How a simple haircut can bring absolute trans joy: ‘It was a hot mess, but my hot mess’

·11-min read

As trans and non-binary people, discovering joy can come through the changes we make to live authentically – big and small, internal and external, spoken about and not.

We might make changes to the clothes we wear, the name and pronouns we use, and how we style the hair on our head. These things all feed into our sense of self. Finding the right name, pronouns, clothes and, yes, hair can all be things that bring an inner peace and happiness.

Our hair is one of the first things that many people see of us, and a good haircut can often be a make-or-break scenario. But it’s not just about haircuts: The length, colour and style of our hair goes well beyond a pair of scissors or clippers.

For this week’s piece in our Trans Joy series, we talked about all of the above – and then some – with two trans men and two non-binary people. They each have their own unique relationship with their hair, gender and transition – what unites their stories is the joy that their hair has brought to them.

Trans joy from the big chop

S, a trans man whose initial we are using because he’s not yet talked about his transition publicly, told PinkNews about his moment of joy: growing out his Afro hair.

S: I’ve always had a rather tumultuous relationship with my hair. When I first moved to the UK, I was surrounded by a lot of my Caucasian counterparts. What I saw as beautiful was very much Eurocentric valued. I spent a lot of time and money essentially destroying my hair, and breaking the relationship that I have with my culture.

It reached a point where I was like, I can’t do this any more. So I did something called the big chop – something specifically within the Afro curly-hair community where folk like myself, who felt like they had to adhere to Eurocentric values of beauty, finally decide, ‘I’m not gonna chemically straighten my hair, I’m not going to destroy my hair anymore to try and achieve this subconscious level within society that you just will never be a part of, at least healthily.’ The big chop is when you decide to grow your natural hair out. The long straggly straight ends, the dead ends, are chopped off.

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When I finally did the big chop, it coincided with a moment in my life where I was reaching a breaking point within my identity. I was in this chaotic sort of spiral of trying to figure myself out. Immediately after I got my hair done, I ended up going to Thailand. And people started giving my hair this attention, and compliments, that I had never received before. It was the fact I was being validated about a part of myself that was genuinely true, it was genuinely me, it wasn’t hundreds of pounds worth of chemically straightened products or whatever – it was actually myself.

There’s a huge sense of validation that I can be myself, a long-haired Black man.

There’s a huge sense of validation that I can be myself, a long-haired Black man. People will rock up and be like, I love your hair, it’s awesome, you look great dude. This not only validates the part of my culture which felt kind of suppressed, but also who I am as well. Both of them are almost dancing together in this beautiful waltz. That I’m there for the journey is just a really wonderful experience.

My hair used to give me a lot of anxiety. And now it brings me a ton of joy.

Dyeing my hair bright colours helps me to ‘feel like I’m able to move through the world with a lot less resistance’

Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin is a non-binary writer and campaigner. They told PinkNews about finding joy in having bright, colourful hair as they came out as non-binary.

Prishita: A moment of joy that I’ve experienced with my hair and my gender was actually at Trans Pride this year. It was one or two days before that I got my hair cut into a kind of mullet-y shag. It had grown out from a mullet and I got it cut differently. And I got it re-dyed. It was green and blue, had like green bits in the front, and then the rest of it was blue. And I just felt like that was one of the first times after lockdown and COVID and everything that’s happened in the last year and a half where I was part of the community, I was out there, and it was my first Trans Pride as an out non-binary person as well. It was the first time that I was presenting as myself in a way that felt really authentic to who I am and how I wanted to express myself.

Prishita’s green and blue hair brought them unfiltered Trans Joy.
Prishita’s green and blue hair brought them unfiltered Trans Joy.

Pre-pandemic, I was still presenting myself in a way that I think was trying to appeal to a certain patriarchal gaze of what a woman should look like, and appealing to a very cis het, male gaze. Even though I was distancing myself from that, in terms of my identity, I think I still had a lot of figuring out to do around how I wanted to look and whether actually no longer receiving that sort of male validation would impact me in the ways that I was maybe afraid of, because growing up, I’d been socialised to seek that out and to seek proximity to that.

It was really, really joyous to be a part of the wider queer community, trans and non-binary community in London, and to be presenting in a way that felt really colourful and true to myself and joyful.

It was really joyous to be presenting in a way that felt really colourful and true to myself.

Since then, I think I’ve only become more and more comfortable in my non-binary identity and in occupying a bigger space, and not being afraid to take up that space. Seeing my identity and my personhood and my physical form as existing beyond confines and boundaries that I have previously been squeezed into, whether by external pressures or by internalised perceptions of what I should look like or how I should act or the boxes that I should be fitting into.

