Here I shall recount the essential years of my life that played the biggest role in shaping the ideas I hold so steadfastly to now. This was mainly the period spanning from my early childhood to my graduation from secondary school.
My initial contentions with cultural norms resulted as a culmination of the issues I had with Malay/Muslims ever since I was first introduced to the community. This was, namely, when I first enrolled into a local Madrasah (religious school). Before, I spent the golden years of my childhood in acting school and Montessori, and I had always felt right at home with my multi-cultural friends and teachers (in fact, I can remember each and every one of them, faces and names, even now). It was a very healthy social environment, nurturing and conducive. The same goes at home. We spoke English almost all the time and there was much emphasis on reading. Life was very halcyon, so to speak.
Of course, in an attempt to balance my education, my parents sent me to religious kindergarten as well. The demographic was a Malay majority but under an English syllabus. Things weren’t so bad if you don’t count the bullying. I remember my Montessori friends being distinctly different from the friends at religious school. One group was definitely more benign and accepting than the other.
My years of misery and misfit officially began on the first day of school in the local Madrasah. No exaggeration intended, but no amount of melodrama could justify the traumatic experience that was my first 2 weeks of school. It was a huge struggle especially because I didn’t speak colloquial Malay. I learnt it formally, but that definitely didn’t prepare me for such an environment. Everyone was so similar and so different from where I previously came from. Needless to say, I was automatically ostracized as per the idiosyncratic herd mentality that both my friends and teachers had.
So that was it. I knew I was radically different from the beginning. I gave my caretakers (parents and otherwise) a hard time to get me to go to school. I loathed everything about it initially, especially my teachers. Their methodology of teaching was very fear-based. It seemed as if the only way to get into heaven was to fear hell. The key to being good was to fear punishment. The teachers, despite being all female, seemed bereft of the loving, motherly nature my previous teachers had. They were older and hard-faced, merciless or otherwise indifferent.
After much resistance I finally succumbed to the expectations of the Madrasah community and tried my best to fit in. Being a mere child and under so much pressure, I decided the only way to get by was to do so. It took a lot of effort to suppress my thoughts and feelings in the tender years that followed, and as a result I remember being a very temperamental and confused child.
My angst continued into my teenage years, and the confusion developed into a deep sense of loneliness. It was something very typical of my enneagram type (I’m a 4 with a 3-wing), I realize now. But that period of my life was no less painful than my childhood. My temperament worsened and on several occasions I took it out on my friends in school (verbally and psychologically). This also manifested in a few attempts at suicide and self-mutilation. I thought I was unreasonably sensitive but I never knew why.
I was never a fan of the school system and rebelled in my own secret ways (I suppose there isn’t any harm in talking about that now that I’ve left it 4 years ago). I fail to recall exactly what I did but I always sought ways around the stipulated guidelines. I purposely skipped classes, broke rules. However, I never rebelled outwardly. The act of defiance in itself satisfied me that I didn’t need to be seen, just acknowledged by the Universe.
With the exception of one or two of them, my teachers generally never made an impact on me. This was simply because we came from completely different worlds. I never understood the love my classmates had for them, and hardly ever cared anyway. The few who did make an impact, for some reason, never stayed long. The year they taught me was almost always their last year in the school. And I’ve always wondered why.
I also expressed myself a lot in artwork and poetry – particularly character design and extensive, mournful ballads. But that itself never sufficed for I never felt validated by the people around me. My parents and teachers were often dismissive of the things I drew and wrote (not that I often showed them anything, but these things had the habit of being ‘discovered’ by them). I now realize, of course, that I was denying myself my own validation all this while. It took a long time for me to finally accept that I am talented.
The things I studied in school didn’t occur to me as questionable at the time of learning. Religious subjects were taught in Malay, with the textbooks and exams being in Arabic. To me, it was all simply a test of memory, not understanding. Despite this, I was very clear about certain principles in terms of Islamic creed that were repetitively taught over the 4 years of secondary school. Which will be the topic of discussion … in my next write-up.
[ Post Scriptum ]
It has been roughly 4 days since the first unhijabed article was published, and I am very pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of support I’ve been getting. It is very comforting to know that many are conscious of what’s happening, and share my sentiments on the matter. Or otherwise, as with those who have made an effort to show their concern for me in their own ways, I am thankful for their honesty and kindness.
Of course, on the other hand, I have predictably received a fair share of hate mail. I knew what was coming and really wasn’t surprised at all. I cannot say, however that I have emerged from it all unaffected due to my chronic, idiosyncratic resentment of stupidity. But nevertheless we wish these people well for we are all where we are, reality just is, and resisting it is to suffer.