This piece is from our series, Hair Story. We interview an array of people from different walks of life to discover what their hair means to them. From photographing non-binary individuals who challenge society's norms by wearing their hair in bright colours, to investigating the 'dumb blonde' stereotype, this series explores the intrinsic link between hair and identity.
Some say that a person's crowning glory is their hair. It is often the first thing that people pass comment on, but it's also much more than what's on the surface. In many societies, hair plays a more significant role, with certain styles, lengths and colours denoting everything from gender to status. And for some trans folk, hair can be a confidence boost or a marker of new identity just as much as it can be a deep-seated reason for anxiety, fear and dysphoria.
This is something I myself can vouch for. For the past 30 or so years, I have maintained exactly the same cut, colour and hairdresser, who has seen me from boy to woman (and supported me through those awkward transition years when I believed that I looked like Kate Moss at Glastonbury). 2018 was supposed to be the year of my great 'hair reveal' – the year in which I would allow the 'new' me to come forth and be seen. I had a book deal, some money in the bank and a growing sense that, for a trans woman in her middle years living with HIV, I'd done alright.
I wanted to cut my hair, lose the flicks and the feathery outlines and allow my natural light grey hue to grow through short and strong. I started the process, and as we all do, I courted opinion from those around me who I knew had my best interests at heart. But nearly everyone I talked to about my new look warned me against it. "You'll look hard." "Your hair looks lovely as it is." The point they were making was simple. They didn't mean to be horrible. Quite the opposite. But they were talking to me through my trans-ness, and being trans meant that I should try to retain or create as much femininity as possible to 'soften my edges' and 'feminise' my face. It played deeply into feelings of dysphoria which still circle, years on from transitioning.
But if writing this story has taught me anything, it's that I'm not alone. For many trans people, the relationship they have with their hair is fraught with the different natural processes of hair loss, which can add to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression as they strive to express their personal and gendered identities, as well as hair gain, discovering how wigs, cuts and routines can shape a new identity.
Ahead, I talked to five trans people about their feelings and experiences. Here are their unfiltered stories.