Until last week, I’d only trusted one woman to cut my hair. For three years, I went to her and nobody else. In Portland, I followed her when she switched salons, and when I moved to New York, I waited months between cuts until I could visit Oregon and have her shear off my four-month shag.
I found her in the spring of 2008, around the time I graduated college. I’d been going to this one salon for a while and disliking every cut, though I’d always disliked my haircuts. They were, at best, mildly tolerable, revealing a plain, unremarkable coif of boyish brown (when I hadn’t soaked it with some primary color, which, granted, happened often.)
I had been frequenting this moderately priced salon instead of the cheaper places, hoping for a hairdresser who would mystically make every strand fall into place in a way that was cute, pretty, perhaps even beautiful. I know now that I wanted some sort of bob, like the A-Line I usually request these days, but any words I might’ve used to translate that image into communication just weren’t there. I once considered asking “Can you make my hair look feminine?” but I never built up the nerve.
So on the walk to this haircut in the spring of ’08, I told myself this was the last cut at this salon, screw it, after this I would just be going to Supercuts, might as well pay less if I was always going to hate it anyway.
I was in the salon, waiting appointment-less for a hairdresser, when a woman called my name. Her voice lilted down, then up, with just the two syllables of my first name. “Ca-seyyyy?”
The cut she gave me wasn’t the bob I wasn’t able to ask for, but it was deliciously androgynous in a way I couldn’t have asked for either. It was wavy, short, absent any boyish shag or scraggle. It was the first time I looked at the shape of my hair and felt pleasure.
I tipped her some ridiculously high amount and left, and resolved to never go to any other hairdresser ever again. We always chatted pleasantly. In contrast to some of the other hairdressers I’d had at this salon—bored, flat-lipped women and hyper, overexcited men—she grinned pertly, flitting around the floor of the salon with a bounce as light as her lilting voice. She always asked if I had a girlfriend. I wore a dress for a couple of cuts that year, and she didn’t blink. I loved every haircut and I began to love her.
A year after my first blissful visit, I was there for a routine cut when she cheerfully asked, “So are you transitioning?”
A stutter gurgled and died in my throat. I’d never even hinted at the subject before. Eventually I said, “Well, I’m thinking about it.”
“Okay,” she said, not stopping the snip-snip of my hair, “because I’ve done that.”
When I went to trans support groups in Portland, I was looking for people as confused as I was about transitioning—I still had zero idea how to deal with this inconvenient and annoying tendency to want to be a girl all the goddamn time—but when I went, I couldn’t connect with anyone.
This was always my problem with even the most well-meaning and knowledgeable of groups and therapists, and I felt lonely and sad walking out of those meetings, wondering why I wasn’t clicking more with a community I should have been loving. That everybody always seemed so miserable—stories of doctors shaking their heads and refusing trans care, families latching doors in faces—skewed my outlook too. So this is how trans people live, I thought. That life kinda sounds like it blows. (Now I remember that and think, well no shit, support groups aren’t for a cheery time, dummy.)
But my sunny hairdresser, a mysterious and lovely woman, talked me through a lot of my transitioning fear. “What if the hormones change me in a way I hate?” I quivered at her once. “Well,” she said, “if you don’t like what they’re doing to you after a few months, then you just stop, you don’t have to keep taking them, it’s not the worst thing.”
She squealed when I told her I was finally starting to transition. “Oh!” she grinned, “I’m so happy for you, you’re going to be so happy and feel so much better, I just know it!”
Here in New York, I think of her and another trans friend, a woman I befriended quickly at a birthday party in my last months in Portland, a computer coder with kind, knowing eyes who also shepherded me through fears on what now seems like dozens of boozy nights, when after our sixth or eighth drink, she would ask me, gently, pointedly, “And how are you doing? With everything?” She was the first person to ever call me “she,” before I was able to ask for it myself or understand it was what I truly wanted.
Those two women pierced me down to my toes. In the last couple months, I’ve thought about them a lot. Last week, I got my first haircut from a new person in three years, and I thought about them when the receptionist said to me, “Your name, ma’am?” I thought about them when I overheard a mattress salesman—unaware I had returned to his store—say to his co-worker, “I can’t believe that guy had breasts. It’s sick.” (The Sleepy’s on 108th & Broadway, if anybody’s curious.) I thought about them when a beckoning, leering boy in a flock of males turned to his friends in shock after getting a closer look and said, “that’s a man,” or when my roommate and I went to look for an apartment and a man leans out the window and called, “Fucking faggots.” It’s moments like these when I miss those two women in a way I’ve never missed any friend, family, or lover.
In a way, I’m too picky, I’m not willing to risk the disappointment of support groups again or go to community events or the like—though both my current therapist and my doctor urge me to do so and there’d be little downside in going. I’m still waiting to meet another lilted-voice hairdresser or coder with kind eyes who could see me like they did. I think about how much I needed them, too, in the most undramatic moments, like when I’m at the bank, requesting a new debit card without a “Mr.” imprinted before my name, watching a girl in a black plaid coat and gorgeously curly hair make a deposit, thinking Ah! Shit still, willing my breasts to start poking out further, listening to my banker talk to a supervisor on the phone, referring to me as “they.” The girl in the plaid coat turns and strides out of sight, and the banker and I finish, and I pick up my bag and walk out, the black strap of my shoulder bag nestled across the middle of my swelling chest.