Wonder Boi Writes

It’s Just Hair (Part 2): The Long Of It

Last week I posted a blog about all the things I learned in the immediate aftermath of shaving my head with a friend who was going through chemo. You’d think one of the things I would’ve learned is not to be impulsive with my hair. And yet, no.

You see, after my hair grew back enough to style again, I had a lot of fun. Flush from the renewed power after feeling helpless for so many months, I didn’t want to cut it at all. By winter it grew long enough to stand up Jake Gyllenhaal style, then comb over like I belonged on Wall Street in the ’80’s. I did need to trim up the back a little because it kept going into mullet territory, but I never let my hairdresser take much off the top. By summer I could toss it again. I was back! I felt like me again. I loved the feel of it over my ears. My forehead was back to a reasonable size. No more fivehead.


By fall it had grown shaggy. People started to ask when I intended to cut it. I felt my first flashes of defensiveness. I’d just gotten it back. Why all the pressure to cut it? It was so soft and shiny. Couldn’t I just play for a while?

Soon it was over my eyes and too long to toss. One day I parted it down the middle and got a great deal of amusement. I looked like I belonged on Miami Vice. I popped my collar. People got pushier.  Is it supposed to look like that? Doesn’t it drive you nuts? It’s a little girly for you, isn’t it?DSCN4244

Then it happened. I don’t even remember when or who. It wasn’t their fault anyway, but someone asked one too many loaded questions, and I just said it. “Maybe I won’t cut it.” “Yeah,” I thought in that moment. “What if I don’t? What if I grow it out? What if I donate it?” The idea just flashed through my mind. I buzzed it for someone with cancer. Wouldn’t that be cool if all the hair I grew back after that got donated to someone with cancer? A full circle adventure.  Done. The decision was made. I told everyone. I put it out on social media–my grand hair decree.

Everyone looked at me like I was nuts. The people who knew me best quietly asked if I’d thought this through. They gently pointed out that donating hair wasn’t actually easy. There were a lot of factors, the chief among them being that I couldn’t just chop it off when it reached a length that annoyed me.  It had to be 8 inches, and not color treated, and not gray and, and, and…at the rate my hair was growing I’d have to put up with all of this for over a year.

When was I going to learn to stop making long-term hair decisions on a whim? Hadn’t I spent months and months learning all those awful lessons about my hair being tied to my identity or at least my comfort level with the identify I wanted to project? No. Apparently I had not. After less than six months of having my hair back under my own control, I dug in my heels and braced myself for another year of wondering, “Why did I do that?”


From fall 2014 until now I have not cut my hair. It currently falls past my shoulders. It has not been particularly fun, but I have to say I learned as much about myself and our society during the long-hair year as I did during the short-hair year. Here are a few of those lessons.

  • Hats look better with hair. I can hardly wear hats without long hair. They come down over my ears. They make me look bald. I look like I’m undergoing chemo, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it does give people the wrong idea. It’s just awkward. With a little more hair, a hat looks sporty or trendy. With longer hair you can thread it through the back of the hat, and all the sporty lesbians look at you like good people. Seriously, the combo of hair and a hat makes people believe you’re more athletic than you actually are. Of all the aspects of long hair, I’ll miss hats the most.1610755_10102895886197870_8742916326653521632_n
  • It changes rapidly. If you have a good stretch, enjoy it because it won’t last. Just when I’d think I’d moved into a good space, a week later it’d be a mess again. There’s a fine line between Don Johnson and Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. Seriously, think about it. And just because it did something once doesn’t mean you’ll ever get it to do that again. Of course these things can be true of short hair, but not to the same extent. When I have short hair, it largely does the same thing every day for weeks. With short hair my part never moved. Never! I had the same part for years. It was there when I went to bed. It was there when I woke up. The line of my part with long hair is like a series of snowflakes:  No two are ever quite the same.
  • People treat you differently when you have long hair. Remember what I said in my last blog about people liking to make snap decisions based on looks? When you’re  female bodied with long hair, all those boxes line up. People look, they assess, and they smile. Seriously, people haven’t smiled at me this much since I was visibly pregnant (a physical state that also ticked the boxes). People hold doors for me. That doesn’t happen when people think you’re a ten-year-old boy. Women make conversation in  locker rooms or at bathroom sinks. This weirds me out a little bit as I’m not a bathroom talker, but I prefer it to scowls or angry words. The bottom line is that people are nicer when you don’t challenge their assumptions. You get rewarded with a myriad of pleasantries when you stay in your prescribed box.11214271_10103000276598670_5894105354133505824_n
  • Differently doesn’t always mean good. Men talk to women who fit the status quo very differently than women who don’t. There’s a sense of entitlement among men over a certain age, a demand that they be recognized. Because of my gender presentation, I escaped the male gaze for a long time, and I don’t really like being back in it. Most of my best friends are men. I’m raising a young man. I like dudes. I have always sort of thought of my self as a dude, but the men I’ve run into over the last 6-8 months certainly haven’t seen me the way I see myself. Older men talk to me differently now. They sit closer. I get allergy shots on a regular basis, and men used to always put one seat between us at the doctor’s office waiting room. They don’t always do that now. And they flirt, even the ones who are way to old to date. Even the ones who are clearly kidding and non-threatening will still interrupt my book. They  ask me why I’m not smiling (because I’m annoyed with you), they call me things like “miss” and “sweetheart.” They see me now and what’s more they want to make sure I see them. Men over a certain age (that’s lower than you’d expect) also refuse to walk through a door I’m holding open. I stand there, I hold it, the men come up and purposely move behind me to place their hand higher on the door. They usually say something like, “After you,” or “I’ve got it.” If I push back and say, “No you first,” or “I’ve got it for you,” their jaws set. Their elbows lock. The younger ones usually look taken aback and will often go through. The older ones flat out refuse. It’s awkward and it tells a great deal about the hierarchy they’re trying to uphold.
  • It goes everywhere! Short hair goes nowhere, or if it does you don’t notice because it’s all out of your line of sight. The only place I ever feel my short hair is the tops of my ears or my forehead. Long hair goes in my eyes, in my mouth, in crook of my neck. It tickles my nose, it tickles Susie’s nose when we’re trying to sleep. It goes in the hood if my hoodies and annoys the living crap out of me. But it doesn’t end there. It goes all over the sink, all over the floor. It goes in the drain and on my black dress pants. It goes in Jackson’s lunch box and on the back of my chair. And even when I pull it back, it always manages to do this:


