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

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


Short Hair and Back Again

by Hansen

I’ve always had a weird thing about my hair. My hair is super thick, coarse and wavy. My friend explained to me that hair is circular, triangular or oval, and that’s what determines if your hair is straight, curly or wavy, but she said I have all three shapes in there for some weird reason. Thanks, genetics.

I had it long for years after I broke up with a girl who had always begged me to grow it out. I wanted her to be jealous that it’d finally grown out, like that would make some difference. I find a recurring theme in my relationships — my butch girlfriends are always asking me to have long hair. I, too, love the look of beautifully styled long, wavy hair, but I look like Mufasa when I don’t style it. In college, I’d wake up two hours before class every other day and straight iron or curl it. Two hours! Think of all the sleep I could have gotten if I hadn’t been obsessed with my hair. I also had a girlfriend tell me that she wasn’t sure she’d find me attractive with short hair, so I immediately chopped about a foot off just to see if she’d stick around.

I recently cut it short again — although this time it wasn’t because of anyone else — and although the ALH is okay, having extremely thick hair kind of makes me look like a mushroom. I’m trying to find middle ground. Thinning shears are your friend — look up online tutorials on how to properly do it yourself to save monies.

My favorite products over time have been Kerastase Nutritive Oleo-Curl Curl Definition Cream For Thick and Curly Hair. It’s a little pricey but it lasts around four months and it tames my frizz and curls without any problems, even in extreme humidity. Also, I always use smoothing or color-safe shampoos, even if they say they are for straightened hair. Clarifying shampoos open up the cuticle and increase crazy frizz. I’m not precious about what I use, I get whatever is on sale. I dye my hair a lot (although I’m blonde now, I was a ginger for MANY, many, many years) and I swear by Palmer’s Coconut Oil Protein Pack for a weekly deep conditioner.+


by Carmen

I don’t know how I define my hair and how I feel about the word “curly” but I know it’s hard to manage and I know it’s not straight. Products for “curly” hair never used to help me, mostly because my hair was a massive frizzball for the majority of my life. But now I’ve cut it off! And life has never been easier. You can see the curliness even more now, which is weird. But I’ve heard I have a helluva pompadour and I’m okay with that, especially when I wear crew necks.

in with the new

At first I tried to master my hair by straightening and “relaxing” it, which made me feel not only like a fake but also probably like the ugliest person on Earth. When you spend each day trying to change how you look it kind of slowly breaks you down on the inside, mostly because carrying your hair straightener around and making touch-ups during class reminds you that without the ability to change your curls, you’ll hate yourself. Step one in every curly-haired girl’s life needs to be getting the fuck over that shit and realizing how lucky we are to be unique and beautiful in our own ways.

So loving it is important – and led me to my fro (RIP). Having an Afro meant that for the first time I wanted to take care of my hair by being affirming of its own existence and letting go of culturally embedded ideals of beauty that were stressing out our relationship. Now, when you have curly hair you have to love it so that you can manage it and get it to cooperate.

out with the old

You will look ten times better once you learn to love your curls. No, seriously. Coming to love my hair has resulted in a deep love for caring for it. In fact, taking care of my hair is what keeps me sane and well-balanced. So products are important! Here’s my own quick review:

I use all-natural HEMP Shampoo and Conditioner  both because my mom is highly uncomfortable with the huge pot leaf on the front and because it makes me feel honest. I like it because it is relatively weightless and lets my hair do its own thang.

I also used to use It’s A 10 After-Wash Leave-In Conditioner to protect my hair from heat damage when I blew it out. It smells really really good. My biggest and best kept secret, though, is that I regularly deep clean like every other week using Neutrogena Shampoo, which cost seven bucks when I got it in January and still hasn’t run out. It removes everything, but it’s also super harsh and dries out hair (which is of course questionable) so I go ahead and condition after that real well.

