E needed a haircut. This is another dicey little part of life with a gender expansive kid: the hair. When she was younger, I took her to my amazing hairdresser for haircuts. But E really didn’t want to go to this very feminine, beautiful salon. So I drew upon my years-dormant skills of cutting hair. When I was in college, I made a few bucks cutting boys hair in my dorm. I had no idea what I was doing, but I seemed to make it work out.
For the past few years, I’ve cut her hair. Her hairstyle has been short for a while, but kind of moppy – layers and “flow” as she would say, with a flick of her head. Her hair is beautiful, thick and dark honey colored. I always loved the haircuts – we would set up shop and I would wrap her little neck with a plastic cape that came with my hair cutting kit. I put warm water in a cup and dipped my comb in. She would tell me stories, or direct me on what to do or wiggle around as she got itchy. I got to get my hands in that hair and play with it. We always had fun and she always loved the results.
But she found a picture of a haircut she wanted. A real, short boys haircut. Very short along the sides and back, longer on top. This haircut required products and a level of expertise that I didn’t have. She was very excited about it. She gets her lack of patience from me – she wanted it yesterday.
We looked at the calendar. When could this haircut happen? E has a very full calendar so that conversation ended with a lot of maybes and perhaps daddy could get home early one night to take you or it could wait until the weekend. I was stalling. She huffed off to school, dissatisfied.
That day she rushed in after school. She reported that she had hardly any homework and could we please please please go right now?
This was one of those pull up your bootstraps moments for me. I did not want to take E to a barber shop and watch them cut off her hair. I was dreading the whole experience. But I knew what was right. I knew it was right to let her get the haircut she wanted.
Off we went to a new barbershop in town. We walked in and cautiously sat down. The owner told us that it would be a short wait until the scheduled appointments were over. Then it would be E’s turn. She was super excited. I was super anxious.
I was sure of one thing: she wanted to “pass” as a boy in this barbershop. She wanted this experience to be as a boy. I didn’t think that I could talk to the barber without blowing this for her. I thought about how I could talk to the barber and not have “she” or “her” come out of my mouth. I didn’t want them to make her haircut somehow girly because of me. I didn’t want to mess up her experience. I didn’t trust myself. The pit in my stomach grew.
I asked her, do you want me to show the barber the picture of the haircut, or do you?
I’ll do it, she said.
I’ve always encouraged my kids to talk to adults on their own – order their own food at a restaurant, ask the salesperson where the toy department is. I’ve never been happier that this philosophy was paying off at this moment.
She hopped up on the chair, and began a little chat with the barber. He was nice to her, asking her about her school and her teacher. He called her “buddy” as I watched the razor slide up the curve of her neck, her head. Her hair fell to the ground and she looked so small and tender.
I sat there transfixed like a fool. I didn’t say a word. No direction given as my young child got a drastic haircut. I flipped through ESPN Magazine not seeing a word on the page. I was ingesting this transformation of my child with a mixture of pride and loss. And all the while I was thinking: please, please no one walk we know walk in here. Just let her have this.
When he spun the chair around so she could see him spike up the front with some gel, she pushed herself up so she could see better. She was smiling from ear to ear.
When the final piece of hair was perfectly placed, she ran over to me. I still didn’t move. I gave her the money to pay and tip. She did it all herself, no help or hindrance from me.
As we walked out, I ran my hand up the back of her head, so soft. I told her how cute she looked. She beamed. The haircut and my approval. It was exactly what she wanted.