Barbs Who Blog

My first "big-boy" transformation haircut

Sheena Lister
My first "big-boy" transformation haircut

For years long before my transition and before I even recognized the fact that I was trans, my hair had been a huge part of my identity. I was known for my long, thick, curly hair that I’d often straighten and low-key brag about how long It took me to make it look so luxurious (2 hours!). I was on the receiving end of many compliments, and I was thrilled that so many people were so struck by the sheer length and volume of my hair that they didn’t seem to notice much else about me. Looking back on how I presented then with the knowledge of my true identity now, I have recently been unpacking how I used my hair as a way to deflect attention away from my body because I was so deeply uncomfortable in my skin.

Since I started developing a “female” body in my early teens, I started to hide my chest under baggy clothes, often wearing tight tank tops or sports bras on top of my regular bra. I got really good at creating optical illusions with my clothes to make my curves less noticeable, and discovered that if I wore makeup and styled my hair nicely, most people would be shocked to hear that I actually was concealing DDs because they we’re focusing on my head and face rather than my body. I began to develop a deep bond with my hair, creating rituals for maintaining and styling my often unruly curls. These rituals seemed to make me forget the reason I put so much care and attention towards it in the first place – wanting to take my mind off of the literal and figurative weight that I was carrying around on a daily basis.

At 27 and after a few years of self-discovery and acceptance of my then-non-binary identity, I began my medical transition. I started with top surgery and immediately went on testosterone two months afterwards. I was still sporting my long locks because, frankly, like most baby trans, my goals were to look like a young Harry Styles with a cute boyish face and long, gorgeous hair. To my surprise, being newly trans in public was hard to acclimate to at first, because I was still being read as “female” in public spaces. My gender journey was just beginning and for the first time in my life, my hair was actually contributing to my dysphoria. However, I refused to part with it because for my entire adult life, I have grown to love and cherish my hair and wanted so badly to be the long-haired butch that I’ve aspired to be for so many years. I was almost there! I just kept telling myself that once I started “passing” I’d feel like myself. 

Fast forward a year and I’m passing as “male” in public for the first time ever, but something still didn’t feel quite right. I was starting to grow facial hair, was working out consistently and getting ripped at the gym, and I still didn’t feel like my transition was complete. I’ve shed so much of my former identity already; my post-op chest looked incredible, my face and body were chiseled like a Greek statue… what was wrong? “It couldn’t be my hair,” I thought, “it’s brought me so much joy all these years and I get more compliments on it now than ever!” I sat with the feeling and slowly began to unearth my complex relationship with my gender identity and contemplated how my beautiful hair fit into my evolving gender presentation.

Once COVID hit in early 2020, I was forced to sit alone with my thoughts and emotions in an empty three-bedroom apartment for months. In the absence of being perceived, my self-care rituals went out the window and I for sure didn’t care to spend 2 hours doing my hair just for myself. Then, it struck me – my hair ritual was never for myself. It was ALWAYS to shape other people’s perception of me. The relief that I felt in the beginning of the pandemic from not having to bother washing, drying, styling, or pay any attention to my hair in any way was akin to the relief that I felt after top surgery – I did not have to hold onto or labor over  what doesn’t serve me in this chapter of my life. What was once a symbolic cloak over my years-long struggle with self-identity turned into a burden when I really sat with myself and felt what it feels like to really see myself in the absence of others. I slowly came to terms with the fact that I, in fact was not non-binary, and I truly felt more binarily masculine in solitude, and wanted a hairstyle that was representative of my deeper, newer understanding of my identity. 

At long last, I sought out my first big-boy transformation haircut and with it came not only an indescribable grief, for I was no longer recognizable to myself without the last tangible piece of evidence that connected me to my past life, but also a beautiful optimism for the future now that I could look in the mirror and see the man that I’d always been destined to be. Though I love and hold deep gratitude for my long hair for all the years that it has served me well, parting with it was undeniably the last missing piece of the puzzle; I was finally free of discomfort and shame about my body and no longer had to hide, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Blog Contributor: Mar Keller