Queer Girl Hairstory: Our Hair’s Not So Straight Either Part 3

Her hair was curly and untamed, and it lent her an air of slight madness, as though the thoughts in her head were springing directly out through her scalp.

- Shamim Sarif, I Can’t Think Straight

Hair! While first impressions are often based our expressions and words, the fluffy stuff that frames your cute face also plays a role in how society perceives you. More often than not, we play the game. We buy the products; we cut, color, highlight, razor and heat our hair to best suit our personalities. As queer folks, we’re particularly accustomed to playing with these concepts of gender and image. Curly hair comes with its own odd sort of self-awareness. If you have it, you probs learned at an early age that a part of you was already railing against the norm. And sometimes, standing out is the exact opposite of what you want to do. Adolescence can be an particularly awkward series of “Princess Mia Thermopolis breaking a brush” moments. You also realize that most people who love curly hair have never actually had it.

These are our post-adolescent curly hair feelings.

See Also:
Queer Girl Hairstory: Our Hair’s Not So Straight Either Part 1
Queer Girl Hairstory: Our Hair’s Not So Straight Either Part 2

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Learning to be Curly

by Vanessa

At the beginning of 2009 my hair was straight and I thought I was too. When I think about my hair now, I feel the way I did when I thought about my sexuality four years ago: I don’t really have a clue what’s going on.

I was born with a lot of hair, and it grew quickly. I had very long very straight hair until I hit puberty at age 10, when it proceeded to frizz and tangle. I tried desperately to make it curl, especially at summer camp where it seemed like every girl in my cabin could achieve perfect ringlets with the right amount of Herbal Essences mousse and a powerful diffuser, but it just wouldn’t.

You’d think that because my hair wasn’t curly, it might be straight, or at the very least wavy. In fact, my hair was just long and unruly. I started calling it “nothing,” which makes me sad to look back on but at the time seemed like the truth. Then, in 7th or 8th grade, I discovered that I could straighten my hair. WELL.

I lived and died by my straightener for a long time. No one ever told me my hair was ugly, but I believed it was. To be honest not one person noticed on days when I overslept and didn’t have time to straighten it, but I noticed and I hated it. I wished it could be the way it was when I was 10, before I hit puberty and got boobs and started making out with boys.

This is what my hair looked like when I was 17 and in a serious relationship with my straightener. Also I had a cupcake prom dress and I have absolutely zero shame.

Oh, yeah. Up until junior year of college, I believed I was a straight person. I kissed boys, dated boys, eventually had sex with boys. I never disliked it.

Which is why it was puzzling to find myself, at age 20, on a study abroad program in London and completely in love with a girl. The fact that my hair was suddenly extremely wavy (not frizzy, not poofy, not “nothing” — just gloriously wavy) was the least confusing part of that four-month period, though at any other time I would’ve been shocked. I did journal about it though, and somehow writing about my hair and writing about having sex with a girl for the first time tangled in my brain and now the two subjects seem to fit together effortlessly.

I used to think of myself as a baby queer (mostly because I was!), constantly looking for approval or reassurance that I belonged to our community. It didn’t help that the girl I originally fell for eventually told me she didn’t want to be an experiment for a confused straight girl, or that I felt like my past relationships disqualified me from using the words lesbian or dyke or even some days queer. It has taken me a long time to claim those words for myself, to feel confident saying them out loud, to feel authoritative when I write about myself and the community and our lives. I did a lot of hard work to get to this place, but I am here now and I am queer and confident and it is grand.

My hair… well, I haven’t quite done the work with my hair yet. It’s wavy on some days and quite curly on others but sometimes if I sleep on it funny it’s flat on one side and I’m reminded of my middle school days of nothingness and I panic. If I shower and let it air dry (while occasionally twirling it around my fingers) I can get beautiful loose ringlets, and people often question if I’ve used a curling iron (I haven’t! I don’t know how!) I spent hours of my teenage years diligently straightening my long hair, but I now describe myself as a “lazy grandma” and will honestly do whatever takes the least amount of effort when it comes to a hair routine.

