[TW: depression, suicide] Reader question: when being in the closet kills

I received this last night. I really don’t want to turn into an advice column, but this is another question that mirrors many I’ve received in the past, so I’ll do my best to answer it.

Hi Salaam!

So I’m a 20 year old queer muslim male, currently in college. I’m realized I was queer when I was around 14 or 15 years old. I’m not out anyone at all in my life. However over the past couple of years since starting college, keeping my queerness a secret has been taking quite the toll on my mental health. My anxiety and depression associated with my secret are at an all time high, and I feel worse than I ever have. My situation now is that mom and dad have now both noticed over the past year how depressed and anxious I have been. They can tell I’m much more reclusive and not as happy as I used to be. I guess I couldn’t hide it forever. Anyways, so just last night, my parents confronted me directly about why I’m so depressed. They walked into my bedroom and just asked me what was going on. I was sitting in front of them, crying uncontrollably and I just can’t tell them why I’m so sad. So at this point, my parents now know that I’m depressed and suicidal, but have no idea why, and I refused to tell them when they asked me. They’re really concerned about me and they’re coming from a very loving place and they now want me to go see a therapist to try to work things out. I come from a practicing Muslim Sunni Arab household and I’m practicing myself, my parents aren’t super conservative,and generally make a good distinction between cultural and religious practices, but they’re conservative enough to not accept LGBT people, at least that’s what it seems. But given that they know I’m in such a terrible mental health situation, would they maybe accept my queerness? I don’t know.  
So yeah, I just don’t know what to do right now because my parents know my mental health is terrible, and I refuse to tell them what’s going on. Any thoughts on how I could approach this situation?
For pretty obvious reasons, this reader also wanted to remain anonymous.
I want to preface this by saying that I am not a doctor and that if you’re having thoughts of suicide, you need to see a health professional. I’m a blogger on the internet, not a psychiatrist or a counsellor. Everything I suggest you do should be done in conjunction with a treatment programme devised for you by a pro. This isn’t as daunting a prospect as you think – if you’re in college, you likely have access to free or very cheap counselling services, and there are therapists that charge on a sliding scale in a lot of cities, particularly bigger ones. Therapists are bound by patient confidentiality. They’re not going to tell your parents or anyone else that you’re queer. I recommend that you find one ASAP and schedule an appointment.
Now, onto other things.
I don’t say this often because I’m not generally in favour of outing yourself if you aren’t assured of a positive reaction, but it might be time to tell your parents.
You’re worried that your parents are too conservative to accept you. That might be true. Maybe they’ll react terribly. Maybe they’ll kick you out or cut you off. Maybe they’ll try to get you to pray it away. Those would all be awful scenarios, and if you honestly think that they’re the most likely, then you can keep this between me, you and your soon-to-be-therapist and maybe you’ll be fine. But it sounds like your parents are pretty good people. You’ve said you think they’re coming from a loving place and that they’re worried about you. Maybe – just maybe – it means that if you come out to them, their first instinct will be to help.
Coming out to my own mother wasn’t easy. I had no way of knowing how she would react. I had to trust that she would continue to accept me for who I was even once she knew everything about me. It was dicey at first. It took her a long while to get used to the idea. I’m not sure she’ll ever really be thrilled about it. But she loves me and supports me, and it’s a huge weight off my shoulders knowing I can rely on her now. I could never have had that assurance if I’d never come out.
Your parents aren’t my mother, and maybe they won’t react the same way. There are a few ways this could go:
  1. The worst case scenario – they cut you off, disown you, never want to speak to you again. This seems unlikely based on your description of them. Even some more conservative religious types listen to love over judgement sometimes. But that doesn’t mean this can’t happen.
  2. Slightly-less-worse-case-scenario – they don’t disown you, but they decide your depression would disappear if you just prayed the gay away somehow. I have a couple of family members like this, and I avoid them at all costs.
  3. A liveable scenario – they’re not thrilled, but they try to support you anyway. They help you seek therapy for your depression and try not to make it all about how if you were straight, you wouldn’t be so upset. I would like to believe your parents are capable of this, but you know them better than I do.
  4. A really good scenario – they’re supportive, they tell you they love you no matter what, and they help you seek treatment. In an ideal world, all parents would be like this, right?

Only you know which of these scenarios is more likely. I hope it’s #3 or #4, but obviously I can’t say for sure.

