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I have baby soft fine hair—lots of it. Left to its own devices, it grows lank and heavy, absent of life and bounce. Natural oils weigh it down quickly, and it looks stringy by mid-day. Cropped, it blooms with texture and shine. Cheekbones appear, and my eyes magically lift and widen.
I cut it short years ago, following the dissolution of my first long-term relationship. It represented a break with the past and a readiness to move forward on my own. My pixie cut also helped transform my self-image-- from shy to self-assured, from hippie to hip, provincial to professional.
Short hair is easier on a day to day basis, but it takes commitment. I see my hairdresser devotedly every 4-5 weeks. When I received an e-mail from our attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana letting me know we’d be filing suit with our co-plaintiffs against the state of Indiana for equal marriage rights a few days earlier than expected, I begged my stylist for an emergency appointment so I wouldn’t be shaggy at the press conference.
But I didn’t always want short hair. When I met my first girlfriend at 18 and came out, I felt a sudden and startling (to me) compulsion to make myself “pretty.” I discarded the beloved flannels, fleece, and Guatemalan ponchos—stalwarts of any 90s lesbian’s closet-- of my no-fuss high school wardrobe for more curve-conscious choices, took an interest in make-up, and started shaving my legs.
Back then, at a small Midwestern university, I observed two distinct types of lesbians: One was the sporty sapphists, an insular group free from most social conventions around dress and coiffure by virtue of jock status. They lived in Umbro shorts in the warm months and Adidas track suits the rest of the year. They wore their long hair slicked back in tight ponies. They laughed loudly in the cafeteria. They partied with abandon in the halls of our dorm. They slept only with each other.
Then there were lesbian feminist faculty and staff. They kept their hair short and spikey. They dressed from the JC Penney’s men’s section or wore campus police uniforms. They loaned me hard-to-find books published by tiny feminist collective presses and told me about drum circles they’d participated in.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of in-between. The in-between was invisible. I was the in-between.
I was no jock, and I had no interest in percussion. I didn’t have exposure to many lesbians, so I read them. I read about them. I looked for them on the fledgling internet. I devoured a book of essays I’d previously skimmed for a high school research project—Adrienne Rich’s Blood, Bread, and Poetry, in particular “Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity.” I wasn’t Jewish, but that was me—split, fractured into an array of identities I needed to define, understand, categorize, and prioritize. What was I first? A woman, a feminist, a lesbian, a student, a daughter?
And what of the identities I didn’t want to embrace but that gripped me? Missouri Synod Lutheran, conservative, sheltered, privileged, fat.
It took time and angst to find a space where I could live comfortably. It was hard to keep track of what I was rebelling against. I wore freedom rings in solidarity with the LBGT community. I kept my hair long as an act of protest against my own conjecture that I was expected to change my appearance to match my sexuality. My long hair proved I was still a woman. I refused to butch myself but didn’t allow myself to take on a femme identity either.
I wasn’t thin enough to be femme, right? Fat kept my hair long too. Fat women are regularly socially degendered. My long hair was an expression of my femaleness. It was also a place to hide. As a teenager I’d use my shoulder-length page boy like a veil when I didn’t want feelings to show.
When I lost weight in my 20s, I felt on display. My fat was gone, and now my hair was gone too. There was an onslaught of new attention, not all of it welcome. There was nowhere to hide.
So when I cut my hair short, it was like coming out of the closet again—not because it made me a more visible lesbian but because it made me a more visible human. I cut it because I wanted to share who I was with the world. I cut it to present a more professional appearance. I cut it to look older, because I wasn’t afraid to look older. I cut it to free myself up from blow drying. I cut it with intention.
It was with intention that I carved out a career that forced me to present my ideas before groups on a regular basis, something I do now with confidence even if I still can’t eat beforehand. It was with intention, and some naiveté, that I purchased two older homes and painfully remodeled them; that I battled infertility to give birth to the wonderful soul that became my daughter; that I married my wife, a woman who attracted me the first time I saw her by the way she moved through the room with intention of her own.
It was with a whole heap of intention that she and I made the decision to join the ACLU-led suit to sue Indiana to recognize our 2012 New York marriage. We did it because it’s infuriating to travel with legal documents, never knowing if our relationship will be respected in the most vulnerable moments. We did it because we’re sick of filling out forms that say Mother and Father or Wife and Husband, forms that don’t reflect a reality that acknowledges and embraces the complexities of human relationships outside of one man and one woman. We did it because it’s tiresome choking on the word “wife” in Indiana when it comes so easily when we’re in New York. We did it because we want our daughter to know her family is valid. We did it to make her proud.
We did it expecting criticism. We expected some, perhaps even loved ones, would disagree with our decision. We worried about its potential impact on our family life and even on our safety. We anticipated arguments based on the recently discredited Regnerus study on children raised by parents who have had same sex partners. We did it, and we held our breath.
And then the media coverage exploded. We were on every local newscast. My wife was quoted in an Associated Press article that got picked up by outlets across the United States. A picture of us from the press conference was on the front page of The Indianapolis Star, and that article was also picked up by papers across the country. An organization called Freedom to Marry published our wedding photo with the words “I stand with same-sex couples in Indiana fighting for the freedom to marry” on it, and it was shared over 1,300 times on Facebook.
Our friends and family poured on the love. My wife’s customers, even many of the most conservative, called to wish us luck. A coworker I barely knew stopped me in the office parking lot and shook my hand.
There were also the naysayers. An elderly neighbor was reported as saying, “I don’t care who gets married, but don’t those girls know it’s against the law?” Despite being advised not to by our attorneys, I read the online comments in some of the newspaper articles. They called me fat. They asked whether we were brides or grooms. They attacked us on our gender non-compliance, pointing out our short hair, and my wife’s black suit (Calvin Klein -- Misses, for what it’s worth).
They try to insult me by calling me what I am, as if that was the worst I could possibly be—a fat woman with short hair, a lesbian, gender non-conforming. They must think I hate myself. I don’t. I’ve never been more proud.