Wonder Boi Writes

It’s Just Hair (Part1): The Short Of It.

 

It’s just hair. It grows back!

That was the asinine comment that started the whole thing. My friend Trixie had cancer and was undergoing chemo. She stopped by one night to tell me her hair had begun falling out in big clumps. She seemed a little horrified, and I wanted to comfort her. I should have said, “You are so much more than your hair” or “I’m sorry. That sucks” or perhaps just offered a hug. I didn’t understand then what I would take the next 18 months to learn.

“It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”

“Easy for you to say,” Trixie said.

In the second comment I would later regret, I said, “Would it make you feel better if I shaved mine, too?”

The words came out before I thought them through, but Trixie laughed and said something like, “Oh my God, would you really do that?”

I felt only slightly shocked and nervous when I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

A few days later I was in her living room while our friend Erika switched on a buzzing set of clippers next to my ear. Gentle hands, warm and soft raked through my locks. Then came a tickle laced with energy, exhilaration. I shivered as I felt the first brush of air against my scalp. Then my stomach turned as I felt my hair flutter along my side and back toward the floor.

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What had I done?

My friends were gleeful. We laughed… a lot. Lynda Sandoval covered my eyes and marched me to the bathroom mirror for the big reveal. When she moved her hand, I blinked and smiled nervously.

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We’ve always joked that I had the mind of a fourteen-year-old boy, but now I looked like one, too. No, younger than that. I looked 10. Lynda assured me I had a good head for a buzz cut. Trixie seemed amused, and that seemed like the main thing. We’d had fun. We took a scary thing and made it funny. Couldn’t be all that bad, right? I walked home reminding myself I’d done the right thing. It was just hair. It would grow back.

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Susie met me at the front door. Her smile seemed to mirror my own. Fake, nervous, and tinged with the unspoken, “What did you do?” She pulled me into a hug and rubbed the stubbles. Then she held me back at arms length and said, “Oh Ponyboi. Your hair. Your tuff, tuff hair.”

Susie for the win. I fell in love with her all over again. We both laughed until we cried. The Outsiders is one of my favorite books of all time. This would be an adventure.

Later when I asked if it was really that bad, she lovingly said, “I love that you’re the kind of person who would do something like this.” I asked again, “But does it really look that bad?” She smiled and repeated, “I love that you’re the kind of person who would do something like this.” Then she added, “I’m also glad your hair grows really fast.”

Well okay then.

That summer I learned a few things:

  1. Running/heavy exercise is better without hair. I sweat less. My whole body stayed cooler. Nothing suck to my forehead or eyes. I hated working out less.DSCN2330
  2. People don’t really see you when you look like a 10-year-old white kid. You are ubiquitous. There is a type of privilege to that. White and male are so much the societal norms (the standard by which everything else is othered) that they don’t even get noticed as distinct individuals in our cultural gaze. I wonder how different it would have been had I been black. Would I still have gotten that “pass,” or would people have watched me more closely?” Instead, I was bland, non-threatening, commonplace, yet not old enough to command the respect associated with privilege. It made me understand why so many middle-class white kids do crazy things to get noticed. Even friends who had seen me with my hair cut multiple times couldn’t find me in crowds or in pictures for weeks even months. It was like I didn’t exist as something their eyes should focus in on.1237061_10101471262465250_473351397_n
  3. Shampoo, conditioner, gel, wax, and hairspray are expensive and time consuming to
    use. When something’s part of your routine for years, you to tend to take it for granted, but without all the products I actually saved a nice chunk of change. Perhaps more importantly though, I saved time. Showers were shorter and drying time nonexistent. Between the two, I had an extra 15 minutes every day. That adds up to 1 hour 45 minutes a week and over 7 hours a month. Let that sink in.1234139_10101495837162360_565751835_n
  4. When strangers think you’re a 10-year-old boy and then they find out you are actually an adult female, they don’t like it. Reactions range from major embarrassment to anger (I think one often transitioned to the other) or even fear. They went from not really noticing you to not being able to look at you. I saw their red faces and their double-takes.  I heard their whispers (I thought that was a boy!) and mumbled apologies . Women’s locker rooms and bathrooms had long been awkward spaces for me, but they became uncomfortable at a level I’d never quite experienced before. People picked up and left or moved when I walked in.  Others flat out told me I was in the wrong place.  I was still the same height, the same weight, the same race, the same sex. The only thing that had changed was my hair.  It’s only hair is a fine thing to tell yourself, but it’s something else entirely when talking to an angry woman in a locker room.
  5. Human beings make snap decisions about people based on their appearance.  It’s a survival instinct, and we aren’t likely to undo that evolutionary skill anytime soon. Hair is a much bigger part of that process than I realized. The ability to assess and compartmentalize didn’t surprise me. What I did find shocking is how hard it is to reverse those snap decisions. They get entrenched very quickly and to change them causes a sort of whiplash that genuinely upsets people. Maybe it makes them feel like the instinct they depend on for survival is faulty, and when you dwell on that it’s kind of terrifying. I think this is the space where a little reflection could go a long way toward meaningful change. Go ahead and let your baser brain do its job in helping you navigate the world. We all do it. There’s no need to pretend otherwise, but let’s also acknowledge that decisions made at first glance are rarely completely accurate. Let’s not hold ourselves or those instant assessments to unrealistic standards. When talking about social conditioning, my dad likes to tell me, “I’m not responsible for my first thought. I’m only responsible for what I do with it.”  I don’t blame people for their initial assumptions based on my hair. I just wish more of their second thoughts had been, “It’s just her hair.”
  6. People touch short hair.  Touch is my love language, so I loved this. Friends rubbed my bald head for good luck. As the stubble grew in, they patted it. When it got long enough to soften up, they tousled it gleefully.  When it started to style again, they would run their fingers through it, or stand it on end. This was my favorite part and the thing I miss most. So much touching. No one touches my long hair (expect Georgia Beers, who likes to flick my ponytails). I think there’s no novelty to long hair. Also people don’t want to mess it up. I’m sure those who like their personal space enjoy the polite distance, but I miss the closeness that comes from a casual and completely platonic passing touch.1381658_10101594921132290_551777712_n
  7. Most importantly I learned there’s a deep vulnerability to being bald. I saw a quote once that read, “You can’t control everything. Your hair was put on your head to remind you of that.”  I understood so acutely that in Timeless I used Stevie’s hair as an indicator and complicater of her frustration levels. Still, I was unprepared for the level of helplessness I felt without hair. Turns out hair is actually one of the few parts of my body I do have control over. I can’t control my height or complexion. I can only control my weight between certain biological parameters, and even that’s hard. I can’t control my breasts or my female biology, no matter how uncomfortable they make me at times. Hair is actually really easy to control, relatively speaking. One of the first things I did when I came out was cut my hair. First to my shoulder, then my chin, then above my ears. Each step brought me closer to looking the way I felt. I crossed the line when I went high and tight. Too short, not me. Then I found the Zac Efron. I learned how to flip it off my forehead with a playful toss. The girls went wild…okay maybe not, but for the first time I looked on the outside like the things I felt  inside: young, boish, fun, and playful. Remember what I said about the snap decision people make based on hair? I’d finally found the cut that inspired assessments I wanted people to make. I’d learned to control at least part of the message. Then all the sudden that control was gone. I’d lost more than just hair. I’d lost my ability to instantly show the world who I wanted them to see.

I admit, after the novelty of a shaved head wore off, I felt pretty sorry for myself. At times the lack of control bordered on panic. The only thing that kept me from going completely crazy with self-pity was watching Trixie go through chemo. If I felt betrayed by my own body over a haircut, what must she be going through? Her body had turned against itself at a cellular level. She had every right to be angry and bitter or paralyzed with fear. Instead, she was rock star. She was strong, fierce, inspiring, and damned if she didn’t look amazing bald. I once told her I looked like a ten-year-old boy and she looked like an awesome punk rocker. I added that women were going to start throwing themselves at her. She looked me in the eye and said, “What makes you think they haven’t been doing that already?”

Clearly, Trixie wins all the things, while I still had a lot of learning ahead of me.

There you have it. The story of the short hair, how the adventure got started, and what I learned in those early moments. Stay tuned next time for part two: The Long of It.

 

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January 14, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

5 Comments »

  1. Wow. Just wow.

    Comment by onamarae | January 14, 2016 | Reply

  2. Fabulous. Oh- and I just bought The Outsiders for my daughter for Christmas because she needs to read it and it isn’t in her school curriculum.

    Comment by Ann | January 14, 2016 | Reply

  3. I did a head shaving party and a henna tattoo on my bald scalp before chemo even started. It gave me a sense of power over the powerless. I’m glad my hair is back, though I really liked the buzz cut phase of its growing in, and thought about keeping it that short until the winter approached. Of course, it was different for me, because no one will ever mistake me for a boy. Kit offered to shave her head too, but I really didn’t need anyone else to do that to feel support. And my henna tattoo, while short lived, was amazing. As was the party. Nice job exploring how complicated this all is. I’m enjoying your long hair bucket list escapades.

    Comment by Sandy Colbs | January 14, 2016 | Reply

  4. Rachel, I love that you did this for your friend. For every woman who looked at you as if you didn’t belong in the ladies room, I’m sorry. But, I’m so glad you were willing to go through it. And, mad props for the Outsiders quote. LOVE.

    Comment by Jove Belle | January 14, 2016 | Reply

  5. Thank you. For all of it.
    It meant the world to me.

    Comment by Trixie | January 20, 2016 | Reply


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