Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Short hair.

I cut off all but a couple inches of my hair. It's way comfier and easier to maintain now.

But I didn't realize, when I did it, how much I would be running head-on into a minefield of gender and sexual anxieties. It wasn't a deliberate act of gender fuckery; I went in for a woman's haircut and showed the hairdresser a picture of a woman.

Within a day, I was getting called "he" and "sir."

Which I don't mind, when it's an honest mistake. If someone wants to believe I'm a man and treat me in good faith like a man, that's fine. In fact, if I were a little more passable I'd almost be curious how far it would go. What I do mind is when someone recognizes me as a woman, but as a woman who's presenting wrong, and gets either nasty or excessively "so, since you have short hair, tell me about your genitals" intrusive about it.

And it gets to me. I wish I were a Gender Warrior. I wish I had the strength to answer every "are you a boy or a girl?" with "really, would it affect you?" But I have an ego, I have sensitive spots about being called ugly and unsexy, and frankly, I have me some tender widdle feewings. At the same time as I want to be a Gender Warrior, I also want to be attractive and be liked.

It scares me that my first thought was "I could wear makeup and dresses and that would even it out!" Because it would. But it wouldn't be a matter of making myself happier, or even really prettier; it would be a matter of getting people off my back. It would be letting strangers--and the very meanest and dumbest strangers at that--tell me how to get dressed in the morning.

And my second thought is outright fear that, with something as simple and silly as a haircut, I might have bought myself a ticket into some really dangerous bigotry. I look like a lesbian or a trans man, and although I'm not, good luck explaining that to the sort of people who can't be decent to lesbians and trans men in public. (Then again, it's kind of a grossly privileged thing to say "don't call me that, I'm not a lesbian!" instead of "don't call me that, you shouldn't call anyone that.")

And my third thought is "oh no, it's going to be much harder to get laid now!" Rowdy likes androgyny, but it seems like most straight men like femininity, and I do feel a bit bummed that I might've blown my chances with them. Even some of the guys I've dated before liked me to be feminine, and in a weird way I almost feel like I'm betraying them--making them retroactively gay or something.

But I have all these nervous little thoughts, and then I look in the mirror, and all I can think is that I look good to me. I look like I'd like to look. Whatever the risks of being unfeminine, there's a great reward in feeling comfortable in my own skin. If my appearance were a mask, something that existed to show to others, it would be a failure at its task; but as a face, something that is also a part of my self, it has value.

I like my short hair. It scares me, but it also challenges me. It doesn't allow me to hide behind "don't worry, I may be an ally to weirdos, but I'm normal" quite as easily. And I can get a goddamn comb through it. I'm going to keep it for a bit.

Now, what really challenges my self-identity is the fact that with all the dyed parts cut out, I'm blonde now. I'm a goddamn natural blonde. This, I don't think I can integrate into my self-image.


  1. It's so weird to me when women talk about people giving 'em shit for having short hair. I've had all manner of short hair in the last few years (pixie cut, shaved back and sides, chelsea, mohawk, buzzed down to half an inch all over) and nobody has ever said anything to me about it except the kind of street weirdos who try to chat with everyone - and even then they're just like "Wow, look at you, your hair is short."

    Frankly, I've gotten more crap for having size 12 feet - which I can't even help. But feet are harder to notice than hair, so even that is at a minimum.

    Anyway, Holly, I'm sorry people suck.

  2. If you're being read as male, you may want to be careful about public toilets. They aren't the safest of places if someone thinks you're in the wrong one

  3. When I had very short-cropped hair, I only got the "mistaken identity" version (always from someone behind me) and never the gender-policing kind.

    Depressingly, I'm fairly sure it's because I'm pretty buxom. Apparently having big boobs means you can "get away" with more unfemininity.

  4. I found a pink shirt was a lower-impact compromise, compared to girlying it up with makeup. Perhaps this is because I don't own or know how to use makeup, but a pink shirt in my usual style is easy enough. (I only bother for travel.)

    I used to get really upset when people offered me a discount due to assuming I was teenage. I think my upset at the assumption was much more my problem than appearing young, but it's a tough thing to tackle. (I've never had a mistaken gender problem that didn't resolve itself quickly when I gave a big "I just won a bet!" smile, but the fact that I liked it makes it a very different situation.)

