When I was a young child I boasted a luxurious mane of sun-kissed brown hair. Well, my mom boasted of it… and maintained it. She would sit me down in the morning and brush out my hair one hundred times, piling it into elaborate structures atop my skull to match my pretty little outfits. Then at the end of the school day she would moan in despair as I came back having splashed through every single puddle I could possibly locate on the way home (and climbed a tree or two).
Tired of dealing with what she called my “rat’s nest” after these bouts of play, she chopped it to my chin. As I grew older and had more say in my appearance the hair length continued to creep up towards my scalp with each successive style. In high school I had pretty much established the short “harry potter” cut (before the movies came out, thank you).
At that point I began working my way through the rainbow in hair dyes, piercing all my bits, using tubs of hair gel, and being a generic Hot Topic™ nuisance. Then I decided to join the Navy! Back in high school I would sometimes be mistaken for a young man, especially during the winter months. Realizing that the Navy uniforms would be even less form flattering, I decided to grow out my hair. So as the piercings came out and I attended DEP, I dyed my hair natural and grew it to my chin.
And thus I traversed my first years in the military, growing my hair out even longer. I got married, and my spouse at the time preferred long hair so I kept growing it. Near the end of our marriage I asked him if I could cut it, and he would beg me not to. I kept growing more enamored with the memory of my short hair, and so when the marriage came to an end, so did the hair.
And alllllllll those fears I had about being confused for male before I joined came true.
Here are some of the instances listed from least annoying to most:
1) Little old lady in the store asked me “Excuse me Sir, can you get that for me?” indicating an item on the top shelf behind me. As I turned to face her she immediately corrected herself “Sorry young lady!”
2) Immediately after the cut, practically every single female who knew me from before: “OH EM GEE YOU CUT YOUR HAIR WHYYYYYYYY??!?!?oneonequestionmark!”
3) An older civilian gentleman came across me as I sat on a bench outside and proceeded to ask me directions. At the end of the conversation he said “You in the Navy, right son? Good job, stay in!”
4) I was slouched in a lounge area during my break playing with my phone. I saw out of the corner of my eye a male First Class eyeballing me. Thinking he was upset I was slouched or maybe messing about with the phone, I put it up and sat up straighter.
He came over to me and nonchalantly asked “When’s the last time you had a haircut?” I immediately began pondering the question as I swiveled my head towards him.
“Uhhhhh, about a month ago I suppose?”
I watched his face slowly transform from one of sternness to mild distress, quickly masked over with a firmly neutral visage.
“Ah.” He said, almost ponderously. “A month ago.”
As he turned away I realized then what had happened. He had thought I was a male, and had come to chew me out for being out of regulations.
I get my hair cut roughly once a month, and after the cut I would be in male regulations. Near the end of the month? Definitely not.
So yes, my worst fears about being confused with a male had come true. I’m not sure how often, as it’s only once in a while that I’m made aware of when it happens.
But is it really an issue? I am mildly annoyed when I am confused with the opposite gender, but for the most part when people get a second look or hear my voice they correct themselves and apologize. And that’s enough. I think what I find more upsetting is the people who profusely apologize after realizing their mistake, as if by them accidently confusing my gender will cause my fragile world to crack and I would dissolve into a blubbering mass of tears. Or perhaps the folks who cannot see past the short hair and uniform without immediately assuming: MALE. I don’t wear makeup which exacerbates the issue, but it really shouldn’t be that way.
Keeping my hair short to me isn’t about gender identity, sexual identity, or social identity anymore. I’ve gone the entire spectrum from super long to super short. I am keeping my hair short because it is convenient to take care of, keeps me cooler in hot climates/work areas…. And honestly, when I’m off duty… I like to spike it up and pretend I’m cool.