On having an insecurity that is not tied to oppression
I find that in most of the anti-oppression communities I am a part of or in solidarity with we have this idea that if the particular oppression we are focusing on would go away, no one would be insecure about that aspect of themselves. To follow this theory to its logical conclusion, we figure that if all oppression were gone, so would insecurity go. Well, that’s not exactly true. In fact, I come from a place of such extreme privilege that I’m relatively certain that not one of my major insecurities is rooted in oppression.
The topic of this post is my hair.
If you look through the pictures of me that I have posted on this blog, you will see a variety of hair colors. You will notice that the only pictures that have brown hair in them are in posts about my history. All of those pictures were taken before about March 2008. I have been changing my hair color every month or so for the past three years, and I can’t imagine stopping.
As a white person with relatively straight, easily manageable, soft hair, I have been told my whole life that my hair is the best type of hair to have. Sure, the real ideal is blonde, but that never really affected me as far as I could tell. Still, somehow I have a mental block on having naturally-colored hair. Frankly, even the white is a little too close to natural for me; it’s always a relief to dye it something bright and eye-catching again. I think that a lot of the insecurity for me comes from feeling that I am not, in my natural state, particularly noticeable.
And the weird thing is that I’m not just worried that people won’t be stricken with immediate attraction to me if I don’t stand out (though that’s part of it, you can be sure), I’m scared that other people won’t stare at me for all the various reasons that they currently do—that if I don’t have something that causes me to immediately catch people’s eye, I’ll lose all the attention—good and bad—that I get right now just for being in a place. I’m afraid of losing the hostile stares too, and the confused ones, and the quizzical ones, and the ones that are accompanied by not-so-secretive discussions about my gender. I’m just an attention hog.
I also like the constantly changing hair colors. I’ve always feared change, and I used to say that my hair was a way to force myself to confront change, but I think that’s lapsed at this point. Changing my hair color isn’t scary, it’s the norm. It’s a way of maintaining the stasis, of being Enoch Riese, that one guy with the colorful hair. It’s funny because when I was younger, I was that one kid with the very long hair and the idea of cutting it off made me panic that I would have nothing for people to know me by. Hair has always been tied up in my sense of self.
Understanding the politics of other people’s hair makes me wonder if it’s possible that there’s a self-loathing element to my need to keep my hair unnatural, but because the texture and color of my hair are privileged, it’s somehow reversed. I hate to admit it, but I’ve considered that my compulsive hair dyeing is a guilt-driven response to privilege.
I don’t think that’s the case though, because I think that it’s more tied to my other feelings of un-reality and being a constructed person (I don’t know how much I’ve discussed those feelings here, but they’re a lot). Because I don’t always feel exactly like I’m real, I’m not particularly interested in giving people the impression that I am. The way I feel about having natural-looking hair when I meet someone for the first time or when I’m out in public is similar to the way I feel when those things are happening when I’m dressed casually, or, at an earlier time in my life, when I was presenting as a woman: it’s a panic that they won’t see me and interpret me as I interpret myself, and that once their impression is made, it’ll be too late for them to really know me.
Lately I’ve been thinking about growing my hair out a bit and letting it be brown again. I definitely have some friends who are trying to encourage that. They’ve tried to reassure me by reminding me that I am not a low-profile person—I still dress loudly and am highly androgynous. While I like the idea of experimenting with longer hair and seeing if I still get read as male as often as I do now (not all that often, actually), I can’t bring myself to feel ready to give up the colors just yet. I don’t think I’m ready to see what happens when people have to notice something else about me.