Using my hair to write a love letter to Jana Hunter

Recently, I cut off all my hair again. Mainly, I cut it as a queer fan gesture. It takes after a mentor’s decision to buy an army jacket after John Bender ignited her libido during a screening of The Breakfast Club. She wanted to become him as much as be with him. I can relate. 

Photo I took of Jana Hunter during SXSW

I was taken with Jana Hunter’s stage presence during the Lower Dens show I caught at SXSW. She insinuated herself into the proceedings–the outdoor venue, the all-male backing band, the armada of cool hunters–with unassuming grace. I’d imagine being that skilled as a guitar player means you don’t have to show off. My hunch is that her haircut gave her some confidence too. Her light brown hair was shaved short on the sides and tousled at the crown, with bangs draping over the right side of her forehead. This was something of a pleasant surprise, as many of the photos I’d seen of her featured her with longer hair, sometimes dyed blonde. She totally turned me on. What especially caught my attention was how much she isn’t a normative female front woman. She is a leader and featured musician in her band. But she isn’t especially performative onstage which, coupled with her sunglasses and cavernous voice, leant mystery. She is androgynous, self-possessed, and seemingly in ownership of a secret. Hot.

It helps that Twin Hand Movement was one of the sexiest records of last year. This is high praise, as I tend to shy away from rock when in search of mood music. Before and after My Bloody Valentine, a lot of rock bands use walls of guitar distortion and slippery boy-girl harmonies as shorthand for fucking, which is fine. I’m not denying that “Moon” and “Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)” don’t make me want to get someone pregnant. But what sets Movement apart is how it evokes the panoramic scope of long-distance driving. Lower Dens create music vast enough for the listener to get lost in various kinds of contemplation. It is both the road and the randy car ride.

So the assured woman with the dexterous fingers and the close crop is responsible for music that makes me feel this way? Oof. Get out the electric razor.

I should mention that though I like playing with clothes and signifiers, I don’t invest much in a beauty regimen. I respect that there is a developing industry for organic and/or vegan beauty products and am glad other friends are helping it along. I just have no interest in buying into it. I don’t like playing with my hair. So any haircut of mine has to work without a blow dryer, gel, or hairspray. I hate applying cosmetics to my face and feeling them on my skin in equal measure, which means that No Makeup Day carried on for me like any other. This probably informs how I organize my wardrobe, which is largely assembled from friends’ hand-me-downs, thrifted items, and pieces I’ve had since high school. The less waste I’m responsible for, the happier I am.

Self portrait

I’ll refrain from turning this post into that essay on space I had to write for a graduate theory course (no citations from that wife strangler Althusser). However, I’ll note that I got my $25 cut at the Bird’s by my house and that the mix playing during my appointment coincided too damn neatly with my intent and hipster positioning. Playing Ladytron is one thing. The Blow’s “How Naked Are We Going to Get” elicits a raised eyebrow. But “Beautiful Boyz”–CocoRosie’s duet with Antony about Jean Genet and other “critical queers”–came on, I briefly wondered if the universe knew I was writing a blog post about cutting my hair to express queer feelings about Jana Hunter. The physical proximity to my hairdresser as she was shaving the back of my head created a delightful frisson as well. But since she is a professional, I will keep that reverie to myself.

I cut my hair for a few more reasons. Chief among them was that I wanted to use my hair to reassert my own queer identity. Assuredly, short hair doesn’t make women queer. You can get all Veronica Lake with it and still be queer. But short hair creates visibility. At the very least, it might function as something akin to the “safe space” sticker I’ll have on my office door when I’m a professor. However I can make plain that I’m an ally and fight against homophobia and transphobia, I will. Furthermore, even though I’ve been in a relationship with a man for several years, I don’t identify as straight. Suede’s Brett Anderson once identified himself as a bisexual man who has yet to have a homosexual experience. I lean slightly to the left of that crude definition. Yet I also have trouble using the term “partner.” It seems like an appropriation, however well-intended.

My haircut also upends gendered expectations. Short haired women still bother some people, particularly because long hair is a symbol of conventional white femininity. I learned this when I shaved my head back in 2006. Co-workers behaved quite differently around me after I did it. Following the introductory double takes and furtive glances, there was a formality and rigidity demonstrated by some male peers that hadn’t been there before. It’s clear that I was no longer attractive to some men because of the cut. Some people explicitly bemoaned the loss of my chin-length hair. Others asked if I meant to do it, perhaps wondering if a mischievous wad of gum was the reason I only had half an inch of hair covering my pate. Most people asked if my partner liked it, as if that mattered.