This is my hair doing its thang now and me just going with it.

I felt a little intimidated reading the other curly grrrls’ hair regiments in this series. I don’t know what oils would do to my hair and I don’t have a specific expensive shampoo that’s done wonders and I don’t go to a hairdresser that deals exclusively with curly hair. I’ve been trying to grow out a bad haircut I got in Israel for a while now, and I like experimenting with different shampoos and conditioners (I currently use Organix Vanilla Silk and I really like it!) Other than that I’m sort of just going with it, which as it turns out is actually a good plan for all sorts of self-acceptance. I highly recommend it, and in the meantime I’ll take all your hair product recommendations for my newly curly/wavy ‘do, please and thank you!

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My Hair, Myself

by Carolyn

I thought I had straight hair until I didn’t, which is sort of like thinking you’re straight until you don’t, except in this case a massive Austrian hairdresser who looked like he could have been a former member of any biker gang he’d wanted plucked gingerly at my ponytail and asked me if I knew that I had curly hair, and if I wanted to do anything about that.

I did not know I had curly hair. It had been a little wavy when I was about four, but as a kid, I’d had the kind of hair cuts that have numbers because I really didn’t like anyone touching my head. When I was old enough to figure out ponytails I’d started wearing them all the time, including to bed. Aside from the occasional attempt at relaxing, which completely failed to make me glamourous and instantly good at everything as well as leaving my hair frizzy, I wore it up and mostly product free. In late high school, a friend on whom I had recently developed a rather eye-opening crush twirled it around her fingers and said I needed a haircut, which is when I went to get one.

I would describe the results of my first hair cut as a person with curly hair as resembling the wigs they used to have to wear in British parliament.

Finding out that my hair was curly coincided with finding out that I was gay, but turning my hair increasingly fluorescent shades of blonde coincided with coming out. I started off with neck-length brownish hair when I told my friends, and ended up with a platinum ALH when I told my grandmother, and then I realized a few things: 1) that all my hair was starting to fall out and what was left was straight and brittle, 2) that I had felt like I needed a really gay hair cut to feel like a really gay person, and that what I actually wanted was hair that I actually liked.

Coming back from years of bleach meant that I read a lot of things about curly hair on the Internet and promptly decided that I was no longer going to wash mine except with a salt scrub once a week and maybe some conditioner. This worked with out any noticeable positive or negative effects for exactly five months, until I woke up, realized my hair felt really, really gross, and washed it five times. Now, my hair is unbleached and short and a little bit femme and a lot more like me.

I wash it between four and nine times a week with Aveda Rosemary Mint shampoo and whatever curly hair conditioner was on sale the last time I needed some, which I comb through with my fingers and let sit for a few minutes. All common knowledge suggests that this level of washing should turn me into a poodle-esque frizz ball, and while I’m not sure why that hasn’t happened yet, consider it a warning. After showering I scrunch the longer parts with a towel and pat the shorter parts so they dry without getting too frizzy, and then I scrunch in Aveda Be Curly Style Prep and, if it is humid or I have to go somewhere before my hair dries on its own or it looks like it might do something weird, use John Freida Frizz Ease hair spray.

