Dyeing Your Hair When You're Queer: Personal Essay
An Ode to Dyeing Your Hair When You're Queer
The act of dyeing your hair is a common mode of self-expression. If you're a queer person especially, hair color can take on a deeper meaning. It can be a chance to explore within our identity, to get in touch with our true authentic selves.
In late 2018, I was confused about my gender identity and wanted to experiment with the way I looked. I was exhausted from the mundane pattern of my natural curly black hair, growing it out until it was time for the bimonthly haircut. So I motivated myself to break out of my comfort zone and dye my hair for the first time. Because I was a novice to all things beauty, I asked my sister Nia — who was an expert on the practice, for she practically dyed her hair every color of the rainbow herself — to guide me through the steps over the phone.
My attempt to achieve a lighter brown color ended up a dark red. I liked the way I looked for a brief moment and kept it for a few months up until I came out as nonbinary in March 2019. Realizing the intended-brown-turned-red wasn't for me, I buzzed it off and went back to my black curls for the rest of that year and through the pandemic.
Then, recently, like many queer people before making a major hair change, I had a nervous breakdown. Summer was in full swing and I was still recovering from the loss of my father last March, just a few days before my birthday. I was having a hard time grieving. I had been out as a nonbinary person for three years, but I felt stifled by my service-industry job and out of control of my life and who I really was.
I hoped my blond era would give me the power to take control of my life again and push me forward.
I decided to dye my hair a more dramatic color, this time bright blond. To me, the shade defined confidence and independence. In the vein of Riz Ahmed in "Sound of Metal" and Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde," I hoped my blond era would give me the power to take control of my life again and push me forward.
I called up Nia at 1 a.m. and asked if she could dye my hair for me instead of guiding me through. She agreed but warned I'd be her "first subject." The next day, I FaceTimed her while I was at a beauty shop buying all the materials. She told me to get quick blue bleach, 30 volume developer, and purple shampoo. Because I am still a noob, the situation was the equivalent of Patrick looking for the lid.
For the next several hours, Nia terraformed my curls, dyeing every strand from black to blond with her small hands. Initially, I was aiming for a buttery shade, but I only had an hour before I had to be at my sister Shavon's graduation, so Nia rinsed out my hair and let a dark blond take shape.
For the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of freedom. In the moment where I felt parts of myself decaying, consumed by a joyless lifestyle, the act of giving my hair a new coat of paint brought me some color. The blond hair was my way of resetting myself, wrangling back the life I didn't recognize. When I looked in the mirror, I saw myself. Of course, you see your reflection — that's how mirrors work — but I saw all of me, the real Rendy. It was like a weight off my shoulders.
Because of that, I felt a new chapter of my life was incoming. A few days later, I took a major leap of faith and quit my service-industry job. A few days after that, I finally got to participate in my graduation ceremony. Today, I am taking chances on myself and rediscovering myself as a queer journalist, and I've never been happier.
Coloring my hair allowed me to get in tune with my body and soul. When I was losing sight of my identity, going blond gave me the push I needed to finally put myself first. Now I feel more confident in my skin and am ready for whatever lies ahead — as long as I've got my friends, my family, and a box of hair dye, as needed.