  5. The one incident of obnoxiousness I had in ten years of wearing a buzz cut around Cambridge, involved two boys (aged perhaps 8-10). I ran, because they were throwing stones, and I had a good escape route, but in retrospect, I do not think I had been in real danger.
    I think I would have been both more upset, and more endangered, by an ordinary mugging, and my guess is that being mugged (regardless of appearance) is more likely. But, that's a terribly local sort of opinion, and probably not applicable.

  6. Huh. This is interesting. When I shaved my head, while I definitely got a lot of weird looks, most people were really supportive, and no one thought I was a man, or obviously gender policed me. (I've actually gotten more shit from strangers about have hair in the wrong places, then not have hair in the one right place, so I dunno.)

    I think a couple of things played into this. One, I am large and physically intimidating, so I think strangers are less likely to give me shit in general. Two, I am very buxom and curvy and fit traditional beauty norms. So without even trying I conform in some ways to "balance it out," like labrat said, and 3) I was in college and not working at the time and almost exclusively hung out with very open-minded, punky, queer type people.

  7. I've found the ideal length for passing as male for me is roughly ear-length. Much shorter, and I read as a lesbian; much longer, and I read as a regular woman. Mostly this has been reflected in cashiers and waitresses calling me "sir" a lot.

    Passing as male is fun because it means no more street harassment.

  8. Oddly enough, when I faced this same problem, I was a child. I hated long hair, it got all over the place, and I wore glasses that always caught the little wispy pieces and hurt. So, I wore it short. I didn't dress girlish, but I didn't dress boyish, either. Oh, sure, some days I'm sure I wore a red tee shirt and jeans, but my favorite pair of pants had little embroidered flowers on them.

    I absolutely know what you mean about differences. When it's an honest mistake, it's not a big deal. Being a child, I didn't have to care about being sexually attractive, do I rarely even corrected people.

    However, on the day of my baptism, I wore a pretty white slip and white mary-janes, unquestionably a girl, and an old women in a wheel chair spitefully told me I was in the wrong bathroom. I remember it clear as day - not my baptism, or the nice things everyone else said to me. I remember the mean woman and running to my mother in tears.

    Later, my best friend cut her hair off right before she went to college in Kansas. She was gorgeous, but she wasn't the classic hourglass. She had broad shoulders, breasts that questionably filled an a-cup, wide hips, and legs a mile long. She was naturally thin and had strong features instead of lush, and I don't know if all of that combined caused more issues that just the hair, but I know she never dealt with girls refusing to talk to her because 'She was a Lesbian' before then.

    To make matters particularly bitter for her, she IS bi-sexual. The fact that she was publicly being ridiculed because of her hair for a sexual preference she held to in part was exceptional hard, because yeah, it was stupid for them to be rude over her hair, but it proved that she couldn't be open about her sexuality without being ostracized.

    She's never had hair shorter than her chin ever again.

    So, I don't know what the appropriate response is. I don't know why some girls can carry it off with no problems and others get eaten alive for it. I assuming it has to do with the public perception of 'Womanly' traits, Bustline, etc, but I do know how it feels and how it hurts and that it shouldn't matter at all.

  9. If your short hair leads you to get mistaken for a man, I hate to break it to you, it's not a Gender Identity issue.

    It means you are ugly.

  10. If your nature leads you to post on people's blogs anonymously saying mean things, I hate to break it you, it's not that you're right.

    You are an ass-face troll who should learn a thing or too before speaking.

  11. Hunh, I've gotten taken for a man while wearing a push-up bra before. From the front. With > chin-length hair. I don't think boobs are the answer.

    (And I'm not terribly flat-chested, either--I've naturally got 38-DDDs. Sometimes it's all in posture and what coat you're wearing, I guess.)

  12. Does everyone else here get called sir or ma'am all the time?

    My shortest haircut has been around my ears, and I usually wear feminine clothing (usually jeans and a t shirt or sweater, but you know, fitted women's jeans/sweater). I can't think of a time when I've been mistaken for a man, but salespeople also almost never call me ma'am or miss! And I don't think I'm just eliding over it due to cis etc. privilege of it being small talk, because I find it awkward when they do. I'm in my 20's and don't really feel like either, and it always makes me feel either weirdly old or weirdly young.

