“What does it look like?”
We were sitting in the car, parked outside his house.
“Yeah…how long is it actually?”
I grinned, coyly.
“Are you asking if you can see it? Here – “
I reached to pull off the hijab I wore, fashioned into a turban.
Slowly unraveled it, pulling the edges out from under.
He turned away, instinctively, as though it was wrong for him to see my hair, as though I was not allowed to let him see.
He respected my hijab more than I did myself.
It wasn’t a big deal for me, showing him my hair.
I’m unsure if hijab is supposed to be a bigger deal.
From the very beginning of wearing hijab (ten years now), hijab was not anything big. It was a cloth on my hair, distinguishing me from others. It was the marking of my otherness; the fabric that transformed me from an attractive white girl (despite my Arab heritage) into an “oppressed” Muslim woman.
When I first started seeing him, I was ashamed, unable to pinpoint why I felt this way.
My years of training as a Muslim woman – as independent, not in need of saving, wary of the media’s portrayal of woman such as myself – created an internalized set of expectations of what it meant to be a with the “savior”. I felt as though I was going against what I stood for; as though society would be disappointed in me for sleeping with the enemy, so to speak. Thus I reasoned to myself.
Through my focus on minority issues through university, I was constantly confronted with the “white savior” complex. It was drilled into my head that all white men fantasize about Muslim women, the hijab being an extra layer of secretness – a present just waiting to be unwrapped.
I have never felt comfortable within the Muslim community. I constantly felt at odds with my identity amongst Muslims. The women at my mosque seemed to focus only on the topic of marriage, themes I found menial in comparison to world issues. I was never interested in partaking. Muslim men, on the other hand, were no better, filled to the brim with expectations on Muslim women as good girls who should not flirt,
who should look down when talking to them..
I felt lonely at these gatherings, a loneliness that led me to despise the Muslim bubble.
As a response, I went to the non-Muslim community, the community I knew was enraptured by me, the hijabi who would crack jokes about her stereotypes. What they didn’t know was that this was a way for me to immediately shut down any negative comments that I may otherwise receive from my white community.
It is only fitting, then, that I ended up in a relationship with a white cis-gendered man.
He was comfortable to be around, and I enjoyed his company.
He was taken aback that I had never dated anyone – and even more shocked when I confessed I had never kissed anyone, nonetheless cuddled with a guy.
“You mean, nobody has every tried to kiss you?”
Oceans separated us, the completely different backgrounds that we came from.
He would never meet my family, while I was fast to make relationships with his.
I quickly understood how he identified – aptly made the distinctions between the two of us – while he continued to struggle finding similarities between the two of us, despite our backgrounds being two completely unrelated entitities.
He was respectful and never tried to touch me, waiting for me to initiate.
I was shy, wanting more but scared to do so. Not for the guilt – I felt nothing wrong with what I was doing, despite knowing that my parents would not be okay with me hanging out with a guy, nonetheless going on a date!
The first time he held my hand was that night in the car, when I was about to drop him off, yet got caught in a discussion of upbringing.
That was somewhere we had an intersection, our parents having mistreated us growing up. Yet while he was able to overcome, I was in the means of separating myself from my parents, the individuals whom I loved with all my heart yet had manipulated me, hurt me to an extent I could not healthy manage any more.
The moment I took off my hijab for him, there was nothing special.
He was turned away, scared, it seemed, that I was showing him my hair.
I laughed, tugging on his hand.
“It’s fine. I’ve shown people my hair before; I’ve walked around campus like this.”
It was true – I did walk around without it sometimes, not wanting to deal with hijab.
And my good male friends had seen me without hijab, though those were inconvenient moments when I wasn’t ready, or my hijab had shifted – and every time, they had acted like he did: turning their entire body away, hands covering their eyes: “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!”
Ultimately, the internalized paranoia ate me.
I was constantly on guard, feeling as though I had to defend myself, my family, my faith – despite his constant reassurance that he was only thinking about me, not judging.
I had expected to feel guilt over the physical aspects that occurred; yet all I felt was despair at being with him – all based on his whiteness.
The irony is clear: advocating for minority rights, stereotyping the majority.
I should have realized that being in a relationship with a white man would have brought up the internalized complexes that I carry, the expectations that I have to be viewed as exotic, the fear of being “outed” for being an activist for minorities, seeing a white man – it was the utmost paranoia.
He shifted slowly, turning his head towards me.
“Oh my God, you are so fucking hot. With it, without it. You are so hot.”
I laughed, unsure how to react.
Unsure how I had expected him to react.
He stared, and I reached up to pull my hair out of the messy bun it was in.
He kept his hands to himself, scared to overstep.