I wanted to reassert this queer identity in the wake of some major changes that await me, as well as some upcoming “girly” events. Skirt-a-Thon begins today. It’s a yearly event headed up by Kristen at Dear Black Woman,. I always participate, in part because the rule about not repeating skirts and dresses during the work week cuts down on my laundry. This year, I wanted to challenge the femme-y nature of the proceedings with a spiked, shaved ‘do.

Furthermore, I am attending four weddings this year. I have as little interest in cashing in on heterosexual privilege as I do for throwing a party to celebrate my relationship. Marriage excludes queer brothers and sisters. The systems that organize American health care and insurance unfairly reward married couples and nuclear families. Weddings can prompt rampant, immoral consumerism. Mainstream feminism’s attempts to reclaim marriage seem to speak more to the movement’s embedded class and/or racial privilege than in any vested interest in dismantling the patriarchy. But while I get hella judge-y about marriage, I’m fine with supporting friends who choose to enter into it. However, this means I won’t sport wedding-ready ringlets. It may mean I’ll need to invest in a suit. Faye Dunaway may personify the evils of liberal feminism in Network, but dammit if don’t want every pantsuit in her closet.

Work, Diane Christensen; image courtesy of beautybombshells.wordpress.com

So, yes. I cut my hair as much for Jana Hunter as for myself. Some may scoff at my belief that this is a political act, which is fine. However, if you’re looking for a critical queer willing to rally and organize on behalf of LGBTQI rights, I hope the haircut is a tip-off that I’m a receptive audience.

6 comments

  1. Kathy

    Oddly enough, I feel I look more vulnerable with short hair than I do long. I think it stems from being very thin at one point, and cutting all my hair off left nothing to “hide behind.” I know that’s kind of playing into old tropes about femininity and using hair as a “security blanket,” but I think in my case it was just the opposite: having a big head of thick hair (though I usually wear it pulled back these days) made me feel more substantial.

    I’m curious what you think of “queer heterosexuality?” I remember hearing that phrase used a bit back in the early 00s for those who were in male/female relationships, but didn’t define them along the lines of traditional male/female roles. I’m not entirely comfortable with those words. It feels appropriative.

    • Alyx Vesey

      Interesting! s.e. smith recently wrote about other people’s presumptions about thinness and approachability, as well as projected ownership onto a short haircut. Did you read it? I think it’s getting at some of the things you’re talking about. I’ve had long hair before and felt fine about it. I’m not especially attached to my hair any which way, but do feel more “myself” with a short ‘do.

      I haven’t heard of “queer heterosexuality”. Do you know where it originated? Out of context, it sounds like a term agencies would use to cast androgynous models in a Calvin Klein ad in the mid-90s. It also sounds like what Brett Anderson is getting at. Or that everything is fundamentally queer. I do not like it. It sounds super-appropriative and meaningless.

      I’m not fond of being typified as part of a straight couple either, but I understand that it’s how we’re viewed from the outside. Thus, when possible, I try to differentiate myself from the couple and voice that I’m not. My partner is respectful and concedes the space for me to do so. It’s also a big part of why I’ve renounced marriage. But unless someone comes up with a term or I wake up with one in my head (beyond “romantic collaborator,” which is 95% a joke), I don’t feel entitled to a term to define my relationship. Demanding one and whining about not having it reeks of privilege. Thus I’m actually most comfortable with not IDing my partner as such, and only introduce him by name. That way, we’re autonomous beings who aren’t defined by one another. It’s hardly fail-safe, but it works well enough.

      • Kathy

        Sorry to reply to this so late. Queer Heterosexuality? I think I first heard the term in the book Jane Sexes It Up. I wouldn’t deny anyone their identity, but queer heterosexuality just seems like… heterosexuality. To be honest, I haven’t heard that phrase in a really long time (I’m showing my age)

      • Alyx Vesey

        This might show my age, Kathy! I read that book in college and I straight-up don’t remember this. Luckily, I still have the book. I’ll do some skimming. 😉

  2. killerfemme

    I really appreciate all of your thoughfulness on this subject. Issues above are things I think about a lot as a queer/femme/shorthaired person in a hetero relationship. The other day my colleague said, “But isn’t your short hair a way to be visible [as a queer], isn’t it a statement?” and I was kind of like, “Well, yes, I guess so, at one time it might have been, but at the same time it’s how I feel most like myself.” I suppose I’ve lived with it so long that I no longer approach it critically.

  3. Pingback: EMA and Tearist, video stars « Feminist Music Geek

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