This past week I embarked on the first leg of the radical, lefty, pinko-commie Laughter Against the Machine comedy tour with fellow comics Nato Green and W. Kamau Bell. The tour visits political hotspots in the U.S. in an effort to not only put on great shows but talk to people in those communities to learn more about their lives and views, and film all our shenanigans for a documentary. (The other guys won't accept my proposal to set the whole thing to the Benny Hill Theme, which I think would be super classy.)
Our third stop was Dearborn, Mich., home to the largest Arab-American and Islamic populations in the country. While there, we visited an Islamic community center, where the interfaith liaison was gracious enough to meet with us. The center also held a gorgeous mosque, where our filmmakers wanted to tape the interview. In order to enter the mosque, the two women in the group, manager Keri and I, were asked to cover our heads with scarves.
In a split second, my mind turned into a college course on feminism, gender identity, and religious tolerance and freedom.
Here was this man, trusting enough to allow five strangers into his house of worship when the political climate of this country all too often tears down his beliefs with baseless lies at best and violent hate at worst. And yet, here I was, a boyish dyke who'd spent my entire life grappling with what society told me I should and shouldn't look like, until I said, "To hell with it," and started presenting myself in a way that matched how I felt.
Sure, I wear feminine clothing sometimes, in the rare instance that I yearn to channel my inner Rita Moreno (I look nothing like her but let me pretend, damnit!) over my inner old-man English professor (I go through most days looking like this with none of the perks of hot student-teacher sexual tension, double damnit!). But these decisions are mine and mine alone, and something I feel very passionate about.
But not as passionate as I am about politeness and not makin' a ruckus. 'Cause I wore the scarf.
It was fine in the grand scheme of things; I only looked ridonkulous and had to wear something I didn't want to for an hour (white people problems). But in that moment I also realized that Momma didn't raise no revolutionary. My desire to assert myself as a strong, independent woman who don't take crap from no man was, ironically, overcome by my desire to please those around me. I could never lead a movement of any kind because our rally cry would be incredibly ineffective: "Equal rights now! Unless it's too much trouble; otherwise, don't worry about it! We can always come back tomorrow! Is that okayyyyyyyyy?"
Am I at all mad at the liaison for his request? No. I had the opportunity to decline, and it would've been fine. But I am mad at myself for giving in to that desire to make everyone else happy that has been ingrained into women for centuries. And I'm glad it happened, because it was a big wake-up call for me to not only dress as a strong woman who doesn't conform to the gender binary but to act like a strong woman who doesn't conform to the gender binary. So that if a situation like this arises again, I can say, "No, thank you," instead of a sheepish "okay."
Or at least a soft-spoken, "Ah, I'd rather not. Is that okaaayyyyyyy?" (Baby steps, y'all.)