My year and a half without hair made me fully conscious of how political hair can be. I frequently felt as though people found me unapproachable and suspicious. I also mentioned in a previous journal entry, that from the minute I emerged with a shaved head, every person (both strange and familiar to me) treated me differently. Most notably, people who were familiar to me stopped remarking on my superficial appearance entirely (unless I didn’t have any clothes on, in which case everything I said about my gender was thrown out the window).
I anticipated this might happen, because I live in a world where racism is still alive and well, and I’m a white person who would look like a skinhead to some people if I shaved my head. As a result of this anticipation, I waited approximately 5 years before I finally did it. I spent that entire 5 years ruminating on whether or not to do it; and declaring that if I achieved particular long-term goals, that would be when I would finally do it, cackling hysterically as I watch the hair fall to the floor. There was even a time when I was in high school that I was concerned that my peer group thought I was a Nazi or a White Supremacist because of the music I listen to, and the only time I vocalized my concern, my audience misheard me as declaring myself a Nazi, and promptly wigged out. Our friendship was never the same, even after the misunderstanding was cleared up.
I’ve had lovers threaten to terminate our relationship if I shave my head, too. And when I finally did it, long after we broke up, I was goddamned proud of myself for taking my hair into my hands. In clumps, even. And throwing it into the trash. And the first person who saw me with my shaved head was startled by it. She startled me in the same gesture.
I began to see who I really am, without hair on my head. I began to feel stronger day by day, and it became the reason I finally shed my androgynous, gender-bending, and feminine wardrobe. I threw out a bunch of hats that made me look like a douchecannon (and importantly, made me feel like white trash), and I finally came into my authentic identity. My shaved head gave me the strength to finally slam the door on my toxic biological family, and I’ve never slammed a door so hard in my life.
I managed to keep up shaving my head at least every three days through a full year and a half, but that last six months was the hardest. That last six months was the worst half a year I’ve had in the past ten years of my life, and shaving my head made me feel like I was casting away all the stress and negative self-image that came out of the experience. I would joke, just for comic relief, that if I developed male pattern baldness from testosterone, it would save me time in the morning. But in all honesty, I was finally done shaving my head. It was exhausting to keep up with.
It’s important to note at this point that I have begun growing my hair again. As I type this, I have a whopping half inch (rough estimate). And that I plan on having my hair put into dreadlocks when I have enough of it. This is a decision I have been ruminating on since before I shaved my head, actually. A little more than 2 years now. And why did I hesitate? Why did I shave my head first?
The fact is that I hesitated for all the reasons I hesitated shaving my head. Little has changed in the past 10 years when I first had the idea (but was still not seriously considering it personally) to shave my head. Except that perhaps, dialogues about racism and cultural appropriation are more accessible because of the internet. Except, that is, for dialogues about white subcultures and white countercultures. Or maybe I really do just live under a rock.
Shaving one’s head (or parts of it) is as controversial as wearing one’s hair dreaded, and this is especially true of a white person; who stands to be accused of racism and/or cultural appropriation, merely because of how they wear the hair on their head (or not). This upsets me a great deal, because it makes me question whether or not the only appropriate hair style I am socially permitted to wear, that doesn’t make me “look like a racist” to people who are so inclined as to make such a ridiculous suggestion, would make me look like a white-privilege-flaunting, smug, middle-class, American-Apparel-wearing douchecannon. And that’s the last thing I want to look like, because it’s the embodiment of everything I stand against. Also, I am deliberately using the word douchecannon as much as possible today, because today, right now, I’m mentally 12 years old.
Though I am growing my hair out to be dreaded, there’s a number of things I’m not about to do at the same time. First and foremost, I’m not going to paint myself up in Black-face. I’m not going to radically overhaul my entire collection of European metal, industrial, and EBM to be replaced by reggae music I may never be able to fully appreciate. I’m not going to wear a crochet hat woven from black, green, red, and gold threads over my dreads, smugly explaining to everyone I meet (whether or not it’s relevant to the conversation at the time) what each colour means to the Rastafarian movement. In other words, by dreading my hair (of mixed colours), I’m not going to appropriate Black culture and politics as a part of my identity.
My persistent identity isn’t going to change because of the way I wear my hair. In many ways, it merely became more visible when I shaved my head, but it didn’t change. What changed is I dropped the act I was wearing over top, that was wrapped up in my pin curls, bone-straight flat-ironed hair, or the relatively brief episode involving a short faux hawk. And after stewing on the decision to dread or not, for over 2 years, I’ve concluded that my ability to be an ally won’t change when my loose hair becomes dreads.
But I think more attention is due right now, to who wears dreads. It is argued by quite a few people that dreads are in the Torah. In fact, it has even been argued that this is the reason Rastafaris wear dreads. Since I’m neither Rastafari nor a Hasidic Jew, it is not my place to speak to that. Dreads are also worn by some Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists. Again, it’s not my place to speak on behalf of these groups. However, Hindus and Buddhists share common ideas about the illusion and impermanence of the reality we live immersed in (which seems to be the common influence towards dreads in these cases); and Muslims share a common history to a point with Judaism (which again, seems to be the common influence). Considering that an astronomical majority of India has yet to access the internet that I use daily, and that in all likelihood, Tibetan Buddhists simply wouldn’t if they were given a choice, we may never hear from them on the issue. As for the Muslims who have been known to wear dreads, they tend to be again of a mystic subgroup, who in all likelihood would disregard the internet if given the choice.
And then there are punks (some of whom wear dreads). Punks are the people who are the counterculture, as well as the symbol of counterculture. Especially in white capitalist North America. Punks seem to be dismissed or ignored in arguments about cultural appropriation. A lot. And you know what? It’s as ridiculous as claiming that the way I wear my hair (in and of itself) will interfere with my ability to be an ally. Punk is a culture. It doesn’t need to steal bits and pieces of other cultures to announce itself, any more than I as a white person need to steal bits and pieces of non-white cultures to make one of my own.
There is a limited degree to which I resonate with punk culture, because I grew up immersed in Planet White Trash. I reject that this is what defines me as a person, and further reject that capitalism has the answer somewhere amidst its billions of appropriated cultural artifacts. I can’t help that I live in a capitalist country, but goddamnit, I try really hard not to embrace fads while I watch them vanish 6 weeks after they appeared. I try equally hard to interrogate why I do pick up the interests and commodities I feel drawn towards. I try to live as a walking rejection of everything that defines white heteronormative culture.
But that still isn’t the reason I’m growing my hair into dreads. Those reasons are largely private ideas I entertain in my own head about how I embody my gender. They relate to the reasons I shaved my head. But I’m also thinking of how my hair, when I allow it to grow out, is a record of everything I’m exposed to in my day to day life. And I want to build a new life, new memories, and a new history. I want to grow dreads for myself. For how I will see myself, and for how I see my connection to my history (the way my history is represented in part by the most painful tattoo I’ve ever had to endure). I want to carry my history, and all of my experiences, and hope for positive memories and relationships that nourish my soul, in my hair. The way I carry these things with me on my body with every tattoo and piercing in my skin.
I don’t believe it is anyone’s right to take this away from me, and I am prepared to defend my choice. I have lived long enough already, afraid to embrace myself, because of how other people will perceive me. It is time I live for me. This is just one small gesture among a much larger collection.