the coming out, revisited.

Question everything.
Your love, your religion, your passion.
If you don’t have questions, you’ll never find answers.

– Colleen Hoover

Last night, there was a winter formal. I did not go, because now I know myself when it comes to events like that – I get claustrophobic, suffer from anxiety attack, and come back crying. Even if I don’t do anything religiously compromising, I’d come home feeling so dirty and wretched. Even if there are faces I am familiar with and friendly company I could stick to, the setting and situation freak me out; personal space is painfully nonexistent, and familiar faces are often hidden underneath layers of makeup and fancy attires. The unfamiliarity is torturous.

So I said no, and ended up working on my term paper until 3 AM.

In between the write-up and editing, I got myself a brand-new semi-auto Canon G16 camera, just in time for Hawaii in three weeks time! Fantastic. It was a hilarious scenario – a year’s worth of discussion and finally, last night, just as I decided to bite the bullet with the price, I… still could not make myself to click the damn Purchase button. Which explains why it took a brother, a sister, and a camera-whiz friend hours to convince me to go ahead with the transaction. Bite the bullet! I finally did.

Last night, there was a winter formal. I did not go, and had a blast doing my own thing.

I am exactly twenty days away from turning twenty-three. I’ve come to realize that there comes a point in your life when you decide exactly how you want to live your life – the things you’d say yes to, and the thousand more things you’d say no to. There comes a point in your life wherein you finally accept what you are, recognizing your likes and dislikes, and come to terms with what you’re not.

I am fascinated by numbers and if it’s not obvious enough – age.

So far, they still don’t scare me. I think it comes with having such a large family; I grew up constantly having to mentally count how far apart in age I am with each of my six siblings. It’s probably also got lots to do with the fact that I look up to Eldest Sis – more so as a kid than now, though I definitely still do – and hated the fact that for each exciting and or life-changing experience she went through, I’ve to wait seven full years for them to occur to me.

The funny thing is, both of our lives have since played out differently. My twenty-something emotional struggles are I suspect, glaringly different from hers. We’re products of our late-teen and early twenty years, as well as the environment we’re surrounded by; I left home the moment I could, while she chose to stay. From the get-go, our decisions on how to live our lives are different.

These days I understand that it’s not so much age that matters, rather maturity. I reckon it’s also called mental age, and it’s taken me a long time to finally understand their distinctions. These days it doesn’t cross my mind anymore that I am the single token Malaysian in the program (not the major, since interestingly I found out that there’s coincidentally one in each program), nor does it bother and stress me anymore, that I am the only Muslim within my immediate circle.

It’s funny – I’d stressed about this for four long years, going to great lengths even, to hide my identity. I’d turn down meet ups, bonding sessions and whatever else because they clashed between two prayer times, and there are many more times I’d create random, on the fly cover-up stories and excuses so I could quickly scuttle away to pray.

I went to great lengths to hide this part of me, and held back from telling the truth for long periods, even with friends who are dear to me. It is only now that I realize what it is: it’s not about them, rather myself. While it’s true that my greatest fear when it comes to this is people’s judgments and ignorance, ironically I gave in so easily that it didn’t take long before I became my own greatest fear.

Many times I think and ask myself, what does it mean to be Muslim in today’s world?

The other day I spent 7 long hours working on a problem set with a group of friends, and when it was time to perform prayers, I’d sheepishly scuttled away without telling them anything. I was gone for a while, and when I returned, they then obviously asked where I was and what took me so long. I decided to ‘fess up, so I mustered my courage and thought of this as a momentous event in my life.

I told the truth and I was greeted by… nothing. They looked at me, went oh and asked where the prayer room was on-campus. That was that, that was all. One of the girls even said, “Couldn’t you have prayed here? Don’t you just need an empty classroom?” I said yes, and only then did it occur to me – oh yes, why not just pray here? It was late evening by then, the building’s mostly empty anyway.

Personally, I think my English is still retarded, more than before in fact, because I’m now so conscious of it, but in my mind it is no longer myself versus them. It’s no longer about The Others, The Locals, The Americans, or whatever.

I admit that in the past, in my mind there’s always this line separating myself from them because while we could converse in the same language, the pop-culture references, local know-hows, and conversation starters are so different. I am often lost and can’t keep up, or the jokes don’t come across to me. I am someone who is easily embarrassed, so I think without realizing it, I gave up trying early on.

For the first time on that day, it hit me that coming here was a good decision; the right choice. I am aware I blame Stanford too much and too hard for everything wrong that’s going on in my life thus far, because in truth I am even more aware that the root of the problem is myself. It has been me all along. It struck me by surprise however, when that realization hit – for the first time, I felt it: certainty in my decision.

There are still so many lessons I need to learn. The other day I learned a powerful one: I need to learn to let people in.

Most times the friendships don’t last, ergo they end up keeping or knowing about a part of myself that I wish I never gave away, but if I don’t try then I’ll never know. That is simple enough, even if it is the hardest thing to do.

The other day Classmate T tried to converse in Malay with me via Google Translate. It was cute, his attempt and sincerity. These days they ask me about Malaysia and when my English gets retarded, they smooth the creases or act nonchalant about my blunders. I appreciate that, because I can’t for the life of me figure out how to stop this.

When the writing tutor for one of our classes talked down to me – or maybe she didn’t and it’s all in my head – and brought up the British versus American English comparison – I grew up learning English using British English and made the switch in college, though I mostly read  American novels, so basically my English is a mix-and-match of the two. The thing is, she kept starting off her sentence with “In America, this is how we write-“ and emphasized the first two words.

Later, I told them about it and their immediate reply was, “Did she talk down to you?!” What’s funnier is that it’s now a running joke between all of us; Classmate T would chide, “Well Jane, in America, this is how we do-“ followed by my response of, “Pray tell, how do you guys do things in America?” It’s hilarious.

There are still so many lessons I need to learn. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still on this side of the globe, now hitting my five years mark, and why grad school happened. I thought that I’d gotten my answer the other day. It’s because I need to be educated not just formally, but also fundamentally – eradicate my own prejudices and ignorance.

I realize that I’ve stopped writing about my Muslim identity for a while now, and it’s really because it’s no longer as big a deal as it used to be. Wisdom it seems, comes not with age, rather measured maturity. It has taken me a long time, five years’ worth.

I am exactly twenty days away from turning twenty-three, and I am no longer afraid.


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