My number one hair thing is getting it cut by someone who knows what to do with curly hair (and particularly knows to cut it dry first, wash it second, and that I do not want a straight blow dry). In my head, I am someone who will put on heels and go to the barber, but in actuality, this has only led to disaster. And having to learn how to use a diffuser.
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Relaxers, Fitted Caps and Side Shaves: The Trinity of My Queer Hood Hairstory

by Gabrielle

Randy the Barber’s Design Skills

Hair. Jeezus Cristo. I had the best baby hair ever in life. It was soft, wavy and light brown. No kinks, no tangles, just good old baby hair that would eventually fall out and be replaced with some untamable locks. (Not that kinks or tangles are bad but they require effort to manage and skill to master. Even as a baby, I needed my hair to be super low maintenance.) At age 13, my mother and I went to the Puerto Rican owned beauty salon and I received my first relaxer treatment. If you’re unfamiliar with a relaxer, here’s the gist: a relaxer is a heavy lye cream made of sodium hydroxide, petroleum jelly, and some type of emulsifier (ingredients vary). This cream is combed through wet hair specifically of the curly, kinky, nappy, non-straight, non-kristenstewart type of hair. It often stinks. So lucky me, no seriously, I was super excited for my first relaxer. I hated dealing with my curls and fighting with my mother about her way of doing my hair. (She’d sit me between her knees and pull through the knots in my hair with a metal comb and if i complained, she’d give me a real reason to cry.Ever been hit in the head with a hot brush? Yeah not so fun.) Anyway, so I got my first relaxer treatment and it burned my scalp while also leaving silver dollar sized scabs on my head. But lo and behold, after sticking my head under a dryer for another hour, my hair was smooth and silky like hair you see on tv.

Some things never change (was my mom shocked when I came out?)

I went back every weekend for a wash and set and then every few months to re-do the relaxer treatment. Flash forward to me being 20 and spending over a hundred dollars on a treatment only to leave the salon and get doused by a speeding car hitting a puddle in the curb at just the right angle. No more straight hair and I just said fuck it. I mostly wore bandanas and caps anyway and after this incident, they became my staple. Bandanas and caps and fitteds and do-rags and anything to cover the hair i didn’t want to deal with. Also, my femme-ness was wearing off and I found myself attracted to a more masculine/funky little style, so out went the relaxers. After the treatment finally grew, my curls were softer but my hair was also a little thinner. Eventually the bandanas and snapbacks took their toll on my hair too or more specifically, my hairline. So last summer, I shaved the side of my head and freed just enough curls for me to deal with.

Also, the weirdness I always felt in a beauty salon is gone. Getting my side shave shaped-up in local barbershops, like khane kutzwell’s in Brooklyn or razor blade barbershop in the Bronx, is so much more my speed. I love the razor blades shaping up my lines and gliding against the back of my neck. Finally, my hair is something i’m proud of and feel connected to and i don’t need any chemicals to burn it or hats to cover it up.

Management: I use Dr. Bronner’s soap for everything, including shampoo. I particularly like the Rose and Hemp scented soaps. They smell good and keep me from spending bank on fancy ass chemical-heavy shampoos. For conditioner, I like to try out different concoctions from hair dressers/barbers that I trust. Randy, my favorite barber in the world who now lives in West Virginia, created his own hair conditioner so I bought some. It’s made of lavender and coconut oils, along with some other stuff that makes hair soft. I use it to detangle my curls and as a leave in conditioner. On humid days, I’ll also apply some Queen Helene gel which I can get from the bodega for like $3 bucks. It doesn’t leave the same type of flaky sticky crap in my hair that other major brands like Dep or whatever do. If I don’t put anything in my hair, then it’s just frizzy and dry. I haven’t figured out how to leave it completely natural without it looking like it could start a forest fire. So I stick to oils, homemade conditioners and the occasional dollop of round the way gel. As for the shape-ups, I get them done every 2.5 weeks and designs, maybe once every few months or when I get the urge. I love my curls more now though and my side shave; it’s like all of gender presentations on my one big beautiful pumpkin head.

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Sarah Fonseca diplomatically lives, works, and plays in rural south Georgia. A Lambda Literary fellow, her essays and articles have appeared in The Q Review, Lavender Review, Thought Catalog, Autostraddle and Choice USA's ChoiceWords.

fonseca has written 45 articles for us.