If you do decide to come out to them, you can always test the water first. Bring up gay rights issues and see how they react. Decide if you could deal with that level of scrutiny or judgement directed at you. If you mention anti-gay laws in Uganda and they say they hope everyone there gets the death penalty, it’s probably not safe to come out. If you mention statistics about gay people being beaten and murdered and they’re horrified, maybe things might not be as bad as they could be. Find a time when you can sit them down and tell them what’s going on with you. Usually I’d suggest that you bring a friend, but you’re not out to anyone, so that’ll be tough. Maybe establish a connection with a therapist first, then invite your parents along to a group session. If nothing else, they’re much less likely to become violent if there are witnesses. (I hate that I have to talk about these things as though there’s always potential for violence, but we all know there is.)

If you don’t decide to come out to your parents, I think you’re still going to have to come out to someone. Definitely your new therapist (I really can’t stress how important it is that you find one), and at least one friend or family member you can trust. This is not a burden you can carry by yourself. It’s eating at you every day and endangering your life. You need at least one ally in your everyday life so that you don’t have to do this all alone. We are not solitary creatures, we humans. We need love, support and community. Those things are sorely lacking in your life right now. Consider joining a campus LGBT solidarity group – you don’t have to be queer to be in one, so this won’t necessarily out you – and see if you can’t find some friends who’ll empathise with you and support you.

Mental illness is such an ugly, unbearable thing. You are not weak or childish or in some way defective for being unable to handle it on your own. I remember being roughly your age and sitting in my doctor’s office, just talking about how I was. He told me, “I think that if you don’t get help, if you don’t get out of the situation you’re in, it’s going to crush your soul.” He was talking mostly about my abusive father, but he was right. Some things a human being simply cannot tolerate forever. I implore you to find a counsellor, doctor or psychologist. I promise that there are some available to you. Your parents may even help you seek treatment, even if you don’t come out to them, given how worried they are about you and how much they want to help. Take advantage of the services available to you as a college student – they won’t be free forever, and you should use them while they are. Find that one person who will offer you a safe, non-judgmental space where you can finally be yourself.

Whether or not you decide to come out to your parents, I really hope things work out for you. Remember that you are never alone. Allah’s blessings be with you, wherever your path may lead.

Campaigns for #MikeBrown #Ferguson

jaythenerdkid:

Pass this on – it’s useful information for people who want to help the citizens of Ferguson.

Originally posted on Spaceship Dreaming:

Here is a list of donations, protests, and petitions that you can do to help the people in #Ferguson and to assist #MikeBrown and #EzellFord all others who have been killed by the hands of the police. I will try to update as much as possible.
Donations for Mike Brown’s Family:
Michael Brown Memorial Fund:
These funds will assist his family with costs that they will acquire as they seek justice on Michael’s behalf. All funds will be given to the Michael Brown family.
College 4 MikeBrown’s Siblings:
This effort will help support Mike Brown’s siblings, 2 younger sisters and a younger brother go to college. It is run by Sara Goldrick-Rab, UW professor of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab ( http://www.wihopelab.com) and Michael Johnson of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (Madison, WI) can vouch that all funds will go directly to the family.
Other Donations

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Reader question: navigating Islam in the 21st century

I promise this isn’t turning into an advice column (wouldn’t I be the worst advice columnist ever?). When I got this question from a reader, however, I figured I ought to make the response public. I get questions like this a lot and I don’t have the time or energy to give them all the lengthy, in-depth, personal responses they deserve. I hope this will help some of the people who write to me asking for advice on navigating their lives as Muslims whilst staying true to themselves.

Hi! 

I came across your blog when I was searching about Islam, feminism, and other random things. I was surprised to read something so open and honest regarding topics that are generally taboo in the Muslim community. 
I’m a teenager living in a family that strictly follows Islam (Islam mixed in with culture and my parents’ upbringings) in a community that does the same. While I believe in Allah and his prophet, I’m not very religious and I believe many practices/thoughts/beliefs are outdated. 
Reading your article on Islam, it seems you have your mother’s support. despite practicing your religion a different way. What should you do when you don’t have parental support? Every time I try to leave the house in a loose t-shirt, my mom reminds me to put a scarf around my neck or on my head.  
Did you receive any backlash from your extended family or community for going against the religious and cultural rules they live to follow?
I dream of the day when I can go to college and live on my own, without having to explain myself or my actions. 
Thank you for reading. :)
 
Hi, reader (I’m gonna call you X because you asked to stay anonymous)! I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Life, you know? Ain’t no rest for the wicked.
 
