Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Woman's Glory

In the fascinating documentary, Good Hair, Chris Rock's teenage daughter confronts him about straightening her hair.  This question opens a  window into the wonderful world of black women and their unique relationship with hair.  In the film, Maya Angelou is interviewed and passes on this sentiment, “hair is a woman's glory.”  For me, my hair has become a constant reminder of my transition.  It doesn't matter what hair I'm thinking of, it’s all of it, from the top of my head, down my arms, and all the way to the stranglers on the tops of my toes; I can't go a day without considering my hair.  Why? 

When I began to transition a little over two years ago, I never considered that I would end up spending so much time and thousands and thousands of dollars on my hair. Whether I'm having it removed from my face and other parts of my body with heat seeking lasers and electric probes, or buying wig after wig and getting hair transplants to cover my head, it's become my burden.  In comparison to all the other potential medical procedures that I may endure as part of reconciling my gender dissonance, hair is definitely messy, yet necessary business.

This past week I passed another personal historic milestone.  In March I bought a new wig for spring.  I’ve been wearing wigs for two years now, and when you wear them six days a week, they don’t last. After a few months they loose their style, become brittle, uncomfortable, and get old.   This new one I loved from the moment I saw it online.  I was so excited, I even showed my mom the website, with the hope she’d like it too, she did.  What can I say I’m constantly seeking approval.  The wig arrived a few weeks ago, but after trying it on, it clearly needed to be styled a little to work with my features. I had a friend style a few other wigs for me earlier this year, and he did a great job, but he’s been unavailable recently.  So this week I sent a text to another friend, he’s a stylist and has been working in Portland for a number of years.  We’ve known each other for a while, but I’ve never thought about asking for his assistance, I guess I’ve been a little intimidated.

I got a quick reply and was scheduled an appointment on Thursday at noon, the very next day. That was easy. I was both excited and nervous about the pending experience, this would be my first hair appointment as a woman.  Hair salons hold a special place in women’s lives and I felt like I was about to enter hollowed ground.  I had planned my day around the occasion, even considering what would be appropriate to wear, stylish but not desperate.  The drive downtown Portland usually takes 40 minutes, unless there’s a snowstorm or heavy fog, I was in luck, just a light spring rain.  With a few minutes to spare, I found a spot less than a block from the salon in the Old Port.  I easily parked, feed the meter a handful of quarters that have been weighing down my handbag for weeks, and crossed the street.  It felt like I was just another Mainer out for a walk at lunch. 

Inside, the receptionist immediately greeted me and called over to inform my friend his client had arrived.  I barely had enough time to take off my sunglass before being ushered to his chair.  The last time I visited this salon was three years ago.  I was with an old friend and we were shopping and decided to pop in say hi. Back then I wasn’t out yet, but that very afternoon I came out to that friend.  There’s more to the story, but I think I’ve already written about it so I’ll try not to repeat myself. 

The chair was right in the middle of the salon for everyone to see, but I felt comfortable and could sit there forever.  My friend was professional and very gracious.  I was treated like any other customer.  So this was it.   The hour went by too fast. He worked like a magician and surgeon combined, and the whole time carrying on a conversation like he was doing nothing.  If the mirror could record the event, you could see me smiling from ear to ear, relishing this moment like no other.  I’ve always loved getting my hair done, even when I lived as male.  The intimate experience is full of trust and vulnerability, and it was wonderful to be a part of it again.  It was very special for me, as woman with shoulder length brown synthetic hair in need of some layers. 

In the end I paid the receptionist and thanked my friend with a hug and of course a tip.  I even got a compliment as I was leaving.  As I walked along the wet brick sidewalk towards my car, I noticed a reflection in a storefront window. I saw a woman with her head held high and it felt good.  But why, was it a genuine internal sense of satisfaction or was it my appetite for the approval of others, especially non-trans women, that gave me pleasure?  While this event was an immensely satisfying experience, I need to mindful that this path is full of landmines and my soul already has many scars.  For now, I’ll appreciate my glory, because for the first time, I see myself for whom I am.