One cannot know where to begin such a story. I feel like betraying the pain I’ve felt, the contradictions I’ve got into when unwritten. Like most of the others, my story started with the pressure I had experienced during my childhood. I couldn’t wear tight pants or off-the-shoulder shirts because I would become what I get used to. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree; those clothes would build my future. God forbid, I could backslide.
When I was a kid, my mother sometimes made me wear a headscarf while I was going to play with my friends; because I was ashamed, I used to say, “It’s windy; my ear is hurting; I need to cover my ear.”
My family is uneducated, not too religious but what-would-people-say type of nonprogressive people. Since I was 13, their pressures increasingly continued. I resisted until high school, went to school with my hair covered. And there’s the issue of wearing pants. “You cannot wear pants because you’d look like a man, our prophet has cursed it.” When I said, “Then why are Arab men wearing long dresses, they’re looking like women,” they said, “It’s the tradition there; they’re wearing because of the heat.” It’s an absurd explanation. Is it hot for men and cold for women? Are women pleased under the chador? “Women will be rewarded by sitting down near the cold waters of the heaven” “Also, do you think of yourself equal to men?” When I persisted saying men should wear pants too by thinking about heaven, people left me saying, “Do whatever you want, burn in hell.”
I went through scolding and frowned just because of the pants. Anyways, I won; I was able to wear pants always combined with long shirts. Even the pajama I wore near my father or brother was a problem; I can’t remember how many times I was woken up by my father. While my peers are studying for the best schools, I was reading books until my eyesight deteriorated. I kept reading with great pleasure from each page; I got prosperous. If I were to decide now, I would study and try to get into a university in another city; I wouldn’t let anybody limit my freedom. I was too young to know. I have comprehended everything too late.
I isolated myself from everyone because the books didn’t care about the scarf on my head.
Our neighborhood was diverse. Half of it was our relatives, and the rest was highly educated, questioning people who were mostly victims of the coups. While our relatives found it unusual for me to cover my hair at a young age, our neighbors told it was too early, and I was a child. I became the foremost defender of a scarf that I didn’t even know the meaning of. A whole period of me passed as dedicated to Islam; I was thinking, “Have I gained the sake of Allah, or is this the beginning of the road to hell?” at every step I took. It didn’t happen. I wasn’t able to become that person. It wasn’t normal to give my reins to the religion, which was used as a shield to cover all injustice. “Who are you to change the order, shut up now.” Those words spoken by everyone alienated me each day. I was going to Imam Hatip school*, and this instance had caused me many troubles. Because I was getting along with a teacher who was an atheist, other teachers called me to their rooms, lectured me, and told my parents, which led my parents to threaten me with getting me out of the school.
I had to study, no matter what. As long as I am myself, the diploma didn’t matter. I wasn’t one of them. I couldn’t accept everything bluntly, without agreeing, like them. I went into depression after not being able to find a job for years, being dependent on my father, being broke. I couldn’t leave the house, not even my friend who lived in the next door because she had her brothers. Which means, I couldn’t also go if I wanted to because I was at the age for getting married, anything could happen; I had to stay “clean” until I get married. Back then, in his wallet, my brother was carrying photos of the girls in his class. “Do you think yourself as equals to men?” Until I got married, which was at the age of 30, I couldn’t leave the house without permission. Even on dates with my fiancé, I was checked by being called every half an hour. That pressure was too much for me; when they pushed me, I found a way to get out.
Social media was making it more accessible. I met women who were trapped, desperate, lonely just like me; we gave each other confidence. Revealing my hair was not a cause of apocalypse; no one died, including me. My hair is ginger; it looks beautiful with pale skin. Even though I don’t find myself beautiful, my ginger hair is. Being liked made me proud, especially when I had to hide. I was secretly proud of my hair being liked. After that, I met my husband on social media. When he understood the pressure I was in from my tweets, he called me “My ginger hair, rebel spirit,” which was a total cliché, but I can’t describe how I felt. Thank you, my love, who was always there, supporting me, when I drop my guard down, hold my hand tight, and my sisters who are beyond my own life.
I now live in Istanbul, and I took off the headscarf. I still don’t know how to style my hair; I always make a ponytail because of the habits from being headscarved. Never mind, I will get used to styling. I will buy beautiful hair clips and accessories; I will do whatever I couldn’t when I was a kid. I will paint my nails colorfully. When I was 5, my cousin beat me up with a slipper because I was wearing nail polish on my little finger; I’ve hated my nails ever since. For instance, I will wear a hat and let my hair out from the bottom; even thinking about it makes me happy; it was the thing I wanted to the most; I can’t wait until the winter.
My mother would have a heart attack; my father wouldn’t speak to me, just because I have hair. I have fears; what would I do if people took a video while I was arguing with some arrogant person on the bus, and it’s on the news? What would I do if the neighbors we never speak, ask me when I put a veil on my hair while I was sitting on the balcony with my mother? I’m a 30 years old grown woman, but I don’t have the strength to fight against this distance that would get in between my family and me. My mother visited me so, and I had to cover my hair. I will never forget the way the neighbor I’ve never spoken to, just seen each other from time to time on the balcony and who has never seen my hair covered, looked at me when she saw me while I was leaving with my mother. I became the evening tea gossip of people I don’t know with my headscarf; this is a horrible, disgusting thing. At the age of 30, to feel the wind in my hair is a great feeling; I don’t want to leave it. I don’t know what to do; maybe I got into an identity crisis. It got too long, but I can’t stop myself from letting my heart out. I am not okay. All these contradictions consumed my energy; my joy has vanished. The only thing I feel is the anxiety of my family finding out.
People cannot even stand on others paying the prices of their own “sins.”
(I’m writing this while sitting with my mother. How I wish to read it to her, opening the door to understanding me. Unfortunately.)
*Imam Hatip schools are educational institutions in Turkey where people are trained for religious professions such as imams.
(Image: Rachel Idzerda)