Hair is an important part of the way someone presents to the world. A haircut can say a lot about someone, whether you want to appear professional maybe carefree, or predictable, hip and trendy, etc. Socially, hair can also say a lot about someone’s gender.
For a long time, I had curly hair that was down to about my shoulder blades. I usually always wore it in a ponytail, partly because I was an athlete and partly because I didn’t like being feminine. When I was in my sophomore year of college, I was ready to cut it off. I even sat down in the salon chair but I couldn’t quite do it. I finally got up the courage a year later. I started to want shorter hair when I felt like it just wasn’t working for me anymore.
I was presenting masculine in my dress and appearance but my hair was still too long and feminine for my taste. I didn’t like how it looked when I wore a shirt and tie. But my hair was a big part of my identity, too. It was part of what defined me. The biggest change I ever did to my hair was when I grew out my bangs (side note: bangs and curly hair did not work for me! Thanks, mom) in seventh grade and then changing it from a middle part to a side part in ninth grade. I had never dyed it or cut it in any way out of the ordinary. So to go from the same hair I always had to a very short haircut was a huge change and I was nervous about how people would react.
However, by the time I finally cut it off, I was more than ready. It was liberating and it solidified my identity as a lesbian - I looked the part! Of course, not all lesbians have short hair, but for me, it made a statement to the world that let everyone know I was a masculine lesbian.
For the first few years of having short hair, I had only gone to one hairstylist. She was the one who initially cut my hair short and I kept going to her for 3 years until I moved. When I moved to Florida for graduate school, I started going to the barbershop on campus. I figured I had short hair like a man, why should I pay the women’s prices for a haircut? (Seriously, why are women’s haircuts, even if they have short hair, so much more expensive?) When I first went there, I was nervous. I had never even been inside a barbershop and I perceived these spaces as exclusive to men.
I continued to go to this barbershop as I transitioned. The haircut was instrumental to helping the world see me as the man I started to feel I was and that trumped any anxiety I felt. Luckily, my anxiety was all in my head. When my beard starting coming in, the barbers treated my peach fuzz like the burgeoning beard it was.
Even though I’ve moved multiple times since then and since I pass as a cisgender male, I can get my haircut at any barbershop now without wondering, “Will this barber see me as a woman or a man?” “Will the haircut he gives me reflect how I want the world to see me?” Even though I pass, I still get anxiety about going to a new barber, not just because I want my haircut to look good, but also because I still perceive barbershops as uber masculine spaces and I always feel like an imposter, like they’ll know I’m not one of them.
I recently got my haircut at a barbershop I’ve never been to before. As he’s cutting, he asks me where I came from. I told him I work just down the street. He asked me where I work. I panicked because I work for an LGBT community center. Do I tell him? What if he treats me differently? Do I lie? Then I remembered that it’s 2019. Even though violence against trans people is very real, I thought I should give him the benefit of the doubt by not making an assumption about his beliefs. “I work for an LGBT Community Center.”
He said, “Oh cool.” And then proceeds to ask me if I know of someone who he knows who is heavily involved in the LGBT community in the next city. I did happen to know him and we made small talk while he cut my hair in exactly the way I asked him to.