Hair is weird, man. Fluffy, curly, frizzy, wavy, wispy, thin or thick. It’s just strings of cells, these DNA appendages hanging off our body.
Hair is deep, man. We use it to step up our head's game, to show what we’re about, what we are committed to, our religion, our culture, our aesthetic. Hair is used as an art. Hair has also been used as a tool to control and disempower people.
People get real dumb about hair when it comes to gender. Well, people just get real dumb about gender and hair separately, so put them together and damn. And where do gender, hair, and (often) stupidity converge? The barbershop.
The barbershop is where I started transitioning. I started hormones and had top surgery one year ago. But I think I actually began my transition twelve years ago- the day I came home from my first year of college.
I asked my best friend since 3rd grade to go with me to get my haircut and when I got there I said: “Buzz it all off, baby”. Mind you, my first cut was in a barbershop probably called “Hair’s To You!” in a strip mall in my Cincinnati hometown, executed by a 65-year-old white woman. I would come to find that this was not my ideal barber, but hats off to Betsy/Bertha/Beatrice (?) for getting the ball rolling.
That day changed my life very literally. That day ended 18 years of awkwardly trying to perform femininity. I had been wearing big earrings and bandanas in my curly hair. I had a phase with two long thick braids, a curly mop on top phase, even a cornrows with magenta extensions phase (please forgive me). This was clearly a mashup of figuring out how to reconcile my true self with the gender I was told to perform, and also how to be a non-problematic white person. But then it all clicked. And the initial click was the cut.
After the cut came the clothes. In the course of one day I shaved off all my hair, bought a (very cheap and questionable) new wardrobe and suddenly I was this big guy with a fade who wore color-coordinated striped polos, Air Forces, and Cincinnati Reds hats. I got a fresh buzz cut every week. From my hair to my underwear, I felt more at home. My whole spirit felt the way I imagine a foot feels after taking a stiletto off at the end of the night.
Also, for the first time in my life, I knew how it felt to out yourself every day by just walking out the door. That summer I was in my hometown and I remember the distinct mix of excitement and anxiety when I saw people for the first time as a boy-lookin’-girl (as I called myself then), knowing how much went unsaid in those exchanges. Also how much was said. Dumb stuff like “Well, you still look like a girl” and “You’re still pretty!”, as if I had been in an accident and had to amputate my hair and was wondering how to preserve my gender without this essential organ.
Then there was the general public. I started getting called sir, and I liked it, but people would always get all bent out of shape and weird when they realized I was “a girl”. I started getting grilled and side-eyed and yelled at in the women’s bathroom. I started having to walk from the men’s department with my pile of clothes to the women’s side, standing there slightly hot in the face while the attendant caught herself before saying “wrong fitting room”. Dudes started dapping me instead of hugging me. Servers passed me the check at the end of the night. (But would also make a point of calling both me and my date “ladies” repeatedly). My ‘straight’ girlfriends started getting touchy, feely, flirty birdy.
Point is, with all the positive and problematic pieces, that was my first transition. In my mind and in other people’s eyes, my hair was the initiation. I was rocking fades and faux hawks and fine line designs and I was feeling myself.
Eight years passed and I settled in more. I tried cutting my own hair and my hairline paid the price. I braved new barbershops and found some cool barbers that would hold me down. And I also found a few that would look me dead in the eye and sing Buju Banton “kill the gays” lyrics. I started working out more and it felt good to do my version of taking care of myself. It spread to my mental. To my art. To my style. I went to Mexico for three weeks with my lover at the time and my hair got a little longer. My curls came in on top, looking mighty fine, all juiced from the threesome loving they were getting from the sun and sea. It was then that I had a vision of my future self. I was fluffy buff with long hair down to my butt, wearing olive green pants, a crisp white tee, and a chain. And for some reason, I was on a horse.
I decided to dredge through the awkward phases and the impatience and grow my hair back out. This was 10 years since I last had long hair and 3 years before I decided to transition. For many years I was living my life as a masculine woman-bodied person and hurting inside, holding anger from all the times people called me “lady” or “girl” or “ma’am”. Growing my hair out definitely made that situation worse. With my long ponytail and boy clothes, to the more basic eye, I was the L in LGBTQ. And the world had already been “Hey girl”-ing me, even with my fade on, so now it was getting bad.
Still, the vision was almost complete. I had muscles. I had long hair. I had plenty of white tees. But something was missing. My frustration with being misgendered was intensifying. As we often do, I tried to shrink my larger sadness and anger into a concrete, physical thing. So in moments when it flared, I vowed to cut off all my hair because then maybe people would shut up about me being a gotdamn lady! I considered sacrificing my long, luscious locks that I had dreamed of and worked towards for so long, all because the world would not see me as I truly am.
But then my other self would intervene like “Dude, you are a totally unique creature living in a limited system. They can’t even see themselves. So how are they gonna see magical creatures like you and the Fam. So you gotta just worry about being your best, full, free self and hope it spreads to them too.”
At one point, for me, that meant a sharp fade. Now it means a top bun, two long braids (no extensions), ponytail, Cincinnati Reds hat for the hometown and the old days, or just hair down and flowing, looking like Poseidon with my silver streaks. A flower behind the ear is my preferred state. Long hair don’t care...for real.