Walking into the hair salon that day was like venturing into uncharted territory, a place where the boundaries of my self-expression were about to be pushed to a new extreme.
I was nervous, my heart racing with excitement and apprehension all at once.
Brian, my trusted hairdresser, and Laura, my partner, were there to support me through this pivotal moment. But even with their assurances, I wasn't entirely sure if I could trust myself.
I couldn't help but second-guess everything.
Was cutting my hair this short a leap too far?
Were the pictures I'd brought as references overly ambitious?
Red carpet pictures of Bradley Cooper, Zayn Malik, and Keanu Reeves stared back at me. So yes, this trio is a stretch from the reality of my small chickpea-shaped head.
Doubts swirled in my mind, and I couldn't help but wonder if I was putting too much pressure on myself. What if this haircut wasn't the affirmation I so desperately needed?
For over two years, I played with the idea of getting a more "boyish" haircut. My hair had already transformed since I was a child. I was born with short and tight curls that unfurled into a wavy bob by the time I reached elementary school.
In middle school, my mom began straightening my hair regularly, as that was her way of taming our natural frizz. Eventually, I started straightening it myself.
My hair journey isn’t unique. It’s a tale as old as time for South Asians who were raised as women. Growing up watching Bollywood actresses Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, and Kajol, I only saw our thick hair in three styles: pin straight, in perfect waves, or in a sleek ponytail.
This was womanhood and this was another stretch from the reality of my fly-aways and random curls.
In my first year of college, my white roommates ran outside during a torrential downpour to dance in the rain and jump in puddles - a scene I had only witnessed in Bollywood movies.
I watched them from the inside, jealous of their carefree attitude. They didn’t fear the rain like I did. Or, rather, they didn’t fear how the rain would affect their hair. When it storms, my mom never misses an opportunity to remind me that my hair will become curly and unruly.
After that year, I decided it was time for a change.
My college, known for its queer and hippie culture, exposed me to various forms of hairstyles that transcended the gender binary, and it blew my mind. I entered my sophomore year with shoulder-length waves—a kind of "bisexual bob."
I embraced my natural hair and left behind the pressure to have long, straight hair, like many South Asian women I grew up with. I genuinely believed I was challenging myself and the norms in my community.
It took a lot of self-pep talks to bring myself to the first haircut I ever got to choose for myself, and thankfully, I loved my new look.
I reminisced about that transformative moment in college while getting my hair gently washed with shampoo. Brian carefully detangled my thick waves, which had been blown around by the winter chill on the way to the salon. Getting my hair washed was usually my favorite part of a haircut. I love having my hair played with—it’s like a brain massage, turning off my mind and making me sleepy.
But today, it had the opposite effect. I was overly conscious of each strand Brian touched, drowning in my anxieties.
By the time I was sitting in the chair, I was paralyzed with fear.
My thoughts felt as heavy as my wet hair. Laura approached me, saying something about being excited, though her words didn't fully register.
Meanwhile, Brian scrolled through the reference photos on my phone, and I tried to read his expression. Did he think this was realistic?
Our eyes met, and he smiled. "Thank you for trusting me with this! Your hair texture is quite different, so you might not look exactly like these photos. But I know you’re going to pull it off in your own way."
With that, he turned on the clippers and shaved a massive chunk of hair off the back of my head. As Brian worked his magic, I could feel the weight of my old identity being lifted, strand by strand.
The sensation of lightness on my head and the soft fuzz on the back and sides felt strangely liberating, but I still couldn't shake the uncertainty.
Was this new look really me? Was I pulling it off?
In the midst of my internal struggle, a voice from across the salon pierced through my thoughts.
Another client exclaimed, "Oh my god, you look amazing! This really suits you!"
Those words hung in the air like a lifeline, pulling me out of my panic-induced spiral. In that moment, I realized that maybe, just maybe, this bold step I had taken was the right one.
Their words were followed by a chorus of praise from the receptionist, Brian, Laura, and another hairdresser. I was in shock—shock that I had actually gone through with the cut, shock that it was being received so well, and shock that I already felt a positive shift internally.
Leaving the salon, I stepped out into a familiar world that suddenly felt different. The cool breeze brushed against the back of my ears and neck, and I shivered.
My shield of hair was gone. "Are you cold?" Laura asked. I responded with a chuckle, "I think I need more hats."
It was as if this newfound vulnerability made me acutely aware of my body in a way I hadn't been in a long time. I felt grounded, present, and strangely connected to myself.
This small moment felt like a monumental step for me because I had never experienced gender-affirming care before. My entire life, I had been told I was a woman, but I could never fully embrace that identity or convince myself of it.
I had always been a "tomboy," but as I grew up, the pressure to conform to traditional notions of womanhood became suffocating.
When I couldn't fit into that mold, I was labeled as someone who dressed carelessly. It was all because I didn't feel whole in my body, and I didn't want to be seen.
The pandemic felt like a catalyst, compelling me to confront my insecurities head-on. Endless hours spent on Zoom with my own reflection as a constant presence intensified my longing for change.
Being in a queer relationship further pushed me to question who I truly was. The facade I had built to protect myself finally crumbled.
My experience is an important victory for me amidst the ongoing discrimination faced by trans individuals like myself.
Gender-affirming care is often misunderstood and unfairly labeled as dangerous. In reality, everyone’s journey to gender expression looks different, whether you are trans or cisgender.
We’ve all experienced some form of gender-affirming care, whether it be a wardrobe change, a surgery, or a haircut.
At the time of stepping into my hair appointment, I had reached an unbearable level of gender dysmorphia and dysphoria consuming my thoughts. I was hyper-fixating on my hair, and I couldn’t find a way out of the depression I was falling into until I brought myself to that appointment. Gender-affirming care is a right. It is necessary. It is life-saving.
As for how this story ends, well, it hasn't truly ended. It's more like a beginning, a starting point on my exploration of identity and expression. I'm on a path to find more ways to affirm my gender, and with each step, I'm gaining confidence in my own skin.
My family and friends have noticed the change in me, and their words of encouragement mean the world. When my high school friend, who hadn’t seen me since college, said she loved my hair and thought I looked handsome, I felt a swell of pride and excitement.
It was the same when my Dadis (my grandmothers), commented on how my hair framed my face perfectly. These affirmations fuel my desire for more moments of feeling whole.
Of course, there are periods of intense anxiety, like when I think about how expensive top surgery is or how I am no longer cisgender-passing.
But for the time being, this haircut is my refuge.
In a tender moment, Laura told me that she doesn’t even remember me without this haircut. Hearing that put me in a state of pure euphoria.
Reflecting on this journey, I've come to understand that I'm in a state of renewal.
I don't want to base my self-worth solely on my outward expression or let dysphoria dictate my life. I also want to hold on to my old self, the goofy and inquisitive person I've always been.
Deep down, I'm still that same person, just evolving into a truer version of myself.
As I continue this journey of self-discovery, I'm learning to embrace the uncertainty and cherish the moments of affirmation.
I feel a little zing thinking about how far I have come to finally settle into my new introduction:
My name is Yasmine.
I’m queer and nonbinary.
And I use they/she pronouns :)
© Yasmine and © Gulabi Stories
Yasmine is a nonbinary, queer, disabled survivor of gender based violence. Their family is Indian-Kenyan diasporic. Yasmine is a community organizer, chihuahua parent, and tattoo enthusiast, much to their mom’s dismay.
Philadelphia, PA (United States)
@yasminebahen (on social media).