15 Comments

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    I have to say I really love this series and hearing about your stories. I never realized how much my curly hair played into being queer. IT REALLY DID. AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT. I’ll make it short…I hid my curly hair a lot as a baby queer because I thought girls wouldn’t like me, (mostly because I had an ex who didn’t like it and made it a point to tell me she didn’t. She also encouraged a Shane cut, but it was 2005 and I refused to get whatever that was on her head). Turned out, once I got to college, that girls actually like running their hands through my Mexifro. And I’ve let it free ever since.

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    When I was in the first grade or so, and the head lice epidemic ran through my school, and my three foot mane of rusty-auburn affectionate mess got it, then spread it, then got it again when everybody thought it was over, my mother stood over the back of my head for THREE HOURS with a metal nix comb(which was cheaper than replacing the plastic ones after my hair ate all their teeth.) After that, she told me we could do this, along with a variety of mayo-in-a-plastic-bag, scalding-hot-then-freezing showers, and every kind of tea tree oil shampoo, or we could shave all my hair off

    This was, coincidentally, how my older brother managed HIS unruly curly hair, so obvs it was the best way…unfortunately for me, cutting off all my hair made my passionate love-affair with denim and mud particularly glaring to all my peers, which was the tragic premature death of my gender-conforming facade XD

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    My hair is super curly but I learned to live with it. It got so damaged with the straightener but I managed to repair it with an argan oil mask from pro naturals, this brand is amazing for curly gurls.

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    These articles are actually perfect for me, i’m getting better at managing my hair but still struggle with the natural dryness, frizziness and surprisingly flatness (but only on the top) of my hair. When I was a lot younger I used to scrape it back into a ponytail nearly every day to try to get it under some control, then I started secondary school and having no awareness of appropriate hair products left it as a frizzy mess most days and these days im still trying various products to see what works best for me.
    Oh and the hairdresser issues! I did not realise how lucky I was to have my hairdresser until she left and I had someone new who didn’t have the slightest clue how to deal with curly hair, this became evident as she tried desparately to use serum to smooth down the fluffy mess she’d created before putting it down as a bad job and sending me on my way…i’d only gone in for a trim…

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    God, in high school I would wake up at 4 AM to spend 3 hours straightening my hair every day. EVERY. DAY. So glad I finally embraced my curly hair – sleep is by far the best gift I have ever given myself. Self acceptance is pretty okay too.

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      Haha I did that for my entire sophomore year of high school. The summer between sophomore and junior year is when I started to learn to be ok with my curly hair and let it curl. It wasn’t very happy after the excessive heat and chemicals I subjected it to though.

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    I love these curly hair stories. I always wanted curly and/or wavy hair. Instead I have boring straight limp hair. I was alive in the eighties so I remember when people had spiral perms and big hair which I envied then.
    Will there be any articles about straight hair on not straight people?

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    One of my cousins has straight hair and she curls it, the other has gorgeous perfect ringlets which she straightens. The grass is always greener, huh? I’m really bad at curling my hair so I’m considering getting a loose perm once I’ve grown it out enough, we’ll see how that goes :)

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    It’s funny how much our hair plays into our construction of our identities. I’m not gay, but I certainly have just as complicated a relationship with my hair as you ladies have.

    Throughout my childhood, I had a mushroom cut, and passed as male until I hit puberty. It’s not something I wanted; I HATED being mistaken for a boy. I didn’t like my hair, but because I have a domineering mother, I just agreed with whatever she said was right for me. I didn’t understand why all of the other girls in my class had long ponytails and braids and colourful barrettes. I have a feeling that my short hair really had a hand in how I interacted with my peers. I was always embraced by my male peers (at least in kindergarten), but not the girls. To this day I find relationships with “girly” girls difficult. Guys are generally easier for me to get along with.

    I remember one Halloween, I was dressed as a princess (I wanted to be a colourful parrot, but mom said I should be a princess). Other girls were dressed up as princesses too. As we made our way throughout the school for the Halloween “parade”, other teachers commented on “all of the pretty princesses”. The girl in front of me, Amanda (that bitch), pointed at me and said, “she’s not a princess, she’s a prince.” Because of my hair.