On Finding My Inner Mermaid

by Rachel

I didn’t even know my hair was curly for the first half of my life; I just thought it was awful. Both my parents have beautiful shining thick straight Garnier Fructis commercial hair, so there was no reason to think mine would be any different. As I was growing up, they tried taking care of my hair the way that was normal for them: brushing it with boar-bristle brushes and shampoo and conditioner. Hairbrushing turned into a nightmare where I would cry and scream while they tried to drag a brush through tangles, and I always looked like I had just run into an electric fence, but no one really knew what else to do, so I spent years managing to look fierce and adorable even with a frizzy halo of hair.

not really a good look

When I reached middle school, having crazy person hair was suddenly no longer acceptable, much like wearing MLB t-shirts every day and having sleepovers in the same bed as my best friend. My life’s mission became making my hair look as straight and sleek as possible. I believe my hair inspiration at the time was Jo O’Meara, the blonde chick from S Club 7. Every time I went to get my hair cut, I had them blow it out and straighten it as hard as it would go, and anxiously try to stretch out that period of hair idyll for as long as possible (usually two days). I bought every straightening product they had at CVS, and since we didn’t have/couldn’t afford a flat iron, I spent hours before school with a comb and a hairdryer trying to MacGyver it flat. This never worked, and my hair always looked mournful and pathetic. It was a sad, lonely, totally normal adolescent time.

Sometime between senior year of high school and college, I sort of stopped caring about my appearance in the traditional sense full stop. (This coincided with not shaving, wearing Birkenstocks, listening to a lot of Ani, and developing a lot of very close female friendships.) Surprisingly, when I didn’t do much to my hair besides wash and dry it, it was sort of nice, and turned out to be full of waves and curls. Neat! I still didn’t really know what to do with it, so it was frequently weird and fluffy and crunchy and dry, but a lot of pretty girls told me I looked like a mermaid, so. Then, as a junior in college I discovered hair oil (Dabur Amla was my first), and my life has never been the same. It turns out that pumping my hair full of super-duper extra-double moisturizing conditioners is cool and all, but my hair actually wants to have more oils added right onto it. Ever since, packaged hair oil or just straight up coconut oil have been my jam. And ever since I chopped off about a foot and a half of my hair a few years ago, I like my hair even more — I can keep up with the split ends, and my hair has never been curlier or happier.

good hair days: a retrospective

I’m not actually super picky about conditioners, and have usually used the Aussie line (both their Moist conditioner and their magical deep conditioner) with some success. Usually I’m in the camp that many curly-haired people are in of washing my hair as little as possible in order to preserve the natural oils. But I’ve recently found a shampoo that doesn’t dry out my hair and that I find I can use as frequently as once a week and not get my hair weird and fluffy: Davines Love Shampoo (obviously it was a gift, as I would have to sell a kidney to buy it on my own).

Relaxers, Fitted Caps and Side Shaves: The Trinity of My Queer Hood Hairstory

by Gabby Rivera

the last pic of me in a dress that will ever be on the internet

I had the best baby hair ever in life: 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.)

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. 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.

some things never change

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 out, 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.

Randy the Barber’s Design Skills

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  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’s essays, book reviews, and film writing have appeared in Black Warrior Review, cléo: a journal of film and feminism, Posture Magazine, and them. Catch her obsessing over Eartha Kitt at sarahfonseca.com.

sarah has written 57 articles for us.


  1. Yes to this post! Curly pride! Y’all look foxy.

    As a teenager my crazy family told me that a)I had to straighten my hair and that b) that it had to be long, down to my breasts, or I would ‘loose all my femininity’, ‘look masculine’, ‘have a blobby face’.

    I only really worked up the courage to start wearing it curly at 19 when I moved to the other side of the country, and it was *years* before I dared to cut it up to just below my chin. When I did though it was amazing, like seeing what I was meant to look like for the first time in my life. Since then it has been short and curly, and – contrary to my crazy family’s suggestions – I have gotten so many compliments, and so much more attention than when I wore it straight.

    In terms of products, would really recommend Tigi’s ‘Curls Rock’ curl amplifier for less frizz and more definition :)

    • Also, curls love moisture, so keeping your hair moisturised helps – like Rachel I use coconut oil.

      Like Carmen I tried to chemically straighten my hair, which cost a lot of $$, and just flat out didn’t work. My hair out-curled the chemicals. Resist!

      … as you can tell, I am excited to be able to talk about curls :P

  2. I wear my hair curly too, such a big difference from before! ANd it’s lots healthier now, I use an argan oil from pro naturals to keep it moisturized so that helps!

  3. LOVE this article. I’ve always had thick thick curly hair and up until I was twelve I literally had a crew cut because I Just Did Not Want To Deal. Then came the straightening-every-day-bleary-eyed-at-5:30-am (holla @Hansen). I finally saw the light when the girl I liked told me I just just leave it curly cause it is pretty that way. Naturally I agreed. Since this also meant a substantial reduction in the maintenance requirements (shampoo–leave in conditioner–brush! Done!), it was an easy decision.

