Veiling: a 4-ish month retrospective

As many of you know, I started veiling in August of 2015. I’ve been intending to do a post about my experiences veiling, why I chose to veil, and basically anything I can think of relating to it for…well, a few weeks now. I just haven’t had the energy.

I have more energy now so I’m going to try to tackle it. This is by no means a complete overview of veiling; it’s just my perspective and experience based on the past 4-ish months of my doing it. I’m going to try to explain everything as clearly as I can; if anything I write here is confusing please feel free to ask me questions in the comments! Oh, also, the style of this post will be as follows: in conversation with imagined blog audience members and what I think their questions would be.

So, let’s start with the basics.

What is veiling anyway?

When I talk about “veiling” I’m referring to religious veiling, which is the practice of covering one’s head or hair, either fully or partially, with some sort of cloth (or even a hat). There are many examples in many religions of religious head coverings, and they’re not limited to women, though often when using the word “veiling” people generally mean women.

This is not such a weird thing. When my mom was a child, for example, it was common for women to wear hats to church, and religious head coverings for women are many and varied in many different Christian or Christian-offshoot traditions. Muslim women also often cover their hair or heads in a variety of ways, and many Jewish women do as well. And yes, now (and in ancient times) pagan women do it too. (These are just the 4 main examples I’m using for this post; there are many more out there.)

As for the reasons behind covering one’s hair, they are many, varied, and cannot be summed up in any general form. So when I set out to define what I mean by “veiling,” I am stating what can be summed up generally: a form of religious head or hair covering. I can’t add more qualifiers to the definition without running the risk of excluding people who veil.

Ok, but…why?

This is the part of the post where I stop talking about generalities and move into my personal experience and reasons. I cannot speak for any other person who veils. There are many reasons why someone may choose to wear a head-covering religiously and I can’t possibly list them all.

For me, well, it started 4 years ago when I first participated in Covered in Light. Covered in Light was a day where many women and people socially classed as such (henceforth written as (psca)women) covered their hair in a show of solidarity and to bring awareness to the practice of headcovering not just in Abrahamic religions but in others as well. In an increasingly-Islamophobic Western world, we wanted to help educate people in the vast variety and diversity of veiling out there, in the hopes of defusing some of the hate. It’s much easier to hate a group when they do something that you don’t think anyone like you would ever do; when you learn that, say, Christians also veil, it’s a bit harder to justify that hate.

Covered in Light fell apart, sadly, because the intense backlash caused too much stress for the organizer. (What intense backlash? I’ll get to that in a minute.) However, I still participated, covering my hair for a day and going about my normal routine.

I felt…different, that day, and I couldn’t place it, couldn’t figure out why. I still didn’t think that veiling full-time was for me, but I allowed myself to consider the possibility that it might be, at some point in the future. Or even part time.

Fast forward to this past summer, and I’m reading and studying up about the Otherfaith, sort of thinking, yeah, I think I’m probably an Other person. I got nudges from the Ophelia, very subtle ones, but I got the distinct impression she wanted me to start veiling. So I did, part time at first. I didn’t want to do it at work to start, so I wore bandanas as a compromise. Eventually I found the courage and confidence to do full veiling at work, though I still sometimes wore bandanas, depending on the day. The rest of the time, if I left the house, I veiled.

At first I couldn’t articulate why veiling was important to me, or even really understand the reasons the Ophelia wanted me to do it. I just knew that it had quickly become a very important part of my life, and I didn’t want to stop doing it.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to really articulate it. See, for me, the veiling is not about covering my hair. It’s about covering my head. When I veil, it’s like…extra shielding.

I’m an empath. When I go out into public I am drowning in people’s emotions. Probably where my social anxiety developed, to be honest. I shield as much as I can but sometimes it’s not enough; sometimes I don’t have the energy to remember to do it properly.

The veil is a physical shield. It keeps my brains from falling out and other people’s crap from falling in. Not only am I able to keep other people’s stray emotions at bay, I’m able to keep my stray emotions from rampaging. When I veil, I feel more adult, more composed, better able to handle my responsibilities and duties. I feel like a grown genderqueer person.

Which is why the Ophelia wanted me to veil, I realize now. She’s a god of many things, but among those things are duty, responsibility, composure. There’s a regal air about her, and she sometimes appears veiled, too.

There’s a power in the veil. A power I choose to put on.

What about that intense backlash you mentioned? Tell us about that.

I did cover this, briefly, in my original post on Covered in Light; however I think it should be covered again.

Basically, there are 2 main reasons people who veil (and the people involved in Covered in Light) receive backlash: Islamophobia and ~*~feminism~*~.

The Islamophobia is well known and documented and unfortunately still going strong. I hoped that things would get better; they only seemed to get worse. Especially up here in Canada. Last year, in the run up to the election, our last PM Stephen Harper made a big fucking deal out of a woman who wanted to take her oath of citizenship while wearing the niqab. He also set up a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline and basically just vomited anti-Muslim sentiment all over the country.

The result? Well, he lost the election, but not before women were attacked and had their niqabs ripped off them. It was horrifying. All over a woman who wanted to become a citizen of our country without having to betray her religious choices.

The climate in Canada has certainly worsened over the past 4 years, and while a lot of blame for that can be laid at Harper’s feet, that doesn’t mean it magically goes away now that he has, too. We’re still a pretty Islamophobic country, and nothing but hard work is going to change that.

Islamophobia was one of the reasons there was backlash against Covered in Light. I don’t think I need to go into detail about how it manifested; if you’ve lived in the West for the past several years you’ve probably seen it enough to know it well.

