This article from Huffington Post is about a lesbian who discovers she is “nonbinary” and she celebrates by getting a haircut and a tattoo, after which she finally feels like herself. Someone posted it on Facebook with the intention of mocking the fact that being “nonbinary” is apparently all about how one styles one’s hair. However, I think there’s much here to discuss beyond the “haircut = identity” thing. When I read this article, I saw myself in it a lot. I see a heartwarming story about a lesbian who is discovering how to be herself. The things she did are the same as the things I did. The only difference is that nobody convinced me that my being a gender-non-conforming dyke meant that I wasn’t female. I am female and attracted to females, so I call myself lesbian. That’s what the word lesbian is actually for.
However, this “nonbinary” writer is much more keen to call herself trans than lesbian.
“When I first realized I might be transgender, I was in denial. I didn’t want surgery, so it was like, “Well, what the hell do I want, then?” I thought being trans meant you could be either FTM (female-to-male) or MTF (male-to-female). I thought surgery was necessary, and going on hormones was necessary, and oh my god I’d have to change my name, and I’d have to stop being at all feminine and and and and — !!
But, well, I didn’t have to do any of that.
The word “bigender” entered my vocabulary after transgender did.
Ah, I thought. There it is.
There it is.
When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, I finally got to start experimenting with my hair. My mom took me to a new salon, and I was allowed to get highlights for the first time ever. The next time I went back, I asked for my hair to be cut short. My mom, who was watching, said fast, “Just to your chin.”
“You don’t have the right face for short hair,” she said. “Just to your chin.”
I cut my hair “just to my chin” until I was 18. I hated it.
I always hated it.
So I wore a bandana, or a hat, or I tied it up punishingly tight, knotted at the nape of my neck or pulled into a butterfly clasp. My freshman year of college, it got so bad I wore a gray hat every single day, everywhere I went, for almost a year.
I came home from work one night exhausted and emotionally drained, and gchatted my then-fiancee (now wife). “I don’t think I can do it anymore,” I said, curled up in my desk chair. “I can’t stand it anymore.” I was on the verge of taking a pair of scissors to it myself, but she convinced me to make an appointment the next day.
When the stylist took the first fistful of my hair in her hand and sheared the scissors right through it, like butter, like sweet silk, so close to my scalp, my whole world changed. It sounds so dramatic, but it’s true. It was this huge moment for me. There my face was, there it had been for the past year, my hair tucked up in a hat. There my face was, with no hair to frame it.
And I looked just fine.
That was the start of it all. That was my marked moment, when I figured out that what people say I should look like and how I actually want to look are mutually exclusive.
There was my tiny rebellion. My stake driven into the ground. There it began.”
So, to summarize this, in plain English, this writer is female and has a female partner. In the days of old, we used to call this phenomenon by the name “lesbian.” Her mother would not allow her to have a short haircut, and I think I can understand why. Her mother wanted her to look feminine, and short hair is not feminine. Her mother was enforcing femininity on her even though she didn’t want it. This happens to all females of course, but it has a particular meaning for lesbians. We tend to be particularly gender-non-conforming, and we tend to look more obviously gay when we reject femininity. Mothers who force lesbian daughters to leave their hair long despite their desires are enforcing femininity and also refusing to allow their daughters to be visibly gay. Back in the old days, we didn’t call this transphobia, we called it homophobia—the hatred or fear of homosexuals. You know, homosexuals, like those people who are female and have romantic and sexual relationships with other females. Like this writer.
I will not mock the fact that it was a “huge moment” for her when her hair was finally cut short the way she wanted it. I remember my own moment like that. I had long hair during my childhood and teenage years. Sometimes my hair was past my shoulder blades. After I came out I cut my hair short, too. I remember sitting in the hair salon on campus and watching in the mirror as my hair fell away. I felt like I was watching myself being transformed into a lesbian. I know, I know, some straight women have short hair, and some lesbians have long hair. But I was cutting my hair for a reason. I had always worn it in a ponytail and didn’t much care about it, and I didn’t see why I needed to keep it around anymore, and I also wanted to look more like a lesbian. I think it’s a bit symbolic when a newly out lesbian cuts her hair short. It’s a symbol of her being ready to be visible now. And for this writer, it was a symbol of rebelling against her mother who wanted her to be less visible.
