In college I had a gay friend. In fact, I had several gay friends–most of which were both open and honest about their sexuality. Others however were not as comfortable.
There was one friend who excelled at the not-so-out gay lifestyle. We’ll call him Jake. Jake wore Toms and flannel in the fall, drove a super American car, and had a petite girlfriend who he almost constantly and publicly praised as being “fuc*ing hot.” Jake was involved around campus and great at beer pong so for the most part he was well liked. Most considered Jake the All-American (heterosexual) boy next door.
But, I had my suspicions. A lot of us who knew him did. We assumed his girlfriend, puppy, and facebook relationship status were all pieces of a well maintained coverup. To us, Jake was –and is–gay. Like most friendships the longer you know a person the more mutual friends you develop. Jake was no exception. Each month we’d add at least 2 people to our list of shared contacts. By the second year of our friendship we had collected so many mutual friends that Ash Ketchum would’ve been jealous. And with each new mutual friend came a new set of questions and poised facial expressions which, in the most polite way possible, asked, ‘is he gay?’
For a long time I didn’t know how to respond to these questions. Sure I had my suspicions but, they were just that…suspicions. I remained torn until I finally confided these concerns to yet another mutual friend, Lisa. Lisa had LOTS of gay friends. I figured if anyone knew how to approach the situation it’d be her. Lisa said she’d ask me one question and if I didn’t know what to do after that then she’d ask him herself. She asked, “has he ever told you he’s gay?” Of course the answer was no. If I knew the answer then it wouldn’t be a suspicion. Duh. Lisa went on to explain,”if you don’t know that he’s gay and he hasn’t told you that he’s gay then really there’s no valid evidence for you to believe that. Who are you to tell someone else who they are or aren’t?” I grew defensive wanting to explain that I wasn’t ‘trying to out him’ I just wanted to ‘help him.’ And that’s when Lisa gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. She said, “it’s a common misconception that you can’t help others unless they are ready to help themselves. But, the truth is, you can’t help put out a fire that doesn’t exist.” Her point was: just because I saw Jake as gay, in the closet and struggling to balance those two worlds doesn’t mean that any of those statements are true.
So why share this story now?
Today one of my oldest friends announced her decision to de-hijab. After a few texts and even a DM I couldn’t help but to remember Jake and how I felt every time I was asked, ‘but, is he gay?’ People are about the bottom line. They don’t care about the beginning, middle, or end so long as you give them a happy ever after. And as much as I’d like to just say, “HERE IT IS!” That’s not the way life works. You can’t appreciate the ending to a movie without knowing the beginning. I say this because I have noticed a spike in the amount of girls I know who are de-hijabing and am in many ways concerned. My biggest concern is that it will become a trend in which Muslim girls everywhere are cutting the metaphorical movie short just to give people the ending they want. And, I don’t believe in compromising identities. My second concern is that people will forget what hijab is and it’s highly subjective meaning for each girl who wears it. Regardless of how hurtful it is (as a hijabi) to watch this trend emerge it’s more important to me that we remember that hijab is something that is worn just as much on the inside as it is on the outside. That is to say that, like Jake, just because a female decides to remove (or for that matter wear) the hijab it doesn’t necessarily mean that she is struggling or any less firm in her deen (religion) than she was when she was wearing it. Please do not misunderstand this as a justification piece–it is by no means that. But, it is a reminder piece. It’s time to pass on the lesson that meant so much to me a year ago today: unless you have the full story, you will never have the full story. And without the full story you will never appreciate the movie. So who are we to criticize?..Oh right, no one.
written with love and chai in hand, with the purest of intentions for Winnie.