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Haircuts While Trans

by AJ Birt 2 months ago in Community
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A short essay written whilst waiting in a barbers...

Haircuts While Trans
Photo by Hair Spies on Unsplash

The first time I went to a proper barbers, I was 17. One of my friends had to drag me through the door because my anxiety had overwhelmed me entirely. Once in, awkward small talk was made but for the first time in my life I had a proper, cis-approved haircut.

Before this, my nan had cut my hair. She was a hairdresser all her life, had cut her daughters’ hair (and her sisters’, when they were young) and so it was only natural that she cut her grandchildren’s hair as well. It was a comforting and judgement free experience - even when she agreed to chop my waist length hair into “something short”, resulting in 14 year old me cosplaying as an extra member of the Beatles.

Whilst sat in my nan’s kitchen I couldn’t see my reflection. I could see my granddad and my mum watching me, my mum passing comments every so often, but there was no terrifying eye contact to be made with the person in charge of your style. There was no dysphoria as my face shape changed due to my hair being flattened or manipulated. I was able to just sit in a hard backed chair, cape around my neck, and zone out for a while.

The transition (haha) to going to an actual barbers was, evidently, petrifying. This was an entirely male dominated environment, with people who knew all the terms for clippers and styles. The fear of my hair being shorn into a basic pixie cut instead of a proper fade made me reluctant to step foot through the door. However, thanks to some bullish friends, I faced my fears and actually got shorn professionally.

The freedom of having a haircut that I was entirely in control of was euphoric. It wasn't an imitation, it wasn't badly chopped in a bathroom mirror. I had been just another guy, just another totally regular customer at the normal manly barbers, getting my incredibly manly hair cut manily.

One would expect that, after having taken the plunge, the fear would go away. I naively thought the same - until I moved away from my hometown to go to university and had to find an all new barbers. The previous one had been recommended by a trusted friend but in the city I was entirely in the dark. What if they refused me? What if I was asked uncomfortable questions? What if my voice gave me away as not cis?

The overwhelming, trans specific terror of going to a barbers is not a unique experience to me alone. Even though I now go to the same barbers regularly, I still go with a friend of mine. Every haircut requires emotional support. There’s an added bonus that he gets a haircut at the same time, and our equal trans fear balances each other out as we both pretend to have bravado.

I still find myself rehearsing what I have to say, though, and sitting with legs apart and diaphragm relaxed. My weak attempts at masculinity are all too obvious when I have to stare myself down in the mirror. I'm almost envious of people with poor vision, who could just take their glasses off and not be faced with the physical representation of dysphoria.

At the end of the day, the barber or hairdresser just wants to do their job. They are looking at the hair, not the person; the closest to my skin they examine is in trying not to cut my ears. It is an ultimately anonymous experience, whether you are cis or trans. Remembering this often seems to be the only way through such an uncomfortable experience.

That, and laughing at my mate looking like a turnip with his hair clipped on top of his head.

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About the author

AJ Birt

History nerd who likes to live in a fictional world... also pretty gay.

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