The Long and the Short of It
Spring is blowing in and that means two things: we will be confused by what time it is for the next couple of weeks and everybody in the family has gotten haircuts. I realize that as a woman, hair is supposed to be my crowning glory. If I were the ruler of Half-AssedLandia where “otium in aeternum” (idleness forever) is emblazoned on the royal crest, this would be true.
When a friend suggested we get a family portrait, my husband wryly remarked that the caption would read “Remember that time we got deloused?” He was referring to the fact that we all had nearly identical short haircuts. The women in my family have beautiful, thick hair. Or at least most of us would if we liked to buy hair doo-dads, goop and real estate in front of the mirror. Instead, my daughter thinks personal hygiene is an affront to her humanity and I am not interested in any activity that involves looking at myself. Short haircuts rule the day.
Still, when I sent my mini-K.D. Lang off to school today, I worried. Life is starting to get a little meaner for my almost 11-year-old. She sits next to a girl on the bus who describes genitals in vivid detail. She gets told repeatedly that she’s in the wrong bathroom, because she looks like a boy. She gets into arguments when teams are split into girls and boys in gym. And now, she decided to go with a haircut that even makes me do a second take. I am ashamed of the antiquated thoughts it triggers.
I’ve written before about gender issues in regards to raising a daughter who is way cooler than I ever was. My fears are mine and it’s a constant fight not to project them onto this entirely different, mint condition human. I read a lot online about the range of issues impacting gender and I’m late in the game. Raised with a binary gender narrative, I spent a lot of my life trying to fit. As a middle-aged woman, I’ve finally gotten to the point of not giving a shit. Except, apparently, when it comes to my daughter.
These moments crop up that knock me flat. A haircut. A choice of clothing. A misplaced pronoun. In my head, I have the thoughts of an elderly, misguided aunt. She’ll get made fun of. She had such beautiful hair. She’d look so much better in a pastel color now and then. It’s embarrassing. I’m a smart person, capable of imagining a world where the human experience is complex and rich, where sexuality and gender coexist along a massive continuum, where appearance seems to have little to do with who we are as people.
I work hard to be a fair and diplomatic person. Work being the key word. It doesn’t come naturally. I think a lot of shit out in the world is pretty damned weird and that people need to get a grip. I was raised with the specter of biblical judgment hanging over my head and conservative values. I wear matching clothes, use my turn signal, try to live under the radar. I don’t drink or smoke or park in handicapped parking. I am a dreadfully uninteresting human.
Still, my brain is like this ungainly toddler reaching for every new idea and concept, hungrily taking in ideas that contradict the ideas that it took in yesterday. My old brain says “wow, that haircut really makes her look like a boy”. The elderly aunt shakes her cane and makes some remark about how boys won’t like her. My new brain says “Holy shit, look how much bigger the world is getting – all these ideas, all of these artificial boundaries evaporating – this is an exciting time to be alive.”
And it is. We humans keep trying to trap ourselves with labels and ideas about how things should look and be and yet, the human spirit continues to defy categorization. There are a lot of ugly things happening in the world right now. There is suffering and torment and inequality and loads of shame. And we’re seeing horrific backlash, as boundaries are challenged. But it all starts in our heads, with our imagination – I can imagine a world where people fully realize their potential, a potential that relies on our differences as much as our commonalities.
It’s Monday, I started writing about haircuts and ended up in a chorus of “We are the World”. I might need to cut back on the coffee.
Wishing you a week of discovery and imagination!