The first time I chopped all my hair off, I was ten years old, firmly ensconced in my long-lasting tomboy phase wherein I refused any and all attempts to dress me “like a girl” and shopped exclusively in the boys section. I thought I looked fantastic. Everyone else apparently thought I looked confused. Either that, or the haircut and the clothes confused them—I can’t count the number of times the man at the bowling alley asked my mother what size shoes her two sons wanted.
I grew out of the tomboy phase by the end of junior high, and from then until my first year of college I refused to cut my hair any higher than my shoulders. Most of those years were spent with my hair hanging down to my waist and sticking to my face and skin in the shower. I had the classic prom updos and the high ponytail for volleyball games, and I familiarized myself with all sorts of medieval torture devices disguised as curling irons and straighteners.
To this day, I hold that there’s nothing ickier than a curling iron burn peeling and oozing in the middle of your forehead. But I digress.
Senior year of high school, I came out. I held off on cutting my hair for a while, but as the one-year anniversary of my coming out approached, I realized I was yearning for an outward display of my queer self—specifically, for an alternative-lifestyle haircut. Ah, the alternative haircut! The ultimate self-styling of the fashion-conscious dyke! The unmistakable sign of the lady-loving lady! I dreamed endlessly of mohawks, buzz cuts, and that awesome haircut Shane had in Season 2 and 3 of The L Word.
So I drove to my salon, marched in with a few pictures (tastefully found in a Google search for “dyke haircut”), and got my hair chopped off. Since that first dyke pixie cut, I’ve experimented with various styles: spiked in the front, short with a semi-faux hawk, mostly short with bangs dangling onto my eyes, and my current half-buzzed undercut. And god-DAMN, do I feel good about myself.
It hasn’t all been easy—I’ve struggled equally with finding the right kind of gel-goop to style my hair and with coming to terms emotionally with the unexpected implications of my hair experimentation. A recent haircut, chopped in a far-too-feminine way by my stylist, left me in confused tears outside the salon, wondering how she could possibly have read me so wrongly. I hadn’t realized until that moment how much having truly queer hair meant to me.
You see, I’m femme—even high femme—in identity and presentation, and I’ve struggled since coming out with striking the right balance between femme and invisible just as I’ve struggled with trying to present myself as pansexual rather than as straight or gay. My struggle with my haircut has been more than just a journey of self-styling, because it’s paralleled my growing desires to be read “correctly” by friends, lovers, and strangers. The “right” kind of dyke hair lets women know that I’m down with the lady-sex while still allowing for the possibility of hetero attraction; it lets me wear sundresses, glitter, and high heels without seeming normative in any sense of the word.
I love my hair like I love my identity. And isn’t that funny?
I recently had coffee with my serious ex from high school, and after catching up and sipping lattes for an hour, we ended up in his car, kissing like the teenagers we’d once been. A couple minutes in, he pulled back. Keeping his hand on the side of my face, he sighed. “I miss your old hair.”
And there it was. One little statement about my hair, and every reason we’d broken up came rushing back. He misses my old hair like he misses the person I used to be, and I wouldn’t go back for all the money in the world. We’re not meant to be together, partially because the queer womyn I am today—embodied by my badass hair—isn’t the confused “straight” girl he dated, and he can’t accept that.
And besides, we’re clearly not meant to be together if he doesn’t see how fabulous I look with this haircut. I mean, come ON.