  • I don’t get the nod any more. Men aren’t the only ones who see you differently when you have long hair. There’s a certain camaraderie among gender nonconformists. There is the subtle smile when you recognize a fellow traveler. When I said we all make assessments based on looks, I mean all of us. The queer community is no different, and there’s a joy that comes from that little thrill of connection amid the masses. It’s like when I see someone wearing a Cardinals hat here in Yankees territory. Or when I notice a Spanish flag sticker on the back of someone’s car. We always look for something to relate to whenever we meet someone new. As I became more and more visible to the men in my world, I seemed to become less visible to the women it. They do not flirt, they do not smile, and they no longer give me the nod. I miss the sense of community that comes from being recognized by my people.


  • Finally, people feel they have a right to share their opinion on my hair the way they don’t in other areas of my life. As I said before, hair seems to play a huge part in how people view a someone, but it’s not just at first glance. And it doesn’t stop…ever. I’m not talking about a passing comments. I mean really harping on the subject, repeatedly. Friends, acquaintances, readers they all feel totally comfortable saying, “I don’t like you hair like that.” Or “I liked your hair when (fill in the blank) better.” One woman I barely know came up to me after a book event and said, “I think your long hair makes the shape of your face look out of portion.” How do I respond to that? What makes people think that’s okay? No one ever tells me, “You’re getting a little fat,” thank the Lord. And I can’t remember the last time someone said, “Those pants are ugly as sin.” They don’t even say things like, “I don’t like that shirt nearly as well the one you wore yesterday.” And yet, my hair is completely fair game for them to assert their preferences on my body.  At first I thought maybe I was being paranoid. Perhaps people felt comfortable commenting because I talked about my hair a lot and they felt compelled to respond. Over the last few months I made an effort to purposely talk about other parts of my appearance in front of people who talked about my hair and generally got very little in response, if anything they only offered compliments, never the unfavorable comparisons. For some reason hair seems to be in the public domain much more than other areas of my body when it comes to negativity. And you know what? It sucks.

As I’ve said before I used my hair to showcase the parts of my identity I liked best, so when people say things about how much they hated it, it feels a little bit like they hate those parts of me. Only slightly less hurtful are the comments like, “You look so nice now.” Like I didn’t look nice before. I get “nice” as a descriptor a lot these days. Oftentimes it’s qualified with things like “softer” or “sweeter.” More than one person said it “takes the edge off.” But you know what? I’m not sweeter or softer or nicer or less edgy. I’m still the same person, just with a different haircut. I didn’t change. I’ve spent almost a year considering this development because I didn’t want it to be about what I feared it to be about, but these comments always, every single time, come from women who fall on the more feminine end of the presentation spectrum. None of my gender queer friends say it. None of my young male friends say it. It only comes from women whose preferences fit the norms. Even if they know me. Even if they know how much I’ve struggled to find my own niche. Even if they know my personality hasn’t changed a bit. And as much as it pains me to say it, I think the women who REALLY get invested in me having long hair do so for the same reasons the older straight men do. They like when I fit the box. When I don’t challenge them. When I “pass.” This leaves me worried about what it will be like when I go back to looking like me again. Will I embarrass them? Will they be made guilty by association with someone so clearly marked as queer? Will they resent it, even subconsciously? It shouldn’t matter to me, but it does, and it’s a sad and somewhat unfair burden to bear.

So while the practical side of me is really looking forward to going back to short hair this week, the emotional side of me is worried. I’ll be trading privilege in favor of my true personality. I’ll be happy to look and feel like myself again, but I will still worry about all the others who don’t feel comfortable with who I really am.  It will be the end of a long journey, and the culmination of many lessons learned, both about myself and about the people with whom I interact.   It’s been an amusing and occasionally upsetting ride, and with my next blog you’ll not only get to see the end result, I’ll also reflect on the heart of what it’s all meant to me.


January 19, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Be true to yourself. That may change as life and experience mess with you but always stay true to yourself. It’s one of the things I learned the older I got, a lesson that I didn’t grasp until I was in my 40’s. Now, at the early stage of my 6th decade, I listen to what people say, filter it through my personal “self” filter and let it go. I like who I am and that is important to me.

    Comment by Beth | January 19, 2016 | Reply

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