‘I had to become more comfortable in my masculinity to become comfortable with having long hair’

Louis, a trans man who adores his curly mullet, told us about the joy of growing his hair long again as he becomes more confident in his masculinity.

Louis: The first memory I have connected to my hair is that I hated having it long. It was always tied back. From when I was 10 to 17, I literally slept with my hair tied back – I’m surprised I don’t have a receding hairline from it. I was so frustrated by it, but I thought cutting it off wasn’t an option.

Just before uni, I was like, ‘F**k it, I’ve always wanted to do this,’ and I went and got a pixie cut. And I loved it straightaway. I had no regret. As soon as it was off, it felt so good. I was in a really hyper-feminine phase at that point – wearing skirts and make-up and stuff. I really enjoyed the hair part of that. Then I stopped styling it as much and it got a bit wild, because my hair is really frizzy and curly. In my second year at uni, I got my ex’s sister to shave it off – like a number eight, the longest clipper setting.

I think it was really freeing, I instantly loved it, because it was almost taking away the connection to femininity that I had. It was like, oh, I love this.

It was really freeing, I instantly loved it.

Coming into lockdown, I let my hair grow. And the longer my hair got again the more I was loving it. By that point, I’d been on hormones for quite a while and my voice had dropped and my facial hair had grown in and I think seeing those two things together… it was like. I knew men had long hair, cis men have long hair as well, and obviously that doesn’t make them anything other than a man if that’s what they are. But I’d just never thought I’d have long hair again because I thought I’d cut ties with it by cutting it off. But seeing my facial hair and my long hair I realised that I can just be a man with long hair.

It was like I had to become more comfortable in my masculinity through medically transitioning, that’s what made me more comfortable, to then become more comfortable with having something – long hair – that’s stereotypically associated with femininity.

What do I love about the mullet? The practicality of having it short in the front, but still having the length. Although it is getting to a point where I’m thinking about growing the front out, and having it all long. I love that it’s a very practical style, while letting me enjoy the feminine side of me more.

Men can be feminine.

Growing up helped me to see that it isn’t bad to be feminine. Women can be feminine and men can be feminine. I am just a man. Figuring that out, and becoming comfortable with it, is what made me be more comfortable being more feminine. Because it’s like, this is who I am. And I’m really comfortable in who I am. So it doesn’t matter if I do feminine things now or I do things associated with femininity, because I’m so comfortable in the fact that I’m a man now that I’m not trying to reject it.

‘I found absolute trans joy when I cut all my hair off for the first time’

Shivani Dave is a non-binary radio presenter, who produces The Log Books – a podcast of untold stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history.

Shivani: I found absolute trans joy when I cut all my hair off for the first time. It used to go down really far, it was big and curly and it was a vibe for sure. Loads of people would have loved having hair like that, but it wasn’t me.

Trans Joy
Shivani Dave before their now-ex cut their hair off with a pair of kitchen scissors.

One very drunk night, I got my now ex to put a colander on my head and go around it with scissors… We were on the balcony outside my ex’s flat. She used a colander because we didn’t have bowl that fit round my head. She used kitchen scissors, and literally just went around the colander.

It looked like a hot mess – but it was my hot mess.

It was New Year’s Eve 2018, going into 2019, and we were all a little bit drunk. The haircut was lopsided and there were bits of hair that were not quite cut the right length and it looked like a hot mess – but it was my hot mess. It was finally the haircut – ish – that I’d always wanted.

Shivani, the day after the night before, with short hair for the first time.
Shivani, the day after the night before, with short hair for the first time.

It was the best feeling ever, literally a weight off my shoulders, and I just have been getting my hair cut shorter and shorter every time I’ve been to the barbers now and absolutely love it because it feels so me. It feels like that’s who I am.

I’d always wanted short hair, and what stopped me was that I was a little bit worried about how I’d be perceived. I was scared to go into the hairdressers – actually, at one point I did go to the hairdressers as a teenager and said ‘I want it all off. Chop it all off’. I think I even said I wanted a pixie cut like Rihanna, I mean, who didn’t. And the hairdresser was like, ‘You’re joking, right?’ and I was like ‘Yeah, I’m joking. Just a little bit, just a trim’. And I think from that moment I was like, maybe getting my hair cut that short is controversial or something that will make people think about me differently.

As I grew into myself and had a greater understanding of who I am, and a greater understanding of the joy having my hair cut – something as simple as a haircut – could bring me, I just thought it’s my life and it’s about me so I took that real main character energy and put it into my hair.

Nothing feels as good as a fresh trim.

For me, nothing feels as good as a fresh trim. That feeling of getting someone to go round with the clippers and give you that short back and sides and tidy at the top, which I need at the moment, is a feeling of absolute joy. I walk out of a barbershop with an absolute spring in my step, feeling just great about everything.

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