Hair: The Root of My Identity Crisis

I don’t know why my mother liked bowl cuts so much. But she did. And although she was the one who became fixated on them, it wasn’t her hair that ended up cropped into the shape of an unsightly and probably lop-sided-looking bowl; it was her daughter’s.

 

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Another victim.

 

“But I don’t WANT to cut my hair,” I protested as I rode along with her in our family’s dingy, yellow station wagon. We were on our way to Great Clips (or some other chain hair-cutting place that was priced similarly).

“Don’t worry; it’ll look nice,” Sierra promised. “I can’t wait to see it,” she added with excitement.

 

We’d had a conversation before leaving the house that morning — or, more aptly speaking, we had negotiated with each other prior to leaving.

 

“When your hair is long like that and you don’t do anything with it, it just looks straight and boring,” Sierra pointed out. That’s how it began.

 

“So?” I responded. I cared more about securing the thimble-shaped playing piece in my next game of online monopoly than I did about the loveliness or interestingness of my hairdo.

 

“Sooooooo,” she continued, “you should do something interesting to it. Like, here — look at this,” and here, she picked up a magazine, flipping open to an ear-marked page (#premeditated) that showcased a celebrity with her young child. “Isn’t this an adorable cut? It’s a bowl cut,” she murmured, informationally.

 

“Yuck.”

 

Sierra sighed. “I tell you what,” she began, her voice taking on a conspiratorial tone that told me I’d like at least part of what she was going to say, “if you get your hair cut like this,” and she again referred to the glossy example in the magazine, “then I will let you rent a movie from Blockbuster.”

 

Ooooh; rent a movie? Watching TV (minus Animal Planet and Fox News) was taboo, so I was already ready to say yes, but the wiser being within me hesitated. Don’t give in so easily; you better milk this for all that it’s worth, she warned.

“Can I wear pants for a week instead?” I counter-offered.

“No.” And it was a firm no.

 

I had negotiated with mother earlier in the year, and the negotiations had resulted in her allowing me to wear pants to school for a week. I spaced out the days thoughtfully, selecting a Tuesday here, when the class was going on a field trip.. a Friday there, on my friend, Melissa’s, birthday, and etc. But that time, her ‘win’ in the bargain was getting me to agree to have blood work done; the stakes had been higher, so the reward had been, too.

 

With “no” still booming in my mind, I decided to venture one last gain. “How about I get to rent a movie AND you buy me a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream?”

She pretended to consider the idea. I knew it was pretending because she hesitated, and with all of the magazines my mother loved leafing through, I knew she couldn’t stand the idea of not seeing me in this bowl cut.

“Fine,” she consented. “It’s a deal.”

 

And I was thrilled in a depressed kind of way: yay, a secular movie and ice cream for two hours; boo, a horrible, awful haircut for X number of months. But the shortsighted 10-year-old in me had agreed to the deal, so here we both were, pulling up at Great Clips.

 

The stylist noticed that I had lice after beginning the cut and whispered the news to my mother. I couldn’t tell if her surprise was put-on or genuine, but the stylist agreed to finish the cut and urged my mother to pick up some RID on the way home.

 

After she’d completed her grim work, the stylist (who smelled exactly like fake flowers and too much hairspray) spun me around in my chair and disinterestedly watched for my reaction. I said nothing and stifled tears; I looked ridiculous.

 

I made it to the car before I broke down. “I hate it I hate it I HATE IT,” I wailed, staring out of the passenger’s side window and refusing to let my mother look at me.
“Oh, but it looks ADORABLE, ROSE!” she cooed. “I can’t wait for Gram to see it!”

 

And she kept up her part of the deal; we swung by a Blockbuster, or a Movie Gallery, before heading home. I rented Max Keebler’s Big Move, mom bought me a pint of my favorite ice cream, and I promised her that I wouldn’t cry in front of dad that night so that he wouldn’t know that I hated the haircut my mother tricked me into getting.

***

Back then, I was ten and I was gullible. Fast forward about 13 years and my mom can’t pay me to keep my hair on.

Chris and I are visiting my family in Tennessee and we’ve stumbled into a mall with a hair salon.

“I’m ready to do it,” I announce to everyone, smiling nervously. “I’m going to chop it all off.