    True Facts: Sometimes I pretend I am a Lion with a kickass mane. NOT ASHAMED

  4. Truthfully, I think my curl looks cutest when my hair is super duper short. It’s a nice dapper sort of wave. Where it is now, at chin length, I can never tell if it will look nice or like some Farrah Fawcett badness so I kind of abuse my flatiron. I hate taking an hour+ to get ready. Seeking solutions.

    Also, I totally relate to the reactionary haircut thing Hansen was talking about, but I did mine in reverse. When I was considering growing out my YES I’M QUEER hair last year my friends responded like it was so much more attractive for me to look andro than have this feminine hairdo and it was this revealing moment to me. I grew my hair out and lost their numbers. It’s weird/emotional/sort of exhausting dealing with how people have reacted to different incarnations of my appearance. I think my hair length and weight have been some of the most telling factors.

  5. I love this series, especially the wide variety of different hair-curl types – I recognise bits and pieces of myself in quite a few of them.

  6. I love curly hair. I have a lion’s mane. And the best thing is I can get out of bed and do nothing to it, bed hair is my normal look. Apart from the jokes that I look like I’m living in the 80s (I like volume okay) it’s a gift!

  7. Help: I have super curly/frizzy/big hair, but I also work out five times a week and sweat lots, so it’s not really possible for me to just wash my hair once or twice a week because it gets so nasty. What do I do?!!?

    • What you can do is condition your hair, instead of washing it every night. Shampoo can dry out your hair, especially if you use it daily. So maybe really give your hair a wash (with shampoo) once a week, and a good rinse with some conditioner every other day or so.

    • I often just rinse out my hair after a workout (unless I’ve been in the pool, in which case I’ve ruined everything anyway).

  8. I love my curly hair (now.) Deep conditioning it every week helps me love it more. My hair dries out, so Mirta de Perales is pretty much my golden egg-laying goose. I just leave it in for an hour, and I’m good to go; I haven’t found anything that makes my hair softer.

  9. My hair is thick and curly and dark, and I had it long for quite some time. My ex fiance wanted me to keep it long, and I, like the whipped girl I was, kept it long. Now it’s short, and I love it.
    I have a big problem with dry scalp though. Any recs?

    • Try different kinds of shampoo- different skin types react differently to each of them. (For example, I find that things that say “moisturizing” tend to make my skin even drier and itchier.)
      Also, coconut oil is really great. Try massaging it into your hair/scalp and then wash your hair like normal. It helps to protect your head from being too dried out by the shampoo, without leaving your hair too greasy.

        • I don’t know where you live, but if there’s an Indian market near you, I suggest getting it there. You can get a bottle of it for a few bucks and it should last you for a while.

          • trader joes, if you have one. any grocery store SHOULD have it with the rest of the oils.

            here in maryland they do.

    • I have a hella dry and flaky scalp, and honestly the only thing that works for me is Head and Shoulders. (I’ve tried all the hippie stuff, too!)

  10. My hair doesn’t really curl except for this little bit at the end of my fringe that pokes out and it’s really annoying half the time and my favourite thing the other half. Usually I can use whatever I like on my hair but I have been traumatized by oatmeal shampoo and conditioner so that’s ruled out and large brand stuff gives me dandruff but of course I can’t use anything that could be priced helpfully OH NO I have to be allergic to soap

    I would consider shaving all of my hair off but my skull would look all demented

  11. Just realized both of my pictures are from Halloween. I promise I don’t just dress like a butterfly and “awkward” all the time, you guys.

  12. Carmen, as a fellow owner of a perpetual pompadour, I have to say pompadours are pretty fucking fantastic.

    I love having hair that’s both really short and quite curly, because it means my hair’s default state is “disheveled but cute.”

  13. My hair was pin straight as a kid but got wavier and wavier at the onslaught of puberty. I grew it out super long to try to pull the ambiguous curly wavy things straight by gravity alone but mostly yanked it back into a ballerina bun everyday (I have never had the patience for straighteners, which don’t work on my hair anyways. Despite tens of slumber party makeovers where each girl is sure that she’ll be the one to get my hair straight, it just refuses). I’ve fully embraced it now though, I like having a mane. It doesn’t help that I wash my hair at night and sleep on it wet, which is like playing russian roulette with cowlicks, but idgaf.