It’s always hard to know where to start with questions like this. Your question had several parts: how did I get my mother’s support? what would I have done if I hadn’t been able to secure it? what was the community response to my choices? There’s a lot in here, so I’ll try to break it down.
 
Firstly, you should know that Islam is not incompatible with feminism. I encourage you to look into organisations like Muslims for Progressive Values, which you might find more in line with your own feelings on Islam, as well as following some Muslim feminists on Twitter and other social media. A few of my favourites are @Rrrrnessa, @UncolonisedMind, @Sahraa_Ali, @atypewritersing and @carambalache (holla!). They all have amazing, intersectional perspectives on Islam, feminism, identity and community. There are plenty of amazing and insightful people like them who will make you feel a lot less alone and help you find a strong basis for reinterpreting Islam in your own life. Look for Muslims who incorporate queer, trans and black perspectives into their feminism. All of the great people I mentioned do all of that and more, but there are others who are also fantastic!
 
Now that that’s out of the way, onto the meat of your question.
 
I am pretty religious in my way, but I understand that some people aren’t, yourself included, and that’s fine. You asked me what I would’ve done if I didn’t have my mother’s support for my own lifestyle and practices. That’s actually easy for me to answer, because it was my experience with my dad. And let me tell you, it was tough. It wore on me. I felt like my spirit was being crushed every day that I lived under his roof. I’ve written about some of his abusive behaviours elsewhere so I won’t go into details here, but it is extremely difficult to attempt life as your authentic self when a person who controls everything from where you go to when you eat is calling the shots.
 
All I can tell you on that score is to be patient and to find places where you can be yourself. For me, my escape from my father’s tyranny was college. I used to stay long hours just so I wouldn’t be at home. I’d bring my computer to college with me, hole myself up in a computer lab and not come home until midnight. My father didn’t like it, and he often punished me in cruel and creative ways, but it was worth it for those moments of escape and solitude. I made friends, got a taste of life outside and was able to recharge a little between doses of “discipline”. I’m reasonably confident that I wouldn’t have survived twenty years at home without those fleeting escapes.
 
You aren’t in college yet, so I assume you’re in high school. Are there clubs you can join? Can you start a study group? Tell your parents you want to do your homework at the library because it’ll help you focus? If your parents are like mine were, appealing to academics is a good way of getting yourself that tiny slice of freedom. Even a couple of hours a week away from them will help. You’ll get to meet people who won’t judge you for being yourself, which is hugely important. If you can, find a place where you can have short social encounters without members of your community watching and judging. (For me, this was a little cafe across the road from my campus, where I shared many a plate of chips and gravy with friends between classes. Every little bit helps, it really does.) Carve out a little space in the world for yourself and the people you love and trust. It really does make all the difference.
 
(Oh, and see if you can’t take a change of clothes with you when you leave the house. I used to wear my hijab out the door and onto the bus, then take it off the moment I got to school. Is there a place where you’d feel safe doing something like that?)
 
The other thing you asked about was backlash from my community. X, I’m sad to say that I’m still experiencing that backlash. People talk behind my back all the time: “ah, she was such a good Muslim girl! what happened to her?” You just have to ignore it and move on, I’m afraid. You can’t change people’s minds for them. Decide for yourself how much you need these people in your life, and if you can avoid them, do so. You don’t need that kind of toxicity following you around. Rumours and whispers are hard to ignore at first, but if you pay them no credence, you’ll find that they either die down or people stop relaying them to you. Of course, every now and then you’ll get someone (probably a man, let’s be real) telling you to your face that you’re a bad Muslim or that you need to cover up. If you can, look them in the eye and tell them your life is between you and Allah, then walk away. You don’t owe anyone else an explanation of your life choices.
 
This is all a bit hard when you’re still a teenager, isn’t it? I know there are many people whose misguided “advice” you’ll have to listen to out of politeness and lots of aunties and uncles who will tell you things they think they know about you. Grin and bear it. You won’t be stuck under their thumb forever, and sometimes keeping the peace is better than starting a fight you can’t win.
 