    Do other people get gender checked more often than me? I've lived in the north my whole life, do we just not stand on ceremony up here?

  13. I have long hair and rather feminine features, but I've gotten called "sir" quite a few times when I was dressed androgynously (as I usually do), usually when the person wasn't really looking closely (a waitperson, a checkout worker, a receptionist, etc). They peripherally noticed a tall person in a ballcap and hoodie and assumed it was a guy. I've also had women flinch away reflexively on the street as I walked up behind and passed them, some even saying "oh sorry, I thought you were a guy", probably because I walk fast everywhere I go and have an athletic stride. I find it a funny observation of what we code as "male" and "female" from external markers.

    It does seem to bother people when they can't immediately assess gender or when they assess it wrong...the mistaken waitperson just about fell over apologizing for calling me sir even after I laughed and said it was no big deal. However, these experiences have made me think a lot more about how moving through the world is different for people who don't align with expected gender presentations.

  14. Interesting and troubling that "sir" seems to be the default when these people aren't sure of your sex.

    Holly Pervocracy is a blonde? I think I need pictures.

  15. When I was maybe 17 I had a part time job in retail. One day I was working and a woman came up with a young child. She only glanced at me briefly and said to the child, "Now put your things up on the counter for the man."

    She was embarassed about her mistake, but I was mortified. How shameful, I felt, to fail so utterly at femininity. I wasn't trying to make a point, I just wasn't _trying_ to present as feminine at all.

    It was only a few months ago that I started seriously contemplating getting my hair cut seriously short. It had always been at least shoulder length. I started thinking about why the idea of getting my hair cut short was so scary... that I might be mistaken for a man...that I might be judged to be a lesbian... that long hair was the simplest female-coded thing I could do, that was exactly how much effort I was prepared to put towards playing that part.

    In the end I thought, (A) if it's so scary it's probably a good thing to challenge myself, and (B) long hair is certainly not getting me laid as I would plan, so I have nothing to lose by giving short hair a crack. :)

  16. On the people commenting on body shape - I have small breasts, broad shoulders, and in general not a lot of "curve" to my body.

    "Ugly" anon - Don't worry about it, sweetie, we won't be sleeping together anyway, so whether I turn you on or not is kind of a moot point.

  17. Heh, I've had short hair for the last three years or so, and I'm constantly mistaken for a guy. I just find it really funny how apologetic people get when/if I correct them. Like they're somehow damaged my femininity or something?
    Weird thing is though, this tends to happen more often when I wear dresses. Seems the shorter the dress is, the more masculine I'm read as.
    Odd, since I don't really live in a town where dudes wander around in mini-jumper-dresses. Unfortunately.

  18. My workplace boss is tall, very slim, likes to wear her hair cut very sort and favors unisex clothing and no makeup. Her method of avoiding being mistaken for a man is to wear big, obvious (but tasteful) earrings all the time. It apparently hasn't stopped her from getting a lot of funny/second looks in bathrooms, but she says it helps.

    Me, I like my hair long and am on the petite side, and usually get appropriately recognized as female . . . though I have fairly broad shoulders and a (people tell me) not-very-feminine walk. Last year, I was walking to the store along the highway, wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a denim jacket, with my hair in a braid down my back. A carload of college guys came tooling by from behind me (yeah I was walking on the wrong side), and one dude leaned out the window and screamed "Fag!" at me as they passed -- which first startled the hell out of me, then confused me. But there was *nobody* else on that stretch of road, so apparently they thought I was a long-haired guy. And that long-haired guys and/or gay men deserve abuse screamed at them.

    Fail. I hope their weak gender recognition skillz lead them to waking up in the wrong gender's bed after a drunken frat party, for a little perspective. (Not really, wouldn't wish that on the other guy -- but it's an entertaining thought, anyway.)

  19. A gorgeous woman at my karate school used to wear her hair almost shaved, and despite her feminine features, she got called Sir all the time. She said "It's because I walk like I own the ground I walk on."


