For approximately twenty-five years, I believed I had straight hair, even though I have wavy hair. How did this happen?
It all started when I was a kid. Back then, I really did have straight hair (you can see it in photos). And my mom never cut it, so it was long. Down-past-my-butt long. My mom beamed when talking about her daughter’s beautiful, long, thick, straight hair. Other people complimented it a lot, too.
When I became a teenager I cut it and started getting perms, like you do in the 80s. That lasted off and on until my twenties. I liked perms even after I stopped liking 80’s “big hair” because perms gave my lifeless hair some texture and seemed to make it easier to “fix.” (Fixing it was important to me back then.)
So I don’t know exactly when my hair started getting a wave in it.
I do know that when my hair got a wave in it, I continued to believe it was straight and to say it was straight.
There were plenty of clues to the contrary. Like the stubborn wave in it that caused me to need to straighten it if I wanted it straight. But I had some weird justifications for that. First, the wave was a big wave, not a small one. I think I thought of wavy hair as containing cute, small waves that repeated and looked nice when you left them alone, not as containing one or two annoying big waves that just served to make your hair look messy.
Secondly, I’d sometimes say my hair was bendy like fishing line. It wasn’t that it had a wave in it. It was that I had leaned on it funny, or something, and it had bent, and it was wont to retain such a bend more readily than other people’s hair.
I think, in some strange way, I identified as a person with straight hair, because I’d once had straight hair and to some extent was rewarded for having straight hair. Andy Worhol once said something about the trap of “self-imitation.” He was talking about art. But maybe there was something similar at work.
Anyway, I was at my hairdresser only sometime in the past few years and I mentioned something about my straight hair.
“Oh honey,” he said. “Your hair isn’t straight. It’s wavy.”
I asked if he was sure. I mentioned that it was bendy like fishing line. He rolled his eyes.
“Your hair is wavy, my dear,” he said.
“It’s quite wavy.”
Then I realized he was right. The damn hair was wavy. That’s why it was hard to fix. That’s why it retained a bend. That’s why it looked wavy.
Good lord. Why had I been spending decades telling myself that it was straight?
It’s instructive to face that I went so long believing something untrue, that I sincerely held a belief that needed correcting. It helps explain why other people think things that are untrue in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.
As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, a lot of people think that people like my ex (straight, late-onset, masculine, geeky) are “faking it.” He’s not. He thinks he’s a woman (though he clearly crashes against some cognitive dissonance once in a while as evidenced by some of the things he says). He also thinks other people can tell he’s a woman. This isn’t even a belief that he passes, but a belief that the woman-magic is seeping out of him in a recognizable way. He also believes I’ve called him names I’ve never uttered in my life. He’s also more or less heard voices.
I have examples. But you’ll have to wait for the book. (Soon.)
Honestly, it’s been one of the hardest things about it all. If he was just a dick (I mean he’s that too, now, but), it would be easier to write off the whole experience as me accidentally getting involved with a dick. Instead, a person who was once kind and thoughtful and seemed to be facing reality has drilled so far into a bizarre inner world that he’s lost his personality, his grip on reality, and his connection to some of the friends and family who have shown him the most love.
My straight hair delusion was an easy-ish one to fix, all things considered. Not like being forced to update your beliefs on the existence of God or the fact that what your friend did that one time when you were asleep was assault. (I’ve had to do both of those.)
And yet, I went for a remarkably long time not seeing something obvious and benign and objective about myself that was right in front of my face (literally, sometimes).
What if I had insisted everyone see my hair as straight? What if I’d gotten mad at my hairdresser for his hair-phobic views? What if I’d said it was all of dire importance to me? Would people have stopped seeing the wave in my hair?
Identity is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. My ex once said to me, “I identify as a woman, same as you.”
But I didn’t identify as a woman, and I said so. That’s not to say that I identified as something else, but that I did not identify at all when it comes to gender–it all seemed like a set of made-up stereotypes that I found irrelevant. Might as well ask me which Harry Potter character I’m most like when I don’t read fantasy novels. Yes, I’m watching the shitstorm that can occur when one woman even alludes in a tolerant way to another woman’s belief that “sex is real” (even though that’s not why I chose that example; It’s one I’ve used before).
“Sex is real.” That’s what’s been named as the most hateful and criminally intolerable claim of our times. Not the spewing of “you cunt” and “suck my dick” and “die” that has been hurled in return, but the relatively boring “sex is real.” That’s how far things can go when people are committed to believing things that are untrue.
Anyway, I didn’t know what identifying as a woman was like, much to my ex’s ire and to his certainty that I was in some way lying to invalidate him.
I also don’t identify as a white person. Again, not because I’m something else, but because that would be weird. People can see my white face and they’re going to behave accordingly. They don’t need my commentary one way or the other.
If I were going to bother to identify as something, I’d identify as an artist. But I don’t, because I haven’t done any art in a while, and because I know that other people are only going to identify me as an artist if they see me make art, and further, if they like that art well enough that they feel it has some cred. I don’t get why I’d try to coerce their view, outside of just trying to make some good art and show it to them and hope they adopt the view on their own.
That’s what identifying is all about, isn’t it? Making a claim to something that isn’t obvious, is perhaps even counterfactual. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to identify. People would just know.
That’s the problem, for me. Coercing others’ views on things they’re not inclined to believe, or worse, getting them to pretend to agree, is squarely on the dishonesty spectrum. And if there’s anything I’ve come to learn about myself over the last few years it’s that I hate being dishonest.
I only ever do it under duress, like telling a hiring manager that I’m excited about the project when maybe I just need to pay the bills and feed myself. Someday I’d like to shed even the little white lies required of me by capitalism and other compelled social arrangements. Why not? What’s so scary about a world in which people tell the truth? I personally think it would revolutionize everyone’s bravery, compassion and ability to make a difference in the world. It’s my little utopian fantasy.
I have no interest in identifying as anything. I have no interest in coercing anyone’s thoughts or language. I’m interested only in interacting with people as free agents, who are free to voluntarily accept, reject, or question whatever I throw out there. Otherwise, why not check out of real life and surround myself with agreeable bots on social media?
Actually, that seems to be more or less what a lot of people are doing.
I’m going to stick with honesty as best as I can.
If someone comes along and tells me my hair is wavy, maybe they’re right. Maybe I have something to learn from them.
Is my hair wavy? Is yours? Why can’t we have those conversations? I’m not afraid.