Monday, October 20, 2008

Hairy Situations...

It’s nothing really. It’s just mineral and proteins strung together to create a tangible strand. Hair. We all got it – some more than others, and I was in this category of flowing tresses – tied up, braided, pushed to the side with a clip, pulled back in a ponytail under a hat…the list goes on. A couple of weeks ago I cut it off.

It was a Friday night; I just got off work and was walking to a friend’s apartment to watch the debate. In my mind, my own type of debate ensued: how much to chop? How do I style it; I have never been good at being consistent – except maybe when eating peas, corn and parmesan for dinner on a very regular schedule – so I found myself scouring each block. There were barbershops with the classic red, white and blue spindle in its window, there were nail salons that also gave cuts; and then there was this little spot located about a block a way from my friend. A slim woman, dressed head to toe in black, a gold belt slung loosely around her waist, stood smoking a cigarette outside of the small storefront. “Are you still offering appointments,” I asked. She leaked out a “yes” between the blue smoke rising from her lips, and waved her hand for me to go inside and set up a time slot at the front desk.

I guess I should’ve known from the door. Literally. Walking through the door put me smack into the end of a tunnel-like shop that was decorated in mauve and gold, glass tables and techno music; men strewn on either side of the counter who donned slick-back hair and limited buttoned button-up shirts. Chest hair and smiles. He gave me the last appointment of the day. I would be back in 20 minutes. Slowly, but giddy about the new transformation that was sure to ensue, I buzzed my friend and updated her on the evening’s schedule. Per usual, my need to be chaotically organized lends way to overriding impulses, and per usual, good people in my life make attempts to shake me from my Piscean dream-like state. She lay there, her own hair tussled and pulled high on top of her head, and dialed the number of her trusted salon in the Village – she added me to her appointment the next day and hung up. I had the option of waiting a little over 12 hours to sit in front of a mirror, under the hands of professionals who are like comic book drawers creating this week’s episode of the Transformers – a breed that is more than meets the eye.

I paced, I checked my phone, went pee, washed my hands, applied chapstick, paced again. Finally, I decided;I was gonna go that night. Shrugging, my friend and I made our way down the crowded block to the salon.

Never again would I feel those exact stands of hair being tugged and scrubbed in that forceful, yet pleasurable way that only the shampooers at a salon can elicit. Staring at the ceiling I noticed the gold belt walk by a couple of times; she would be my stylist. Hair wrapped in a towel I was asked if wanted a glass of wine, of which came in a low crystal-cut baller glass, kind of like the ones you scoop from an estate sale or your grammy’s attic, or perhaps in that one cheesy Days Inn hotel that I stayed in after blowing a tire in Virginia, driving between Florida and Pennsylvania long over a year and a half ago. I liked it, and I swigged easy from its rim.

“How would you like it styled,” she asked me, dancing a bit to the music blaring out of a speaker somewhere above us. “I want it really short, but with a longer, sort of, swoop in the front – something I could perhaps tuck behind my ear, but still have the feeling of next to nothing on the back of my head.” She nodded like she knew, but 20 minutes later, my cheeks pink from the wine, I realized that she was giving me the old lady bob. “Um, I was hoping it would be short – like really, really short.” And she looked at me, paused, shifted her weight and said, “But you are a woman; that is a boy cut.”

I think I laughed.

“Yes, make it look like a boy cut then.”

She made several attempts – like Edward Scissorhands, hair dropped all around us, but she just couldn’t get it close to the head. Perhaps her own long hair kept her from seeing the beauty in being flexible, breaking down the barriers of what it means to be a woman, a beautiful woman, in this society. How does length of hair become genderized and normalized and perpetuated by those who think they are strong enough to smash through the bullshit? Well, it was that night. Her scissors were like the blades of the patriarch – they created me from the mold that sat on top of my head. I was restless; she looked tired from fighting the challenge in front of her. She undraped me, and sent me on my way.

Still, that night, I felt pretty darn good; I mean, my ‘do WAS finally off of my neck, and I WAS wearing a flannel, jeans, and a silly grin. A group of us went out, and I have to admit that I felt like I wanted to be wanted, and I wanted to want all in my path. It was like an internal game of tug-o-war where I didn’t want to be demure, but I also didn’t want to ogle and demand the women in our group to be protected by me. The stew of my analysis was already beginning to bubble on my stove. The next day, hung-over, and planted on a brown leather stool, I was getting it recut. I was once again asked “how would like it to be styled, and seeing as how my stylist and I already established that we were both gay, I blurted out, “Make it dykey, make it edgy.” Why couldn’t’ I say this to the woman who refused to get my cut closer than a bowl/bob cut? How does my internalized fear of being myself creep in to some situations, and not others? At the end of that session, hairs were super short -- an almost orgasmic feeling of freedom rising from my body as I ran my fingers through the next-to-nothing length.

Here’s the thing about making change, it can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, but it’s there. Real and tangible – and people love to comment on their own inhibitions based on your act of alteration. “Oh my gawd, I, like totally love your hair; I was going to do it too, but I just feel so connected to this length.” Or, “You are so brave.” Or, “Can you send a picture where you are smiling?” (Ok, that one was because I was only taking pictures of myself where I had that pouty model look of desperation/uber sexy). For the most part, I nod and smile, and for the first couple of days I came up with witty responds, such as “What? You mean my hair looks shorter without the wig?” I like that place – somewhere between obnoxious confidence and unnoticeable ego. It’s a slight line – ebbing and flowing, my radar teeters.

There are a number of things that happened to me in the last 18 months, one of which was the realization that I easily fall in love with people who may be a great connection, but of whom I may be better suited to ask the question, “do I want to be with them, or do I want to be them?” Again, a fine line that takes courage to disentangle. Part of that realization was that perhaps I am sort of 60 - 40 on masculine versus feminine identity. Funny how showing neck and ear skin can bump that number higher on days when it matches both my outer fashion, and my inner style where with my legs casually apart, I watch a mysteriously stunning woman from across the room – eyebrows furrowed, she reads and ponders, back straight, chest out, just absolutely beautiful in all that she exudes, and I think how I am not like her. I am not that creature. Yet, having the privilege to move through my day and recognize that I can ebb and flow is a gift, and I know that. I know that I look exactly who I feel like: a dykey, edgy woman who is comfortable in a dress, but only if I am wearing high-top Chucks, and who would rather play Scrabble over football, eat salad instead of a steak, and who simply cannot stop flirting and strutting like the men in black and white films who wore fancy hats and a boyish grin.

It’s nothing really. It’s just a haircut. But it feels like another layer of my cocoon being stripped away, closer and closer to a center in which will metamorphosis into a butterfly.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

All gender restrooms are where it's at.

A group of cohorts and I are working on creating an all-gender restroom at Columbia University's School of Social Work, where I am in my second year of graduate school. Of the 11 floors, there are no multi-stall, all-gender restroom where people can feel safe. Some may argue that the single stall facilities should be adequate enough, but how marginalizing is it to have to hide one's self away if one simply wants to be themselves, and pee in peace? Breaking down the boundaries of what a person has to look like to use a woman or man's restroom is something that should be smashed.