I Think It’s The Hair

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the reason some women come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual and almost immediately decide to cut off all their hair. For example:

Jenny from the L Word Season 1 (Before the haircut)

Jenny from the L Word Season 2 (After the haircut)

The only thing that came to mind was the character, Jenny Schecter [pictured in the images above], from the L Word. I imagined the episode when Jenny [a straight girl who moved to West Hollywood from the midwest realizing she prefers a relationship with a woman opposed to an engagement to her long time boyfriend Tim] is having an intimate conversation with one of her new roommates, Mark.

Mark pulls Jenny aside by the pool and asks [referring to Shane, Alice and a few others], “Those girls, they’re all gay, right?” Jenny acknowledges that yes, they pretty much are and goes on to ask about what Mark thinks about her sexual orientation. The conversation continues:

  • Mark: If I saw you at a bar I would assume you were straight.
  • Jenny: Mmm hmm.
  • Mark: But that doesn’t mean anything.
  • Jenny: No it doesn’t.
  • Mark: You never know these days.
  • Jenny: No you don’t. Except you knew they were. Right?
  • Mark: That’s true.
  • Jenny: So what do you think it is?
  • Mark: I don’t know. I’d say it has something to do with their attitude. It’s not that they’re masculine or anything, cuz actually some of them are pretty feminine… They have these haircuts, these very cool haircuts [quiet laughter]. Don’t get me wrong. It’s obviously more than a haircut [laughter], but no it’s true. It’s something that they exude…

At the end of the episode Jenny sits alone, quietly in the kitchen. Eventually she asks Shane [her gay female roommate and friend, who is also a hairdresser] to cut her hair. Shane asks her if she’s sure and Jenny responds, “Yeah. I just feel like I need to change.” Shane kneels down in front of Jenny. They exchange an enduring and empathetic glance, symbolizing the realization that somehow Jenny has decided: I’m gay. 

In a time where America has only recently overcome Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has yet to include sexual orientation as a protected class, and marriage equality is up for debate at the United States Supreme Court, women who come out as gay or lesbian will undoubtedly endure personal and professional hardship related to sexual orientation.

Many people don’t want to [or don’t care to] face the harsh reality that gay, lesbian and transgender people are fired, harassed and discriminated against in the workplace every day. About nine months ago PolicyMic reported on 5 People Who Were Fired for Being Gay and the 29 States Where That is Still Legal. Among them is a former management analyst, Peter TerVeer, for the Library of Congress who alleges that he was fired and harassed based on sexual orientation.

PolicyMic reported that TerVeer received “emails in 2009 from his boss referencing bible passages that speak against homosexuality, and that ‘he stated that as a homosexual I could never succeed because it was against God’s law.'”

And what about Rene Portland? The former coach of the Penn State girl’s basketball team, whose training rules consisted of “no drugs, no drinking and no lesbians,” damaged young [lesbian] athletes’ lives for decades until her resignation in 2007.

What if you could be killed because your gay? According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), gay relationships are punishable by death in Iran. See the ILGA map below that details other countries where just being gay is against the law.

ILGA map indicating countries where male to male relationships are illegal

ILGA map indicating countries where male to male relationships are illegal

Women who identify as gay or lesbian are confronted with these terrible truths every time they step outside. Even if she never faces controversy in the form of technical discrimination, she will at one point turn on the news to hear her identity described as a hot button political issue, a lifestyle choice, immoral, unnatural or against God’s will.

So, maybe the haircut is a public statement that acknowledges: “Fuck it. I know what I’m in for.”

And who can blame her?

Does she need to opt for a shorter hairstyle to become an out lesbian? No, and I would argue that most women do not. But maybe it isn’t the haircut itself, but rather what the haircut represents. There is long and difficult journey ahead for women who choose to step [or jump] out of the closet and the haircut is just one symbol of a woman’s final decision to face that battle openly, honestly and courageously. 

Chopping of her locks can be the physical manifestation of the ultimate realization that her life isn’t going to go as her family, or even as she, expected.

Perhaps the explanation for the haircut isn’t as simple as someone cutting off her hair to declare allegiance to LGBT culture, but more precisely a symbol of someone declaring allegiance to herself.

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