I’ve been hungering for short hair for years, but it’s been a slow process. As a teenager, I wanted nothing but long locks, all the way down my back. I wanted ponytails on hot days and updos for fancy occasions and a thick mane cascading down when I pulled all the pins and bands and clips out at night. I wanted a curtain to hide my face behind. But, I could only grow it partway down my back before my impatience would flare and I’d hack it up to my shoulders again. The ponytails were always lumpy, the pins hurt, the long mane was more limp than luxurious.
In college, my desire for short hair coincided with coming out, and my desire to be read as a little bit queer. I thought perhaps having what my friends and I affectionately called the “dyke haircut” would cut down on people asking me if I had a boyfriend. I only managed to cut my hair to chin-length during those years, because as much as short-short hair intrigued me, I was also afraid of sticking out even more than being blind already stuck me out.
Finally, in my twenties, I was ready to commit. I liked the idea of a “pixie cut.” The stylist who cut my hair in Minneapolis wasn’t keen on this; he said that he thought my forehead was too big for a pixie cut, and that it would take more maintenance than he thought I wanted. He may have been right about the maintenance; I can’t be bothered with much more than washing and brushing, which is why my ponytails always had lumps. I don’t know about the big forehead. He said his girlfriend looked a bit like me, and he’d seen pictures of her with a pixie cut, and it was all Big Forehead. I appreciated the honesty, truly. It’s harder than you’d think to find sighted people who will tell it like it is and not worry about offending me when really, what offends me is walking around with a big forehead or a weird-fitting shirt because no one could summon the nerve to tell me. So, while I wanted the short-short hair, I also respected his reservations, and continued with my safe and short-enough bob.
When I moved to Seattle, I tried again for short-short. The stylist I consulted was concerned about short hair being at odds with my face overall. It wasn’t just my forehead this time, the angles of my face weren’t made for anything above the chin. I let it go again, because I was paying her to know best.
The last straw came a few months ago when, for several mornings in a row, a man followed me down a particular block in my neighborhood shouting, “Are you blind? Are you blind?” at my back. These encounters happened early in the morning, before most of the world was awake, before the Seattle winter daylight filtered weakly through the clouds. It was obnoxious, and frightening, and I was generally fed up with this and situations like it, where I felt my feminine looking hair made me more vulnerable. I was tired of looking blind and soft. Though I don’t think I should “have” to chop off my hair to cut down on street harassment, I wanted short hair anyway, and I knew I wasn’t likely to get it at a salon.
So, on a Friday night in early March, I stomped through my friends Arlie and Betsy’s front door and said, “Let’s cut my hair.”
Arlie calmly said we could do it over the weekend. I not calmly rejoined with, “No. Tonight. Now. If I don’t do it now, I might not ever do it.”
So, fortified with a few gulps of wine and a fizzy feeling of the unknown, we set to work in the upstairs bathroom. Rather, Arlie set to work with clippers and his camera. As the whirring blades made their first swipes at my too-long hair, I was so happy that there was, for once, no turning back.
I love my short-short hair. It gets out of the way of my bare, un-made-up face. It barely wisps the back of my neck. It sometimes sticks up a tiny bit on the top. No strange man has asked me about my boyfriend since March.
For weeks after my haircut, no one spoke to me at all on the bus. I like to think this wasn’t coincidental. Maybe it was, but regardless, it was such a lovely respite, to go about my life without being approached by people I didn’t want to talk to, most notably men who wanted to comment on my looks or my blindness. As my hair has gotten longer, the Kiva comments have come back, most notably, “what a beautiful dog”, “can I pet your dog?”, and referring to the dog while not actually acknowledging me. It’s annoying, but certainly better than being followed or asked for my phone number to give to some dude’s blind “friend.”
Again, it’s a tough speculation to swallow that hair makes a difference to catcallers and other bored people on the street. I love my short hair, but that shouldn’t matter, and yet, at least in my experience, it seems to. Long hair says femininity, vulnerability, approachability. I’m not sure what short hair says. All I know is that it leaves my face out there in the world, plain and simple, big forehead and all, no hiding. No hiding seems to suit me best.