Tell Me About Your Hair

Tell me about your hair.

I can still see her face as she said it. The beautiful brunette in the CUTEST red glasses with perfectly coordinated lipstick, and a great updo. In some way I could not describe it felt like someone had just taken off all of my armor and undressed me in public. I might as well have been sitting naked in the middle of this bar.

Tell me about your hair.

Hair is not uncomplicated or apolitical in the queer world. It is a powerful piece of our embodiment. My high school students talk to me about how their haircuts make them feel “more queer” in the world. Translation: more visibly queer, because people might more fully see them. They are thrilled and terrified by it.

Tell me about your hair, she asked. In public. In the middle of whatever place we were drinking strong cocktails made of whiskey and ginger ale. I was thrilled and terrified.

She asked, because she knew. Hair is complicated. Queer aesthetics are always political. For a Femme, your hair is a piece of how you introduce yourself to the world in a powerful way. She asked, because she too had traveled this road. I did the thing you did in early 2000’s queer life. In a time when the words “Butch” and “Femme” were being quietly stuffed back into closets by second wave feminists shaping the next generation of LGBTQ kids and young adults, gender identity felt both complicated and clear in one brush. You came out. You possibly stopped wearing a bra. You replaced whatever was in your closet with well loved flannels, and khaki pants. You chopped off all of your hair.

Tell me about your hair.

I went from the long hair that had followed me from high school competition sports to a cut so short I barely had to wash it in the morning. I shed the layers of my former lives onto the scuffed floor of our res hall kitchen at the hands of one of the queerest people I knew at the time. I oscillated between a collection of my own and my then girlfriend’s button down shirts, and the Femme wardrobe that had served me for most of my life. Trying to embody my queerness in a way that screamed “see me. I’m here” and also didn’t leave me feeling too vulnerable.

It would be many years before someone introduced me to the word Femme. I remember the first time I said it out loud. It dissolved in my mouth like the perfect kind of chocolate, not too sweet and satiating the craving I didn’t realize I had. Much like the first time someone introduced me to the word queer, it was like the puzzle pieces of this embodiment I had been trying to fit into a frame finally all came together. Femme.

Tell me about your hair.

In the ensuing years, I played with color and texture. Hues of blondes and vibrant red. I grew it out, I cut it off. I tried every style that in some way communicated “visible queerness” or “see me. Please” to the world. In contrast to my partner’s desire to just once in a while not be misgendered, or be stared at a little bit less, it sometimes felt like I was begging people to look.

At some point, I accepted invisibility as a piece of my Femme reality. People would read me how they read me in the world. And the people who really knew what to look for would see me. Maybe. Or not. I suspected I always feel like I was asking permission to occupy space, not straight enough or queer enough.

So, about five years ago, I stopped cutting my hair. I felt like I had tried it all, and nothing quite fit. I kept playing with the color, but made a deal with my stylist. Unless I come in here begging you to do it, we’re not cutting it (other than an occasional trim). And even then, try to talk me out if it and see if I cave. We played with colors, hues of blonde, pink, rose gold, and purples woven together in a tapestry of visibility. My hair grew into a kind of security blanket.

Tell me about your hair.

Suddenly, people would stop me at parties and ask: is that really your hair? Who does your color? Was this what it was like to be seen? A stylist at a blow out bar in Las Vegas once ran her round brush through my hair and sighed: “your hair is my favorite kind of hair to style. It’s real, and healthy, and so beautiful. You can’t create this kind of hair. It just happens.” My stylist of over five years would teach her new assistants to blow dry on it.

I confess now that my hair has become my only real source of vanity. There are times it is the only thing that gives me any sense of power in my physical embodiment. It is the thing I can be sure of. It may have been the reason I got asked on the eve of my first (very gay) wedding “why the straight girls came to the gay bar,” but it’s also become my source of strength.

Tell me about your hair, she said.

Only if you tell me about yours, I replied.

And so together we got naked in public, bore witness, and embraced the fullness of each other. We gave people passing by our conversation a witness to our queerness in the world, and the beauty of Femme identity. This time, no one asked if we belonged there, because didn’t ask permission. We saw each other. No longer invisible. Femme. Queer. Whole.

Dedication:
To C — Thanks for seeing through my armor, and taking off my clothes in public. Your hair is still great.

To T — Thank you for letting me into a small piece of your story, and always helping me feel a little more seen and a little less invisible.

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Heidi Carrington Heath

The Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath (she/her/hers) is a preacher, teacher, activist, writer, holy mischief maker, and proud queer femme.