  20. Don't worry, by the time everyone gets used to it, it will be time to cut it again!

  21. You'd think that gender-policing people - the ones who think women should be women and men should be men, dammit! - would be some kind of connoisseurs of masculinity and femininity. Hilariously, they are not. My long-haired, skinny beanpole of a boyfriend has been mistaken for female many times...even when he wasn't crossdressed. I've been mistaken for male at first glance because I'm tall and have short hair...even though I'm very hourglass-shaped.

    ...Then again, maybe that's why these people gender police others: because they're too stupid to figure people's sex out without big, easy "markers" to guide them along (long hair and skirts on women, short hair and pants on men).

  22. That's my issue with short hair. Embarrassing to admit, but ZOMG! UR A BOI! is a big fear of mine.

    Oddly, I have had my hair very short (it's easier with my joint problems to deal with) and that's never happened to me. However, I have a distinct hourglass figure, wear skirts almost exclusively (I find them more comfortable) and never go anywhere without makeup, so I think it would difficult to take me for a man.

    And yet, and yet, and yet, I still endure pain in my wrists, elbows and shoulders dealing with longer hair because ZOMG!BOI!

    It's really stupid, but I know exactly how you feel.

    Also, totally irrelevant, but I liked the way your hair looked in the picture you tweeted. If I saw you on the street, I would envy you for being one of those women with the self confidence to do what I want to and should do.

  23. People are clueless most of the time. If they haven't dealt with gender issues, either directly or with someone they know, they have all sorts of wacky ideas. It's been a while since anyone called me sir to my face, but it used to happen when I was in my earlier transition phases. Which was weird, before I started transition, I often got called ma'am. The triggers for what registers a person as male or female seem to be different for everyone. Having changed my gender and living as a woman since I was 23 years old (I'm 35 now), I'm pretty good about reading a persons gender correctly. But even then, I still occasionally read someone wrong from behind, and certain non-trans people will register as transgendered (mainly just my false hopes there). One of the girls I work with is really setting of my trans-radar, but there's no good way to just ask, and outing myself might not be wise.

    I recently cut my hair from mid-back length to shorter than shoulder length, as I was going to be competing in some sporting events where short hair would help. I was extremely concerned that it would affect my passability, but because it was done in a style that complemented my shape, it actually improved my passability. Maybe your new hairstyle just doesn't complement your shape properly?

  24. Holly - What's weird to me is that you can respond to anonymous assholes on the internet with "it's okay you don't think I'm attractive, because we won't ever have sex,"

    but in real life, you want to be attractive within gender norms, for all the potentiates you might hypothetically have sex with.

    I didn't know that being attractive and being a Gender Warrior were mutually exclusive. Maybe I just hang out in contexts where androgenes are agreed to be breathtakingly sexy by a greater hunk of the population. I wouldn't be surprised to find that because BDSM presentation emphasizes male/female body parts, androgyny will rule someone out from "being attractive and being liked." Or at least from getting laid. (I also have issue with equating these last two, but for the purposes of this blog they tend to overlap more than usual anyway.)

    Your 'gender buffet' philosophy would seem to dictate that there's no such thing as a woman who's presenting wrong, insofar as there's no such thing as a woman with a single presentation.

    In my view the Perfectly Decent Straight Men who like femininity - meaning that they'd sleep with you while you're traditionally feminine, but wouldn't now that your hair is short - are part of the problem. And it's their narrow concept of 'woman' that needs rehashing, whether you choose to be a Teachable Moment for them or not.

  25. Galatea,

    I don't think there's anything wrong with straight men who prefer feminine women, as long as they are actually decent about it. It's the difference beetween, "I'm attracted to real women," and, "I'm attracted to women with long hair and skirts." Only the first guy has a narrow conception of women. The second guy is attracted to a narrow group of people, but he frames it as a subset of a broadly defined "women." In my experience a lot of straight guys do talk about their preferences in that second way.

  26. I had a friend who, one night, decided to shave her head down to about 2". Her boyfriend broke up with her when he saw it. That was when I realized how much of an asshole he was.

    On the gender policing, I agree that it's those who are the worst at it that need the most obvious signals. It'll be nice if there's ever a day when we don't have to care about it. On another note, I've been mistaken as a guy on more than one occasion. I look female for the most part (cleavage and curves), but my attitude and the way I act is considered "masculine", whatever the hell that is supposed to mean.

