“Know where you’re from, and you’ll know who you are.”
The biggest sham of a saying in history. I suppose it must be true for some people. I don’t identify with being from anywhere the way most people do. I don’t physically belong anywhere, really.
Here’s how a conversation with a stranger will inevitably go:
“So what are you?”
“Muslim, and a feminist. Among other things.”
“Yeah but what’s your ethnicity? That’s what I meant.”
“Okay. Then where are you from?”
Here’s where I want to say, “God.” But I can’t without sounding like I’m intentionally trying to be difficult. I’m really not. It’s just the most honest answer I can give.
I can say, “California,” but that won’t shut the person up, just feed the dissatisfaction. What this person wants is my ethnicity. And “California” doesn’t help.
Only those who look American can name a state.
And apparently I don’t look American. I thought I did, but I guess I don’t. And since then, I don’t even know how an American is supposed to look. I’d say they can look like anyone, but it doesn’t work in practice. Everyone disagrees.
Where are you from? I hate that question. I never know how to answer it, and when I give the most honest answers I possibly can people are never comfortable. And looking the way I do, with huge eyes and abundant hair and mocha-colored skin, I’m going to be asked that question for the rest of my life.
I’m thinking about this now because feminist Chally Kacelnik writes:
I want to begin a project about, for lack of a term, what I’m calling “fromness”. That is, the sense that you belong somewhere, there is a beacon calling out to you, a sense of home. Perhaps you don’t have that sense, perhaps you crave it, perhaps you miss it, perhaps it doesn’t really figure large in your life.
(I love feminism.) I smiled when I read it. It was a relief to read, because for once it was a sense instead of a place. Now I could move on to wondering if I have that sense.
I don’t feel welcome at the mosque. Everyone is warm and kind, but I know I’m only loved and accepted as long as I stay in place.
In the place men feel I should belong, of course, not God. The mosques have left God for logistics. “Fewer women come than men, so it’s only reasonable to make more space for the men,” they say to justify their sexism. (The premise, by the way, is also incorrect.) I’m sick of Muslims. To be completely honest, I’m sick of Muslim men. I’m sick of them telling me what to wear, where to pray, when to speak, and what to think.
I’m sick of bad fathers and bad husbands. No wonder we’re so backward. Seriously, it’s all your fault. Yours. You’re arrogant, ignorant, and insecure.
I’m sick of “pious” Muslim men who flirt with non-Muslim women and then act shocked and horrified if I so much as shake a non-Muslim man’s (or any man’s) hand. I hope you all burn in Hell.
Then I’m going to ask God to forgive me for my lack of forgiveness–grudgingly, because it doesn’t seem that men were made with the preoccupation of checking themselves–and I’m going to tell God that the apology isn’t real but I hope I’m forgiven anyway. I usually start crying at this point, and I feel relieved after, as though I have been forgiven but I guess I can’t really know. And I’m going to practice Islam the way it was meant to be practiced. (Not to say that anyone who practices it differently isn’t Muslim–I’m not going to tell anyone what they are or aren’t.) But I love God genuinely, pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, give zakat, and I haven’t performed the pilgrimage yet though it’s become mandatory for me now that I have enough, but God willing, I’ll be able to do it soon. And I’m just going to try and be a good person. I never really had a problem with gossip, it doesn’t interest me, so that’s easy. I don’t really lie or cheat or steal.
I’m incredibly vain, though. I’m also complicated, stubborn, righteous, self-destructive, overly independent, analytical, overly passionate, and gripped with a sense of despair. Sometimes I can be really cool and calculating. I fall in love easily. I’m scorching in my disagreements. And I’m unbelievably vain. I’m so vain that I’m not even sure those are all bad things. I don’t think I’m unfair or unjust, but would I admit these faults if I hadn’t glorified them first?
There’s good to me. I’m immovably loyal, gently tentative (except that somehow at the same time I have no shame.) And I’m also getting off topic.
I’m Muslim, I feel like a part of Islam, just not like a part of the local Muslim community.
I’m not going to give up on taking back the mosque. But until I have reclaimed it for those who deserve it like God intended, I don’t belong there.
“California” won’t suffice, so as far as communication goes it’s useless to think of places. Besides, ideals that a nation represents are more important than its man-made boundaries. Not the country itself, because a country is only as good as it’s true to its foundation and the morals it evolves. And if America doesn’t remain loyal to its own ideals, it’s no longer the “America” to which I vowed my loyalty, and as long as this country represents these ideals, I will remain loyal to the ideals to which I vowed, and if my country no longer represents them does I have not betrayed my country–-my country has betrayed me. America is only America when America is what America claims to be. And there have been countless times in history when America wasn’t “America.”
That’s where I’m from. Concepts and values. But I can’t explain that in a word or a sentence. Will I ever belong anywhere? Would anyone love the whole of me and not just certain, categorized parts?
Will it ever be accepted that I don’t identify with a race? Race is really useless for me. (But others have the right to it, especially if it relates to how much they love their families, of their cultures as a special way to connect and understand their loved ones and their own identities–if it makes them think of things like that, who am I to say it isn’t important?)
I’m sick of the condescending American Left and the hypocritical anti-everything American Right. Seriously, at some point they both become the same thing. The closest thing to politics I can identify with is feminism.
Maybe all those pricks who tell me I can’t know who I am without being from a place or a clear family tree are right. I’m nothing solid. I’m a thought.
But what if I’m not meant to be solid. I feel like water more than anything else. Maybe I’m just fluid. Can’t I just be fluid?