Finally, I’ll give you the advice I give every young Muslim who comes to me for help: read the Qur’an. I’m not saying that in a holier-than-thou, “you need to improve yourself” kind of way. I’m saying it because the Qur’an is truly your best weapon against ignorance and bigotry of the kind you’ll experience from your family and community. I have to recommend The Message of the Qur’an by Muhammad Asad, which you can find as a free PDF at that link or for pretty cheap on Kindle. I’ve found a lot in Asad’s translation and commentary that has come in handy when addressing the criticisms of bigots and fundamentalists. Maybe it’ll help you too.
 
I hope you found this helpful! Remember above all that you are not alone: there are thousands – tens of thousands, even more! – of Muslims the world over who are questioning the outdated cultural mores of their ancestors and reinterpreting Islam for the 21st century and beyond. I believe that Islam is truly a religion for all time, which means that we have a responsibility to constantly re-examine and question what we think we know about it so that we can be sure we’re following it in a way that brings us the most possible peace and happiness. Whether you consider yourself very religious or not, remember that you have as much of a right to Allah’s love and the comfort of community as anyone else. I very much hope that you find these things and that they bring you peace and solace.
 
May Allah bless you and make your path an easy one, sister.

So You Just Met a Bisexual: a Guide for Allies (and “Allies”)

Congratulations! You just met your very first bisexual! Isn’t it exciting? I’m sure you’re brimming with questions about everything from your new friend’s sex life to whether or not it’s true that they’re invisible. (They are. All bisexuals have the ability to disappear whenever they like.) Before you draw up a list and start the interrogation, however, let me preempt a few of the questions you’re most likely to ask – and explain to you why you probably ought not ask them.

Here are some things you don’t know about your new bisexual friend:

You don’t know how many sex partners they’ve had. They could have had one or a hundred and one (go them!) or none at all. They might have sex with multiple partners over a year long period, or they might be into long-term relationships. Bisexuals, much like what I’m going to call “non-magical folk” (that’s you), haven’t necessarily all slept with the entire football team and all the cheerleaders (though, again, if they have – damn, your new friend has got some game!). Bisexuality does not automatically correlate with promiscuity. (And if it does – so what? You’re not one of those terrible people who thinks that someone who sleeps with a lot of partners is immoral, are you? Are you?)

Speaking of which, you don’t know what their sex drive is like. Some bisexuals are like me and would have sex ten times a day if they could. Some like sex very rarely, some once every couple of days. Some like sex a lot with a particular partner but not at all with other people. Kill the myth that every bisexual is a sex addict. We’re human, you know. We can control our libidos just as well as you can (or better, if you’re a straight dude – YEAH, I SAID IT).

You don’t know if they’re polyamorous, monoamorous, in an open relationship or happily single. Some bisexuals are poly. I know lots of poly bisexuals! But I also know lots of monoamorous bisexuals (I don’t like the word “monogamous” because it refers specifically to the number of a person’s wives, which is kinda sexist and useless). For example, I’m married to just one other person. Truly, I am! He grows a fantastic beard and makes a cute giggling sound when I tickle him. Lots of people are surprised by this, because for some reason, they think all bisexuals are either poly or not in relationships at all. I guess I was single at some point in my life, and many of my bi friends are single now or in open relationships, but bisexuality does not somehow preclude monoamory or other kinds of long-term relationships.

On that note, you don’t know if they’ve ever cheated. No, shut up. You really and truly don’t. Thanks to television, people assume that bisexuals are incapable of forming commitments or keeping to them afterwards. The reasoning seems to be, “well, you’re attracted to everyone, so you’re bound to cheat sooner or later.”

Really? Let’s break that down.

You, the monosexual reader, are attracted to one gender, correct? It might be your own, or it might be another. I don’t know your life. Whatever. The point is that there is a group of people to whom you are attracted.

Are you attracted to every single member of that group?

No?

Neither are we. It really is that simple.

Which brings me to my next point…

You don’t know if they’re attracted to you. To be fair, this is something gay people get as well (holla, fellow queers!), but bisexual people seem to get it twice as bad, partly due to the fact that as I said above, everyone thinks we’re untrustworthy cheaters. Let me tell you right up-front: I am not attracted to people who aren’t attracted to women. I’m just not. Straight girls? Turn-off. Gay dudes? HUGE turn-off. Non-binary people who do not dig women? Sorry, but nope. If you’re not into me, I am most definitely not into you. So relax – you can be in the locker room together. They’re not checking you out. You’re probably not their type anyway, so don’t flatter yourself. If they were into you, you’d know.

