I’m As Free As My (Butch) Hair

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.

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About Bren

I'm a self-identified butch lesbian geek Masshole with a passion for comic books, action figures, queer issues, flannel, and pretty ladies. Oh, and comments. I love me some comments (hint, hint).

21 thoughts on “I’m As Free As My (Butch) Hair

  1. Tristan Taormino has already said everything I could possibly want to say about butches, especially butch hair:

    “I love butch girls. Girls with slick, shiny, barbershop haircuts, trimmed so short your fingertips can barely grip it. Girls with shirts that button the other way. Girls that swagger… Girls who get stared at in the ladies’ room, girls who shop in the boys department, girls who live every moment looking like they weren’t supposed to. Girls with hands that touch me like they have been exploring my body their entire lives… It is the girls that get called sir every day who make me catch my breath, the girls with strong jaws who buckle my knees, the girls who are a different gender who make me want to lay down for them.”

  2. Oh Lord, the hair issue. Back when I was trying to figure out exactly where I fit into the entire gal-liking-gal spectrum, I figured the most efficient way to decide the matter was to chop all of my (long, blonde, straight) hair off. That way, I could advertise to all the potentially relevant parties that I was interested in The Ladies. Fortunately, there were plenty of edgy places in Santa Cruz to get my hairs did; unfortunately, my hair turned out to be uncooperative with the whole orientation-deciding plan. Turns out I have cowlicks. Lots and lots of cowlicks. Inconveniently placed cowlicks. I had been aiming for Sapphic Love Machine and instead wound up with Howdy Doody. It was very disappointing.

    So I had to make do with actually flirting with people I was interested in instead. Thanks, hair!

    • Team Cowlicks! I’ve got a couple random cowlicks myself, and I must say, that is about the only situation in which curly hair is more convenient than straight hair, as they can be (semi-)easily hidden. However, there is something to say for actual flirting (such as “you should do it”).

  3. My wife worked on me for YEARS to cut my hair. After a number of years of living in drag/trying to be femme/trying to be straight, I had gotten together with her and had discovered that GOSH I’m BUTCH, what a concept. But I didn’t want to fuss with my hair at all, so, since she had really freaking long hair (we call her a “hippie femme”), I just let mine grow. I didn’t set foot in a hairdressing establishment for over a decade. Finally, the long ponytail got my goat (it kept trying to fall into the cats’ litterboxes as I was changing them) and I made an appointment — at the suggestion of one of my high femme friends — at Judy Jetson’s in Porter for the Big Chop. My queer hairdresser was awesome and gave me the first haircut I’d ever had that reduced me to tears with how good it made me feel — really short, with a 1930s-1940s guy-hair-cut vibe (what I’ve come to call “my dad’s haircut”).

    I couldn’t really afford to go back to Judy Jetson’s, so I ended up at a femme hair salon near my workplace at the time, and got fairly decent cuts (though I kept having to re-convince the hairdresser that I wanted it short!). Lately, I’ve changed jobs, so it’s an ordeal to get to that place, but my hair grew to the point where I was ready to explode. So one Saturday morning when we were in town for brunch, I walked into a barber shop in Davis Square and asked for a short cut, and the guy gave me an EXCELLENT cut (without blinking) for half the price I paid in the girly salon. SCORE!

    • Excellent! Glad you found yourself some good queer hair cutteries. 🙂 Isn’t it funny how one always has to convince the befuddled hetero (usually female) stylists that, yes, you do indeed want it “that short?” As if you’re asking them to give you a frontal lobe lobotomy while they’re up there.

      • I also get “sir”red a fair amount, despite the boobage. As soon as they take a moment to actually look at me, though, they get all flustered (particularly the men). It’s kind of funny.

        I note that, interestingly, though I got “sir”red a couple of times earlier in the day, the evening that I fell and broke my shoulder in the T last year, I was never read as male — everyone who stopped addressed me as “ma’am” (have apparently got too much grey to be “miss” any more). Granted, only women stopped to ask me if I was all right/help me up/offer to get help for me.

  4. Bren, Your last para is me! Looooong hair and wouldn’t change that for anything! It’s sesuous and silky, a little bit Rock’n’Roll and part of who I am.
    Yet I still get read as male. with the big rack and all 😀
    Only problem is that many of our kind find my hair incongruous, and I get a pretty steady stream of hints that its not good enough, and I’m somehow letting down the whole of butchdom by keeping it flowing. Tough! it stays. If it thins badly as I age I’ll consider a cut.

  5. I just love this bit: “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.” Yes! Every single time! No wonder I like getting my butch haircuts so much.

    The worst haircut I ever got was when the hairdresser thought I was a man and I thought it would be interesting not to correct her. After that, unfortunately, I haven’t quite dared to go to a men’s-only establishment.

    I did luck out finding Diego’s in the District of Columbia (Dupont Circle), which I cannot recommend enough for those in the area. It’s technically unisex, but in practice it’s FULL of men and has a wonderful masculine atmosphere. There was some chaos and confusion when I walked in and initially got read as a guy, but that got sorted out and they gave me to one of the few employees who also cuts women’s hair. She does my sideburns perfectly (according to her, it’s not something that people who just do men’s cuts know how to do), and I am becoming a regular. They really seem to get me, even if they do think I’m a little odd. Plus, it’s cheap! I get to get haircuts more often.

    • Isn’t it awesome to feel comfortable walking into a hair cutting establishment? I used to DREAD going to that appointment and now, it’s one of my favorite parts of the month. The fact that my stylist is an awesome straight rockabilly dude who loves comic books, tattoos, and queers makes it so much fun, and he always knows how to get me looking dapper. There’s nothing like the confidence that comes with a fresh new cut. Here’s to great butch haircuts (and hair cutters) everywhere!

  6. Pingback: Queer-Friendly Salons Help Boston Whip Its Hair Back & Forth | Diffuse 5

  7. Thanx for that it made me feel better since I had a bit of a oopsie with my hair and now had to shave it so was very depressed till I read this thank you. All the way from south africa

  8. inspiring.
    im a new lesbian i guess you could call me. only had one girlfriend (8 months. recently broken up). she always told me not to cut my hair off (she was the butch) but i really wanted to do it. she just changed my mind for me… now that its over i feel like i can do everything i wanted to withought being held back.
    im a total fem though. but im so glad you posted this 🙂 i want a really cute pixie cut. i almost have the urge to just go cut it off by myself haha

  9. This is great! I just recently (a couple months ago) chopped all my hair off and got a pixie (that was a little too long for my taste). I definitely wouldn’t consider myself femme, but I really like the look of the cut and it works well with all of my beanie-wearing. I just came out as gay recently, and I’m not quite ready to make the switch to a total butch cut, especially because I still want the option to wear dresses and not feel like my hair is totally out of place. I went to Judy Jetson for the first two cuts, but I’ve just made an appointment at Liquid with Shannon. I’m not so sure she’ll understand my hair struggles, since it sounds like what she’s good at is feminine pixies. Any recommendation for a different stylist there, or do you think I should trust her to cut it androgynously?

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