in which the author shares more than hair styling tips.
Sometime over the next few days I should go and do the thing that I really, really dislike doing: getting a hair cut. Now that might not seem like a big deal to many of you, but for me, it is nigh near torture.
I didn’t think too much about haircuts as a child. But then my mother, a cool, stylish mother took me to a salon and I left with a pixie cut; a little unsure of it, but believing my mother and the stylist that it looked wonderful on me. That belief lasted until Monday. When I got to school a group of girls in my class tried to push me into a group of boys because to them, my short hair meant I belonged with the boys not the girls.
At six years old, nearly seven, I did not level my sense of betrayal at my mother who thought that it would be cute for me to have a pixie cut. Nope, not me. I levelled my disdain at the one whose action caused this new trouble; the hair cutter. And so was installed a deep level of mistrust of hair cutters; my six nearly seven-year-old self reasoned as only a child of that age can: hair cutters cut hair by the pictures on the wall and are NOT to be trusted with me and my hair.
That Monday, I showed up with a hair style that no other girl in the school had. Girls being girls, it was not going to go unnoticed or unpunished. They were acting out their beliefs about the meaning, value, symbolism of hair. I didn’t know any of that at six, nearly seven — all I knew was that there was a bunch of girls telling me I was a boy because my hair was short and that I was out of the girls’ club, or had lost the right to be in the girls’ club because I looked like I belonged with the boys. I was confused why they thought that, wondered what my mother knew that I didn’t.
Hair serves as an important icon in our world, an icon of strength and fertility, of attitudes toward life, of beauty, of class, of sexuality and desirability: Sexy hair is tempting. Hair is also an icon of rebellion, of opposition, of power and control (think punk, gangsta, head shaving) and of gender, of tribal affiliation and superstition. The power and mystique about hair: Medusa before being turned into a snake-headed Gorgon, Samson and Delilah. To this day some religious groups still have a prohibition about women showing their hair in public.
The problem was that shorter hair suited me. So thought my mother, although she assured me that it did not mean I was a boy, because she had short hair and she wasn’t a boy and then she showed me pictures of all the women with short hair, which didn’t help at all because I was a kid, although I did think some of them were rather attractive. And so it was short hair for as long as my mother took me to get my hair cut. In my adolescence, I grew my hair to my shoulders with long bangs, and ignored my mother’s suggestion to cut it short.
Fast forward a number of years. My two and a-half year relationship with the woman I met in college, the woman who loved me but would not come out was oh, I don’t know: non-existent, invisible, missing in action, a relationship that wasn’t. She went to Italy for the summer and I was certain that where we would land was pretty obvious. I spent that summer coming out in a big way (see early posts) breaking all the rules of lesbian land by dating, dating and more dating because coming out was about exploring and adventure. Dating = good, relationship = no way. I kept my hair short as a sort of code to other lesbians everywhere. You know, just in case.
One night my friends introduced me to a woman who seemed rather nice and we hit it off over a couple of conversations which led to a few dates. She was quite different from anyone I had known. First, she was adopted, second her mother was a well-known Canadian artist, third she was a hairstylist and four, she didn’t read. But she was fun, it was easy and I got free haircuts at home. YAY!
SO I dated and she was one of the women I dated more than four times and it was going along, nicely: no rockets, no great passion, no great seriousness, but nicely. By the third month, my college love returned from Italy and we met for dinner to have the conversation; you know, the talk about where are we, what’s happening. She wasn’t happy that I was seeing other women. I wasn’t happy that she wanted to live a double life and hide. For all the thousands of words we exchanged, the last few landed us with a thud: she could not be a lesbian even as she loved me. She didn’t see why we couldn’t continue as always and I could not, would not, live a sidelined life, pretend to not exist, be the diversion for a someone pretending to be straight, pretend to be someone I wasn’t even if it meant walking away from someone I loved. And I did. I walked away.
Later that night, the doorbell rang and as I stood to answer it, I willed myself not to hope, which turned out to be a good thing because it wasn’t her, it was the nice woman I was dating. She wasn’t empty-handed, either. She had three big, green garbage bags with her. And it looked like she’d been hit in the face.