Actually, while I’m on this topic, you don’t even know the genders to which they’re attracted. “Bisexual” means different things to different people. Sometimes it means “attracted to both men and women”. Sometimes it means “attracted to both cisgender men and cisgender women”. Sometimes it means “attracted to both my gender and other genders.” Some of the latter group identify as pansexual, but some don’t, and it’s absolutely zero percent your job to tell people which labels to use. If your bisexual friend is attracted to men and people-who-aren’t-men, that’s cool. If your bisexual friend is attracted to binary people and non-binary people, that’s also cool. If your bisexual friend is into both men and women but mostly likes women, that’s cool too. (Also, can I get her number? She sounds rad.) We choose how we identify – not you, not anyone else, but us.

So it turns out you don’t know much about your new bisexual friend, do you? All of your preconceptions are useless, and you’ll only embarrass yourself by blurting out questions like, “how are you married to a dude if you’re bi?” (I get this in bars a lot) or, “why don’t you have a girlfriend too?” (I also get this in bars a lot). Bisexual people vary as much as monosexual people do. We have sex a lot or not at all. We have a partner or three partners or a rotating roster of partners or no partner at all. We are attracted to men or women or non-binary people, and not always equally. Some of us cheat because people cheat sometimes, but most of us don’t because most people don’t. And don’t think you can pick us out of a crowd, either – in terms of appearance, we run the gamut from roller derby girls with pink spiked hair to belles with long, dark curls and killer red lipstick to gym-going dudes with buzzcuts to quiet, skinny guys in Zelda t-shirts to non-binary femmes or androgynes rocking suit jackets with their Converse. We’re not a monolith any more than any other group is.

So, what do you know about your new bisexual friend?

You know that they’re bisexual, and now you know not to irritate them with asinine and offensive questions. And most importantly, you know that they’re human, so treat them that way.

See? That was easy! Think of how much time I’ve saved you.

If you were wondering why women feel unsafe around you, here’s why:

So, a few days ago, I wrote this.

That letter is a semi-autobiographical composite based on a guy who not only stalked me and made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe, but did the same to several other women, including friends of mine. Some of those things he did to me; some of those things he did to other women; some of those things he told us about during group gatherings, seemingly under the impression that we would empathise with him in his struggle against all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad women of the world.

When I wrote that letter, it wasn’t really aimed at the Nice Guy in question (I honestly haven’t seen or heard from him in months, and thank [insert deity/deities/lack of deity here] for that). It was written for every woman who, like me, has known a guy like that or been “befriended” by a guy like that or feared for her life because of a guy like that.

Because yeah, that’s a thing. Women fear for their lives because of guys like that.

That guy? When I very politely told him that I needed him to message me less, the backlash started immediately. He trashed me on social media. He would show up to events he knew I’d be at and find reasons to sit across from me, saying nothing the entire time. He told people what a bitch I’d been to him. He started making ultimatums – he would stop being friends with people if they so much as mentioned me in his presence. He knew where I lived, where I worked, where my family members lived and worked. He had mentioned violent impulses (both internally and externally aimed) several times during our brief “friendship”. He had made life difficult and uncomfortable for friends of mine in the past (which I did not know when I first met him), and now he was doing it to me. And while I like to think that I’m a fairly strong, independent kind of girl who can fend for herself, and while this guy seemed pretty quiet and shy and like he was more bark than bite, I was still pretty fucking scared.

The thing is, women don’t know which guy’s going to get violent when we tell them no.

Will it be the guy who approaches us in a club and insists on buying us a drink even though we repeatedly say we don’t want one? (Friend’s 20th birthday a few years ago – he eventually went and started buying drinks for someone else instead, and my friends and I watched the girl he was talking to like a hawk all night to make sure he didn’t have a chance to get her alone.)

Will it be the guy who calls us a bitch because he was “just trying to make conversation” while we were reading a book with our earphones in? (Outside a shopping centre in broad daylight while I was waiting for a friend to pick me up. He screamed in my face for twenty minutes while I kept telling him he needed to leave. Passers-by did absolutely nothing but look at me in annoyance, as though I was responsible for this public disturbance that was getting in the way of their grocery shopping.)

Will it be the guy who tries talking to us on the bus when we just want to get home after a long day at work, his voice raising in volume every time we steadfastly ignore his leering “compliments”? (Guy who used to catch the bus route that took me past my house. I would wait until the bus had driven off before walking home just so he couldn’t watch me go to my front gate, and I would always make sure to lock it behind me just in case.)

