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Coming out as nonbinary, I didn’t think hair would be such an issue for me. And yet, here I am.

I wish it wasn’t. Why should I give a damn how many curls I need to get through the day? But here I am, counting out the millimeters, wanting it longer, larger, more feminine, more masculine.

Maybe it goes back to grade school. After all, what marker-made house wasn’t complete with mommy and daddy — twin stick figures distinguished by long and short hair.

Hair seems to be ingrained in my perceptions of gender, whether I like it or not.

My first goal was simply to grow, as much as I could. For about a year, I grew it to a shaggy mass of curls, and felt immeasurably better for it. However, as summer came, I inevitably needed a haircut, which brought on new challenges.

The main issue was I didn’t know any queer barbers. I came to understand the need for queer safe spaces, but the need to feel safe and comfortable with a hairdresser was new to me.

Regrettably, I cut it short, nervous at the prospect of asking for a haircut based on pictures of gender-neutral and feminine cuts.

I remember walking in with the pictures ready, forming and re-phrasing the question over and over — “can you cut it like this?” — and an array of responses back: “That’s a woman, son.” “Are you sure?” “Sure, I suppose,” followed by a raised eyebrow.

My nerves seeped in. As usual, my presentation went toe-to-toe with anxiety.

I asked for a trim and kept quiet. I felt frustrated as my hair fell to the shop floor. A tilt in the wrong direction.

I left feeling removed, lost somewhere outside of my identity. I told myself I was just being childish, but as I examined myself in the mirror I felt like I had regressed.

My hair, my clothing, my pronouns, my orientation — I had used these to fully realize my identity. I did not expect resistance, a backwards pull towards the black hole of the closet. At that moment, short-haired and off-balance, I felt spaghettified.

However, it reminded me of the importance of claiming my image. Of looking the way I wanted to look. Because the alternative is lightless and crushing.

My hair, of course, grew back, but the lesson remained. Hair is integral to my presentation, and worth defending.

Avraham Forrest is a writer from Indiana. They attend Indiana University. In their spare time they enjoy baking and jogging. Follow on Instagram @avraham_forrest.