not returning any of their calls. I have four months left before the school ends. I will then be coming home with irrevocable changes, I am determined and all in this time around. I shall even take a stand against my family, I am ready to fight against all those who enslaved the real me. I shall never stand down until my emancipation.

(Image: Helena Perez Garcia)

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