  27. Natasha, you could ask the girl if she knows - if she says yes then it could open up a conversation about gender.

  28. *if she knows (name of transperson known by most transpeople but not by the general public)

  29. I shaved my head at the beginning of May. Fortunately I haven't been harassed at all. I don't think I bother anyone too much, because I'm visibly female-bodied. Though two young kids have called me "he".

    I'm sure I attract fewer men than before, but if they don't like me with a little less hair, then no big loss. My husband enjoyed it, cause he's cool like that.

    Though I've never had long hair, or not since I was in grade 3 and lost all of it due to alopecia.

    Rock on, anyway!

  30. I cut my hair super short a few months ago. I already dress and act pretty androgynously, so I assumed that women would identify me (incorrectly) as a lesbian and that men would find me unattractive. So far I have only gotten positive responses and compliments, and I actually seem to attract guys who are much more my type (subversive, punky nerds) than I did before. It really opened up a lot of doors for me, because I realized that I could be myself and ignore societally mandated gender codes and the world wouldn't end. I'm probably privileged though, living in super liberal college towns and having a face that is usually recognized as "girl-y". But I just wanted to say that in addition to all the haters, there are a lot of people who appreciate those who buck gender norms.

  31. I realized that I could be myself and ignore societally mandated gender codes and the world wouldn't end.

    This, a thousand times over. For a long, long time I tried to be conventionally hot (including having long hair) because I wanted as many people as possible to find me attractive. This reasoning had two flaws: 1) I am not a supermodel and would therefore always come up short and 2) my attempts at conventional hotness were attracting a bunch of guys I didn't want and repelling guys I did.

    Since buzzing my hair (and accessorizing most of my outfits with dog collars and motorcycle boots) I've been attracting the subversive, gender-bending boys I've always wanted - and scaring off all the douchebags. Also, instead of feeling like a sub-par Nicole Kidman impersonator all the time, I feel like a perfectly hot ME.

    I strongly encourage anyone who secretly pines after a different "look" to go for it. You can't please everyone, so please yourself!

  32. ...I kinda envy you, Holly, in the totally irrational fucked up way. I've cut my hair short, hacked off my boobs, and dress in men's clothing, and I've yet to be called anything but 'ma'am,' 'she,' or 'lady.'

    I'm starting to think I'm just plain fucked.


  33. I don't get it. I'm a NYC native who's lived in places as Georgia, Louisiana and North Dakota, but I've never witnessed such hateful disregard/shaming for a person's choice of gender expression (whether through hairstyle, clothing or *heh* "wide stance" of walking.)

    I mean, New York City is self explanatory. My neighbors have no problem with girls with buzzed hair and guys with shoulder+ length cornrows/pressed hair (despite the fact that we're an otherwise very conservative bunch.) My female relatives have mostly embraced the "natural hair" bandwagon without complaints of gender issues and I know a dozen women with mohawks. When I visit Manhattan, there's no end to the genderfuckery that takes place in public, but I've never seen or heard of anyone complaining about being treated as less than anyone else.

    But then it gets complicated. I've lived in rural areas as well (mainly in North Dakota and Louisiana) where the idea of a short-haired woman in men's clothing or a long-haired guy in a pin? shirt wouldnt have caused more than a raised eyebrow. Many of the women in those areas either cut their hair short or embraced the tight bun aesthetic when they became mothers ("because babies like to pull hair, duh!", as it was patiently explained to me.) The mullet/frontier settler long hair on men wasn't seen as odd or especially transgressive, either. North Dakota is full of guys who wear pink as a way to "take it back" (after all, boys were dressed in pink/girls were dressed in blue until the post-WWII period.) Georgia and Louisiana is full of guys who like to "peacock" (and what better way to peacock than to go to work in a bright yellow shirt, or to wear a pink shirt and lavender tie to a church picnic?) And this is without taking the underlying military culture into consideration (wherein long-term military women are as likely to have short hair as men, and long-term/retired military men start growing their hair out as soon as their separation/retirement paperwork is filed.) Acting like a jackass towards someone for not fitting explicit gender roles (without having a personal relationship with them) would be seen as rude and ignorant in these areas.

