For most of my life, my hair has always felt more about other people than about me. When I began thinking of cutting it this past fall, one of the first questions I had was whether or not my girlfriend’s white mom would still like me. When we first met, she asked if I was Hawaiian, and I felt a safety in that, the idea that maybe her family would struggle to read my Blackness and maybe hate me less for dating their daughter, cousin, niece. Passing is a disgusting and uncomfortable thing I’ve always felt encouraged to seek despite knowing it’s never really real.
I know that some people see me as a Black lesbian, but I’d never think of myself that way. Fluidity is where I feel most comfortable, and as I continue to explore my gender, racial, and sexual identity, and as that identity shifts, it seems only natural that my hair would shift, too. But exchanging my long, thick, kinky curls for a chin-length, straight bob was a lot harder for me than ordering a few tees from the men’s section and not shaving my armpits.
When it came to allowing myself this new haircut, it felt like my gender identity and my racial identity were butting heads. I felt pressure to embrace my natural hair... but wanting to feel truer to my queer self felt like failing too, like reaching for the straightener again after over a year of wearing my natural curls was a slap in the face to my race. I was getting tangled inside my ethics and, again, making my hair about other people who, realistically, couldn’t care less about what the dead stuff that grew out of my head looked like. I wanted, more than anything, to ask myself what I wanted, and to make a decision based solely on that.
I panicked about this for a year, overthinking in the way I tend to about how my appearance intersects with my identity. My plan to do something braver with my hair was still in flux when Donald Trump became president — and then bravery came to look like an entirely different thing.
Under Trump, I felt more vulnerable than ever. It isn’t that I think Obama is perfect. But it can’t compare to how I feel under the current administration while I’m in an interracial, queer relationship. I realized that there is nothing I could do to protect myself from who I was. If the Republican party wants to strip queer Black people of their rights, they’re going to do so, regardless of what I look like.
It doesn’t matter what I project to other people: I am who I am. I am queer. I am Black. I am biracial, and bisexual, and trying to pass as anything but has always been just a way of tricking myself into feeling safe, as if being conventionally beautiful and vaguely approved of by white people was a form of freedom.
I suddenly knew that forcing myself to wear my hair in certain ways to look less Black and less queer was ridiculous. I had a false sense of control. When people’s lives were at stake, when my life was at stake, how could appearance even matter?
In the first few months of Trump’s presidency, I began having anxiety attacks in between one and four in the morning every night. A thick, heavy Bad seemed to stretch itself throughout my body and press me deep into the sheets. I was helpless and vulnerable and exhausted. I learned that focusing on something singular helped drown out the feeling of Everything Is Bad and gave me a single Bad to spend all of my energy on so I could finally fall asleep. And that thing became cutting my hair.
It gave me something tangible I could control in my life. Maybe my entire country was going to shit and millions didn’t think I was a human worthy of rights and it didn’t feel like there was much I could do to change it, but I could cut my hair off. I could vow to be more myself: a shame-free, less apologetic, less assimilationist version of me. One who sidesteps expectations and stops letting my desire to be loved and approved of keep me from simply looking and feeling like myself.
I felt pressure to embrace my natural hair... but wanting to feel truer to my queer self felt like failing too.
And so I cut it. I went home, to the place where I grew up, where I knew I could find a hairstylist who wouldn’t be baffled by my hair’s texture and my request. The stylist washed, blow-dryed, and straightened my hair, and it fell over my shoulders in the way I’d so deeply wished it would have my whole life. I’d finally accomplished my mission, to feel beautiful on my terms.
One woman met my eye in the mirror as the hair began to fall, and her eyes grew wide, like, didn’t I know what I was giving up? She didn’t understand how much I was gaining.
For some people, wearing makeup or getting extensions or putting on the right pair of shoes is like preparing for battle. For me, it’s always been taking it all off. First, it was no longer wearing makeup. Then, it was saying goodbye to relaxers. Now, it’s scraping back expectations of womanhood and Blackness and saying, “Screw it, this is who I am.” And I’ve never felt more free.
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