    I grew my hair out to maybe shoulder length by the time I was a tween, but never kept it in any other style than a ponytail. I just couldn’t be bothered. When I entered university, I cut it all off and got a pixie cut. I was always going on about how the short hair made me a badass feminist, that girls don’t need to have long hair, etc.

    I held on to my short locks until halfway through university. And I HATE to admit this, but I started growing my hair out because of a GUY. The two of us had developed a somewhat flirtatious acquaintanceship, and he’d often tell me how much prettier I’d look if I had longer hair (to be fair though, I DO NOT have the right features for a pixie cut, so at least I can thank him for that). I was also getting sick of guys assuming I was gay because of my short hair. So I was like,

    “If I have to have long hair to be considered attractive, I guess I need to let the patriarchy win this one.”

    So I’ve had long hair for about 5 years now. The thing is that at heart, I still feel like I have short hair. I never take advantage of my long locks. My hair is ALWAYS tied up in a bun, because I have ridiculous hair that has a mind of its own. It’s got wave, but it’s just this horrid, beastly mass. I don’t have the patience to curl it or straighten it. And when I wear it down, my neck gets crazy sweaty. I dunno how women can wear long hair down in the summer. I can’t even do it in the fall/winter.

    I wanted to grow my hair out because I thought it would make me a true “woman”. Desirable and sexy. But it didn’t. For the past few years, I’ve felt like I’ve been playing dress up. Long hair just isn’t me. It just makes me feel as though I’m repressing the complicated, unconventional, amazing lady I’ve always been.

    So I’ve made an appointment on Monday to get it cut off! I’m so psyched! Not going pixie short, but the shortest I’ve gone in a LONG time.

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    I used to have extremely thick and curly hair nearly down to my boobs till this last June, when I finally worked up the courage to chop it into a pixie cut. Now I straighten it, because curly hair+pixie cut= grandma hair, for me. I like how easy my hair is now, but WOW I REALLY MISS HAVING LONG GIRLY HAIR. I feel like it’s a cop out to cut off that much hair and want to grow it back out only 5 months later, but YOLO and I’ll probably cut it off again in college anyway.

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    Growing up as a boy I had such short hair, a number 3 or less fade…or a flat top. I’m not sure how I got stuck on those but its what I had. Then in the early 2000s guys started to gel their hair so the front went up and out, mine wouldn’t and I never could figure out why. I was told by a barber I had a cow-lick or some such thing. One in the front and one right on the top of my head. Anyways I grew my hair out in college and wore a lot of baseball caps with Chevy logos on them. For some reason my hair did this weird poofy wing thing as it excited the cap. I still don’t know how everyone I know and myself never saw my curly hair coming. It is like crazy ringlets about the size of a quarter. Its now down past my shoulders and about to my boobs when i straighten it (never). Its such a hard thing to get used to long hair, but long curly hair puts you in your own personal hell I think. I’ve come to accept it and almost like it, but it is a huge adjustment and I don’t know anyone with curly hair so having these articles to read is really helping me to get a grasp on what to do with myself!

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    OK, I realise I’m a few months behind the times here, but this was p. much a revelation for me.

    For years, YEARS I SAY, I have sworn by the holy GHDs – but my hair is so wavy/occasional ringlet-y, & its natural inclination to rebel (especially on one side in particular) combined with living in a humid city is just a recipe for angst that I do not need.

    So, after reading this, today was my first day of letting my hair do more or less what it wants (with some guidance because it is still in shock and can’t quite be fully trusted yet) – and it looked better than it has in ages & I felt SO much better.

    Now to find some awesome deep conditioning stuff, and give my hairstylist a chance at cutting in sync with this new philosophy rather than taking the tame&conquer approach.

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