It’s past time for a trim. I can pull out the hair on the back of my head, scissor it between my pointer and middle fingers and feel a ticklish tuft poking beyond the edge, insisting it grow and grow despite my willing it not to. It’s an itch I can’t scratch, and each run of my hands through my hair reminds me: this is not your natural state. You have to work harder for it.
The back of my neck features light fuzzy tufts that swirl into cowlicks, a layer that spreads down and across until it feels like I’ll be furry all over, like the side brush will connect to the hair on my arms and become one continuous layer. As the boys used to tell me at recess, I know deep down I am a gorilla, just a few follicles away from not being human.
Spiky shards of forgotten locks fall just over the tops of my ears, sideburns inching downward, and all I can think is: messy, is: dirty, is: bad. There’s no longer hair to hide these parts or distract from their idiosyncrasies, so I have to be vigilant these days. I have to learn to keep up with myself, if I want to be this person I’m choosing.
I’m not messy or dirty or bad when I’m overgrown, but I swear I can feel it like a curse. A layer of hair I can’t remove is akin to the sand you can’t get off your feet after the beach, the patch of sunscreen that never seems to wash away and leaves a greasy film on your skin. Despite being natural, being earthy, being grown from my own body, my hair demands to be tamed, to be formed into something worthy of being visible.
Exposure—of my ears, of my neck, of the sides of my head—breeds boldness, but also, deep scrutiny. The line between good hair and too-long-hair is so thin, so easily crossed. The line between making it and not, between they and she, between ease and uncertainty, is carved with the light touch of blade to skin.
This morning, the intimate carving out of myself from myself is witnessed by my in-laws. My wife borrows the same clippers her mom uses to trim her dad’s hair and I think: real, think: male, think: possible. It’s more heavy-duty than our Target trimmers at home; my wife comments on the vibrations reverberating through her hand as she skillfully attends to each hair, each curl, each line we drew together a year ago when we forged this new look together, with some assistance from YouTube.
Everyone watches intently, with some mixture of wonder and amusement. They’ve never seen their daughter in this role, probably never expected they would. This delights them. I delight in them watching my becoming. The three circle to my left side, each parent throwing out the occasional comment: “a little more there,” “that side looks good,” “I’d press a little harder.” There is a certain technique, and we’re learning it. But my wife also brings the gift of experience, having learned the shape of my head, the places where the hair grows in another direction, the beauty marks that appear as you get closer to the skin.
The neck is the place I’m most eager to make smooth, to make clean, to make hairless. Usually we just use the clippers, but these won’t cut to the source, leaving stubbly fuzz in its wake. My father-in-law knows what works for him; without hesitation, he goes into the house for shaving cream and a razor. “You have to shave it, use a blade to get close enough.” This makes my wife nervous. It makes me soar.
He carefully guides my wife’s hands on my skin, rubbing the cool, foamy cream right below my hairline. I breathe in the smell and think: boy, and think: real, and think: right. My wife drags the razor gently across, calls this the “barbershop treatment” and my father-in-law laughs. Finding her work sufficient, he goes back into the house to soak a towel in warm water, and returns to gently swipe it across my newly-shaved expanse.
I could cry at the simplicity, the earnestness, the genuine interest they take in helping me mold myself into this person. I feel let in on a ritual between fathers and sons, without having to ask, without having to justify my boyness. These shaving lessons are a path to expansiveness, I discover, and come without the shame of my youth, when I used to make my body hairless for other reasons. This is not a reaction to some jerks on the playground; I am not on a quest to be pretty. With this swipe of the razor, I feel liberated, rather than further tethered to some messed up idea of my beauty.
Later, at lunch, an aside over cheese and crackers piled high on our plates: “It’s so nice to be eating with a freshly shorn Ashley.” I bite into my cheddar and think yes, it is—so nice to be here, to be this.
Ashley Trebisacci (she/they) is a writer and study abroad advisor based in the Boston area. When she’s not meditating on her queer haircut, she’s likely drinking tea, devouring baked goods, and following women’s gymnastics. Find them on Twitter at @ishmish17.