I held my breath, staring at the thick clumps of coarse strands scattered around my chair like bird feed. Lifeless. Dead. Gone. For a moment I panicked. I reached up to run my fingers across the side of my head where hair once was, only to feel the satiny smooth sensation of a freshly shaved scalp.
I worried I was making a mistake. Excitement and dread swirled together as the nervous, white stylist, with little experience with my hair type, tenderly held the nape of my neck as she cut my hair.
“Wow,” she kept saying. “This already looks so good on you. I hope you love it.” She smiled, as if trying to reassure us both.
“I know I will,” I assured, even as my heart raced. I tried to sneak peeks into the mirror behind me, catching glimpses of myself and already thinking of how different I looked. I felt different as well. I caught the eye of the girl I came with and smiled. I flew straight from Texas to California just to see her and hold her hand.
It was my first time doing anything like this. My first time on a plane. My first time traveling out of state by myself. My first time holding hands with a girl I liked.
Now I was sitting in a stylist’s chair on an impulse decision with her by my side, hoping by the end of the trip I would call her my girlfriend for the first time. With so many firsts and changes, I felt the need to reflect that change on the outside. So there I sat, shaving my hair for the first time.
“I’m so excited.” I kept saying it over and over practically shivering with trepid elation.
It seemed small, but with the low buzzing of a razor and its teeth across my scalp, everything changed.
In our journeys and explorations of ourselves, hair at times plays a huge role in our discovery. Being Black, there's an additional certain sacred power of reclamation that our hair gives us when we embrace it. I didn’t realize until later that as I was growing into my identity as a queer person, struggling and blooming through different stages of my gender and sexuality, my hair and love for it was going through the same growth and often they collided.
For most of my childhood, I relaxed my hair, intending to make it easier to tame and to look like what I saw around me. There is a complicated relationship that some Black folks have had with their hair, especially in the days when I grew up, before the natural hair movement. Our hair is such an important aspect of our identity and culture, and yet for many of us, there was a time when the love for that crown was hindered by societal ideals.
As I moved into middle school and high school, I started straightening my hair daily to look like the girls around me. I did not realize the damage I was doing to my hair to fit in. I had no memory of a time before chemical burns, flat irons, and hot combs, though I knew it must have existed based upon photos of me as a toddler with round cheeks and thick, bouncy curls.
In high school, I learned how to protect my hair with a silky slick heat protectant that I would rub into the strands. Afterwards, I would ignore the sizzling from the straightener set to barbeque.
It was at the tail end of those high school years that I realized I wasn’t straight and was learning what that meant. It would take a little longer for me to realize I also was not cis.
I quietly admired the beautiful lesbian in my art class, floating at the skirt of my friend group with their high cheekbones and stylishly, chopped blonde hair. I considered chopping all of my hair off then.
It was not until a couple of years later, while I sat in the closet built by my family’s religion, that I finally embraced myself and my hair. It took a trip to California, and holding hands with a cute girl while strolling the streets of Sacramento. I had never been so far from home and never felt so free to create who I wanted to be. So on the day before I left for home, I pierced a second hole in my ears and cut off most of my hair.
When the stylist finished, she looked surprisingly proud of herself. She turned me towards the mirror, brushing hair from my shoulders. I could feel her carefully watching my reaction as I took myself in.
“What do you think?”
Finding the words to explain the euphoria I felt at that moment was impossible. Instead, I shook my head up and down, unable to control the grin on my face.
“I love it.” I gasped, not recognizing the person looking back at me but feeling remarkably at home. With the loss of my hair I felt reincarnated, alive, and brand new.
That was the start. Since then, my hair has changed as much as my sexuality and gender have. I cut off my relaxed hair a few months later. I shaved it down to the skin, embracing my natural hair as I explored gender fluidity.
I struggled with wanting to keep it short, to appear more masculine, and wanting to grow it out simply because it felt right. As I decided that non-binary was the closest word to describe the relationship with my gender, I grew my hair out only to shave it once again, while experimenting with my presentation.
Currently, I’m allowing it to flower. I’m nourishing it and letting it grow out again as I’ve accepted that the length of my hair dictates nothing in regards to my gender. I’ve embraced that I can rest in the symphonic combination of masculinity and femininity that resides in me. My hair is free to just be as I continue to explore my sexuality and gender, and that makes me feel powerful. It feels like a small piece of reclamation.
We may not step back and look at our journey with the intent to process the small but powerful things that have been part of our growth. However, I believe if we did, we would see how closely these seemingly small things have intersected with our self-discovery.
Cherry (They/He) is a queer, transmasculine non-binary writer, occasional artist, and comics enthusiast. For more of their content, follow Cherry on Instagram (@afroprincex).
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