An honest and open post on gender identity and the tale of how I’ve evaded the compelling allure of femininity all these years.
Roughly two months ago, I was visiting my parents in Tennessee and made a very daring decision — one that I had been contemplating for years: I chopped all of my hair off. All of it.
But before discussing that, I want to share just a few short snippets, each describing one of three poignant memories of mine (they will take up but a sentence or two each — and a maximum of four. I promise).
First memory: I’m sitting on the couch, age 10, flipping through one of my mom’s People magazines. In the very back, on a page that is obviously dedicated to poking fun at celebrities, there is a cutout of Julia Roberts where she is smiling brightly and raising her arm, holding some type of an award with her hand. The text next to the photo points out her unsightly underarm hair, and the content of the text causes me to feel embarrassed for her. I make a mental note: don’t be seen with underarm hair. Ever.
Second memory: I’m swimming in a 2-1/2 foot high above-ground pool in Grammy’s backyard in Hudson, Florida. The sun is shining, the air is warm, and the pool water is chilly and refreshing. I’m about 12 years old. I raise my arms in excitement, yelling something out to my brother with a smile on my face, and Grammy laughs suddenly and points at me from her lawn chair: “I see little hairs growing under there, Rosebud!” I immediately pull my arms downward and inward and glare.
Third memory: I’m riding the bus home from my middle school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It’s a bumpy ride and it’s sunny outside; I’m sitting by the window. A girl sitting in front of me is talking to the girl beside her, and I overhear their discussion about a mutual friend who had obviously attended some kind of pool party: “..she was wearing a bikini, and there was hair everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. She hadn’t even waxed down there. It was absolutely disgusting.” I sat in my seat, mute and cringing with discomfort.
Now, let’s talk about my recent hair cut.
My mother, aunt and I walked into an Aveda hair salon located inside of the Knoxville shopping mall one Monday afternoon earlier this summer and booked an on-the-spot appointment with a young girl who looked to be just about my age. She had short, black, spiky hair.YES! I thought inwardly, a sense of relief coursing through me. SHE obviously knows what’s up.
I sat in the styling chair while my mother, aunt, and other family members (who had stumbled into the salon moments after the three of us had) clustered together on the couches in the waiting room, my mom looking nervous and my grandma, amused , a quiet, knowing smile playing on her lips. My uncle moseyed over to where I was sitting several times during the hair-cutting process, taking pictures with his phone and making comments that made me roll my eyes and the hairdresser laugh. I sat there peacefully as lock after lock separated itself from the rest of my head and sashayed quietly to the floor.
By the time the hairdresser was finished and my hands had floated up to the sides of my head, the impact of my decision hit me with a force: the long hair that I had hidden under for 12 (or so) years was gone. Completely and totally gone. The veil was lifted. My short length (or lack of length) seemed to mirror and match something on the inside of me, and it felt right — a bit shocking and foreign, of course, but very natural. Normal, even. I looked into the mirror as I walked towards the front of the shop and noticed how big my head suddenly looked. “You have a double crown,” the hair dresser had remarked while cutting my hair. “Maybe that’s why,” I mused to myself, shrugging.
We paid the bill and left, and two months later (aka last week), I went back to an Aveda salon in my local hometown – Birmingham, Alabama – for a quick trim. “This having-to-cut-your-hair-every-eight-weeks thing is complete and utter nonsense,” I muttered to myself as I weaved my way through traffic en route to the Aveda Hair Institute located just off of Highway 150. I had just gotten off of work for the day and was more concerned with having a delicious, warm meal than I was with the disturbingly unattractive, infant-mullet beginning to grow out of the back of my head, but I had a busy weekend ahead – a concert to attend, and school finals to take – and I needed to get this thing done. I was previously accustomed, with my ultra long locks, to be grossly negligent with my salon visits; my hair cuts literally took place annually. So while I didn’t exactly like how things were playing out with this short hair gig, I was also committed to the cut.
I pulled into the Aveda parking lot, checked in at the front desk, and a few moments later, a cute little girl named Dina walked over to introduce herself. “I’ll be taking care of you today,” she smiled softly, gesturing for me to follow her. The hair cut went smoothly; the student’s instructor did most of the actual cutting, with the student supplying shears, scissors, and hair products (lotions, serums) at random intervals throughout the cut. The small and somewhat noteworthy “part” to this story is the bit of conversation that I had with the instructor and the student.