Will it be the guy who offers us lifts everywhere and goes shopping with us and buys us gifts and worms his way into our circle of trust so that eventually we start letting him into our private spaces, where nobody will see if he attacks us?

It could be any of them. It could be all of them. For some woman, somewhere, it has been one or more or all of them. (For some man, somewhere, it has also been one or more or all of them. Predators thrive on societies that will not believe the claims of their prey.)

None of this is news to you, I’m sure – or, if you have even the slightest hint of cultural awareness, it shouldn’t be.

But it was apparently news to this guy:

 

This is an image a commenter made calling me a

not creepy at all, dude. not. creepy. at all.

 

What starts with “r” and ends with “ape culture” and is incredibly well-illustrated by this image? I’ll let you supply the answer.

This is why women feel unsafe around you, Nice Guys – because when we stand up to you, when we point out that your behaviour is predatory and your advances are unwanted and that we want to be treated like actual human beings, your immediate response is to tear us down, belittle us and invalidate us. We feel unsafe around you because you are possessed of so much entitlement that when we don’t repay your (unwanted!) favours with romance and sex, you label us whores and liars and sociopaths. And you are backed up, not just by the friends who don’t want to make things “awkward” by barring you from social gatherings, but by the entire fucking patriarchy, right down to random internet strangers who don’t even know us but will construct elaborate “proofs” that your predatory behaviour is our fault because we should have known what we were getting into when we accepted what looked like an offer of friendship.

You want to know why we don’t want that drink? Want to know why we don’t want a bar of your “normal social interaction” (ha) or your “polite conversation” or your compliments that you swear are innocent?

Because any one of you could be the guy I wrote that letter about. Because any one of you could be the guy backing him up by calling me a sociopath and a liar. Because any one of you could be the one we shouldn’t have trusted, and because when you hurt us, any one of you could be the ones insisting it was our fault all along.

You want to know why women feel unsafe around you? It’s because you’re fucking unsafe, asshole.

A letter to that Nice Guy I ignored that one time

A comic depicting the difference between what a Nice Guy thinks is happening between him and a girl and what is actually happening.

a shift in perspective can help.

 

Dear Nice Guy,

I’d say you probably don’t remember me, but I know you do. I know you remember me the way you remember every single girl you’ve ever latched onto like a leech who also happens to recommend books and carry shopping bags. I know you remember me because this is a small town and people talk and you wouldn’t believe some of the things people tell me you say about me, except that I guess you would because I know for sure that you said them.

I know you’ve waxed poetic at length to anyone who will listen (and a fair few people who won’t) about how I don’t know what I’m missing. And you know what? I guess you’re right. I don’t know what I’m missing. Maybe if, somewhere between the endless offers of a lift home and the free coffees I didn’t want and the little intimate gifts “just because”, I’d read your mind and deduced using my psychic powers that you were in love with me, things might have turned out differently. (Like maybe I’d have filed a restraining order. Maybe I’d have stopped seeing the favours you did me as the acts of a friend and started seeing them as the acts of a predator. Maybe I’d have never allowed myself to be alone in a room with you. But I digress.) For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and I don’t know what I let slip by when I decided to go after that [confident] jerk [with a sense of self-worth and a whole host of interesting hobbies] instead of letting you woo me like a princess in the tackier class of fairy tale.

Then what?

You want me to know you’d have treated me like a princess, but I’m not a princess. You want me to know you’d have worshipped me like a goddess, but I’m not a goddess. You want me to know you’d have waited on me hand and foot, but I’m a functioning human being with agency and independence and I don’t need anyone to wait on me. You want me to know you’d have given me everything I could ever have possibly wanted, but you’re wrong there, because one of the things I wanted – one of the things I still want – is not you.

That’s the thing, see? You could drive me to the edges of the Earth as a “favour”, you could come shopping with me and take me out to dinner and watch movies and let me cry to you over the phone, but you couldn’t make me want you as anything other than a friend and you still can’t. You’ll never be able to. Oh, sure, if you’d asked me out when we first met, before we settled into the routine of girl-and-secret-admirer, maybe I’d have thought about it. Maybe I’d have let you take me out to lunch at a little bistro somewhere and we could have talked like real people and not like Pygmalion attempting to breathe life into his Galatea, and maybe we’d have found out that we had things in common and it would have led to a few more dates and maybe a relationship. Or maybe I would have turned you down and you’d have felt sad about it for a while but you would have moved on and we could have been friends – real friends – and you wouldn’t be obsessively combing through my Facebook photos at midnight and I wouldn’t be writing you this letter.

