How a String of Major Haircuts Helped 1 Writer Reclaim Her Identity After Coming Out

Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson
Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson

Genevieve Hudson always favored a shorter hairstyle. As a kid, she'd rip out pages from Tiger Beat magazine of teen heartthrobs Jonathan Taylor Thomas or Devon Sawa to bring to the salon as inspiration. "I want this cut," she'd tell her hairdresser. It was her style of choice for years.

It also wasn't the only way she presented more masculine, societally speaking: "When I was younger, up until puberty, I only wore clothes from the boy section of stores," she told POPSUGAR. "I was obsessed with having my hair in that shaggy style, parted down the middle."

As Hudson got older, however, she says she was "disciplined out of that in terms of cultural normativity." She stopped skateboarding after middle school. She grew out her hair. This was "the norm," of course: growing up in Alabama where there was little LGBTQ+ representation on a larger scale, the pressure to fit a certain mold of femininity seemed to come with the territory.

Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson

By the time she reached college and made the big move to Charleston, SC, Hudson had adapted. "I still had a tomboyish-ness to me, but I had long hair, I wore makeup, and I felt like I could kind of fit into that world," she said. "Still, I never felt totally aligned with how I presented and how I felt inside."

After coming out as queer the summer after graduation, after finding an LGBTQ+ community, she began to take steps — little by little — to outwardly present herself in a way that felt authentic to her. In the six months that followed, it was, as Hudson calls it, an "evolution of self." She decided to embrace the "boyish" side of her: she skipped makeup on days she didn't want to wear it; she wore fewer dresses in lieu of a T-shirt; and yes . . . she got herself a haircut.

Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson

"Once I started dating women when I graduated, I was really afraid to do the things I've always wanted to do," Hudson said. "A lot of that could be internalized homophobia and living in that homophobic culture where, in a lot of conservative places, this sense of 'you can be gay, but you should still adhere to the norms of your gender presentation.'"

She continued, "But hair felt like this symbol to me, and there was something about cutting my hair short that felt like it would be this outward representation of the transformation and change that I was feeling inside of myself. Not only can that be a more masculine presentation, but it's also an actual shedding of part of you that actually holds the past too."

The First (Hair)cut Is the Deepest — and Only the Beginning

"Hair felt like this symbol to me, and there was something about cutting my hair short that felt like it would be this outward representation of the transformation and change that I was feeling inside of myself."

For her first-ever chop, she gathered the troops — which at the time included her then-girlfriend and best friend — and went in to the salon with the intention of getting a short boyish haircut. "I went to a lesbian-identifying hairstylist, and I remember right as she was about to cut my hair saying, 'Maybe don't cut it so short.' Even though I knew what I wanted, I was too afraid to go against this expectation of playing out that gender role, so I ended up with kind of a weird haircut that was in between long and short. It didn't totally fulfill what I wanted, but it was my first step, and it was a transformative one."

Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson

What followed Hudson's inaugural cut was a series of more cuts — each time, going shorter and shorter. After a year in Charleston post-graduation, she moved to Amsterdam for five years. It's there that she says she came into her own, and finally got a haircut that felt like . . . her.

"I wasn't in America anymore, I wasn't in the South anymore — I had this fresh slate where I got to start over," she said. "People in Amsterdam are a little bit edgier with their style anyway. One day I went to this Dutch hairdresser, and she just did away with all of it. It was like she saw me. I looked masculine in a way that was exciting to me, and it felt so freeing. I had been holding onto sort of some flair of femininity or style that I never really liked, but didn't know how to get away from. She shed that for me."

Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson

From there, Hudson's style also started to evolve: she started wearing clothes from the men's section of stores again as well as chest binders. "It's been an evolution," she said. "In some ways, I felt like I was returning to my initial presentation when I was a kid where I totally embraced the masculine or boyish sides of myself more fully."

Getting Buzzed in Lockdown

Affirmed as she felt, Hudson hasn't stopped her hair journey, even to this day. In fact, as state mandates issued stay-home orders to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, she decided to embark on her biggest transformation to date: a buzzcut.

"I had gotten a lot of compliments on my hair — and once I stepped into it being the way I really wanted it to be, I also became very attached to it — but there was something about paring down and the hard butchness of shaving your head that really appealed to me," she said. "I just wanted to take away all the performance, and when the lockdown started, I couldn't go see my hairstylist anymore. My hair started getting longer and more bulky and helmet-like, and I was like, 'I hate this. Why don't I just shave my head and see what that looks like?"

Courtesy of Genevieve Hudson

At first, there were your standard hesitations — "What does it even look like under there? What if I have a weirdly shaped head?" And, of course: "What if I just don't feel right with a buzzcut?"

Still, the draw of a shaved head — and the "Who gives a f*ck?" feeling that comes with it — prevailed. "My girlfriend was the one who shaved my head. I was nervous at first, but now I really love it. I'm sure I'll grow my hair out at some point again, but it's been fun to explore this side of myself. It feels like a further extension of queerness because there is something about walking around with a shaved head that draws a little bit more attention. There's also a lineage of men in my family who have crew cuts, and I don't have a crew cut, but there is a shared toughness of a shaved cut that has a strong connection to my family."

The Ever-Changing Journey of Finding One's Identity

For so many people, hair can hold such a firm grip on someone's sense of self and identity — and frankly, one (or five) haircuts can't change that. But the journey can always evolve.

"If I could, I would go back to that young person and dare them to be brave enough to live the outward identity that I wanted."

"I look back to my younger self whose path was maybe more authentically in touch with what I wanted, and I feel now that I'm the closest to that place than I've ever been in my life — to that true, initial expression of who I am and what I want the world to see me as. If I could, I would go back to that young person and dare them to be brave enough to live the outward identity that I wanted. So don't wear makeup in high school if you don't want to and so what if you have short, shaggy hair?"

She added, "I would have encouraged myself to continue living this physical and style aesthetic that I felt aligned with, because you can still have love that way. A lot of my fear was that, if I didn't present how society wanted me to, that I wouldn't have love, I wouldn't have community, I wouldn't have acceptance. Now I know that you can have all that — and so much more."

Genevieve Hudson is the author of Boys of Alabama and lives in Portland, OR.