Yesterday a homeless man approached me and said, “Wow, I thought you were a guy, and then I saw that thing in your hair.” Then he asked me for some change. I was wearing a dress and a headband. He really needs to work on his pitch.
What’s worse is I’m in the long laborious process of growing my hair out, and I thought I was reaching a point where it’s fairly obvious that I’m female. When it was a pixie cut, I wore heels, makeup, earrings and dresses all the time just to drive the point home. I felt sort of like a drag queen, wearing an exaggerated costume of femininity. I’m sensitive about making it known that I’m a lady, and I think this started in elementary school.
In second grade I got this bowl cut because I was really into kickball. I found a poem that I wrote at the time. I remember writing it during one of those art class days. Reagan had cut all the art classes in elementary schools, so maybe twice a year we would get an art teacher who would teach anything from Native American singing to poetry. Since they were only there for a day, we would spend most of the class taking in the oddities of the teacher. Were ponchos clothing?
That day we had Nell, the poetry teacher, and she suggested that a good way to start a poem was “At the bottom of my heart there is…” A lot of kids had really poetic ways to complete this sentence. Henry, whose parents were going through a divorce, wrote that at the bottom of his heart there was a watchful owl, perched between two angry branches. I remember being annoyed when Nell read his poem out loud and told him he could be a poet. I’m just saying, he works construction now.
My poem went, “At the bottom of my heart is a kickball field, and I run around all the bases.” I didn’t mean this as a metaphor, but now I think it was a prophetic commentary on my love life.
Anyway, because of my love of kickball, which I thought made me a card carrying tomboy and future feminist (I didn’t know about lesbians), I went to Super Cuts, pointed to a little boy who had just had his hair cut, and was pleased as punch by the results. I don’t remember how it went over on the school field. I think I was happy. After all, Anne of Green Gables and Jo from Little Women cut their hair, and in both of those books, it’s an act of brave sacrifice that makes them heroes.
I think it was this early encounter with short hair that made me cut my hair again, freshman year of high school. I had this picture of Winona Ryder’s hair (she played Jo in Little Women), and so my mom was forced to take me to the trendy, expensive hair salon. The guy who cut my hair, lovely guy, had these incredibly deformed arms and hands, which made me worried and that made me feel guilty. He looked at the pictures and said, “You want to have fun!” I did want to have fun. I wanted to be a new me.
Coco Chanel said “A woman cuts her hair when she wants to change her life.” Who doesn’t want to change themselves freshman year of high school. The change didn’t go so well. I didn’t know how to wear dresses, makeup and jewelry to indicate I was still a girl after my hair cut. I was in an odd stage where I tried to dress like the boys I liked, so they would notice how much we had in common. So, when you wear denim fleece vests and studded belts (I liked James Dean and punks) and have short hair, everyone just accepts you’re a lesbian. I should also mention I didn’t date until college.
Our Vice Principal was an actual lesbian, and I remember her coming into my Freshman Core class, where we were learning about condoms (even though I’d had sex-ed since fourth grade, and I was having a really hard time applying what we were learning to my life). She came in and bee-lined to my table. She then talked to me about my binder, which was covered in pictures of old movie stars. She guessed I was a Harold and Maude kind of girl, which was unsettling because of our age difference. She wasn’t hitting on me, but bless her, I think she was trying to provide a gay youth with encouragement.
I swore never to cut my hair again, and I focused on growing in many different ways. I went to college with a mane. After a mental breakdown, I cut it into a bob. Then I grew it out again. After I graduated college, I cut it into a bob.
Then after a gnarly break up I wanted to cut it again, and I wanted to cut it all off. Inspired by Carey Mulligan and Mia Wasikowska, I wanted to go gamine. The boy I started dating encouraged me, so I went for it, and I hated it. Then I loved it. Now I’ve decided to grow it out, and the intermediate steps are so horrible that I promise never to cut it again.
Sometimes I look like a gym teacher. Other days I look like Barbara Walters. I can even look like Chandra Wilson on Grey’s Anatomy, which I’ve been watching because I don’t like the way my hair looks, so I’ve been staying home. Suffice to say, the bold fun statement I was making a year a go, now feels like I femulated (female version of emasculated) myself.
I know all this whining about my hair is neurotic, self-pitying bull shit, but normally I would cope with that realization by changing my hair, and I can’t. I just have to sit this out. I have to let it happen. I will grow.