Thursday, March 11, 2010



One of the first gendered presentation realms we are introduced to as children. I, growing up as a young girl in the 80's with long blonde hair, was not allowed to cut it. When I turned 12 and my dad's hairdresser cousin came to town offering to cut my hair and keep the 6 inch braid for my mom's mental health I started to exercise control. Before that the occasional trim, especially during the bang years, in the bathroom of my grandmothers, getting the perfectly square across the forehead snip was it. After it was an ongoing string of home haircuts, dye jobs and hair dressing school 5$ specials. I dyed my hair so much during my teen years that I didn't witness the process of my hair going from blonde to brown, it happened under layers of black, magenta, copper, fire, purple, blue, green, pink, orange, fire engine red and bleach.

After that first chop at 12 it was an going process of earning/negotiating approval to cut more and more. Eventually, by the end of grade 8 I was rocking the ear length mushroom cut. Not the most glamorous style: as always, parted straight down the middle. That haircut was a part of what led the boys I went to school with to bestow upon me the name man-child. I didn't even know how attached my hair was to my gender, I didn't have a conscious gender presentation, but subconsciously I was making decisions about my appearance that led the world to read me as male.

Now I feel that it is important to address racial assumption in terms of hair as well. I have always been read as white and I know that if the colonial intent of erasing the indian hadn't been quite as successful in my lineage things would be different. If the generational process of native women, treated as white, to raise "white" babies, all with white names and pride in their white lineage and silence and shame in their native roots hadn't been a process of eugenics which resulted in me losing my dark hair shortly after birth and becoming the passing blonde haired, blue eyed child my colonial patriarchs would be proud of. I know that if I was read as my native my hair perceptions would be different. I have had really good insight on this topic from Tobi. Hair, the way it is grown, styled, presented and read is subject to intersecting contexts. To be a native man with long hair, or to be a woman, managing limited mobility, with a short easy to maintain style is never just about gender.

I find that transition is often obsessed with hair. Ladies better grow your hair out to pass, men must be able to grow beards to be read as 'real'. This narrow minded perspective on things continues to perpetuate exclusion and discrimination within our circles. It's a challenge to our socialization to use female or gender neutral pronouns for a bearded individual, but a challenge we should be willing to pick up, as hair, and where it grows and how, does not make the man, woman, gender queer etc.

And of course what would a trans-man's post on hair be if to not address testosterone's effect on the hair line. I have been letting my hair grow out over the past 6 months, and it's almost long enough to pull into a little top knot. While doing this in the mirror the other day I noticed that my hair line is sitting a hell of a lot further back than the last time I took note of it. I thought for some reason that I would be immune to the transman's hairline blight, with a father with a full head of almost still brown hair and a fully grey mother with thick enough hair to choke a team of clydesdales. My paternal grandfather rocked a mean comb-over, and his wife didn't go grey until after she couldn't eat or hold herself up anymore. My mom's mom has lots of silver (she's always been adamant that red hair doesn't grey- it silvers) hair and her husband was dead before I can remember anything about his hair line. Even if I could remember cancer treatments would have skewed my perception. Now here I am, 24, almost 3 years on T and I am going grey more than I care to take note of and my hair line is slipping. I have grown hair on my chest, my face and belly, my legs are a forest and my arms have always been those of a pale chimp. But my head. I am having the resistance attitude, the "well if I am losing it I'm gonna hold on." I'll grow it out, continue to style it over my forehead, continue wearing hats, and possibly hold off on hair pulling (at least from the front). I figure I've got years to go before I feel a need to address the lack of hair in a more serious way, and I'd like to work all the hair I've got for as long as I've got it.

What's your relationship to hair, like it, love it, just waiting to leave it? What does your hair say about you? Are you a control freak who tops your hair into submission, or do you let your hair pull the strings? Do you participate in hair removal, extension, dying, perming? What's your relationship to how your hair is perceived?

For more on trans men and their hair check out Original Plumbing issue 2- Hair.

1 comment:

Otr said...

Thanks for sharing this. I got my first gay haircut when I was 14. Everyone in my fundamentalist church community called me G.I. Jane. When I went to Christian high school, everyone would say I was gay behind my back. It's sort of interesting how even before I was out, I chose queer styles, not only in fashion, but also in the ways I carried myself. And it's funny that everyone else knew I was queer before I was out.

Now, I get a little sad when I have to shower for a job interview or something, because the water washes all the grease out of my hair, and the grease is what makes my hair messy and sexy. I know my haircut contributes to me not passing, but it looks hot, and it's not like I would pass any way, so I'm okay with it.