You know, for a blog with the term “buzz cuts” in the title, we haven’t had much discussion around a subject that is rather sensitive for many queerfolk: hair. Allow me to change that right now. See, I am currently obsessed with my hair, because it really needs to be cut. It’s way too long and looks crazy and is in turn driving me crazy. The deliciously gay irony here is that my “long” hair is still shorter than the regular hair of many cismen I know. So why am I so desperately looking forward to my haircut appointment on Thursday, as if my very life and the fate of all that is good depends on it?
It’s my theory that for many dykes, our power lies in our hair. We’re like the biblical Samson, if Samson wore plaid and listed a “passion for social justice” in his OKCupid profile. Alternative lifestyle haircuts are among the most basic of lesbian mating signals. Shaved head? Buzz cut? Dyke. Mohawk? Fauxhawk? ‘Frohawk? So dykey. Striped rainbow-colored buzzed mohawk? Dykey McDykester. And femmes, using their femme magic and fairy dust, somehow make both long and short cuts look simultaneously sexy, girly, and queer.
The preoccupation with hair perhaps runs deepest on the butch side of the spectrum. When you think of butch dykes, what do you picture? Does your imaginary friend have a short, dude-ish cut, or is she rocking Pippi Longstocking braids? Chances are, it’s the former. A masculine-of-center person who wants to express her/his/hir gender identity is probably going to do so by choosing physical indicators – hair being a big one – that society has deemed to be masculine. Somewhere along the line, we (and when I say “we” I mean “the Western culture that I was raised in”) decided that short hair is for boys and long hair is for girls. There is, of course, some (not much) wiggle room here. I mean, I don’t think anybody considers Hulk Hogan to be the picture of femininity, yet he sure has some pretty flowing blond locks. And Natalie Portman went for the total shaved-head-radical-womyn look in V for Vendetta (note: forget the movie and read the graphic novel instead) and she still shows up on like every “Hottest Rich Straight People Who Are Better Than You” list ever. So when even hetero beauty standards offer a little flexibility in the top-o’-your-head department, why do we butches feel the need to hair police each other?
I’m about to reveal a deep, dark, shameful secret, friends: I, Bren, didn’t always have short hair. In fact, my hair used to be rather long (or as long as a lady Jewfro can get). I’m sorry, do you need a minute to recover from the shock? Maybe get a paper bag and breathe into it. I’ll wait.
Back in my greener college days, I remember having a conversation with an older (but not wiser) butch. Said butch told me, “If you cut your hair, more girls would like you.” That pissed me off big time. It wasn’t so much that I actually liked my longer hair (I found the curls annoying as hell, actually). It was just that I wanted people to like me for who I was; I didn’t want to have to change myself to get a date. Also, change was hard and scary.
Another blockade standing between me and hair I liked (which would become shorter hair) was the challenge of finding a stylist who actually knew how to give butch haircuts. In our depressingly gender-divided world, women are expected to go to hair salons and men are expected to go to barber shops. So where, pray tell, does a masculine woman go? Do I go to a salon, where hetero soccer moms read Cosmo and ask me if I have a boyfriend, or do I go to a barber shop, where hetero men look at me like a space alien from the planet Whatshedoinhere? My solution for much of my life was just to go where my mom goes (Cosmo-reading straight lady land) and see the same stylist she sees and pretend that I was someplace else when the conversation would inevitably turn to men or what dress so-and-so was wearing to the Oscars.
Then, one day, I said to myself, “Self, this is ridiculous. You live in big gay Boston, but you get your hair cut in West Bumfuck, because you’re afraid of change.” And I was so right (as I often am). So I set out to find a new, lesbo-friendly place. The problem with living in a city and having hair that grows and needs to be cut is that everything is fucking expensive and I can’t afford expensive. My search was going pretty poorly, until I got the brilliant idea to ask my favorite drag king where she gets her awesome butch ‘do. And that’s how I found the first hair salon I’ve ever been comfortable in, one full of queers and friends-of-queers. It was like coming home, except home had disco balls hanging from the ceiling and leopard print wallpaper (so way cooler than home).
With newly found confidence, I started experimenting. I abandoned my split-end-creating attempts at chemically straightening my curls. I started going shorter. The shortness was slow-going, losing a half an inch or so each time I had an appointment. I was still holding back, for some reason. It took a new relationship and the support/hair style options research of a femme to give me the final push to just cut it all off already. The first time I looked in the mirror with my new, super-short butch cut was something I’ll never forget. It was (corniness alert!) like finally seeing myself on the outside and having it match the way that I saw myself on the inside. I felt powerful. I felt like a force of nature that could take on any obstacle of oppression the world could throw at me. I felt like I had emerged from the cocoon as fully formed butch me, and it felt awesome.
The world noticed the change, too, and I don’t just mean my shocked/confused/horrified/amused family and friends. Other butches started nodding at me on the street in that subtle gesture that says, “I see you there, doing your thing.” Femmes smiled at me more (but isn’t that always the case when one isn’t single?). I started getting “Sir’ed” or otherwise mistaken for a dude on a regular basis.
(Sidebar: The whole being read as a guy thing doesn’t bother me, but it does confuse me. Even with short hair, I still have a noticeable chest. My GF’s theory is that, once my face has been read as male, the ol’ “check out her rack” glance down never happens, so my boobs go unnoted. Makes sense to me!)
I want to close this post with a disclaimer (I know those usually go at the beginning, but I’m a rebel). Just because having short hair has helped me feel more connected with my butchness, that doesn’t mean that having short hair is the key to butchness. Let me say that again, in bold, because it’s important: Short hair does not a butch make, nor does long hair make someone not butch. There are plenty of butches out there who totally rock long hair and that is awesome. They are just as butch as I am with my short hair (also, BUTCH IS NOT A CONTEST). You just do you, dear readers. As Gaga, Our Lady of Queerness and Glitter, reminds us: you are your hair.