(Editor’s Note: Girls Talking About Their Alternative Lifestyle Hair is a new feature where Erika talks to super hot girls who have feelings about their hair as it pertains to their sexualities, identities, and histories. I think you will also see that they are hot, and you will probably have feelings about that too. If you too would like to speak to Erika about your hair, email her at erika [AT] thegaily [DOT] ca and tell her why!)
I am a gay woman and I have been married to the love of my life for 12 years. Well, eight of those years were technically legal matrimony. The first four years were what you might call unlawful. And separate-but-equal. And hot. So other than being a hot homo married to another hot homo, what should I tell you about myself? I have a Master of Science degree, I’m something of a nerd, and I currently work for a local not-for-profit organization providing help to the needy. It doesn’t quite pay my student loan debt but it makes me happy. Except for when it makes my heart ache. Sometimes people have sad stories.
Anyway, how else can I talk about myself? I am a huge fan of the website www.hyperboleandahalf.com, if you haven’t ever checked it out, please do so. But no, that wasn’t about me. Let me try that again. I have great hair; the kind of wild, crazy hair that invites conversation and touching. I like hair. Who doesn’t? I mean, it says so much about us. We can do crazy things with it and it only continues to grow with us and represent us and make each of us stand out as different.
I haven’t always been able to let my hair out and do crazy things with it. There was a period in my life when I took my hair too seriously. I took everything too seriously, though; so let me talk about my first hair identity. Let me take you to five-year-old me in kindergarten.
I remember in the first month of kindergarten my mom took me to a hairdresser and gave me full reign over my haircut. Oh boy was I excited. My hair was dirty blonde and shoulder length but I never felt it was my style. My style was more tomboy if not real boy with a vagina complex. So in the end I got the hairdresser to cut my hair like a boy and I remember being so proud when I got out of the chair.
I remember checking myself out in the mirror and thinking to myself how boyish I looked and how becoming it was of me.
The sides and back were all short and it looked kind of like a bowl cut. It was perfect. I’d always wanted to be a boy and for a few years I truly believed that I would wake up one day and be a boy. I even picked out my name for when that happened: Paul. I was going to grow up to be a boy named Paul.
The day after my fantastic new haircut, I decided I was ready to introduce the world to me, Paul. Now I felt like I could be whom I felt I was. But, oh, the silliness of children. Sigh. I can laugh now about this story without crying. I never magically turned into a boy. And my haircut didn’t fool anyone. My fellow classmates ensured that I face a harsh reality and they reminded me that being different was bad.
Instead of being embraced for the boy I felt I was, I got picked on. People made fun of me and said I looked like a freak. Sure, they called me a tomboy and even a boy, but their tones of voices were harsh and pejorative. I didn’t dare ask them to call me Paul and by the time I was seven, I was disillusioned enough to realize that I would never wake up with a penis in place of my vagina.
I still wore my brother’s hand-me-down clothes and played with his Lego and his G.I. Joe. If I played with Barbie dolls it was to play with my fancy Ken doll whose plastic hair changed colour with warm water. Maybe I would play with the Skipper doll because she looked more tomboyish than her older sister. Sometimes I even made Barbie and Skipper make out. I was a weird child, I’m not denying any of this.
After my social flop, I ended up growing my hair out. Turns out I got a lot of compliments for having long hair and being so girly.
People really like to encourage kids to behave within their gender role expectations. What can I say I liked the compliments.
I grew my hair longer and longer. By grade six it was down to my waist and other than a trim every now and again, I didn’t cut my hair again until I was 19.
I knew what I was by the time I was ten years old. I had heard the names “fag” and “dyke” yelled out in the playground at my friends and peers. Usually I stayed quiet in the background trying not to draw the wrath of the school bullies. Even though those words weren’t directed at me, they really stung me. And it bothered me that it bothered me so much. It shouldn’t have meant anything to me, heck, kids call each other names all the time. At first, I didn’t know exactly what the words meant but I could comprehend the tones. Fag and dyke were used interchangeably and somehow managed to mean bad and gross and stupid all at once. I wasn’t any of those things, so why did those words affect me so much?