The other was ~*~feminism~*~. I write it that way, with the ~*~ on either end, because it’s not actually feminism. Not the feminism that I practice, and still believe in, though I have left the community. The ~*~ on either side are meant to convey that the word is stressed in an almost sarcastic way, with maybe a lot of “ooooohs” dripping with scorn said out loud, and a waving of the hands.

People who practice ~*~feminism~*~ are all about women’s lib…unless women want to actually have agency and live their lives in a way that goes against the view point of said ~*~feminists~*~. If a ~*~feminist~*~ says something is sexist and you disagree, then you are just allowing your internalized misogyny to speak for you, and you don’t really know any better, but it’s okay, because this ~*~feminist~*~ is fighting for you, you poor unknowledgable creature, and will help save you (from a thing you don’t wish to be saved from).

That was the form a lot of the backlash that Covered in Light took back in 2012, and (psca)women who veil still have to put up with it. The belief is that head-covering itself is always sexist, no ifs ands or buts about it, that there is NO WAY a (psca)woman could possibly CHOOSE to veil (because remember, ~*~feminists~*~ don’t actually support or believe in (psca)women’s agency; we’re all too brainwashed to know better), and (psca)women must all be saved from the evil headscarves of Teh Patriarchy ™.

Let me put it bluntly: clothing does not oppress people. Lack of clothing does not oppress people. What oppresses people is oppression.

The problem is not the headcovering; the problem is if someone has been coerced into wearing it. The problem is when it is no longer a choice.

The problem is when countries pass laws to outlaw religious headcoverings in the name of freedom for women. The problem is when Prime Ministers attack the niqab and say it’s because they care “so much” about women, while slashing funding for women’s issues and ignoring the thousands of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, because they’re not the right sort of women. The problem is when women are attacked or condemned for their choice of clothing — no matter what that choice is.

You can’t march in Slut Walk and then turn around and say a headcovering is sexist and should be outlawed.

Well, ok, you can, but it just makes you the biggest fucking hypocrite on the face of the planet.

The problem is not the headcovering; the problem is the coercion, whether that coercion is to put (psca)women into headcoverings or to take them out of them.

But ~*~feminism~*~ doesn’t understand that, so when you cover for religious reasons or just…at all, you face that backlash. That’s what Covered in Light faced in 2012, and I don’t blame the organizer for not being able to take the stress of it. It’s awful to deal with.

…ok, I went into a bit of a rant there, which I really need to start expecting from myself. Any more questions before I wrap this up?

Have you personally received any backlash? Any attacks?

Nothing overt. Actually I’ve noticed regional differences. When I was working outside the house it was in a fairly rural, farmland-ish area, so I actually expected some negative backlash. I didn’t calculate into my assumption that that area is also Mennonite country, so people just figured I was Mennonite (one customer asked me if I was). I never got any crap about it. The most I’ve gotten living where I do is an odd look or too, but generally what I get more often are compliments on my scarves. (They are quite pretty.)

However, when I was staying at my mom’s place for 2 weeks in December, the tenor of my social interactions changed. Again, mostly people were cool, but I noticed a definite uptick in very dirty looks from older white people, of the sort of dirty look that only old white people can give. It was almost nostalgic for me; I remember my Oma & Opa giving those looks to people or ideas.

No one said anything, though one woman looked as if she might. She glared at my headcovering, and at me, and shook her head in disgust.

But yeah, nothing overt, though I think it’s probably a matter of time. No doubt part of what’s keeping me safe from attacks is the color of my skin. I pass for white, so most people aren’t going to assume Muslim when they see me, because for most people Muslim = brown skin (incorrect, and a good look at how Islamophobia often manifests itself as racism, which is why we need to talk about racism when we talk about it, even if Islam isn’t a race), and I tend to think that most attacks are likely to be Islamophobia-based.

Though it’s also possible I get attacked by the ~*~feminist~*~ crowd, in which case I’ll either be accused of being a shieldmaiden for the patriarchy OR culturally appropriating. Or both!

However, one thing I actually do worry about is what might happen if I get pulled over, or otherwise have my ID checked by a police officer. See, they changed the rules for BC driver’s licenses. Back when I got my first pic taken, I had a headband in. It was quite obvious in the picture. But in the current climate of “EEK MUSLIMS”, they changed the policy. They say it’s to keep people like Pastafarians from “abusing the system,” but that’s patently bullshit. Also, ICBC, you don’t actually get to be the judge of who is serious in their religion.

Basically, you cannot wear something on your head or in your hair of ANY SORT unless you can demonstrate that your religion is abusive. There is no room for religious choice when it comes to BC DL pictures — or even personal choice. There are people who have been wearing things on their heads for personal reasons for years and had no problem with their DL pictures until recently.

I didn’t have the energy to fight this battle when it came up in August last year, and I ended up going back to ICBC three different times to get my DL sorted out. Because I couldn’t demonstrate that I would suffer real harm in my religious community if I took off the veil, I was forced to take my picture without it.

I honestly felt like crying when they made me take it off. Taking it off in front of everyone, when they knew I had to because my religion wasn’t considered good enough, because I wasn’t religious enough…gods, it felt like I was being forced to take all my clothes off, like I was being looked at and judged, and found wanting; like they were laughing at me.

(The individuals I dealt with at ICBC were very nice, and a few of them were quite sympathetic, but this didn’t change the fact that I felt like everyone in that room — employees, other people waiting for their number to come up, the head honchos watching through the security cameras — was watching me and judging me. It was awful.)

And now I have a DL that has a picture of me without my veil, but I still veil every day. What do you think will happen if a police officer asks me to remove my veil and I (rightfully) refuse?

Yeah, I don’t really want to imagine it either.


Ok, I think this post has become long enough. There’s still more I can talk about with regards to veiling, probably, but for now I think this will do. Please, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section!

~Morag

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