Why do we rely so deeply on the binary? How did it become the central topic of the past decade? Where have we allowed room to challenge what we understand about it? And why are my parents approval for the rightful Jewish dynasty of binary nothingness lingering through my own visibility? Truthfully, it all stems from my own humbling experience, a direct relation between the world’s approval and a singular part of my body that dares to define me: my hair.
The relationship I’ve had with my hair over the years has been taxing, needless to say. I’ve morphed into many versions of what I’ve been given (an embarrassing mushroom cut at an early age) and what transformations its allowed me (my abrasive middle school 80s rocker-type length). And through them all, I’ve never really given myself a break; it always seems to be a repetitive plunge into a stolen identity. Attempting to blend pop culture fascination with my own vision of what masculinity should look like. I’ve attempted writing about my hair countless times. Through high school prompts to college applications, I can’t seem to pinpoint what it is about my hair that seems impossible to deal with, so I must consider my history.
My family’s mixed Jewish roots are where my everlasting flocks of hair truly come from. My mother’s Ashkenazi side has had hair growth consistency like no other genealogy. My grandmother, now in her late eighties, is still turning out hair daily, and my uncle, pushing late sixties, still has his thick, loud mustache which has barely suffered from traditional male hair loss. Considering my father’s Sephardic background, it only proves that body hair is impossible to escape. Once he removes his shirt at swimming pools, it is quite obvious to understand that my rapid teenage spike of body hair came from the land of Morocco.
I find my own body hair repulsive; the twirling pieces that dangle off my chest, the uneven plucks circling my chin. These male aspects have fueled my confusion of who I see myself as.
A little over three years ago, I lost my hair from cancer, specifically Ewing’s Sarcoma. As damaging and frightening as that entire period proved to be, it strangely made me feel the way I wanted to, which was a hairless non-binary person. This secret happiness, that was born of my own desperation, could never be spoken out loud; my mother would not believe how losing a part of myself from a deadly illness could bring me any peace. I could never explain why, and it was evident. Beyond being disgraceful, anything but what I was meant to be, in her eyes, would be taboo. But where my family’s history and identity cross is at the core of my teenage realization. Jewishness forced a legacy on me by virtue of genetics. And losing it from an awful illness made me come to terms with who I planned to be going forward. I pushed away from my ethnicity for so long; having it taken away by something as simple as hair was a shocking moment. With all these colliding realizations, I had to accept that where my ethnicity began and gender ended were beginning to intersect, and that meant seriously facing my own demons.
After my illness had passed and I became a whole human again, my hair was rapidly returning, except much thinner. Repulsed by my past self, I took on a strange task. I began intentionally letting my head hair spread and elongate in order to emulate the feminine experience. After a six month experimental failure, my hair was shaven back down to its traditional masculine form. When the barber finished, my mother said, with pure intentions, “You look like your best self again.” I never felt more misunderstood in my entire life.
This is where my real identity began to surface. I began to seek retribution in other avenues like wearing furry purple coats and intentionally purchasing women’s pants at Gap. My queer notions began to take charge, and my gender once again began its spiral out of normalcy. Without being pigeonholed by trying to redefine my appearance with only my hair, I realized there were other ways I could express myself. And by letting go of these uncertain, complex notions I stamped onto myself about hair, I decided I must take control of my narrative.
I know that my hair will still be there as long as I allow it to be, thin or thick. But the journey of acceptance, of self-love, and of reincarnation of my soul through a determined feminine experience will allow me to face the demons head on and place myself at the center of attention. My hair may be forever lost in some spiral of redefining, but it’s in searching for something holier than its visibility — a place to call home.
Illustration by Sendra Uebele