Up until that point in my young life, I wasn’t aware that I was attracted to girls. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was different in some way. There was plenty of evidence that I was strange, but I didn’t know I was into girls. I just knew that I wasn’t into boys. I figured that all the crushes my girl friends had on my boy friends were faked because I was faking them too. Only as time passed did I notice that they seemed way more convincing than I did. It made for a lonely childhood. I couldn’t confide in anyone about my feelings or my confusions. I couldn’t share with my friends or my siblings my deep dark secrets because my feelings didn’t even make sense to me let alone trying to explain them to normal children who fit into their gendered bodies and developing sexual orientations. I first put the label of “gay” to what I was feeling at the tender age of ten. I didn’t want anyone to know and I prayed to a God I never believed in that I would grow up to be normal like my friends. When that didn’t work, I tried ignoring my inner thoughts and feelings.
School was an easy hideout for me. I was good at it and I liked it. I let my hair continue to grow and I tried to be feminine.
I convinced myself that if I were the best, smartest girl that my family would love me no matter what I turned out to be.
No matter how hard I tried, though, I couldn’t ignore my gayness. I got involved in the gay community when I was fifteen and two years later I came out to my family. They seemed to be fine with it until I started dating. I met my partner just after high school. My family had a hard time actually having to deal with me dating a woman. Somehow seeing it made it a whole new reality for them. After eight months of arguing and fighting, crying and feeling rejected, I moved out. I’d lost my family and it was devastating. A month later, I was in a shitty situation and I was raped by a man who wanted to have sex with a lesbian.
Turns out my gorgeous, luscious long feminine hair was attractive and a handicap. The lowest point in my life was when I was laying there with my body all covered with someone’s ejaculate, blood between my legs, shocked and numb, and this man lovingly stroking my hair and telling me how soft and pretty it was when only a moment before he was using it to pin me down. I wanted to die.
I had spent my whole life trying to apologize for being gay and at that point I felt so punished and degraded and alone. Two days after my sexual assault, I went to a hairdresser and chopped my hair off. I wanted her to shave my whole head but she was afraid I would regret it. She didn’t really understand that I wanted to rid myself of my femininity, my straight-girl cover. She cut off over a metre of hair and I ended up donating my locks to an organization that makes wigs for people with cancer.
I did eventually shave my head; it was only a matter of weeks and a different hairdresser. I felt liberated in a way that I never could have predicted.
When I walked down the street, for instance, I had always had approving smiles of the elderly because I embodied their notions of traditional femininity.
But now with my hair shaved off and no way to hide behind it, I really embraced the perspective it gave me. I no longer had the approval of my respected elders and my family didn’t understand what I was going through; they saw me as a dyke. But it was okay because a whole new world had opened up for me among the punks and weirdos. Suddenly, people of the underground community would nod my way or make eye contact with me and I felt among kindred spirits. I felt like a group of people who saw me and not just my persona and it felt like they had my back, you know?
I couldn’t help but wonder why I had denied myself freedom for so long. After that turning point in my life, I started to see hair as just hair. You can paint it with acrylic paint and it’ll wash out, bleach the shit out of it and it’ll survive, or chop it off and it’ll grow back. I’ve had fun dyeing my hair blue and purple and green. I’ve loved my hair care free and tousled, shaved, and spiked and bleached.
Now I have dreadlocks and I love every minute of it. It’s been a lot of work but five years later, they are exactly what I want. I think of my hair as the perfect balance of quirky, sexy, unique, non-traditional, and low maintenance, and I have even managed to maintain a sense of professionalism. So I think I’ll be keeping it for a while longer and I think I’ve come into an identity and a hair style that suit who I am. At least at this point in my life. We’ll see what happens next. I won’t make any promises or commitments for the future.