I can’t remember a specific moment or time or event or occasion where I became a feminist. I don’t recall a singular point where it all suddenly clicked and I decided where I stood in terms of women’s rights and equality. It was just one of those things that happened ever so slowly over an extremely long period of time. Or maybe it was a standard period of time. Maybe it wasn’t as long as I remember. Or maybe there aren’t clear boundaries to the time it takes to grow into someone different.
My family and I were walking out of church one day and a parishioner approached us. I’m not going to point out the fact that he was both white and male because that’s the default and you’ve already assumed that. Somehow, he and my mother got to the topic of education and he turns to my sister and I and says, “You have two strikes against you: you’re female and you’re Black; So you’re going to have to work that much harder.” I remember walking home ruminating on that sentence. In all honesty, it made me sad to think about. I don’t want to have to work harder. I always forget about this encounter until I have to reach back and think about my interaction with not only feminism but also myself. It’s just one of those things that sticks out in my memory.
In high school I travelled a lot. I always found myself either in the Middle East or with a group of Middle Eastern students. In the airports, the group of us would always run into difficulties getting through the lines. One of us was always being held up for questioning—primarily the ones of us of Arab descent. Even years later, when I travel alone, my passport filled with “concerning” visas would grant me the occasional detainment. I thought with these experiences, I could relate to my friends. I thought I finally understood what their lives were like. Like: Hey, let’s all discuss this microaggression that we all share. But I quickly learned that this small annoyance was nothing like their lives. I listened to my friends lament the struggles of being Arab in a post 9/11 America, and it made me so angry. I heard them rattle off a series of horrible names they were constantly being called. I watched them cry when they retold harrowing stories about getting harassed for wearing hijaab. I wanted to do something to combat these images. I just had to learn more about the region so I could remind the naysayers that people are just people with actual feelings. People don’t want negative stereotypes projected on to them. People would prefer not to have a tiny group of individuals be the representative for every single human with a similar complexion. In all honesty, immersing myself in the difficulties of another marginalized identity, gave me the freedom to ignore my own.
I went to high school with a girl named Nora. I later learned that her name was Nora and not “The Girl With Two Moms” as everyone called her. She cut her hair and became president of the Gay Straight Alliance and suddenly everyone started calling her names that were less matter-of-fact. In all honesty, I aspired to be as strong as she was but didn’t understand why she needed to be strong. I never felt revolutionary in standing up for her even though it unfortunately was.
Kath Weston mentions in an article entitled “Theory Theory Who’s Got The Theory” that we theorize all the time whether we think about it or not. I realized that I believe in equality far before feminism was something I understood. However, I theorized something along the lines of “people shouldn’t be so mean” and “even though we are all the same, I don’t think we’re all treated as such.” And in doing some street theorizing, I was able to navigate my way into more socially conscious circles, whether I truly grasped what that meant or not.
As with anyone, any aspect of my identity works together with all the aspects of my identity and shape what I know and believe and theorize. I appreciate that my identity as a feminist is not something that I can find a clear beginning for. Much like being a woman or a African or Hard of Hearing or the countless other attributes of myself, it was something that was always there but never had a name for. It was something that was so intrinsically part of me that finding the term “feminism” felt like finally picking out and trying on the right sized shoes.