The day I cut my hair, my friend Meli turned to me and said, “Now people will probably assume we are a couple, you realize that right?”
The night before, I was horizontal on my couch, feet kicked up, scrolling through pictures of pixie cuts on my phone. Emma Watson. People say I look like her. I love this short cut she has here.
Similar head shape, it should work. Yep. That’s the one. Rolling to my side, I looked up at Meli standing nearby. “I think I want to get a pixie cut,” it came out matter-of-factly, my way of saying I definitely want to get a pixie cut. Not a millisecond passed before she lit up, her familiar fire for boldness stoked by my suggestion, “Do it! Oo Oli, it’d be great! I’ll come with you!”
If there is one thing Meli has taught me, it is that hair is for changing. I never knew what color or style her hair would be the next day (red, redder, reddest, purple, blonde etc). Now it was my turn; I felt ready to be the one to do something drastic with my hair.
I had proposed the same thing to another friend in Spain the year before, “Should I get a pixie cut?” His response discouraged me: “Girls cut their hair short to get attention, and you don’t need to do that. You’re beautiful just how you are.”
I suppose this was meant to be a compliment, and maybe it even had some truth to it, but I regret that it kept me from doing what I wanted. I know now that there was more to it than attention from others, which I did receive once my locks had vanished. What I wasn’t aware of then, was the attention this cut would encourage me to give myself. No longer could I hide behind my mane of hair, as my brother called it. My most vulnerable spot was exposed. There’s a reason lions go straight for the neck when lurching towards their prey.
“You were the calmest pixie cut I have ever done. Usually people start to freak out, but you were willing to just let me cut it short, without hesitation,” my stylist was both surprised and thankful that I let her take creative license of my head.
That confidence came from realizing the importance of cutting away my hair and all that came with it. Cutting my hair was like awakening after a long midday nap: discombobulating but necessary. I knew I couldn’t continue on, long-haired and operating under the same thought patterns I had all my life, patterns of guilt and shame, and avoidance, and numbing, and black-and-white thinking. I wanted these lies to come to the light, to be exposed and therefore transformed. A verse comes to mind:
“All things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.
For this reason it says,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:13-14).
It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, though. The hair on that salon floor was the same hair that each of my boyfriends passed their hands through (some more gently than others), that held onto smells from graduation bonfires and the perfumes of people who hugged me during my darkest moments.
The hair on the salon floor is the same hair that got caught in my mouth as I ate my favorite sandwich on that bench near the ocean, that acted as a scarf when I forgot to bring a jacket outside, that bent to my nervous will as I twisted it into knots during class. It is the same hair that clogged each college shower drain that my roommate and I shared for four years, that I got sore arms from curling for my first day of work, that I conditioned extra when I needed to feel something soft. You get it. It’s been with me. And now it’s not. Its absence was palpable.
Under the cover of my hair, I was able to stay safe and comfortable. Though my sexuality was not the initial reason for my hair cut, it exposed parts of me and my sexuality that I didn’t even know were hidden. While my long hair was exclusive to boys, my short hair welcomed the gentle hands of my girl crush as she enjoyed the feeling of it between her fingers. While she explored, her hands were an extension of me, exploring myself anew. This time with appreciation.
With my new hair, my idea of my femininity also seemed to shift. It wasn’t necessarily lost, but it was not as effortless as before. Long hair flirts on its own. With short hair, suddenly dresses and tops that exposed my chest and shoulders didn’t look right.
I spent hours every week in front of my mirror, pulling on different outfits, trying desperately to find something to match my hair and how I felt inside. Collared shirts and more traditionally masculine shapes seemed to match better, both inside and outside. With my new hair I could access a more “masculine” part of myself–a part of myself that long-haired Olivia had less access to.
Though indirectly, cutting my hair is what led me to opening up first to my therapist then to my church group, pastors, close friends, family, and coworkers about what was truly going on during the months I was dating a girl. Cutting my hair is what led me to Oakland, CA for a discussion about God’s love and acceptance of LGBT+ people. Cutting my hair is what brought me closer to a coworker, as we walked together for LGBT+ rights during the Pride march.
It is what led me to listening to her girlfriend’s (now fiancé!) story of being hurt by her church, and growing up queer in a Catholic family. Cutting my hair is what led me to listen to countless trans, bi, lesbian, and gay stories through podcasts and books and articles. It allowed me the space to be introspective, to search within myself freely, and to take hold of my own narrative.
The day I cut my hair, my friend Meli turned to me and said, “Now people will probably assume we are a couple, you realize that right?” She was not wrong. Whether true or not, people began to make assumptions about who I was based on how I looked, and this external perception moved me into a space that I wasn’t fully stepping into before. And that is the space of a minority.
The space of a community different from the heterosexual cisgender norm. And it is by stepping into this community that I have begun to find healing. Not necessarily because I relate to all of this community’s struggles, as there are many who have suffered prejudices and rejections that I cannot fathom or fully understand. I find healing here because all I really wanted in the first place was acceptance.
My Spanish friend was right; I wanted attention. But it was the hidden parts of me that wanted to be seen. To be seen by other queer people, by family, by friends, by the church, by me.
It didn’t have to be a drastic haircut and a subsequent relationship with a girl to bring me to a place of deeper compassion for myself and for the LGBT community of which I am now a part. It could have been any number of transitions that exposed these parts of myself. But do I recommend you chop off all your hair, throw on a collared shirt, and kiss a girl or two? Yes, yes I do.