But you couldn’t make me love you just because you wanted me to, and you still can’t.

You say I’ll regret it. You say that ten, twenty, fifty years from now, you’ll be the one that got away. You say that when I’ve been rejected by a string of [confident, interesting, engaging] jerks and I no longer have my youthful beauty and I’m too old to have kids, I’ll wish I’d settled for you. And maybe you’re right. Maybe one day I’ll be fifty years old and single and childless – but even then, I still wouldn’t regret not being with you. I wouldn’t regret not signing up for a lifetime of being treated like a marble statue on a pedestal created by an obsessed boy-child with an ideal of perfect womanhood to which I could never truly measure up. I wouldn’t regret avoiding that slavish devotion, that expectation of reciprocity of a passion I didn’t and don’t and will never feel. No, I’m sorry – even if you end up being right and I find myself alone and unloved and unlovable, I will never regret that.

Since we’re making predictions, though – and oh, how you love to do that when you talk about me (did you really think I wouldn’t hear of it? did you really think they’d never tell?) – let me make a few of my own.

I predict that I’ll have an enjoyable, interesting relationship with my jerk (who has introduced me to sports and taught me how to shoot a gun and helped me rediscover my love of philosophy and supported my dreams of being a writer and held my hand while I cried without expecting anything in return). I predict that if things don’t work out, I’ll find someone else, and maybe he’ll introduce me to painting or sculpture or belly dancing or yoga or basketball because he’ll have interests other than pleasing me and he’ll want to share them with the woman he loves. I predict that some day, if I choose to, I’ll marry one of those jerks you hate so much and we’ll probably have a few kids and we’ll fight sometimes because nobody’s perfect, not even people in love, but we’ll make up because nobody stays angry forever, especially people in love. And maybe we’ll divorce in five years or maybe we’ll grow old together and see the birth of our great-grandchildren, but the one thing we won’t do is live out some fantasy of a man “winning” a woman with niceness and a woman showing her gratitude with sex.

That’s what you never understood about relationships, Nice Guy. You can’t win people, not with all the put-on niceness in the world. You can’t mould yourself into what you think a woman wants and hope she’ll fill all the gaps in you. You have to be your own person (do you even know who that is any more?) and cultivate your own interests and live your own life and hope that one day, you’ll find someone who thinks your life is pretty neat and wants to share it with you, someone with a life of her own that’s so neat you want to share it with her.

That’s a relationship, Nice Guy. Not unwanted gifts and free rides home and pining over someone and hoping that if you hang around her long enough, she’ll feel the way you want her to feel. A relationship is two people sharing their lives – their messy, imperfect, fantastic, exciting, terrifying, amazing lives – because it’s what both of them want to do, not because one of them wants the other to want it.

This guy I’m seeing, this jerk? He’s pretty sweet. We’re talking about getting married, maybe having kids some day. He read Hamlet for me because I mentioned I liked Shakespeare and I went to a football game with him and had the time of my life. We fight sometimes and we laugh a lot of the time and we never expect anything of each other that the other wouldn’t be willing to give. I think maybe we’re going to go the distance. But even if we don’t, it still will have been worth it, because he’s helped me grow as a person and I’ve helped him grow as a person and neither of us is Galatea and neither of us would want to be Pygmalion because what kind of relationship can there be between a man and his idol?

I hope you figure that out one day. I’d hate for all your prophecies about other women to come true for you.

Get over me. You never had me to begin with. You never will.

Sincerely,

A girl who goes for jerks.

Passing privilege, and other curses in disguise

My mother is Turkish, my father Pakistani. I have absolutely no Anglo-European blood in me. I am relatively light-skinned, but I am neither ethnically or phenotypically white…

…which has not stopped people from telling me I’m “too white to talk about racism” about half a dozen times in the last week alone.

They tell me anonymously. They tell me while I’m relating my lived experiences of racial abuse and harassment. They tell me while I’m expressing solidarity with my darker-skinned friends and loved ones. They tell me while they mock my appearance in Reddit threads devoted to lambasting me. “This bitch,” they say, “is practically white anyway. She just wants to feel like a victim.”

Day after day, I am forced to defend my identity. I am half-Turkish, half-Pakistani, Australian by birth and upbringing but ethnically no more white than I am male or straight or neurotypical (mind you, people challenge those aspects of my identity constantly as well – but I digress). But because I possess that most tenuous and contingent of privileges – the ability to “pass” – my lived experience of racism and abuse is constantly dismissed, trivialised or outright silenced.