Reactions vary; my grandfather shakes his head solemnly, my aunt smiles supportively. Grammy seems distracted, looking on elsewhere, and Sierra is openly devastated.

“Ohhhh, but your hair is so BEAUTIFUL,” she cries, eyeing my long locks. My hair was so long, at this point, that it reached the small of my back; it will definitely be enough to donate, I decided.

 

Without going into way too much detail, I did the damn thing; I chopped it all off, and the result was, like my old bowl cut, ridiculous. The stylist left too much thickness in my hair, causing it all to well up in a muppet-esque, golden brown poof. I won’t even share a picture of it on here because it’s just plain embarrassing.

 

And it took about six months of visiting various salons to get it ‘fixed.’ The place that was finally able to do the trick was a barber’s shop over in downtown Birmingham: Newman’s Classic Cuts.

 

I’ve been visiting Newman’s once every six weeks for the last year, and I’ve never been disappointed; the atmosphere is cool and the conversation is fun.. I drop a $20 and then walk out, rubbing my left hand up and down the back of my head and neck and relishing the scratchy sensation of having hardly any hair there at all. And today, it’s been about two months since I last had my hair cut (aka, it’s been way too long).

 

Last week, I scheduled an appointment for today, but I cancelled the appointment yesterday morning, and I honestly don’t know when I’ll be heading back. And yes, I am about to explain why, but first.. a quick side story.

 

***

I’ve been getting tattoos since the week I turned 18.

My first tattoo is actually a pretty funny story (for another time). Over the course of 5 years (from ages 18-23), it’s interesting to note that I only obtained 3 tattoos while, over the course of the last tumultuous and heart-wrenching year, I’ve added on 5 more. So that makes 8 total (see how good I am at math?), and last Saturday evening, I drove over to Aerochild and met up with Aaron for numero ocho.

 

I wondered, waking up that morning, whether or not I should “prepare” for our appointment. I’d emailed Aaron two months ahead of time, detailing the nature of this new tattoo and attaching pictures of what I’d like for it to resemble. “The placement for this one will be above my left ankle,” I specified, and as we all know, the area above your ankle grows hair. Obv. And most women shave their underarms and legs and ankles daily or weekly or somewhere in-between, while I haven’t shaved in exactly three years.

 

So I sat on my bed that morning, playing out two entirely different scenarios.

Scenario 1: I roll up at Aerochild and both of my legs have been shaved. Aaron begins tattooing and knows nothing of my alternative ways.

Scenario 2: I roll up at Aerochild and neither of my legs are shaved. Aaron either:

  • is appalled and leaves the room to vomit,
  • is surprised but visibly tries to maintain his composure, or
  • is totally cool with unshaven legs on a female.

I decided to roll the dice with the excitingly unpredictable nature of Scenario #2. And what do you think happened? 

 

We’ll see.

Aaron and I had things to chat about, and we did; I shared my ups and downs with depression, adventures with my new German Shepherd pup, and my love-hate relationship with being a single human being. His side of the conversation opened up by mention of his new shop.

 

“I SAW YOUR POST ABOUT THAT!” I exclaimed. “I’m so freaking excited for you, Aaron. When’s the date?”

 

He talked all about opening up his very own tattoo parlor + comic book shop combo; the paperwork involved, the stress, the joy.. I was enjoying listening, reclining in the smooth, black operating chair while he sat on a low-to-the-ground stool. While he spoke, he readjusted my left leg, grabbed a razor, and – without missing a beat – shaved away the hair that would be within the tattooing area. I watched him closely, checking for a reaction of some kind; I saw nothing. Then, he reached for a bottle of sanitizer, smeared it over my skin, and began toying with a needle, so I had to look away — the process was starting (and the only way I can keep on getting tattoos is to not watch how they happen). The hairy leg, and the shaving of the hairy leg, was an event so unremarkable that it’s weird that I’m even commenting on it. But I’m pointing it out because it was a hard decision to make; showing up as me. 