I was very confused.
Turns out that little miss hairstylist had not exactly been entirely honest with me. When we met she said she was recently single, that she and her girlfriend broke up the month before and that although they lived together, they were working towards an amicable split. Seemed reasonable and plausible. But untrue. They weren’t broken up until that night and her (now ex) girlfriend was of the physically abusive kind, who used her fists as substitutes for words and gave little miss hairstylist 15 minutes to gather her stuff and get out of the house. In a panic and terrified, the only place little miss hairstylist could think of to go was to my place and the only person she could think of to go to was me.
Of course I brought her in. Of course I let her stay. Of course everything in my gut was screaming at me, don’t do this — not one step further!
Did I mentioned I was confused?
So dating moved instantly into a relationship. The next day, she trimmed my hair. I liked that. Within three days, it was clear to me that we were wrong, wrong, wrong: we were not well matched in any way except for superficial dating and fun. A life together? No.
It took me a few months to gather the courage to tell her directly and as gently as I could that it wasn’t working for me and it was time to end this. She threatened suicide if I left, holding a bottle of pills. I did not know what to do, so I stayed. I was too embarrassed to tell my friends and family what was happening and what happened each and every time I raised the issue of ending the relationship.
For the entire time of that relationship, three years, I did not have to step once into a hair salon.
When I finally got out of it, my six nearly seven year-old self was talking to me. Girls were crazy. Specially hair-cutter girls. And so back I went into the closet, after what must just have been an experiment with women, to prepare for the next journey in life with a wonderful, wonderful man.
And the day my bags were packed, the day that this man and I had set to start a life together was the day I talked to my six nearly seven year-old self and said, “You can’t do this anymore. I might not always be right, but I don’t need you to make decisions for me anymore.” It was not easy, but I came out and stayed out.
But back to my hair. My hair through all that time never quite bordered any particular lesbian hair style. Shortish to mid-length always above my shoulders and a long sweep of bangs over one side. Not a lesbian haircut at all. When I got bored with that, I let it grow quite long, keeping it tied back. That got boring so I had it cut all one length to my shoulders and left it there. Very easy to trim: all one length, done in five minutes.
Recently, I wanted a change. I braved it: got a recommendation from a hair stylist friend for a talented stylist. What I asked for was something that didn’t take a lot of work, needed no instruments to take care of and that I could still tie back for the gym.
What I got suits me well, takes 30 minutes with all sorts of hair product, hair implements and manoeuvers if I want to replicate the salon look, or 20 seconds if I just goop it up and push it all back until that part of the front falls over my eye as it always does, a la power dyke, but softer, in a lesbian cyclops sort of way. This style lets me indulge my interest in all sorts of hair products which I rationalize with, “but I don’t drink beer…”
Hair is the one thing we get to play around, because the great thing about hair is that it always, always grows back. Even lesbian hair.
Now it’s time for a refresher cut and ooh, I so don’t wanna go. I hate sitting in the chair, hate sitting still, hate having someone who doesn’t know me touch my head, and worse: folding my ears over which is not necessary since I am not having a short cut, but it seems to happen anyway and oh goddess, it’s a sensation that makes me climb the walls and let me say this about that: not in a good way. I am probably not the best client for stylists: I do my best to meditate and go to another places, otherwise known as dissociate, but for healthy reasons: to endure a thing I do not enjoy but which must be done.
There are days I contemplate shaving my hair off completely in part just to see what it’s like, and in part to not have to deal with it anymore. When my mother and sister lost their hair to chemotherapy, it was shocking: they were absolutely beautiful and there was no hair to distract from their features. I think about doing it from time to time. Maybe something to do for charity. Because after a while, there is so much more to life than worrying about hair and having the right hair style and having the right hair that says, hey: I fit in, or my hair has not category.
These days, I have hair cutters, stylists, colourists as friends. They are a unique lot. But aren’t we all unique, in our own way?