VOF Week 2: (But Then Someone Said)
When I was a kid, I quickly realized that I was different – and not in a good way. I was different in that I really liked to wear my shoes on my head. It seemed natural to me that I should have the right to be a shoe-hatting person. As a child, everyone took it as a joke. They assumed I would grow out of it.
But I didn’t.
Slowly, I started to hide my desire to wear shoes on my head. I would replace shoes with slippers or socks. But inside me, I longed to wear my shoes proudly out in the open, to share my passion for shoe-hatting with everyone. But everyone around me wore their shoes like “normal” people – on their feet.
Then, at 15, a religious leader discovered my secret and was enraged. He decided to tell everyone that I was perverted and needed an immediate intervention. My mother broke down to pieces and has not spoken to me since. It’s been 12 years. I was taken to a mental hospital and a religious institution to be cured of my anomaly. I was banned from school for 2 months.
Eight years later, having lived with my shoes neatly hidden in my closet, I decided that I wanted to find other shoe-hatters in Lebanon. Maybe there were others like me. Maybe they would like me. I put up a website and a mailing list and started snooping around in the dark alleys of Beirut for glimpses of people who might be like me. Months passed and I slowly recruited around 15 people into my little group. At first we just wanted to enjoy the company of other people like us. But then someone said “Let’s do something about shoe-hatter-phobia. Let’s resist the systems that oppress us.” And activists were born.
We organized and discussed and reached out to more people till we became a community of hundreds of shoe-hatters. A year after that first ray of activism, I quit my job and decided to give all my time to community organizing. It was nothing short of a call to destiny. It is up to the people who believe in justice, who have once been trodden upon by whatever “-ism” to rise up and challenge the systems – all of the systems. Social change is not something you learn at universities. You can’t choose it as a career or as a job. You are thrust into it against your inhibitions through a voice that screams to you: “You must find the courage in you. You, little shoe-hatting person, have not gone through all that oppression in vain. You have gone through it so that you may emerge a more beautiful, creative being. It was so that you would understand. You must join the voices of the millions like you who are calling for justice. You must not blink till you have thought of all the ways you can and should change the world.”
And that is why you are reading me today.*
*The internet is not safe enough for me to tell my story with accurate details. But this one's as close as it gets to the truth.