Are You in the Closet?
Several years ago, before I began working as a substitute teacher, I saw an ad for an Administrative Assistant who was experienced with social media. I was looking for a part-time job a few days a week, and this job seemed to be a good fit. I had experienced with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I also had been writing here for about 6 months at that time. I thought I was fairly adapt at what I was doing and thought I’d be right for the job.
Since I had been out of the work force for 10 years, I proceeded to update my resume. While I was doing so, I asked if I should add my experience online writing here at My Islamic Life and being a small business owner through Etsy, selling religiously minded items.
I was told No.
I mentioned that the job I was applying for specified that I be social media savvy and this experience was directly applicable to the job requirements. I pushed further and was told not to list my blog or shop specifically because they are Islamically focused. I should find another way to list my experience without opening myself to the potential discrimination.
Since I opened my Etsy shop and began writing, when people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a Stay At Home Mom (even when I was working far more than keeping my family) or I tell them I’m a Substitute Teacher (even though I work as a sub to support my little business.) I rarely even mention my business. Even when I tell people, I downplay my mission of making devotional jewelry. I push forth The Wudu Cling because it is easier, less personal, and simpler to explain.
When I started getting orders for non-religious jewelry from my friends and family members, I thought to open a separate Etsy shop so they would feel more comfortable ordering from me. I thought I’d reach more people and I’d be able to create more pieces of non-religious jewelry. The one time I participated in a craft fair, it was at the secular school where I work and I chose to use my VianneFere storefront to present my work. I thought I’d be more approachable if people didn’t associate me with Islam.
I think it stems from being told to shelter myself from the potential backlash. The clear message was to hide your affiliation, don’t let people know.
The problem with hiding my affiliation to Islam is that I am not reaching potential customers by hiding. I am not reaching people who are in need of what I have to offer because I’m afraid to reach out to them. By hiding, I am not reaching those women who, like me, have been told to hide their association with Islam but are in need of a support group who share their same experience.
Over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to become affiliated with an Origami Owl Hostess. She sought me out because she heard about my custom stamped jewelry. The women attending her Owl parties were asking her for personalized plates and charms. Since then, I’ve added 4 sizes of stamped plates specifically designed to fit inside the Origami Owl Living Lockets to my My Islamic Life Shop on Etsy. When I did my initial trial pieces, I used Arabic names, phrases and symbols that would be attributed to Islam. Since then I’ve had many customers place orders. Not one of the orders have been religious in nature.
Last week, two co-workers asked me about my jewelry and wanted my business card so they could see my work and possibly commission an order. I considered this request carefully and had to make a conscious decision about what business card I would give them. I have the VianneFere shop still open and I carry business cards for that shop in my bag right next to the My Islamic Life cards. My Islamic Life is my main focus, but would I lose these potential customers if I gave them one business card over the other?
When my co-worker started asking questions about the necklace design, and what was possible to create, I casually mentioned that if she wanted me to stamp a cross on her family charms, I would be happy to make that part of her design. Or, if she wanted me to stamp a Bible verse (because I know she’s particularly religious and I’ve answered questions for her about Islam before) it would be okay.
She laughed a little and said, “Do you realize that your voice drops when you mention anything about religion?”
No, I didn’t.
I feel like I’m straddling the threshold of the closet door in any setting. When I’m inside the Muslim Community, I can talk about the need for a support system for the non-Muslim spouse/parent in family, and I can talk about reaching out to answer questions that non-Muslims have about Middle American Muslims. But I’m not truly accepted as a part of the American Muslim life because I don’t pray like a Muslim. When I’m in an environment where I don’t know how I’ll be received, I’m inside the closet with my pinky toe peeking out. I’m not afraid of people finding out that my family is Muslim, but I’m not outwardly identifiable. Maybe this has more to do with my not knowing where I am in my religious journey, I have no clearly defined religion, so I have a problem taking ownership of something I’m not sure I have a share in.
How do I get from where I am to where I need to be? How do I get out of my own way?