“How my hair made me feel more comfortable within the LGBTQ+ community”

Welcome to Beauty Feels, a series exploring the different ways in which beauty routines and rituals can provide emotional support and aid journeys of self-discovery.

Shaved heads and hair dye have been queer clichés for years, and despite being used to insult LGBTQ+ women for being ‘masculine’ or ‘stereotypical’, for some people, conforming to them helps them feel comfortable with who they are.

I had my hair bleached for the first time aged 12, and quickly became a closeted brunette. If I’m honest, the blonde was a gateway to harder things – hot pink, bright blue, green, red and even a four-hour stint with bright orange. Over the years, it has been chopped and changed, Ikea scissors brandished on late night hair-altering escapades.

I had always made jokes about how I changed my hair when I was having ‘a breakdown’. But truthfully, I was changing it to distract myself from my own mental health issues and to keep the way I looked ever-changing, so that I didn’t have to focus on the way I felt for too long.

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The Gen Z cliché of changing your physical appearance to mask or express your unhappiness is a cliché for a reason – and I was certainly not the only person in my peer group using this tactic. 23-year-old Danni has experienced a similar aspect of the mental wellness-hair destruction phenomenon.

“I often change my hair when I’m feeling a bit emotionally unstable,” Danni tells me. “I often feel I am very straight passing – as a pansexual woman, I don’t radiate queerness. So, dying my hair fun colours is a way to feel more accepted in the LGBTQ+ community.”

It turns out that I am not just a closeted brunette, and like Danni, my hair is more than just an extension of my look. As I started to question my sexuality more and more, I began experimenting with the way I looked, dressing differently and exploring the way I felt.

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There are certain clichés within the LGBTQ+ community about the way you dress, do your make-up and style your hair. TikTok in particular has found itself overrun with queer women and non-binary creators often representing “gay” looks, from eyebrow slits to rainbow hair dye, chains on your jeans to Doc Martens, undercuts and nose piercings.

Lesbian fashion in particular has a rich and important history, and queer fashion history site Dressing Dykes traces trends like army style boots, leather jackets and shaved or dyed hair back to the 1980s Rebel Dyke scene. This is where punk culture and queer culture were married together, in a world of queer acceptance and understanding.

I spent a number of years trying to work out who I was, coming out as bi in my teens. I had long, blonde hair and wore it down soft and feminine, but I would rebel and dye it bright colours whenever I could get away with it. I knew that I was too scared to date women; perhaps too immersed in the compulsory heterosexuality that came with being 16.

So, when my first serious relationship with a man ended, I decided I might be ready.

Imogen aged 16.

For the first time in my life, I cut my hair to chin-length, having never had it that short before, and changed my online dating settings to men and women. It may not have been a big deal to some, but I was starting to look and behave like the LGBTQ+ friends I was starting to make. But, something still didn’t feel quite right. I still felt like a fake because I was very feminine and had only been with men. Queer spaces were open to me now, because I was seeking them, but I was by no means comfortable in them.

Imogen aged 18.

One member of the community, Beth, agrees that her sexuality was represented through the way she looks. “I am bisexual but currently in a relationship with a man,” she tells me. “Prior to this, when I was actively dating, I 100% used my hair to appear more queer and to feel like I fit in more in queer spaces. It’s such a strange phenomenon but I cut my hair shorter, shaved parts and dyed it more outlandish colours.”

Imogen aged 20.

When I finally came out to everyone around me and, at the age of 21, began seriously dating women, I felt a lot of pressure to be less feminine; to prove that if I looked like a cliché, behaved more masculine and cut my hair, people would see me as a queer woman and not just a young woman ‘going through a phase’. The trope of ‘going through a phase’ has been popularised in the media and was commonly discussed within my peer group – but it had bound me for long enough. I was eager to conform to queer norms and shed my straightness.

When the pandemic started, I began watching loads of queer content creators on TikTok to pass the time. All of the women I was seeing were so out and comfortable in their sexuality, flaunting their girlfriends, creating thirst-traps and sketches about being queer. They seemed to accept every aspect of their sexuality and I had only just started coming to terms with mine.

Imogen aged 21.

Any kind of shaving of the head is a rebellion against the heteronormative patriarchy. For a long time, a shaved head, or even just an undercut has been a sign of defiance, be that queer defiance or otherwise.

I took out the clippers and asked my mum if she would shave the back of my head just two months after coming out, leaving a clear line between longer blonde hair and dark stubble. It was like the unmanned border between my old life, where I constantly questioned myself, and a new one, where I knew exactly who I was. I rubbed the back of my head and felt like I had this super cool secret, something brave and angry, something that made tears prick because for the first time I felt truly and entirely proud and queer.

It felt like I was carrying along a secret membership card to the LGBTQ+ club tucked neatly beneath my ponytail. I immediately felt more like I belonged, like I wasn’t just pretending to be like the women I was starting to surround myself with. I had done this for myself, sure, but I had also done it to give myself a reminder of who I was.

Imogen aged 21.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realised that I haven’t taken a pair of scissors to my own hair or pulled out the peroxide in almost a year, which coincidentally marked the time I shaved the undercut and came out to all of my friends and family.

I still have my slightly woollier undercut, but my hair is longer and healthier than it has been for years, and my sense of self feels healthier, too. I love my hair now, I love that when I am feeling insecure about whether I am “queer enough” (a horrible feeling to have but one that often lingers), that I have a physical reminder of something I did in an effort to understand my identity.

So, queer people across the world, from TikTok to Twitter and beyond: shave the undercut, bring out the bleach, slit your eyebrow or stay exactly as you look now. You are no more or less queer for wanting to conform to or avoid these stereotypes. You are welcome here. 

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Images: Imogen Brighty-Potts

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