The joy I feel when doing my hair never ceases to amaze me. The process calls for holy moments of rest that last two days; it requires a departure from work or hanging out with friends, and even neglecting the pile of dishes in my kitchen sink (which if being honest, I didn’t need an excuse to put off in the first place). My wash days require sacred hours of unraveling my butt-length braids, or cautiously cutting out my faux locs to ensure none of my “real” hair is clipped while one of my comfort shows plays in the background. It’s also a day of small drops of shampoo and large dollops of conditioner that I let soak in far past the recommended time and a second day of having lovingly tired arms as I blow out my hair, followed by the skillful fingers of a sister who braids me back into myself again. Once done, I marvel at my reflection and awe at the women who aid me in this rebirth. Together we create a space for self-observation, community, and empowerment as if to say ‘this is who I know myself to be and this is who you’ll see.’
Hair for many Black women is our freedom, it gives us agency to show up as we are and is an expression of our humanity in a world that does not always value our personhood. Through its good and its bad, our hairstyles tell the stories of our lives and where we were at a given moment in history. For me, my current chapter sits somewhere between ear and shoulder length and tells the story of a trans girl's journey to identity.
Hair was my gateway into my identity as a trans woman. Like a trusted confidante, it whispered to me to embark on my own “going natural” phase, and I decided during my freshman year of college to stop lining up and cutting my hair.
Much of my younger years were spent cold-headed, with a buzz cut so short you could feel the prickles of new growth like the “hairs” on a kiwi. As I came into elementary school and farther along in my years of schooling, I adopted the classy and sophisticated styling of a ‘Caesar’ cut — a haircut which boiled down to “light on the sides and dark up top”. When I gained a voice, I shedded my parental stylings and was determined to explore as much as I could with my hair. The afro I wore to mirror a school friend’s style transitioned into a temple fade with a short ‘fro curled with a sponge brush, then back to the Caesar cut again. But even through the big chops and budding new growth (with disastrous lineups frequently in between), I not only struggled to find variety and self-expression but also unearth the truest version of me.
Hair was my gateway into my identity as a trans woman. Like a trusted confidante, it whispered to me to embark on my own “going natural” phase, and I decided during my freshman year of college to stop lining up and cutting my hair. It urged me to try different natural styles with drawstring ponytails (that started off wonky but eventually found their footing) and demanded that I upgrade to protective styles like braids and faux locs. Once my confidence grew, I tried riskier ones like passion twists and embellished braids. My hair became the gift that kept on giving, providing me each time with a renewed sense of self, beauty, and access to community — because whether cis, trans, or non-binary our hair does this for us all as Black women and femmes.
Our hair is the unspoken backbone that unites us across the centuries and holds the remnants of our past and the ancestors who left with us secrets of braiding and beauty. It bears the painful memories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the women who braided rice into their cornrows to provide and ensure sustenance as they were transported from West Africa. Through our hair and its many rituals, remain the herbalism of our foremothers in the new world, passing down their ingenuity of homemade balms, creams, and oils for hair growth. And, while the societies we now call home may try to limit our personhood, we continue as Black women, to reject who they say we can be and claim space for ourselves. Because our ‘Black girl magic’ isn’t limited to our hair’s origins, length, curl pattern, style or caused perception; its magic is in its willingness to be beautifully untamed.
My hair presents me with a communal love and reservoir of self-confidence fostered by the Black women around me who share their own experiences.
So, while my Black girl hair story might be free of cutesy hairstyles in my youth, or absent of that “one perm" that left me rebuilding my edges, it still has its place amongst all our unique stories, across the diaspora, recounting our own journeys of self.
Whether your hair story is graceful and regal like the smooth head of congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, pressed and joyous like the silk presses of US Vice President Kamala Harris, changes forms like the buss downs of our favorite rapping girls JT and Careesha, or flows ethereal and soulful like the styles worn by Solange Knowles and Erykah Badu, our hair stories are pieces and colors of a tapestry bigger than ourselves.
Now, in my two days of holy rest — in the moments of detangling, treatment, and styling — my hair continues to fill me with love, and as I love on it, in return, it loves on me. My curls continue to grow bigger and brighter, not only by my hand but with the help of this sisterhood. It remains nourished by the words of an older Black woman who in passing comments on my hair’s natural volume and thickness, and it sways just a little more when a woman behind me asks where I got my braids done. My hair presents me with a communal love and reservoir of self-confidence fostered by the Black women around me who share their own experiences. And I’m able to return the gift to another little Black girl by offering her a moment's joy by complimenting her on her hair.
Hair showed me my identity as a trans woman and remains a pathway to identity for women of all experiences. It continues to offer us lessons in self-love and remains a means to radically take up space. Yet beyond all of the sentiments and teachings learned, my hair and its care offer me a soft place to simply be and a quiet spot away from the world to land and exist in the totality of Black womanhood.