About a year ago, I took a chance and cut my hair short. It was the first time I strayed from my beloved long locks — and it was something that felt liberating and long overdue. But I never considered how this choice would help me regarding queer visibility. As soon as I chopped my hair short, shaved the sides, and added some fun color for good measure, queer people in my community suddenly came flocking to me. Friends and acquaintances began asking for my pronouns before referring to me, and uttered jokes about how much cisgender people frustrate them in my presence. I figured it out pretty quickly. Because of my new hair, they assumed I was gender nonconforming.
As anyone who spends time with me or reads my work knows, I am in fact gender nonconforming. The other queers at my school weren't wrong in thinking as much (even though at the time, I was still closeted). Part of why I cut my hair came down to going for a look that was a touch more masculine. But was my masculinity any less valid before I cut my hair, or before I began dyeing it and wearing green lipstick to class more often?
I couldn't help but wonder whether I was less genderqueer prior to adopting styles that are considered classically queer. And this is something that's been racking my brain since I started growing my mane back out in the hopes of achieving a cute lob. I ask myself constantly whether my queerness will be invalidated in the eyes of those around me as soon as my strands are long again.
The stereotyping I've witnessed happening within queer communities is very disconcerting. It took me a long time to find a group that embraced me to the point where I could grow comfortable exploring and learning about my gender. When I first came to college, I had hair that reached my breasts, and presented mostly in a feminine way. Coming from a background devoid of queer culture and education, my appearance reflected what I believed was all that was available to me. However, despite that, I knew I liked girls and that femininity didn't quite resonate with me as it did the women in my life.
During my first week, I attended the campus' LGBTQUIA club's first meeting of the semester, hoping to explore my identity and meet others like me. I met a handful of people who later became my friends, but (as they also expressed) there was clearly a strong feeling of exclusion directed toward queers who didn't "look queer" enough. To "look queer," in their eyes, meant to sport short hair and drastic beauty looks like pastel highlights or bright-colored lipsticks. Anyone who didn't fit that description was left out of the larger conversation on campus.
No matter how hard I tried to fit in with the rest of the queers at school, I just couldn't (with the exception of a handful of friends who felt similarly to myself). I was dismissed before I could even vocalize concrete thoughts, my long hair and miniskirts acting as deterrents. So years later, when I showed up to my queer politics class with a new 'do, I couldn't help but feel bitter when queers who formerly never gave me the time of day eagerly made small talk with me after class.
Now that I'm trying to grow my hair out again, I realize that I am probably sacrificing my visibility for "cisibility" (a silly term I coined meant to indicate "looking cis"), at least in part. I realize people within my own community may be more likely to misgender me or assume that I'm cis. I realize that I will automatically be labeled "feminine" because I have longer locks, regardless of what I'm wearing or how I feel. I never realized what a privilege I had cultivated in being genderqueer while "looking genderqueer" until I started growing my hair and reminiscing about my life before I shaved my head.
But the reality is that hair isn't gendered. It's just hair. How we maintain our body hair is constantly politicized and made to be a source of judgment, when usually it's just a personal and stylistic decision. Whether it be regarding gender, hygiene, or political beliefs, societal standards of beauty and gender affect how we perceive each other. And I've come to realize queer communities are not immune to that.
Ultimately, though, the length of my hair doesn't determine my gender identity. I'm not growing out my mane because I'm cis now, or want to "look cis," or because I am getting more in touch with my feminine side. As a genderqueer person, I don't tend to gender a lot of the fashion and beauty choices I make anyway.
I'm growing my hair in the hope of someday achieving a cute black bob with blunt bangs (my latest aesthetic obsession), and that's it. Despite my concerns, I will not be changing my mind out of fear that I'm betraying my non-binary identity. Screw "looking queer." My beautiful androgynous self will still be there, just with flowing long hair.
Images: Meg Zulch