Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
In the spring of my second year of high school, I shaved my head in front of the entire school. Yes, it was for a greater cause than my own teenage restlessness, but I cannot confidently say it was for that sole reason. In a way, this act of careful rebellion was a combination of doing something generous for others and doing something endlessly important for myself.
Trudging through the mundanity that I felt in my tenth year of education, I knew then that I needed a change, and I was ready for it to be drastic. Discovering my school’s St. Baldrick’s fundraiser was the perfect solace; it allowed me to fill myself with higher purpose for a few months of raising money and would conclude with a pep rally where I would get my head shaved in front of 3,600 students and faculty. I knew this was exactly the kind of rewarding experience for which I was previously yearning.
For two months, I carried around a decorated donations box, asking for change in every class from my peers and teachers. I had an online donations page that I religiously checked every day after school, observing the overwhelming growth of financial support as family and friends shared my page over social media.
One day, my mom asked to have a talk with me, proposing that we sit down and discuss something that her worried eyes told me she was taking very seriously.
“I wanted to make sure you’re okay doing this fundraiser thing,” she whispered tentatively.
I was compoundly irritated and disoriented. Why would she ask this? Of course I was “okay doing this thing.” Her question demeaned my independent ability to make decisions for myself. Did she think I had not thought this through? Did she think I was not able to consciously look out for myself?
Tersely, I responded, “Uh, yeah.”
“Well, good,” she confessed, “because I had a few colleagues approach me about you because they saw my Facebook post.”
I had not the slightest clue where this was heading. I was raising funding for researching cures to childhood cancer. Maybe I had misread my mom’s apparent distress. Maybe this was about someone reaching out with a donation. I hoped it was.
“And they told me that they ‘couldn’t believe I was letting my daughter to this.’”
My cheeks reddened with disgust and fury. You have got to be kidding me, I thought.
“One of them even said ‘but her hair’,” my mom continued, her face imitating the false concern of her colleague, “‘is what makes her a girl.’”
She went on to explain that those were not her feelings at all, that she was there to support me no matter what. She admitted honestly that she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop me even if she had wanted to do so, just because that is the kind of person I am and will always be, independent and tenacious. And I agreed, but even after the conversations ended, I was increasingly bothered by it.
In a second, this act which I so confidently believed to be about bettering the lives of others, about putting good out into the world, was turned into an issue of my own gender identity. These people so rudely made my own mother feel inadequate in her role in my life, unable to ignore their cultural need to limit my independence with the constraints of forced femininity.
My resolution was to reject this prescribed ideal. I participated in St. Baldrick’s and was granted an irreplaceably rewarding experience, one that no one could have stopped me from having. The one upside to the uncouth colleague’s comment was that it taught me to promise myself not to listen to those who try to limit me. I may receive comments like these for the rest of my life: comments that I will be strong enough to ignore.