by Dannielle Owens-Reid, co-founder of The Parents Project
In August of last year I decided to grow my hair out to what I like to call “lady length.” I told everyone it was because I’d wanted to for a while, but in the past, once it hit an awkward length I’d always give up and cut it again. This time, I was going to stick with it! Plus, it didn’t hurt that the girl I was halfway dating thought I looked pretty with long hair. And I wanted to wear more hats because I love the way hats look with long hair. Annnnd it’s easier to work out if I can just put my hair in a ponytail and call it a day. These are all the excuses I gave everyone (and myself, to some extent).
If you want to know the truth, I was tired of being called ‘sir’ at the airport. Every time I hit that TSA checkpoint someone calls me sir. There was a specific time at LaGuardia in New York where I had to go through the weird body-scan-radiation-machine twice because the gender they chose was ‘male.’ Since I was wearing a bra, the little screen had a red box right around my chest which obviously confused the person in charge of the machine. Eventually, another TSA employee said, “I think he’s a girl” and then winked at me. As if we were all in on a joke. As if saying “he’s a girl” is funny or comforting or cute in some way.
We were not in on a joke. At all.
I fly a lot for work, and feeling uncomfortable and on the verge of tears at least once per month is not an ideal situation.
This is why I decided, last August, to grow out my hair. I told everyone on earth that I liked it because the fact of the matter is, I liked that people weren’t confused about my gender. I liked that I could dress in clothes from the men’s section without being referred to as a man. I don’t know why this gender-confusion bothers me so much, but it does. It bothers me so much that I gave up having a haircut that actually feels more ‘me,’ because I wanted my outward appearance to let people know they should call me “ma’am” instead of “sir.”
I already spend countless hours feeling completely uncomfortable in clothing stores because I think women’s clothes look stupid on me, and men’s clothes never fit me. I feel just as uncomfortable in heels and a dress as I do in a men’s suit. I’ve managed to find a few things that sort of fit me the way I want, but how am I even supposed to figure out what I want? There are so few options for anyone who wants to dress in something that is not one of those two extremes. You have to choose between MEN and WOMEN, that’s it. Those are the options. You can wear lace or you can wear a jersey.
So, there I was. And, here I am.
A few weeks ago I chopped all of my hair off again.
I’m still at a weird juncture with my appearance nearly every day because I don’t feel right in any of the clothes I can buy in stores or online, and because while I don’t want my appearance to match “ma’am,” I also don’t want to be referred to as “sir.” The length of my hair is a part of that confusion – and I am at a loss, even living in Los Angeles in 2014. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone in a similar situation who didn’t have even the few options that we do today.
There’s a cashier at Trader Joe’s who always calls me “buddy.” I’m 90% sure it’s because he has no clue what my gender is, and I really like that he doesn’t try to figure out whether my gender matches my face or my clothes. He’s just like “Hey, here’s a person I like. ‘What’s up, buddy?’”
I really, really appreciate that
I wrote this thing.