Standing in front of a mirror in a white t-shirt, I thought I looked really, really white. And shiny. My scalp felt tight and tingly and, when I ran my palm over it, a little raspy. I was fifteen, and I’d just shaved my head for the first time. It was a nice enough head: not lumpy or pointy at all. Everyone told me I looked like Sinead O’Connor, which I didn’t. Over the next few weeks, a waitress mistook me for a boy in a skirt while I was at brunch with my family, and a kid in my class mistook me for his brother. My motives for shaving my head are long-forgotten, probably because they were weird and convoluted motives, but I learned something: I didn’t see the world any differently from inside a bald head.
My mother once said something to me about the way that femininity is tied to hair, something like “A woman without hair isn’t seen as a woman.” She was right, though her statement came from an experience very different from mine. People make assumptions and judgments about your gender identity and your sexuality when you don’t have a “feminine” hairstyle. Inside, I was still me: a mostly straight, mostly cisgendered person. Outside, I was decidedly queer. For me, this was empowering. I was able to shrug off any negative experiences because they didn’t apply to my real identity, and embrace the escape from female stereotypes. People stopped assuming that I’d be submissive, ditzy, or emotional. I wasn’t objectified.
The positive, if superficial, feedback I had been used to receiving on my looks was missed. Sometimes, I was really self-conscious about my bald head. I’m not immune to social pressure, and I remember feeling hideous and embarrassed. With practice, I learned to see some new kinds of beauty in myself; I found the bunny-soft half-inch stage of growing my hair in and the arch and expression of the thick eyebrows that suddenly dominated my looks. I learned to really notice and appreciate being valued for my intelligence, though not yet for my kindness: I was not a kind teenager.
I wasn’t appropriating a symbol of some counterculture that didn’t apply to me or pretending to be something I wasn’t. My identity is complicated and I wear it in my heart, not on my skull. My skull I reserve for triumphs and mistakes in self-expression, convenience and daring. I’ve rocked a bald head, blue hair, a Mohawk and a buzz-cut. I’ve rocked bangs, spit curls, and long, mermaid hair. Sometimes, in the grow-out phase, I’ve rocked a mullet. There’s something to be said for all of it; Long hair is beautiful, wonderfully feminine and smooth to the touch; when I have short hair, I don’t have to wash or brush it every day, let alone keep track of hairties and bobby pins. I often look like a doofus, but I don’t care much. My appearance is something I control, and if I feel like making the effort I can be gorgeous, tough, playful, lush, practical, feminine, androgynous, professional, alternative or look like a young Leonardo DiCaprio.