NOTE: I don’t know why I didn’t publish this story when I first wrote it years ago, but it’s offered me such a lovely flashback, I’m willing to share it with all of you now.
“She’s so beautiful.”
“Your daughter is going to break some hearts.”
“I love her long hair.”
Sometimes I let the comment slide; other times I mention she is actually a he. And every time this situation plays out the person desperately apologizes and then tells me their relative also had long hair when they were young and reassures me my son’s hair is actually beautiful. I’ve never had anyone react negatively to this situation. My family does their best to tell me exactly what I should do with his hair – cut it, but not too short – and luckily I was raised with thick enough skin to know I don’t have to care what anyone else thinks.
My son has long, blonde locks. His head is full of soft, sweet strands. They always smell deliciously clean, no matter how many days it’s been since he’s had a bath. I always run a small dollop of my conditioner through it before he gets out of the tub. It leaves a lasting aroma and keeps his hair tangle-free.
Leigh was born with lots of hair. A distinguishing feature from the start, the blonde tuft on top of his head is part of his personality. When you look at him in a line up of other kids, you spot him first. When you talk with him, you want to reach out and touch his hair and he never minds. His sweet, sensitive temperament has grown with him and shaped him into a better person. As he animates and his hair flies in his face, he gently pushes it back behind his ears. Everything about his self-expression is wrapped up in his hair. And for the longest time, when we asked, he’d tell us he didn’t want to get it cut.
We took him for his first haircut on his first birthday. The Kids Snips shop charged us an arm and a leg to distract my child in a salon chair shaped like a race car while letting him watch Bubble Guppies on an iPad. Having his first official haircut aged him instantly. He looked so grown up with a perfectly trimmed hairdo. Losing the soft tuft of hair that used to sit atop his head pulled at my heart in a way I didn’t anticipate.
When it was time to get another trim a few months later, we all went over to my cousin’s house for family haircut night (a weird tradition in my paternal family). When it was time for Leigh to get his hair cut, he wouldn’t sit still. Every time my hairstyling cousin came close with scissors, he’d shrug his shoulders up to his neck so she couldn’t make a straight cut. We didn’t want to force it into a bad experience for anyone so we let him pass without a trim. And that’s just the way it’s been.
Leigh is now quickly approaching three and has gone without a haircut for two years. It’s not something we decided to let happen but it is something we decided not to do anything about. Partially terrified he’d get through half a haircut before running out of the store, we haven’t taken him in for another cut.
I said to myself we’d have a new year and a new haircut but as the day has now come and gone, I didn’t have it in my heart to take him. To be honest, I’m sad at the thought of losing his long locks. His hair is truly beautiful. I run my fingers through it constantly as he stands at the perfect height where my hands rest on top of his head. Once we cut it off, his hair may never be the same, as he is never the child he was yesterday. Leigh is growing up so fast and one way I can keep him young is looking at the same long hair he’s had since he was born.
If that means I have to correct a few more people about my son’s gender, I don’t mind for now. Once he’s old enough for preschool and the social reality of bullies and people making fun of him for being a boy who looks like a girl because he has long hair, I won’t hesitate to do what he wants. I carry the pressure for him now and it’s a load I’m willing to bear.
While in Chicago this month, a very nice homeless man sat down next to us and started drawing Leigh. We watched his crayon sketch a round head with long hair and sweet lips. The entire time I’m thinking this man is drawing a girl. This was confirmed when his final detail was a dress and then he asked, “What’s her name?” My husband and I made eye contact and kindly said, “His name is Leigh.” The artist quickly apologized and we had a nice chat about how that’s part of the beauty of children his age. You never really know if a child is a boy or girl. They have this charming innocence about them that makes gender irrelevant. I wish that stuck around throughout life. I detest the gender bias I face on a daily basis and having a son with long hair is a funny way of fighting all the things expected of boys and girls.
The man quickly drew pants on the illustration, added a dog, crossed arms and a single raised eyebrow. I guess that’s how boys are supposed to behave. We paid him $5 for the drawing and brought it home. We love his long hair. And we don’t care what anyone else thinks.