“I don’t like this razor effect on her hair — you see that?” the instructor motioned for the student to look closely at my hair strands. “The razor effect isn’t recommended for every hair type; it makes hers look frayed and frizzy. We are going to fix that.” The student nodded in agreement and the instructor continued combing and clipping away, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. A moment later, she spoke up again. “You see this here?” I watched in the mirror as she motioned towards the back-left portion of my head. “This is a cowlick. You do not want to cut this down too much or it will shoot straight up.” The student nodded earnestly, mental notes painted all over her face. As they studied my head, I watched them in the mirror. The instructor caught my eye and smiled. “We’re going to make this a more feminine cut,” she reassured me, and I was taken back with surprise. “A feminine cut?” I blurted out. “Well.. I don’t really want –” she stopped to look at me. The student was also silent, obviously waiting for me to finish my thought. How do I put this into normal words, I thought desperately; I’m a straight female who actually wants to have a boy’s haircut? I cleared my throat. “Yeah, absolutely — feminine. That sounds good.” The instructor nodded understandingly and smiled, continuing with her work. I sat there, dissatisfied and not a little perplexed.
“Now they’re just going to make my hair look STUPID,” I thought inwardly, feeling cross with myself. “Why didn’t you just tell it like it is: I want a BOY’S hair cut? There’s nothing WRONG with that!” I exhaled slowly. “How do I fix this now? Saying something else afterwards will just sound stupid.” I shifted my eyes up to look at the ceiling. “But I don’t want a stupid girly hair cut. I really, really don’t. I want a cool, simple, boyish cut. But I’m not a lesbian.. but they’ll THINK I am. Geez, who even freaking cares if they think I’m a lesbian? Lesbians are awesome anyways.” I tapped my heels together, pinching my lips together.
Quick thoughts like these continued to filter through my mind, criss-crossing each other and forming an intricate and delicate paradox while the instructor babbled onto the student, who bobbed her head almost incessantly. Finally, I cleared my throat. Enough.
“Yeah,” I started brightly, “I really, really love how you’re cutting my hair! It looks awesome. I definitely want it to look feminine, but you know.. still edgy. Like Wynona Rider! In ‘Girl, Interrupted’. You know what I mean?” The instructor nodded and smiled — smiled in that placating sort of way, like she wasn’t really listening and as if what I had just said had no bearing on the haircut whatsoever. She didn’t say anything in response, and I smiled, amused by myself. “Just shut up, Rose. Short hair is short hair. It will look fine. And whatever happens, at least you made your intentions clear.” I was finally appeased.
A short ten minutes later, I paid my bill and left — dropping into my car, looking up into my car visor and smiling. “Just like Mrs. Brady. You spent a good 45 minutes getting your hair washed and conditioned and trimmed and dried, and you still ended up looking exactly the same.” I shook my head and turned on the car. “Better than looking frilly and feminine, I suppose.” My bangs were still falling irritably onto my forehead, and the thickness of my was hair still outlandish, but I shrugged, feeling at least comfortable with the familiarity of it. “And at least it’s easy.”
So that’s the story. Not very interesting, is it? I drove home and thought about the first world crisis that I had encountered in the hair shop. All around me, there had been women: women, with their long locks, their fragrant curls, and their shiny ponytails. Women, with their manicured hands, their smooth toes and their cutely painted toenails. Women, walking around with their shaved legs and smooth forearms, donning necklaces, hand rings, earrings and anklets, with poignant, flowery perfumes flowing gracefully behind them. What made it so damn difficult for me to be like these women? I was thinking these thoughts while sitting at home, on the couch, with my husband. I was wearing a weathered, graphic t-shirt and boxers, with my hair tousled, my legs hairy (I haven’t shaved in 9 months now — it’s an ongoing experiment), my nails nude and my face entirely plain, decorated only by the occasional patch of pinkish-red acne. I looked over at him, his legs tucked under him as he leaned into the arm of the couch with both elbows, his pretty, long hair pulled back into a perfect ponytail. “You would make such a better girl than I do,” I grumbled at him, squinting my eyes and smiling playfully. He laughed. “Yeah,” he nodded cutely, tilting his chin and sending his eyelashes fluttering upward, “I probably would.” We laughed and continued watching our show on Netflix together, sharing a bowl of sea-salted popcorn between us.
And in my pseudo-conclusion to this post (is it okay for a conclusion to take up half of the entire entry?), I would like to note that there is no real “point” to this post. I have nothing to really rant about, and no type of blogging agenda. I got my hair cut two months ago so that I could look more like I feel; “A BOY?” you want to scream. “To clarify — you want to look like A BOY, and yet you’re NOT a lesbian?” “…are you sure?”
Yes. To be perfectly honest, I feel like “a boy” in many ways, and the natural outgrowth of that feeling is to want to look, in some ways, like a boy looks. At the risk of sounding completely cliché, appearance is the mere outward expression of an inner feeling or state of being. This statement – “I want to look like a boy because I feel like a boy” – may seem strange and weird and even off-putting, but it’s the honest truth. I think that the root of the problem is not that I feel like a boy — I believe that it lies within our society’s perception of “boy” and “girl” (and the consequential rulebooks governing “girl behavior and appearance” and “boy behavior and appearance”).
