Yes, I’m Sure I Want to Shave My Head

In my experience, there’s something strange that happens when a dfab person shows up and wants to cut their hair short (especially when the hairstylist is a woman). The stylist will often bend over backwards and shove their head up their butt to see their client as a straight woman.

When I got my hair cut this summer, I’d let my hair grow out a little, as far as my shoulders. My regular stylist was booked for months but I was going to the Janelle Monae concert (herself a queer icon), so I asked for the first person with a free spot. I did my usual scroll through Pinterest’s haircut tags, and showed up ready to cut my hair off.

When I got in the chair and told the stylist what I wanted, she was very clearly worried. Had I cut my hair this short before? Was I sure I wanted to cut it that short again? Was I really sure? Really???

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve had my hair cut short loads of times and it’s been great,” I said. “I’ve been told it makes me look like Leonardo DiCaprio”, I said. I showed her pictures of men and women with short hair and captions like “androgynous gay and lesbian haircuts” for reference. Hell, I wore this shirt:

Photo credit: Audrey Goodnight

I did everything but write “QUEER” in block letters across my forehead. She still didn’t get the message. She wanted to know if I had a boyfriend and when I said that I didn’t she responded that it must be because I was busy with school. Regardless of whether she could tell that I was nonbinary or not, it was pretty clear that I wasn’t worried about looking like a guy from my use of reference pictures of men and women. Still, every cut she made, she commented on the fact that I still “looked like a woman” and that I shouldn’t worry because I was still “very feminine.”

The same thing happened last Friday, when I decided that I wanted to shave my head. I’ve been wanting to do it since my senior year of high school, but kept letting myself get talked out of it. This time, I told nobody and went by myself. I said “I want you to shave my head” as soon as I sat in the chair.

The hairstylist looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Like... with a clipper?” Once I’d convinced her that I really did know what a shaved head was and it was really what I wanted, she started guessing my reason.

“Are you joining the Army?”

“Nope,” I said, “I just want to shave my head.”

“Cancer?” She asked.

“Nope, I just want to shave my head.”

“There must be someone you’re mad at, right?”

“Nope, I really just want my head shaved.”

“Fine,” she said with a smirk, “I know there’s a reason, someone you’re mad at, but you don’t have to tell me.” Then, just like the stylist I saw over the summer, she spent the whole haircut reassuring me that I was a “real woman” even with my hair shaved, and referencing famous women who shaved their heads to feel better about cutting my hair.

A couple of pumpkins. Photo credit: Audrey Goodnight

It’s a little funny seeing how deep straight and cis people can bury their heads in the sand, but mostly it’s just annoying. Even if you can’t see that I’m queer in gender and sexuality, why place your own anxiety about short haired women on me? Every time I get my haircut, I show up with more confidence about what I want, and yet the stylist never believes me.

Now, I’m no queer or feminist scholar. All I have is an intro queer studies course, my personal experience, and friends that will talk about what it means to them to be a woman or queer. However, I think I can situate this somewhat in queer theory. One of the theories from the aforementioned queer studies course that stuck with me the most was Judith Butler’s conception of performative gender. That is to say, gender is not a thing that you are, but a thing that you do. It’s done through the clothes you wear, the way you walk and talk, and, for many people, the way you wear your hair.

The general rule, when it comes to (modern western colonial) gender identity, is that men have short hair and women have long. To some extent, women have been breaking that rule in the last century, while male public figures have kept their hair short. Even when men let their hair grow out, terms like “man bun” pop up to show that their long hair is, in fact, manly. Hair and gender identity are often deeply linked.

In a way, my asking hairstylists to cut my hair short is equatable to my asking them to help me perform a gender identity that is outside of the binary. The fact that I say nothing about aligning my short hair with womanhood may make them even more nervous. They try to reframe my short hair as something feminine because they don’t want to support a gender performance that is foreign to them, and their behavior probably won’t change as long as a binary conception of gender is popular.

All this to say: be gay and shave your head.