Study hard so you can become a doctor. Help Baba bring in wood for the fire. Kiss that girl if you must, after all, boys will be boys, but only marry who we say is right. Because that’s what good boys do. Grow big – strong and tall. Chin up, stand straight and don’t you dare cry. Uphold the family name. Because that’s what good boys do. Go outside and play with the other boys. Only your sister can wear pink. And put away that nail polish right now. Because that’s what’s good boys do.
Say please and thank you, help Mamma make the cakes for eid. Kiss uncle on the cheek and always, always stay away from boys because they are not safe. Because that’s what good girls do. Skirts shouldn’t be shorter than your ankles. Learn makeup so that you can be beautiful for your husband. Fall in love but only with who we say is okay. Because that’s what good girls do. Make Baba tea when he comes home from work. Listen to your elders. Work hard and go to university, but remember: God put us here to carry children. Because that’s what good girls do.
That’s what good boys do. That’s what good girls do. Listen to us and you will be happy – you will be safe, they said. Only it turns out that the world doesn’t care if you are a good boy or a good girl, because I was, I promise you, I was. I did everything I was supposed to do but this world still crushed me, tore me till I was little more than specks, little more than ashes in the wind.
But now I’m 23 and my heart has beat 966 million times, some agonising, some blissful. Now I am 23 and I can make myself look like a different person with brushes, colour and ink. Now I am 23 and I have laid next to a man, felt his hands on my skin, and felt nothing but peace, but bliss, but hope in what so often can seem such an utterly hopeless world.
I have decided that I am not sure I care what good boys and girls should do, what this world thinks they should do, because why do they get to decide anyway? Why do they get to decide who the good boys and girls are? Because maybe there are no good boys and bad boys. No good girls and bad girls. Maybe there are just children. Children who grow and create their own hopes and dreams, needs and desires – the things that make us human. Humans that should be allowed to share their hearts and bodies with the people they love. Humans that should be allowed to make a living fulfilling their passion. Humans that should be allowed to be whoever they want to be and be safe. So maybe, just maybe, it’s this world that needs to undergo a metamorphosis, to change, to transform, to a place where girls and boys can just be children. Where humans can just be human. Maybe that’s what good worlds do.