Hair

Hair

she was a stranger

who felt no compunction 

in reaching out to touch my hair

I must have been in my mid-twenties

at the time

my hair was freshly washed

shoulder length

‘it’s like baby hair,’ she said

I was a natural blond

even blonder 

after a month of summer sun

‘I would kill to have like yours’

she smiled 

‘thanks’ I replied

not adding

that I hate my hair

I hate it being so smooth

hate being asked

are you a boy or are you girl

being called fruit

by guys because of my hair

not that I was mr masculine

to begin with

 

shortly after that

I dyed my hair for the first time

I wanted a change

I bought a home kit

to make it permanent jet black

the look was striking

my mother said

‘what were you thinking’

I went to work

raised a few eye brows 

but no comments

the black faded after the first wash

so much for permanent

in a week it was ash

in three weeks

back to baby fine blond

 

my hair

was like my sexuality

something I couldn’t disguise

no matter what women

I flirted with

what I tried to call it

what I drank to blot it out

it would always be

I had to live with the envy

some felt about that hair

about something I was powerless over

something I hadn’t constructed

something I learned to live with

 

I remember my first perm

a head of tight blond curls

they bounced in the light

it was my face

but a different me

the stylist conferred with a colourist

both agreed

that my hair was too fine 

to hold colour for long

that it would be a shame

to tamper with it anyway

 

the permanent curls

would flatten within a week

I wasn’t willing 

to go to bed with hairpins in

to look like my mother

so I’d get that perm 

every month or so

I loved my hair for the first week

then a week of doing what I could

to keep the curl in

it was too much work

too much time checking in mirrors

 

I had a friend who was

what he referred to as 

a hair burner

he touched my freshly washed

uncurled hair one day

‘you have baby hair.

I have clients

who would kill to have hair like that.’

I said

‘I hate my hair.

it’s too much work.’

he said

‘do you trust me?’

 

I let him do what he wanted

it took a couple of hours

that first time

to cut it short short short

then incise it with electric razor

patterns into the hair

sometimes a maze

other times circle or triangles 

always different 

 

then he died

murdered by HIV meds

 

I shaved my head for his funeral

no one would ever touch my hair

again

This piece was directly inspired by reading posts, tweets, cultural analysis of race & hair. Black women, in particular, frequently have co-workers, friends of friends & complete strangers of all races, walk up to them to touch their hair, often without asking. It is seen as a lack of boundary respect.

This is something that happened to me more than once. Perhaps as a man it hasn’t had the same response from me. There is a cultural difference between a woman touching a strange man casually – than a man touching a woman’s hair casually. A woman’s touch isn’t threatening whereas a man’s is. Recently someone, without asking, stroked my fresh shaven head and said ‘smooth.’

Anyway this piece isn’t about sexual or racial politics but about my hair. This hair touching did happen often when I was a child, less often as a teen but until I actually started shaving my head it continued. The dialogue is actual, the hating of my hair is an exaggeration. I loved the colour but hated that it was baby fine. It was shiny but shapeless. I was hounded in high school by teachers to get my hair cut when it was getting to length I liked. Brian Jones-ish. 

I did dye my hair jet black & as the piece says, it washed out within a week, I never tried to dye it again. There was no altering it just ways of cutting it. As a big I usually had a brush cut, hight school was mod mop top; I never went for scraggly hippie long though. I was grappling with my sexuality & what masculinity meant. Though caring at all about my hair was then seen as being a more feminine attribute.

 

When I moved to Toronto one of the first things I started was getting my hair permed. I might photos of that somewhere. I would go to House of Lords to get that done. It was there the colourist said my hair would never hold colour. It would also not hold curls, unless I did extra work myself. 

The hair burner was a friend in recovery. Ed – he was also from my hometown, Sydney, Cape Breton; though we never knew each other when we were living there. I often wondered what might have happened had we met way back when. As the piece says he cut my hair super short then ‘etched’ patterns into it with an electric razor. I loved it. Our haircutting sessions were slow, mediative talks for many years, in which we became spiritually connected.

He was an early HIV diagnosis & thus one of the guinea pigs as science figured out dosages. The meds killed him, not HIV. ‘So sorry.’ Before he passed I did try another hair-burner friend in recovery but he didn’t have the patience for the cut that Ed gave me. For Ed’s funeral I shaved my head for the first time. I knew that in some religions mourners would wail, tear their clothes, even scar themselves in a display of grief. This was/is my display.

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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