I was educated at predominantly white Catholic schools, but at home, I recited the Qur’an with my father, learned skerricks of bad Turkish from my mother, watched Bollywood movies with subtitles, ate curries and naan and Turkish lentil soup. I wore the hijab for eight years. I still wear it when I pray. I finished reading the Qur’an in Arabic when I was seventeen years old. I call my mother’s friends “aunty” and “uncle”, speak in broken Turkish to my grandmother on the phone. I have become adept at acting white in public because doing so means I face less abuse and ridicule, but I am not white, just someone who knows how to play-act for the amusement and pleasure of her oppressors.

I am tired of having to defend myself. That you believe me to be white does not undo the years of slurs and racial abuse I have received not just because of the colour of my skin or because of my Muslim faith, but because of the times I have dared not to conform to ideals of whiteness in public. You can deny my heritage, my culture, my lived experiences, but you cannot make unreal the sidelong glances from passers-by, the yelled threats from people driving past me as I walk home carrying groceries, the obnoxiously loud “SO HOW ARE YOU LIKING OUR COUNTRY?” from well-meaning but misguided whites on the bus. You cannot undo the times people have assumed I was my father’s wife because they think all brown men take child brides, or the times people have assumed my mother doesn’t speak English even though she has lived here since she was sixteen and speaks as fluently as any native, albeit with a slight accent. Those things happened to me and to my family and no amount of denial on your part will undo them.

I am not white. I can pass as white if I must, though the intentional erasure of my true identity feels like going without a limb or a vital organ. I can talk white and act white to appease white people, to deflect the abuse and the mistrustful glances and the whispering behind my back that I must be a terrorist or a radical or that I probably believe in honour killings. I can do all of those things, and I often have to, because survival in a white-dominated society comes at a price and one must pay it one way or another. Given the choice, I suppose I’d rather pay in assimilation than in violence and torture and death. It’s not much of a choice, mind you, but it’s the only one I have.

Sometimes I think to myself that it’s somewhat ironic that I have become so good at passing as white that people insist I must be even when I assure them that I’m not. Have I merely beaten myself at my own game? Am I too good an actress? Or is it rather that people see what they want to see, and they’d rather see Jay, their example of successful assimilation into “civilised” society, than Aaminah, who still says insha’Allah when she makes a commitment and prays in Arabic and wears tights under her skirts because she doesn’t like to bare her legs? I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s the latter – that people would rather believe me to be white because it makes their lives less complicated than having to deal with the complexities of my life as a brown girl negotiating white society.

Here’s the thing, though – passing privilege is contingent. And there’s the rub; I’m only white as long as they want me to be. I’m white in discussions of race because it’s an effective way of silencing my voice, my lived experience, the truth of my struggle. I’m white amongst people who don’t want to have to think about the implications of my non-whiteness. I’m white when people want to love me but don’t want to think about what loving me entails.

But I stop being white once they want to oppress me.

I was not white when, the night before last, a man yelled at me to “go back to where [I] came from” as he drove past me. I was not white when people called my boyfriend a “n****r-lover” for being in a relationship with me. I was not white in the aftermath of 9/11, when one of my fellow students tormented and bullied me for months until I gathered up the courage to tell the school counsellor. I am not white when people can’t pronounce my “foreign” name and ask if they can call me something else instead. I am not white when it does not suit white people for me to be so.

I am not white unless white people want me to be.

I tire of having to explain myself and defend myself. I tire of people who arrogantly assume they know more of my ethnic heritage than I do. I tire of being mislabelled, mistaken, mistreated. I tire of having to carry both the burdens of a non-white woman and the expectations of a white-passing one.

Passing privilege is a curse in disguise. It’s a reason for white people to invalidate your oppression whilst simultaneously only granting you the privileges of whiteness if you choose to conform to their standards and ideals. Honestly, I would rather not be mistaken for white at all if it would mean I could stop having to pretend to be someone I’m not in order to please people who are not prepared to face the truth of me. But since I am possessed of the privilege of light skin (and I know that within the broader community of women of colour, this is a privilege whether I like it or not), I am forced to play-act as someone I’m not, only to be told I’m not doing it well enough when white people tire of the pantomime.

I am not white. I just play a white girl on the internet.