 

After three years of small-scale societal rebellion, I’m proud to say that I’m 100% comfortable walking the streets in shorts and tank tops, “all natural.” But it’s quite different when you know that somebody is going to be within a foot of your hairy leg and will actually be touching it and shaving it for you (for those who don’t know, whenever and wherever you get a tattoo, the affected area is always shaved by your artist; this was just a weird area for me). But I decided that shaving my leg ahead of time would have been a betrayal of what I believe in, and that’s being your honest self. It would have been just as dumb of me to apologize to Aaron when he went to shave my leg: “I’m so sorry,” I could have explained. “I haven’t shaved in three years!” But apologizing would have been disrespectful to women, and admitting that it’s unusual for a woman to have body hair would have only reinforced society’s senseless beauty standards. Why are we ashamed of our body hair? Why do we have to shave ours when men aren’t expected to shave theirs? And why the hell are we secretly embarrassed in the winter time when our leggings and pants conceal the furry legs hiding within them? WHAT is there to be ashamed of?

 

The more we normalize body hair on women, the more at liberty women will feel to be themselves. I’d like to pause for another poll (if you’ll indulge me).

 

 

Alrighty. With that slightly related story in mind..

 

***

I cancelled my appointment at the barber shop because I realized, yesterday morning, that while I initially cut all of my hair off two years ago for me, I’ve been keeping my hair short for everyone else.

And I’ve been wearing board shorts and jeans and shunning pink for everyone else.

Is it not making sense yet?

 

Beyond the age of 10, when I became an adolescent (a young woman), I was subjected to a whole host of expectations (related to my religion, schooling, social circle and gender), but a few of the most prominent ones were these:

  • Look like a girl (shave your legs and underarms, wear long skirts, and keep the hair on top of your head long and distinctly feminine)
  • Love like a girl (meaning, love boys.. specifically speaking, nice, good, davidian boys, and don’t kiss them until you’re married!)

So it’s understandable that, when I dropped out of religion about three years ago, I naturally hated skirts, and long hair, and the color pink. I had to compensate. And it was liberating — dressing in black and blue, in boyish clothes — and openly mutilating slash decorating my body (aka getting as many tattoos as I wanted). I even pause to wonder, now, if being gay is another subconscious attempt at rebellion, at balancing the scale. I share this because:

 

I dropped into Redemptive Cycles earlier this morning because my front tire had leaked so much air that I thought it was broken. A guy I’ve gone on a few rides with (incidentally; we’re in the same biking group) was manning the shop and smiled when he saw me. After I explained my situation, he nodded and began rolling my bike to the bike. “Wanna learn?” he called over his shoulder. I did, of course, so I followed him.

 

He mounted my bike onto a metal lever and walked me through the whole process; releasing the front brake, dropping the tire, removing the rim and inner tubing, checking for tiny holes, reassembling everything, and using a contraption to help determine whether or not the direction of the wheel was “true.”

 

I enjoyed learning. He would do something and then undo it so I could try to mimic him. I noticed his foot touch mine at one point, so I stepped back, and when I looked at him while he wasn’t looking (noticing his golden brown hair, slight smirk, and — were they green or blue eyes?), I reproved myself.

You don’t like boys. Remember?

I don’t think I do, I agreed. But..

But WHAT?!!!!!

OMG NOTHING. 

 

I paid and I left and I then parked my car at Railroad Park. I hopped onto my bike and rode over to Golden Temple, and as I waited for the final light to turn green, there she was, sitting outside and eating out of a big, round bowl; cafe girl.

 

I thought about biking elsewhere before crossing the street, but decided that doing so would be cowardly and dramatic.

I didn’t come here to see her this time, just like I didn’t come here to see her last time, and she still doesn’t even know that I’m the girl who wrote her the letter.

 

So I crossed the street, biked right past her, and then stepped off of my bike. As I dropped my backpack onto the ground, I could hear a voice over the sound of my music; I turned to my left and, yes; cafe girl had turned herself around and was looking at me, speaking. 

 

What do I do what do I do omg what do I do?!

REMOVE YOUR HEADPHONES, you IDIOT.

 

I removed an earbud. “I’m sorry?”

 

“Nice bike,” she repeated the compliment, nodding her head toward the bike in my arms.

“Oh, thanks!” I responded.

“I’m borrowing that one,” she gestured again, and I saw that my bike was now leaning up against hers on the bike rack. Sigh; our bikes were sharing the same bike rack and they were touching.

 

Snap out of it, psycho.

 

“Oh — nice!” I answered quickly. “Yeah, I had been wanting a bike for a few months there and tried perusing a few shops in Mountain Brook, but they were all super pricey; then, I found this super cool bike on Craigslist and.. it was perfect. $40.” I was going to continue but realized that ‘nice bike’ really didn’t require all of this extra, so I just nodded and stopped speaking.