    So, given my life in lower and middle class urban areas *and* having lived in rural (with the attendant conservative/religious leanings) areas, I've never witnessed or broken bread with a non-traditional person who admitted to receiving sustained, regular or even a single high-pressure/condemnation gender confusion incident. I'm not trying to claim that it never happens or that the peoples in this area are "better" (trust me, no man is going to walk down the street in a dress any time soon), but the idea of keeping up appearances of gender conformity to the point of offense is odd to me. is this some sort of suburban thing, the mindset of explicit shaming/assault/condemnation for petty transgressions being an acceptable practice?

  34. This post/conversation reminds me of when my girlfriend and I first met. Her hair was pretty long when I first saw her, but by the next time we ran into each other she had, unbeknownst to me until later (she was wearing a hat that fully concealed her scalp), shaved it all off. I found out later that she was horribly embarrassed about it at the time, but she was greatly relieved to find out I thought it looked incredibly hot. So, happy ending there, anyway. :)

  35. I'm heavily steeped in a pinko-Massachusetts-queer-friendly-sex-positive libertine bacchanalia of a social circle. It seems every third day a female friend sheers down to fuzz or flesh. All the girls I've loved have done so at some point, to boot.

    It makes me really appreciative of my peers and our little subculture that I have been able to be so close to so many with so little hair and remain totally unaware that this kind of infantile nonsense really happens. I know how that might sound: I should really be aware of real problems, and I ought to feel rage over the fact that it happens at all. Well, rage over injustice is kind of my baseline. Right now I'm just going to have my little moment and appreciate that a whole community of many hundreds--my community-- is just /doing it right/.

  36. I cut my hair very short at some point, then buzzed it all off a couple years later. Being mistaken for a boy of 14 or so was weird, but except for an incredibly lengthy and bizarre interaction with a homeless man, it wasn't too bad. I don't really care what gender you think I am.


    Backlash from my family was huge, even the second time. You'd have thought I'd cut my arm off or sold my (non-existent) child into slavery. If I'd been living at home it would have been really rough. As it was, I was mostly confused and annoyed. I mean, it's JUST HAIR. It grows back. But I guess it was more than that to them.

  37. I live in a big, multicultural, diverse English city, which hosts a Pride march every year, and I shaved my hair to a 3 last year. When I walked around on my own, I got hostile stares. When I walked around with my sister or my mum, we got harrassed for being lesbians. When I walked around with my then-boyfriend, we got harrassed for being a gay couple.

    Sometimes I feel like you just. can't. win.

    Everyone I knew apart from a very select few thought the head-shaving would be a bad idea, mainly for sexist reasons. Then when it did happen, they all did a U-turn and said that it looked great, but that "only you could pull it off". It's like they were trying to find a way out of the whole 'it's ok for women to have super-short hair' by reducing me to a weird exception.

  38. With a shaven head/mohawk I got mistaken as a man/boy over ~4years
    1)by an 8 year child
    2)wearing a oversized leather bomber jacket from behind by a guy on the street
    3)out of the corner of her eye while I was at work

    and as soon as I turned to face 2+3 they realized their mistakes. I don't wear makeup or dress particularly fem but
    1)it's a large university city
    2)honorifics like sir/ma'am Monsieur/Madam aren't commonly used (as far as I recall?) so interactions at the cash/ restaurants weren't an issue.

    ... or maybe I just have a very girl-ish face?


  39. RE: Cat

    You too, huh? Yeah, most of my friends have been okay with me having short hair, but our family went ape. (Though one of my aunts later apologized, thoroughly and sincerely, which made me feel a lot better.) It was... a very unpleasant Christmas. Sorry I'm not the only one.


  40. "I wish I had the strength to answer every "are you a boy or a girl?" with "really, would it affect you?""

    I usually answer "a girl. and you?". The scared look on their faces is priceless. You can see them fearing they never noticed they were also weirdos.

  41. Back in the day when I was a hippy youth with long hair, I was forever getting referred to as a girl. It was particularly hilarious once I grew a beard, so the people who'd just wolf-whistled at me got real shocks when I turned around.