Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I've cut my hair again. Happily (and somewhat unusually) for me, I am experiencing absolutely no post-haircut regret. In fact tonight I'm loving it and am, as a result, rather smug.
I'm also thinking again about what is going on underneath all this compulsive haircutting. I seem to be trimming and pruning almost weekly, my hairdo creeping shorter and shorter, its style wavering about, curling and creeping behind my ears, seeking its shape. With each snip of my scissors, I feel like I'm desperately trying to match how I look on the outside with how I feel on the inside.
My appearance has always been massively significant in my world. I have hidden behind femininity and then I have slung it out in fury. I have utilised its powers and I have been crippled by its limitations. I have blundered around confused as to what this thing called womanhood even is. My clothes and hair have always played a vital part in that, from a childhood of boys' clothes and loathsome haircuts to long hair and a precocious, feminine sexuality at thirteen, when I was a loner indie-kid in my uniform of biker boots, black eyeliner and short skirts. By 15, I was a raver, popping pills and returning happily to baggy trainers and jeans and sexless Mambo T-shirts.
I don't think I really felt remotely female until my early twenties. I think I could pretend like I was one, and there was some sort of inkling in that direction, but on the inside, it just didn't match up. I would scour the magazines for pretty girls who felt like a different species from me.
Also, I realise I can also actually recount the entire last ten years purely in terms of what shade of colour I was obsessed with at the time. At 23, I discovered Buddhism, festivals, hippies, meditation, chakras and Reiki. I moved to Brighton where the sun always seemed to be shining and felt like I had escaped from a lifeless, colourless, dowdy, grey cell. During this period I became obsessed with turquoise, silver and baby pink. I painted my entire bedroom bright turquoise and hung glitter balls from every part of the ceiling that reflected the sunlight a thousand times over. I made a large silvery glitterball shrine devoted to Vajrasattva, the Buddha of purification. He was my discoball Buddha. I wore little baby pink jumpers and sparkly blue dresses and I painted my nails silver. Sounds foul, I know, but I still think it was kind of kookily cool. I revelled in cosmic-girly chic, young and vibrant and a world away from how I'd felt for the previous 7 years, which was old; old and grey as the fucking mountains.
Then I started to get a bit of a feeling for some inner sexual power and my real passions and desires. I got into Mary Magdalene and Rilke and Patti Smith and became obsessed with dark purple. My bedroom became a dimly lit shrine with an abundance of Evolution shop netting, Edward Munch pictures and dyed blue roses. My next room was similar, but this time with little sculpture shrines of broken glass around it, a Garcia Lorca poem handwritten around the top of its walls and a huge purple swirling vortex I'd painted on one wall, six feet high. Then I broke up with my boyfriend and painted over the whole goddamn room in coconut and duck egg blue; light, grounded and non-intense colours. I got rid of the broken glass and the Lorca poem with the painful relationship. I was done with intensity.
When I moved into my present flat, the decor and all my clothes went green, right down to my purse. I became a lady, with a wide brimmed hat and a flat full of birdcages and spotty scarves and flowery teacups. I wore polka-dot flamenco skirts and neckties and my boobs even grew, so for the first time in my life I had a cleavage to show off. I liked my new life as a lady. It was kitsch and camp and over-the-top feminine. It suited my newfound curves and womanly figure. I dressed up in frills for festivals with my friend and we sold chocolate energy balls and gave out free spankings to the highest bidder.
I have a certain fondness for retro chic. The Twenties, Thirties, Forties, Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, I love them all (though I'm still not sure about the Eighties). I find it hard being a modern girl. And at present, I am finding it hard being a girl at all. I have largely eschewed the frocks and skirts, the busty tops. My flat is still a haven for birdcages, Venetian masks and flowery teacups, but the flamenco dresses are firmly at the back of the clothes rail. I've taken to wearing more boyish clothes, comfy jeans, shirts, caps, jackets and sometimes, even ties. I feel stronger somehow in these clothes, and less in need of something, even if I'm not sure what that something is. And I have cut my hair off for the first time in my life.
During a lot of this year, I felt like I just wanted to look and feel boyish. I felt constrained by my hips and my curves as much as I felt constrained by my still insistently alive desire for affirmation from men. I wanted to be free from all of it, perhaps a skinny, boob-less boy-girl. Perhaps I wanted to be free from gender altogether, from sexuality, so I didn't have to work out what it all meant and why it was felt complex. On the one hand I began to renew my interest in gender politics and on the other, I was falling for poetic images in Christianity and saints such as St Francis of Assisi.
Although to some people it may seem like a deep contradiction, to me it feels like maybe it was no coincidence that, as I started going to local Queer events where cross-dressing, sexual ambiguity and androgyny are the norm, I also began going to church and following the trail of saints such as St Clare, who defied religious convention by sneaking out of church down a secret passageway to join St Francis and others in a new, radical way of life, as she experienced a holy conversion. In the dark of that night they helped her cut off all her beautiful hair.
There are now days when I wake up and I want to look feminine and definably a woman. It feels good. So when I stood in front of my bathroom mirror tonight inspecting my new self-administered haircut, I suddenly realised why I liked it so much. There was, at last, the start of a synthesis. It was that same synthesis I've been seeking inside myself these last months.
It is a synthesis of different sides of myself, where one does not have to reject the other for its own survival. Where I can feel masculine and feminine, boy and girl, woman and man and all the shades in between; where those words mean everything and mean nothing at the same time. Where my desire is my own, and not something reflected back to me through the half-light of another's desire for me. Where my sexuality is not what my identity hinges on, and men (and women) do not hold the keys to my self-worth. Where I am hard and soft, potent and yielding, receptive and active. It's a place of the hunter and the hunted, the chaser and the chased (chaste), the doer and the doing, the done; the giver, the taker and the giving itself.
When I strip back the layers of conditioning, take off the years of habitual behaviour, the naked sight underneath is a disconcerting one.
The lady and her polka-dot skirts have left the building. There's a strange boy in her place, with very feminine charms and a gentle touch. She is soft as ever, but with a wilful eye. She is the figure in a photo, me at ten years old, pale blue jumper, jeans and Clarks brown shoes.
Last year my mother suffered a massive stroke that left her brain-damaged and unable to speak, eat or move. The strange thing is that I now find that I have almost the same haircut as when I was ten; just as my mother weaves her slow and painful way out of this world. I cut my first fringe earlier this year as she lay looking the other way, out of the window, in a half-trance. Her words, spoken to me regularly from the age of thirteen, have lain dormant in my mind until tonight, yet they were words that always kept me away from the scissors ...Don't ever cut your hair, never cut a fringe, always keep your hair long; such beautiful hair...
Whatever it is I've lost in that beautiful hair as I chop and I snip, is worth it for what I gain, simply from its absence. It's been a lifetime of seeking myself, losing myself, creating identities and shedding skins. The clock ticks, the sea of life surges on, personality unravels to reveal itself in more brilliant colours than ever. The final bed is made; the sheet turned over. The mirror reflects the light shining on it. A bird takes its final breath. I am alone. The bathroom is empty except for one reflection; a face looking back at me. It is nothing I have ever seen before.