 

My hand shook a little as I locked my bike to the rack and then I heard the store’s entrance swing open. There was commotion.

“FUCK YOU, MAN!”

“Thank you for cooperating.”

“Fuck. YOU.”

“And this is why you can’t come back.”

 

I turned to look; an employee was ushering an unruly gentleman out of the store. I froze while the gentleman stormed past me, still screaming “fuck” and “you” and “you gay fucks.”

 

Cafe girl turned to look at me, whispering something about him seeming a little upset.
“Yeah — he’s not a happy camper today,” I mused.

“He’s usually in a nice mood,” she remarked quietly.

“Oh — so he comes here often?”

She nodded.

 

I slipped on my backpack and walked away without saying any kind of goodbye. I thought about moving a few steps closer to her and admitting the truth; hey — I’m that girl who wrote you the 2-paged letter, by the way.. Jace? Remember me?

 

But I thought better of it. We’d had a nice interaction and I’d already decided, weeks ago, to not pursue getting to know the gal.

 

So instead, I settled down inside of the cafe, selecting a table near the window and plopping my chromebook, library book, and a small glass of water down onto it. After about 45 minutes, I decided to order something. I turned around (to see if there was a line at the front register) and cafe girl was standing directly behind it; she saw me and smiled. I turned around quickly. Why, universe? Why is she all of the sudden paying attention to me? Next week, I’m going to Redcat instead.

 

I waited 5 minutes, hoping this would allow enough time for her to meander off and another employee to take her place, but when I got up and turned around, there she was. With my wallet already in my hand, it was too late to retreat.

 

I placed my order, trying to sound as generic and uninteresting and business-y as possible.

“Yes; I’ll take the Golden Temple Half Stack with sauteed spinach, please.”

 

“Ahh! That’s what I was having outside today,” she shared. Of course it was.

 

I watched her grab a sticky note and begin notating my order. She’s about to ask what my name is, I thought drearily. Then I noticed that she was writing with her left hand.

 

OF COURSE SHE’S LEFT HANDED,  JACE. You’re BOTH girls, you’re BOTH left handed, you’re BOTH musicians (even though she doesn’t know that about you), AND you both have short hair. But the problem is, YOU think she’s cute, but you have no idea what she thinks. Only that she’s wearing a ring on what would APPEAR to be a wedding ring finger and who knows whether she’s engaged or married or just wearing it to ward off weirdos like you?

 

I said nothing.

 

She, surprisingly, didn’t ask for my name.

 

When I handed her my Discover card, she paused to read it. “Jace. Are you the Jace who wrote me a letter?”

 

Fuccccccccccck.

 

“Yes,” I answered, nodding, my lips tight.

 

“Wow! Well it’s nice to finally see you,” she smiled brightly.

 

“It’s nice to meet you too,” I smiled back at her, taking my card. I began writing a tip onto the receipt.
“You’re a South Paw!” she observed, surprised.

 

“Yes — I noticed you were left-handed, too,” I answered sadly and then walked away.

 

And that was it.

 

 

So now that she knows, she knows, and I don’t have to worry about her knowing. And since I still don’t know what that ring means, I’m going to assume that the gal is happily married to a boy or girl and not talk to her ever again.

 

“Do you really enjoy just sitting in cafes.. writing and drinking coffee?” my mother asked me, yesterday evening.

“I do. I love it.”

“Isn’t it lonely?”

“No.. there are people everywhere; laughing, talking, reading, eating.. writing on THEIR laptops. They’re having fun, on their own or with each other, and I’m not a part of it. It’s wonderful,” I laughed.

 

Last Sunday, my family and I met up in Chattanooga, Tennessee for an afternoon together. We visited an aquarium, a Mellow Mushroom pizza joint, and a health foods store. My mother texted me the following morning.
“I never thought I’d say this,” she began, “but I wish you’d cut your hair! It’s getting too long on the top and the sides are all short.”

 

I smiled after I read it. You want me to cut it, you want me to let it grow, and then you want me to cut it again.

 

A few days ago, I casually mentioned the idea of letting my hair grow out to my best friend, Charlie. “What would you think of that?” I asked, and then tried to look casual.
“I think that it looks great either way,” he answered.