“I’ve dressed masculine for years and years. In January, I bought my first expensive flannel button-up. My dad joked that I was ticking off another point on the lesbian checklist, but it wasn’t even about having the shirt, really. It was about going to the women’s section and picking some stuff I liked, things that caught my eye… and then going to the men’s section and, with my armful of pretty blouses, picking out a shirt that screamed masculinity, that pulled across my broad shoulders and showed off how long my back is, how it tapers to my waist.
A few weeks ago, I bought my first pair of clippers.
My mom and I met for lunch at the end of the summer, when I got back from visiting my wife in Canada. “You need a haircut,” she said, eyeing me over the table.
I raised my eyebrow at her. My hair wasn’t long — enough to grab handfuls of, sure, but still boyish on the sides and longer on top, my thick hair gathered up to curl in a forelock. You think it’s too long?
“Don’t cut it ridiculously,” she clarified.
“Not ridiculously,” I echoed, knowing she meant well.
Then I went to Walmart and bought a pair of clippers with rainbow guards, and I cut my hair myself. Shaved down one side and left the other long.
Dyed it purple, too.
I thought of the last time my mother implied I ought not be ridiculous with my hairstyle, and I thought of the looks I’d been afraid to try for fear of coming off too weird. I’d always wanted to shave one side, and I’d always wanted to dye it purple.
So I did. And it was as perfect as I’d thought it would be.”
This is when you learn a bit more about her mother’s attitude. Her mother doesn’t want her to look “ridiculous.” I can’t help but wonder if what her mother really meant is that she didn’t want her daughter to look gay. I have no proof of this, but I have a feeling that if this writer was straight and married to a man, mom would feel a lot more comfortable with an unusual hairstyle.
I, too, have dyed my hair purple. I, too, have wandered both the women’s and the men’s sections of the store because I needed both clothes that fit my female body well and also clothes that made me look more masculine. I wear mostly women’s clothes but I’m a fan of boxer shorts and men’s shirts. I love wearing jeans and a men’s shirt. They go great with my short hair and no makeup. I don’t shave my head, but my partner does. She owns her own clippers, too. Pretty normal stuff for lesbians.
“I think I became more daring after that. Getting a new tattoo seemed like a logical step. A color progression.
My first tattoo was about reclaiming my body. About moving on from a bad relationship. About reminding myself that what happened to me wasn’t my fault.
This one is because my body is mine again. Wonderfully so. There’s a freedom in thinking: no one can stop me from doing this. No one can change this but me. No one can have this but me.
No one can have my skin but me.
I wrote what I know about my queerness on that skin that night.
I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy.
I have a fierce love of space. Galaxies and black holes and blooming nebulae. I like to think, as Carl Sagan said, that we are made of star stuff. That the core of my body once belonged out there, somewhere, and that I have the last dregs of a struggling star clustered up in my cells.
That’s what I am.”
Wait…you’re not a girl? See, this is where I disagree with transgenderism. Just because you don’t want to look feminine doesn’t mean you’re not female. Regardless of what your hair looks like, if you were born with a body that can produce ova and bear young, you are biologically female. That’s what the word female actually means. The only reason that dykes believe they’re not female is because we are taught that female is necessarily feminine and therefore we don’t meet the standards. It’s the standards that need to go, not our knowledge of biology.
“My tattoo artist is in a band with two trans guys. He knows I’m trans. In February, when I got my first tattoo, he told me about them, and said that over the summer, they were going to lay down an album. When I got this second tattoo, I asked him about it, and he lit up. “I actually have the raw tracks on my phone,” he said. “Do you want to hear it before anyone else does?”