I studied psychology while attending school last year, and one of our more interesting topics of discussion was human sexuality (and not in the weird way.. in terms of gender identity and biological sex; did you know that there was a difference between the two?). I know that there is a difference, and while I can’t remember, in detail, the exact distinction between the two terms, there is one, and it made sense at the time that I studied it. A lot of sense. It hit home in a very personal way, and in very superficial terms, it basically means this: one may have the sexual organs and even sexual tendencies/preferences of one gender while having the mindset and personality of the opposite gender.
A respected friend of mine shared a picture on Facebook the other day with her own words attached.. something to the effect of: “Gender is less black and white than people make it out to be (and less about sexual desire than about personality). It is a spectrum, and people are on various points along that spectrum, some tending towards stronger amounts of masculinity and, others, heightened levels of femininity.” I, myself, skirt along the edges of masculinity (and oddly enough, my husband weighs in on the feminine side; we are perfect complements to each other).
So we determine a person’s biological sex and then there is all of the garbage that comes along with having a “girl” or a “boy” part. There is an entire castle built upon a gender of one’s biological sex: “female” is built with glitter, shades of pink, ruffles, and Barbie dolls –with soft tones of speech and bright shades of color, smooth skin and sweet smells. The castle of “male”, on the other hand, is built out of skinned knees, with footballs in the courtyard, loud laughing on the patio, pizzas in the kitchen and residents with hairy legs and underarms.
At least, that is the “schedule of normality.” I veered from the path many years ago — not because I’m not a girl, and not because I’m a lesbian; because I’m a female who has identified that she feels and acts like a boy because the definition of and aspects that compose “girl” do NOT identify or resonate with her — with me. It’s that simple.
I will not wear make-up, and I can’t be bothered to blow-dry my hair. Ever. I prefer fuzzy legs to smooth legs and wish that people wouldn’t gawk, in public, when I wear shorts. I prefer skateboarding to pedicures and natural nails to long and painted ones, and the strong smell that 99% of perfumes carry makes me irritated and nauseated. No matter how much I love Harry Potter, I will not have my pubic hair shaped into the likeness of a lightning bolt, and by all accounts and purposes, my eyebrows require no plucking, as my vision is not even in the slightest hindered by them. I would rather wear some raggedy, washed-out jeans and ride my scooter to work than wear a pretty dress with panty hose underneath, and I would rather play the guitar and throw a football myself than watch some cute boy play the guitar and throw his football. Lastly, I will not toss my pennies into the wind for some petty, temporary hair dye and I will never, ever step foot into a tanning salon.
And I like having a short hair cut that makes me feel cool and boyish and edgy.
So the point of this post is (and here’s the real ending) — quit letting girls and boys and the media and the internet tell you what you should and shouldn’t do with your body — and with your life. It’s obviously already been said a million times before, but I would like to say it, again, myself:
Boys can wear pink.
Girls can dress “like boys.”
Girls can like girls, and boys can like boys.
Conversely speaking, GIRLS CAN LIKE BOYS and BOYS CAN LIKE GIRLS.
Girls can have short hair, and boys can have long hair.
Boys can paint their toenails if they want to and girls do not have to.
Boys can stay at home with their children while girls go out and own it in the workplace,
and a girl can shave, or not shave, according to her personal preference. So can a boy.
And that preference shouldn’t be governed by or born out of a fear that the people around you will judge you if you do not conform to “the norm.” I wholeheartedly believe that if half of the pictures featured on magazine covers were of women – models – bearing leg and underarm hair, that half of the busy women speeding through “real life” wouldn’t be so ashamed of their natural bodies and wouldn’t be wasting $100’s-$1,000’s of dollars a year on shaving tools and creams and professional waxing services (and when I browse through JCP and Macy’s clothing catalogues, I sort of, mostly get it.. but Urban Outfitters? Really? You claim to be all hippie-chic, and vintage-out-of-your-mind but all of your models are smooth-legged? get out of town).
One more thing (because this can’t go unsaid): some people dare to claim that a girl who doesn’t shave is “letting herself go” and that it’s not natural for a woman to not shave — and I vomit on that sentiment.
Shaving naturally growing body hair is as unnatural as it gets — not that I have a problem with shaving; I ABSOLUTELY do not.. but what I DO have a problem with is the false notion that a woman not shaving is a woman being lazy. I can find 1,000 other, better things to do with my time than to shave 1/8th of an inch of leg hair while rushing through a pre-work shower every two days. Also, because I don’t shave, my legs are soft and warm year round and never get that scratchy and prickly abrasiveness to them that a lot of ladies are sadly accustomed to. So there. Smooth and soft legs are gorgeous; it’s indisputable. But fuzzy legs are comfortable. I choose the latter, and I invite you to choose what you like best. I will not judge you.
My amazing-beyond-belief husband has played a huge role in supporting me to be confident and self-assertive with the choices that I’ve made and the image that I display, and I, in turn, want to be that friend, that person, that support system, for you. Stranger, friend, aunt, or model who’s just freaking sick of shaving her legs — whoever you are:
You should be exactly, 100% who you want to be today, and if that changes tomorrow, that is 100% okay.