 

I rolled my eyes. “Charlie…”

 

“Jace, what you do with your hair is not up to me,” he smiled. “Do what makes you happy!”

 

“I KNOW THAT,” I breathed, impatient, “and I’m going to — I just want to know what your opinion is.”

 

“My opinion,” he responded, very kindly, “is that you will look good with long hair or no hair.”

 

I felt like strangling him.

 

“OKAY. Let’s pretend,” I began, “that I am blind and cannot see. I want to look my very best, and I need you to help me.” I shrugged, waiting. “Then what?”

“Huh?”

“Oh em gee, Charlie; WHAT would you ADVISE your best friend who is blind and who doesn’t know whether they should keep their hair long or short to do?”

“I would tell them that they would look beauti-”

“Ohhhh just hush.”

 

So I texted another close friend.

 

“I’ve been considering letting my hair grow back out,” I mentioned, “but I went ahead and scheduled a barber shop appointment for Friday anyways.”

 

They responded with: “I’m surprised you even considered the idea! Is that what you were trying to do? Surprise me? Because you did.”

 

They gave no indication of whether or not they thought growing it out would be ‘good’ or ‘nice’ or ‘oh, cool,’ and I was frustrated by the lack of information.. frustrated, not with her, and not with Charlie, but with myself. I was already considering texting my cube mate next and asking her what she thought of the idea, but I paused before doing so.

 

WHY are you asking everyone about this, Jace?

I just want to know what they think.

No you don’t. You’ve never cared about looking pretty; you’ve always preferred to look cool. So what is it that you’re really after? What do you want to know?

I want to know if they’ll think I’m crazy. If they’ll think it’s weird that I fought so hard to look and be masculine and that now, I’m doing this. If they’ll look at this as me backtracking, or being untrue to myself. If they’ll be uncomfortable. If they’ll write me off as crazy.

 

Thank you for being honest.

 

And the word ‘crazy’ kept popping up in my answer because of a conversation I had recently. An old friend confessed to me, this week, that a mutually known person was afraid I’d gone batshit crazy.

 

“In a sense, I have,” I admitted, “and I’m completely aware of it. I want to die just about every single day I wake up, and I have to talk myself out of it, over and over again.” I shrugged (as in ‘and? does THAT make a person crazy?’).

 

She shook her head. “No — not just suicidal, Jace, and not just ‘crazy.’ Like, he thinks you’re crazy in the sense that you need to be committed. That you need treatment.”

 

I finished the conversation without being abrupt and without letting on that I’d been offended, but because of who thought this about me, I was deeply offended. I know that I’ve been unbalanced and unstable and weird for the past year and a half (and that I’ve been very open about it), but I’ve never viewed myself as being so off that I needed to be committed. And it hurts to know that he does.

 

I’m not crazy-crazy, I reassured myself.

 

I’m not? I asked, sadly doubtful.

 

 

All of this to say: I’m growing my damn hair out to be as long as I want it to be, for as long as I want it to be. It may drive me nuts two weeks from now, and I may run over to Newman’s and chop it off then, or I may grow it out to a full 12 inches so that I can make another donation. Either way —

Why do I want to grow my hair out? There are a few simple reasons, and then there’s one big one.

  1. It’s cold; why remove a free and easy layer of insulation when the weather is just beginning to turn?
  2. Foregoing haircuts will save money. You do the math; nevermind, let me do the math. I get my hair cut once every six weeks, right? Well there are 52 weeks in the year, and 52/6 = almost 9. 9 x $20 (price/haircut) = $180. Do you know how many burritos you could buy with $180? Yeah. Exactly.
  3. The big one: I want to prove to myself that I’m not afraid to look like a girl. Yes — the short hair look is my favorite look, and I think it looks really cool (and if you know me, you know that ‘cool’ is what I strive for). But for right now, I don’t need to look cool. I need to feel comfortable and confident and I need to reclaim my sanity. I may still not know, with absolute certainty, what the hell I believe in, and I may not be able to pin down exactly what my elusive sexual orientation is, but I know that I’ve been spending way too much time wondering what you’re thinking, and not enough time considering what I want and who I want to be.

 

 

The sky is pink and blue, and so are all of us.
The sky is pink and blue, and so are all of us.

 

 

Still here, my eyes burning holes through the looking glass..

Aun Aqui

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