    Funny gay wavy hair story: my dad, who’s guessed my orientation but who I’ve never actually come out to, and I were in Sally Beauty Supply over the summer getting me purple hair dye. He’d never been in one before. He was baffled by the fact that there was an entire aisle of straighteners and asked why the world possibly needed any. I said I didn’t know because they don’t work on me, and he just looked at me and deadpanned…. no. no they wouldn’t would they.

    And then he bought me soft serve with rainbow sprinkles and I love my dad so much.

  14. Does anyone have super fine curly hair? Like, I cut my hair short ish about 4 years ago after a super long and unfortunate frizzy long hair stage, so now I kind of look like Marilyn Monroe, but less slick (like, pin curls, but also adorable frizz, because it does what it wants).

    I kind of want an ALH, but don’t know what it will look like. Has anyone else had a haircut thing like that? How’d it work out?

  15. Omg Gabby, I’m still totally under-my-breath giggling at my desk right now.. “ever been hit in the head with a hot brush?” HA! Lol totally happened to me. My mother always left me with Mrs. Gonzalez next door on after-school afternoons… her daughter Erika was in tap/dance and always had her hair did nice. While I had a thing for headbands and hats.
    For some reason – I was deemed a suitable guinea pig with tweak-able hair.. and I totally have a scar high on my forehead from her fuckin curling iron cuz I “moved”. … Well I fuckin smelled burning!!!

    • omg yes! holy shit growing up there was always a line of busy body women trying to do my hair. i’d be caught in their clutches getting hot combed, flat ironed, pulled, yanked, burned. a few times these well intentioned but unskilled hair conquerors would get huge round brushes tangled up in my hair.

      also, Johnson & Johnsons No More Tangles conditioner was a FUCKING LIE.

      ::hugs Joy::

      • ::hugs Gab::

        incidentally.. I just typed that so fast that I smushed a gnat on my colon button. Why is there gnats in the office in the first place? Why don’t ppl eat the damn banana that they brought to work 3 days ago? Weirdly, I feel like “colon button” could also be an anatomical part.

        Maybe I’ll stop drinking coffee now. I just wanted to say HUG! ;)

  16. *swoon* I love ladies with short curly hair or long curly hair ..or medium curly hair. *swoon* I love ladies.

  17. Y’all. Please tell me some other curly queers do no-poo. Using natural kitcheny stuff instead of buying fucking expensive mean-girl hair products has changed my life.

  18. hahahaha . . . the only article I have ever enjoyed/learnt from on any form of beauty or maintenance and of course it’s on autostraddle. What a dyke I am . . .

  19. Is it bad that I read this mainly to see pictures of cute girls with curly hair?


  20. HELP?

    the longer my hair gets the bigger the rats’ nests I have to deal with after I have sex.

    at this rate I will be bald by Thanksgiving.

    Any secrets?

    • Keeping it properly conditioned/moisturized will help. I used to have 2ft+ of hair and once it’s past shoulder length, maintenance is a bitch. Olive oil or coconut oil are good to help lock in moisture to keep the ends strong, or if you can afford them, fancier deep conditioners. I like to just dump olive oil on my head, make sure it’s well distributed, and wrap my head in saran wrap while I watch a movie or something. You can just use conditioner to get it out and not worry about stripping your hair. And if you don’t already, co-washing (washing with just conditioner, and no shampoo) is like magic. Regular trims will also help and prevent split ends.

      When you’re combing out the tangles themselves, don’t try and comb through them, that only tears and pulls your hair out. Start below them, slowly and gently loosening the tangle. Again, well conditioned hair will help make this easier. Also using a wide-toothed comb after showering is good for detangling and will minimize damage.

      Hope this helps! I had super long hair for yeeeeears and it took me forever to realize what to do with it.

      • Oh man. I haven’t used a hairbrush or shampoo in yeeeears.

        I guess it’s time to step up to the curly girl big leagues with the fancy oil treatments or stop complaining. Or stop having sex. Ha.


  21. My hair is so much healthier now that I finally just accepted the…well, more wave than curl. I pretty much fried it to hell with the hair straightener. Guess there’s no part of me that wants to be straight, haha.

  22. I thought I had straight hair. And then I cut it short. And then I discovered the giant cowlick right in the front that leads to waves that look incredibly fake and curls that people assume I spend hours perfecting every morning.

  23. I cut my hair short in third grade, and it’s been short ever since. Recently I got a shaved undercut, and I love it

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