“But…” – I interjected.
A familiar tingling began to invade my nostrils: a troubling warning that tears would soon follow. As I fought with myself to keep them at bay, I tried to make sense of what the woman at the other end of the line was telling me.
“Well, you can take the picture with a wig or without one. You’re beautiful as you are and God loves you either way.” – she added.
Unsolicited platitudes from a stranger. Great. And here I was, thinking things couldn’t possibly get worse.
I stumbled through a ‘Thank you’ before hanging up the phone, but I didn’t mean it. It still amazes me that even in the face of such situations, I can’t help but being polite.
You’d think getting a new ID would be a relatively uneventful occurrence. One of those things you complain about and put off for months, yet eventually get around to. But I guess you have to account for some variation when you’re a woman in a third world country who just so happens to be bald.
Thanks to a governmental decision to redesign them, everyone else was getting theirs re-issued as well. I even had the opportunity to avoid the throngs of people and go with the rest of my coworkers, but I missed the chance. As much as I didn’t know how I would manage the impending nature of this situation, I knew my wig-wearing days were over and there was no going back to that. I refused to do so, even for something as harmless as an ID picture.
Since I needed answers, I took the initiative to call the nearest center to ask about their policy on head coverings. After all, I reasoned, I wear headscarves every day and the purpose of an ID is to be able to readily identify its bearer, right? Besides, many other countries have policies that allow for certain accommodations given religious or medical reasons, and I have a legitimate medical condition.
These were the thoughts I looked back on as I stood in the patio right outside the office, phone still in hand. My expectations had been shattered in a matter of minutes and a palpable frustration had been left in their stead. I tried to regain my composure, but I was angry.
“Don’t I matter?”
“What about my rights?”
“What about other people like me?”
“Am I supposed to just tolerate this blatant violation of my rights and my privacy?”
To add insult to injury, I was also reeling from the exchange with this mystery lady, who despite what I assume were good intentions, had managed to be completely dismissive of my very real concerns and gone on to lecture me about my life: a life she knew absolutely nothing about.
As a general rule, if you don’t know someone very well, please refrain from spouting generic advice that will most likely not be very useful to them. This should be a given if you’re interacting in these contexts. In this case it’s not just annoying, but unprofessional.
Anyway, I digress.
When I went home that day, I shared the ordeal with my mom. I explained my frustrations and found catharsis in doing so, but we both knew I was powerless to change anything at that point.
With a look of worry drawn on her face, one I’ve come to know so well throughout the years, she asked me: “What are you going to do, then?”
The answer, though not easy to come by, had finally become clear. I knew exactly what I was going to do.
“I’m taking it bald.”
It was then that I realized this was no longer about a piece of plastic or a photo, but about my identity and being able to present myself as I wished. I needed to be true to myself, and since I had to go on ahead and get that new ID anyway, I was going to do it on my own terms.
Given that the deadline was soon approaching, my sister and I went to do that not too long after the aforementioned incident. As it turns out, a lot of other people had the same idea that day, and we spent the whole morning switching from one seemingly endless line to the next.
“This is what you get for putting it off until the last minute” – I told myself. I’d like to think the ridiculous wait time served as enough atonement to last a lifetime.
After more hours than I remember, it was time to finally take the picture. Surprisingly, by the time I stood in front of the camera and took off my headscarf, all I could really feel was a sense of peace.
The certainty behind my decision carried me throughout the day. The moment of truth had come and gone without fanfare, but I had done the right thing for me and that was honestly the most important part of it all.
Now, whenever I flash my ID, people see the picture of a bald lady staring back at them. It has gotten significantly less awkward to do so with time, and I guess it also helps me to continue normalizing my baldness and accepting myself. Pretty nifty, huh?
Now, do I still object to these restrictive policies that don’t account for specific segments of the population? Hell yes. Do I think people like me, who wear head coverings for legitimate reasons, should be subjected to this of type of treatment? Most definitely not. I may have been comfortable exposing my bald head in front of strangers, but other people aren’t, and shouldn’t be forced to do so. They have a right to choose how to present themselves just like I did (within certain guidelines, of course), and they shouldn’t be denied that right. I guess the people in charge don’t realize that things like that could open you up to undesired public scrutiny and yes, even discrimination.
But hey, I guess this was a more pleasant experience than the last time, when they printed that I had alopecia and I wore a wig on my old ID (against my own will, obviously) under a section titled ‘Distinctive Features.’ You know, just so that in the unlikely event that I later became a wanted fugitive, they’d be able to recognize me under my disguise and track me down thanks to that singular piece of information.
It’s so absurd it almost doesn’t seem real, but I know it was, because it happened to me. But there’s a reason they call this country the Wonderland, you know?
Everything is backwards.