I was born with a condition called Craniosynostosis, where the fibrous tissues of my skull were prematurely fused together at birth. The only solution was an operation that resulted in an eight inch vertical scar that starts two inches from the center of my hairline and ends at the edge of my crown. It looks like a perfect, hairless, centerpart.
My mother was always more self conscious of the scar than I was, and throughout my childhood, I always learned to wear my hair just long enough to cover it. Whenever I ended up in the salon chairs of SuperCuts, or The Cameo Beauty School in Salt Lake City, there was always an awkward moment when the scar was discovered by a concerned stylist. I was always more comforted when they asked about it, instead of pretending it wasn’t there, even though my explanations probably did little to set them at ease.
I never liked my hair growing up. I wanted it to be like caucasian hair, in a missionary cut, short, naturally falling into the clean silhouette of a news broadcaster. Side parted, away from my face, with just a little bit of wave. But my genes weren’t all-american enough. My father’s coarse, black, asian hair combined with the thickness of my mother’s French Swiss stock, made it unruly, and unfamiliar to anyone who touched it.
Long on Top, Short on Sides
It turned orange from hydrogen peroxide in junior high, and grew out shaggy and dark with a bleach blonde forelock in high school. When I arrived in New York I cropped it short, until, somewhere along the lines, the cut stabilized into the traditional stock-hipster gay look of Long on Top, Short on Sides. It stayed this way for several years. I attribute this to finally getting into an apartment after post college couch surfing, and finally keeping a job.
A job I stayed with for three years. Things were settled in New York, but I was restless and unfulfilled. So, on a winter’s day, I walked into Astor Hair and shaved it all off. I’d never had hair that short before. People either didn’t notice the scar, or thought it was part of the cut, punk, and weird. I felt freed. For once, in twenty or so years, I didn’t have to think about my hair.
Silently, I made a pact to myself that I would not stop growing it out until it was as long as Pocahontas’ hair– or better yet, Cher’s from her “Half-Breed” days. I wanted to experience two extremes I had never known in playing with my appearance, a shorn Samson, and a mane to rival all manes.
Things started to happen as it grew back. I was fired from my job, and started making dolls in the springtime. I discovered first love with a boy over the summer. Over the next year, the dolls, a hobby, a passion, bubbled over into wild success, culminating with shows in New York and Hong Kong, and a trip to London, Milan, and Paris– the final city being where things ended with the boy I was in love with. He thought the success had changed me, and I thought it changed him. In mourning, I bought cheap box dye from an Algerian grocery store and covered the soft dark oak of my natural color with an inky, blue, black.
I kept working in New York, and the hair kept growing. I first noticed it grazing my shoulders on a trip to Shanghai. It started to look really long in photos from my first trip to Japan. The hair dye faded, and soon the roots were indiscernible from the length again. Romance rekindled with my first love over that next year, and flamed out as quickly. Every few months we met, and made love. He met others and dated, I didn’t.
Another project, my biggest achievement yet, took me back to Paris, where I lived for several months. My hair entered rooms before I did, it was lustrous, dancing, and long. Men on the street thought I was a woman, and women thought I was beautiful. In every photo I took, my hair swirled around me– a constantly changing ebony frame. I pulled it up in topknots, and tossed and turned with it in my pillows, languishing in the scents the day left behind.
And then, he came back. He stole back to my bed in the middle of the night, and reignited a flame I thought had long died out. As we tossed and turned in the covers, my hair overwhelmed him. Black shadows, that tickled his nose while we slept and obstructed our kisses. Once, as it lay dripping and wet on my shoulders as I left the shower, he looked at me with wide, frightened eyes. “Your hair.”
When we returned to New York, the winter slowly melted away. The boy was worried about renewing our affections. He was afraid and bored of old habits. We continued to see each other, ashamed to tell our friends. I tried to pull him closer, and he pulled away. Work was overwhelming, and the unrequited love I had for one who once loved me so dearly, was maddening.
One afternoon, as the cold spring broke into a warm spring, I convinced a friend to bleach my hair. After the first process, the black stain from the Algerian grocery melted into a dark orange one. After the second process, it faded to a light orange. My friend became afraid it would break off if he lifted the color again, and refused to do anything more to it. My first love was horrified I bleached it at all. After the color changed, he never kissed me the same way again.
Finally I convinced someone else to drain what was left of the color into a pale, white, blonde. I lost four inches of length, and the texture was like that of cornsilk, fragile, and broken. When the boy saw it, and told me he thought me less attractive, and refused to make love to me; it became easier to push him away, to rationalize the breaking of my heart. “What if I had a scar on my face?” I asked him.
I went on a trip to Japan, where I was photographed like a wild animal, wrapped in plastic and white deer antlers. Where I wore a top hat, and people swooned over my unbelievably platinum locks. I went back home to Salt Lake City, where my family marveled at my boldness. “Like a rockstar.”
Things ended with him when I came back to New York. The spring bloomed into summer, and my white blonde hair grew dark roots, and inside, I breathed a sigh of relief. Within days of the first heat wave, I walked into a barber shop, and cut it all off. With every snip of the scissor, and the eventual electric grind of the razor, I felt closer and closer to me again. I put the ponytail in a box and gave it to my friend who bleached it. I saved a tiny braid from the nape of my neck and enclosed it in a letter to send my ex on his birthday, and never did- thank god.
I went to a drug store in Brooklyn and got a box of dye to cover what was left of the remaining blonde– a soft, dark brown. I wore it parted on the side, slicked back, a tribute to Elvis and Cary Grant, a reconnection with a manhood I never knew.
As it grows longer, I keep cutting it shorter, just long enough to cover my scar.
Photo: Takuya Shima
See Andrew Yang’s Closet interview here.