So we listened to it together, this entire album about being young and trans and angry and feeling like you’re broken, like your skin doesn’t fit on your bitter bones. And I maybe cried a little, and my artist said, “Yeah, now imagine this scene: big trans bar full of hulking trans dudes, all bawling their eyes out just like you.”
Just like me.
Trans is trans is trans.
In my own way, I’m transitioning.
I love this body of mine. It’s a beautiful canvas.
And I’m making it look just like me.”
You know, this scene where a bunch of “hulking trans dudes” are in a bar crying over the pain they feel because they are not comfortable in their female bodies really reminds me of something. It reminds me of the way Leslie Feinberg described, in Stone Butch Blues, the pre-stonewall gay bar scene where butches and femmes went to meet each other. The first time she went to the gay bar:
“I picked up my beer and walked toward the smoke-filled backroom. What I saw there released tears I’d held back for years: strong, burly women, wearing ties and suit coats. Their hair was slicked back in perfect DA’s. They were the handsomest women I’d ever seen. Some of them were wrapped in slow motion dances with women in tight dresses and high heels who touched them tenderly. Just watching made me ache with need. This was everything I could have hoped for in life.” (27–28)
Also from Stone Butch Blues, in a letter that Jess writes to her ex-girlfriend:
“There were two kinds of fights in the bars. Most weekends had one kind or the other, some weekends both. There were the fist fights between the butch women—full of booze, shame, jealous insecurity. Sometimes the fights were awful and spread like a web to trap everyone in the bar, like the night Heddy lost her eye when she got hit upside the head with a bar stool.
I was real proud that in all those years I never hit another butch woman. See, I loved them too, and I understood their pain and their shame because I was so much like them. I loved the lines etched in their faces and hands and the curves of their work-weary shoulders. Sometimes I looked in the mirror and wondered what I would look like when I was their age. Now I know!
In their own way, they loved me too. They protected me because they knew I wasn’t a “Saturday-night butch.” The weekend butches were scared of me because I was a stone he-she. If only they had known how powerless I really felt inside! But the older butches, they knew the whole road that lay ahead of me and they wished I didn’t have to go down it because it hurt so much.
When I came into the bar in drag, kind of hunched over, they told me, “Be proud of what you are,” and then they adjusted my tie sort of like you did. I was like them, they knew I didn’t have a choice. So I never fought them with my fists. We clapped each other on the back in the bars and watched each other’s back at the factory.” (p7)
See the similarity between the “hulking trans dudes” and the fist-fighting butches? There are some common themes here. Women who are taught that their natural personalities are men’s personalities, that they are not proper women because they aren’t feminine, who carry around shame and pain because people won’t accept them for who they are and because they are survivors of misogynist and homophobic violence that is designed to punish them for being homosexual gender-non-conforming females. In Stone Butch Blues, the women who cannot help but shave their heads and wear men’s clothes call themselves “he-shes” and currently in transgenderism these same women call themselves “trans men” or “genderqueer” or “nonbinary.” They’re the exact same women! In every generation, there are some women who love other women and who have personalities that happen to align with what our culture defines as masculinity. I’m not going to call these women he-shes or trans men, I’m going to call them by their proper name, LESBIAN. This is not because I “hate” trans people, it’s because I love lesbians, and it’s not shameful for us to call ourselves female and lesbian.
“In my own way, I’m transitioning.
I love this body of mine. It’s a beautiful canvas.
And I’m making it look just like me.”
These words are beautiful. They’re about a lesbian becoming herself. She’s “transitioning” all right—into the dyke she wants to be. But she’s not embracing the word lesbian. She’s not calling herself a female-loving female. It’s like we haven’t made any progress since the 1950s. We still think that women who can’t or won’t perform femininity cannot really be women. But we are. It is normal, acceptable, and beautiful for women to be strong and burly and to love other women. We don’t have to deny who we are, we don’t have to pretend to be anything else. We are lesbians.