Paradox of the Secret

It has only been a few hours since I posted my ‘Introduction’ and there is no mistaking the anxiety I feel. One second I am worried about someone I know finding it, or someone Googling my name and putting two and two together. I considered deleting the blog already. I have doubted it, thinking no one is going to read it (no one has, yet, so the doubt remains) and that it will be a waste of my effort. There is a quantifiable fear in my heart that I will somehow be found out – which I recognize is an irrational fear to some degree – as I have willingly begun publicly publishing my thoughts and feelings about converting to Islam. Every time I tell someone I am Muslim, or that I converted (as if one could have happened without the other) I feel a rush of excitement, but always followed with a surge of panic. ‘I shouldn’t have said that,’ I always think. I chastize myself for spilling a secret I feel like I should have kept. I blame myself for not being able to keep it, and for wanting to tell it.

This is the strange paradox of being a secret revert: I am simultaneously desperate to tell my story, to live completely authentically without any hiding anything, while also being completely averse to sharing the details about my religious affiliation.

I am without a doubt still afraid of what people will think: I am uncomfortable knowing I will not be able to control the narrative of other people’s inevitable conversations about me. I will not be able to stand up for myself. Granted, some days I do not care what others think, and certainly, I have become less and less concerned about it in the last year or so. I am so happy and content with my life, and its trajectory, that I cannot be bothered what becomes fodder for gossip among others who are most likely unhappy and unfulfilled in their own ways. I have cut down my social media presence, and those that have access to it, considerably, because I am sensitive about the number of casual acquaintances whom I let into my private life, and in anticipation of a time when I am more forthright about its intimate details. Still, knowing this revelation is going to happen in some way, at some point, is unsettling; it is hard for me to let go of control over the details.

My friends, I am sure, will be more receptive, and indeed, some of them (read: 2) I have felt comfortable telling. I do not worry about their judgment, as I trust they will know best that I am happy and that I made a choice that suits me well. I suspect many of my close friends suspect me in return, but refrain from asking me outright until I am ready to tell them myself. I do not worry much about letting my close friends in on my conversion, though I am apprehensive thinking about whether they might feel like certain elements of our friendship will now be forbidden. I am still pretty much the same person, but changes, albeit slight, have occurred. I feel some guilt, too, thinking about the activities or behaviors I have engaged with friends in that I am no longer gung-ho about, either due to maturity or a product of converting. I am typically reserved, never one to announce my thoughts and feelings unprompted, so I worry private decisions I have made to abstain from alcohol or perform daily prayers will seem alien, perhaps disingenuine, or worse, only a forced result of suddenly being Muslim. I have sometimes worried friends may be offended I waited so long to tell them, or in some cases, outright lied. When I first reverted I told myself I would never commit a lie about it, but as it happened, people asked me directly sooner than I expected and I found myself undeniably uncomfortable with responding truthfully.

Again, a paradox: I fret about the ‘real me’ not being seen or understood, but I am unable or unwilling to entrust my friends with her.

Then there is the issue of my family: how will I navigate that dynamic? I have always strived to be a ‘low-key’ person: I avoid drama, rumbles, upheaval, and prefer to keep things running smoothly and efficiently, always looking to minimize issues by intuiting where they may spring up. I struggle with the idea of dropping what feels like a pretty cumbersome development on them because it goes against my accommodating nature: I feel like I will create chaos, and my whole life I have tried to prevent it. I do not want to make things difficult. I do not want to create awkward conversations. I do not want to become the elephant in the room. Honestly, if I could make it all happen my way, I would continue living my life in quasi-secret, without ever confirming or denying being Muslim, until old age. Granted, my immediate family has gotten used to me not eating pork products and fasting for two Ramadans, and comments they make here and there give me hope they are more receptive than I am giving them credit for. But thinking about the extended family only brings more anxiety. What will I do about the FOX News watching, creeping sharia worrying, right-wing conservative uncle? I struggle to relinquish control and put myself in an unfamiliar situation.

Being a secret revert is an exercise in anxiety and uncertainty. I am learning, no doubt, how to live more authentically, but am doing so while still concealing myself from most people around me. I am chronically over-analyzing how what I do will affect those around me, and per usual, I take the ripple effects of my actions into greater consideration than my actions themselves. Which is not to say converting to Islam is some great calamity I need to apologize for – it unequivocally is not – but I suppose I am not used to the idea of being such an outlier. Another paradox, as I have always gone against the grain a bit, but it seems like this one still comes as a surprise to me.