My Natural Hair Affirms My Gender Identity

Going natural allowed me to embrace being a nonbinary woman.
DanielleMoniqueDanielleMonique
Jun. 2
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Cherie is an online community of beauty lovers sharing their stories; whether that's their favorite products, makeup tutorials, or skincare routines. Download the app today to be a part of #BeautyWithoutBarriers and show the world what beauty means to you!Black hair is inherently a controversial subject. People of every race and gender have come forward with an opinion on how it should be worn in schools, at sporting events, in the workplace, and more. In women, length, loose curls or straight hair, and thickness are praised. These standards have created a lot of internalized misogynoir within the natural hair community. Pushing past this encouraged stigma has led me to embrace the many ways in which Black people are able to express their gender—especially through the versatility of our hair. For the first few years, mine was just a little tuft. For the next eleven years, it was brittle and split. I had been getting permanent relaxers since I was four years old. They kept my hair straight and “manageable.” For my working, single mother, this was ideal. However, I didn’t care what my hair looked like. I was a rough, silly tomboy. I loved dresses (mostly because they freed my legs to run), but I wasn’t ashamed of getting them dirty. No matter how many nights I’d spend squeezed between my mother’s thighs with her slathering Just for Me on my little head, my natural hair would grow out fast behind it within just a few weeks. I’d require another box of product very soon. After bumping up to the adult-grade perms⁠, we found that⁠—albeit stronger and longer-lasting⁠—they caused chemical burns if you weren’t careful.
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I was around two or three years old here. My family gathered in my grandma’s yard, where I’d continue to scrape my knees for years afterwardAs I grew up, I grew tired of the breakage and weakness of my hair, but I was mostly tired of conforming. So much of my value as a young Black woman was tied to the way my hair looked. It was compliant but not pretty. It was bone straight but not long like this celebrity’s or slick like that model’s. I wore my earliest weave at eight. No one asked what I wanted my hair to look like, but I’d get frequent comments from family members and peers about what I could do to “fix it”. Sometime around my sixteenth birthday, I walked into a salon and asked for a trim. I was planning to begin a slow transition into my natural hair. The hairdresser tugged at my ends a bit and said, “you know, it’s very damaged. You could just do the big chop today and start all over right now.” At first, I said, “no, just a trim.” But after a little thought, I figured I had nothing to lose or to prove to anyone else. I cut it all off. Of course, the comments didn’t stop. My mother balked but then urged me to wear huge hoop earrings, so it was clear that I was a “young lady.” One of my aunts told me that I “looked like a little boy” and I should be ashamed. Despite my growing chest, I was often mistaken for a young boy for at least three months. Within that short time frame, however, the gender ambiguity was somewhat liberating. I felt lighter in a way. Older studs winked at me in encouragement. People backed off from advice about how to style my hair because they didn’t know anyone else with natural hair. The short length helped me at that age⁠—to realize there was no one way of being a woman. Today, if I want to present masc, I’ll wash-and-go, leaving my 4C hair short. If I want to look more femme, I’ll do an overnight, two-strand twist and leave long curls out for a while. If I feel ambiguous, I’ll wear a bandana, a wrap, or leave my twists in for a few days. I appreciate my hair and its fluidity. This month, I celebrate my 24th birthday. My experience with my hair (combined with hirsutism as a result of PCOS, my height, and other “unladylike” attributes) allows me to embrace my identity as a nonbinary woman. I do not have to conform to anyone’s standards of womanhood. I know that I am one, regardless, and I know that Black women are judged much more harshly about how they choose to present. Along with every Black woman ever, Caster Semenya is a glaring example of this, and I still seethe at her mistreatment. The nonbinary part of my womanhood is simply a self-reminder to put down the constructs passed down to me by family and handed over to me by my peers. These constructs are not mine. They’re racist, patriarchal, and belong to a system long overdue for a rehaul. In fact, lately, I’ve been feeling like my hair is getting a little too long to keep the ambiguity I much appreciate. Maybe it’s time for another big chop.
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Danielle's Website: https://wstpch.com/
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