On the benefits of being stubborn and living in Wonderland

“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.

newid

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.

No hesitation.

No backpedaling.

No regret.

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.

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Source: memecrunch.com

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.

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A year of going without

Last year ago on Halloween, I made the decision to stop wearing wigs.

I find it delightfully ironic that I chose to do this on a day where people traditionally deck themselves out in costumes and makeup, when essentially, I felt like I was finally ridding myself of one.

While others were excitedly transforming themselves into someone else, I felt like I was shedding past pretenses and coming into my own self.

At first, wearing wigs worked out very well because it concealed my alopecia and frankly, that wasn’t something I wanted to or was ready to deal with at that stage, be it on my own terms or in my interactions with other people. Sure, I had the awkward encounter every now and then, but for the most part, I could live out my life as a relatively unassuming human being.

At the core of it all, I just wanted to be accepted and I really thought that if I could pass as a normal person with hair, I would be fine. At that time in my life, everything seemed to hinge on that: if I have hair, if it grows back out, if I keep this up, if my classmates don’t find out the truth, etc., it’ll all be alright.

And sure, while the wigs helped me live out my life and made me feel more comfortable and assured, eventually I started to feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction creeping into my life.

When I look back I can’t really isolate a specific moment, but I’d say it was moreso a mixture of many elements coming together and leading me to the realization that as much as I thought I was
fooling everyone else, I was really just lying to myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think wearing wigs is great and I’m a really big advocate of doing what feels right to you, because each of us are on a different journey. It’s how you feel that counts the most and it’s a very personal choice. I support freedom of choice.

However, I got to a point where wearing them, though safe and familiar, no longer felt good to me. It’s as if I had gotten to a point where I was using them as a vehicle to disguise my problems and sweep them aside, and that was deeply alarming to me.

With that being said, and despite the apprehension that began to build inside of me, I still didn’t feel ready to go without, much less begin to have open conversations with the people I encountered about what I was going through. That took a lot longer, and is another story all on its own. I won’t go into details about it in this post.

Suffice it to say that as time progressed, I looked at myself in the mirror and felt that the reflection staring back at me was no longer a representation of who I was on the inside. At that point, I was aware that I no longer felt the need to wear a wig, that I felt beautiful without one, that my life no longer revolved around the expectation of my hair growing back and most importantly, that I was at peace with the fact that it would probably never happen.

I was bald, and I was okay with that. Slowly but surely (and painfully at that), I was coming to terms with it. It was just a matter of time before I made the choice to get rid of my wig all together and little by little, I was preparing myself for that.

Listen to Shia. He knows what he’s talking about. (Source: comicbookmovie.com)

Last year, I started looking at scarves online. I had decided that would be the next step for me. Not completely au naturel, of course, but definitely a big change from wearing wigs and a step closer to presenting myself as I felt I truly was. I bought a number of them too, not only as a reminder of the promise I had made to myself, but also as an incentive to just do it.

Staying true to form, I then began to worry about the minutiae of following through with this idea: “How will I go about this transition?” “How am I going to explain it to people?” “What will I tell my coworkers?”, and so on and so forth. I mean, surely I couldn’t just walk into the office one morning and act normally as if nothing had happened.

But then I showed up at my friend’s apartment wearing one of those scarves one day, and after a lengthy discussion, that’s exactly what I chose to do.

I set my sights on October 31st and when the day came I went off to work wearing a scarf on my head and my anxiety on my sleeve.

As is the case with these things, it wasn’t as horrible as I had initially expected and I was perfectly fine after the fact. Now I wear scarves all the time and although I haven’t made any dramatic declarations, I think that the people who know me have assimilated the change as well.

Sometimes I even question whether ‘change’ is even the right word. More than anything, I feel that I’m just reverting back to a more natural state and trying to embrace the person I’ve been all along.

Ideally, I’d like to get to a place where I don’t feel like I have to wear anything, but for now I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with this particular choice.

Freedom to be myself and present myself as such.