The three sections of hair that are gathered in a plait wrestle against my fingers. Frizz interlocking the parts, causing me to braid with fury. The line dividing my hair down the center into two groups looking less straight as my annoyance builds. Half my hair lay in a mess of a bun. The other half French braided to my disgruntlement, curls sprouting from the braid like flowers in spring.
The small makeup mirror in front of me enlightening the botched half braid decorating my scalp. I groan and rip my hair out of the three-way entanglement. This is muscle memory at this point. I have been trying to successfully French braid my hair since I started growing it out. A feat that was not easy. My hair being somewhat of a nuisance in my life.
I was never given the agency to have control over my hair. My first haircut was done at 6 months old and since then the routine had been set. Each strand was never allowed to go over two inches. Boys had short hair after all, why would I be allowed to break that societal rule?
I stare at myself in the mirror. Taking a good look at what many called my poodle fur and smile. After the first semester of college, I shaved my head. The intent to get my hair healthy and grow it out. I was an adult now, so I was going to do what I wanted. And what I wanted was to grow my hair out. So that is exactly what I did. My parents hated it.
I stayed home the second semester of my freshman year of college. This gave my hair a chance to bloom. Growing in a way it never had before. When I returned to SUNY Oswego for my sophomore year of college, I had a whole new look. My hair became more than just hair. It was transformative. Androgyny becoming an aspect of my expression. As a child I was always perceived as feminine but as a feminine boy. Being perceived as an androgynous person was something I was not ready for, but I embraced non the less. Taking on the look I longed for years to have in the confines of high school but was fearful of ever publicly embracing. I always wanted long hair as a kid, so it became my mission to grow it as long as possible. To defy my upbringing and heal that shy kid terrified of the world that I used to be.
The light of my phone illuminates my face. I tap on the search bar of YouTube. Typing in “French Braiding Tutorial.” Scrolling through until I find a video with a girl who has a similar hair texture to me.
The sound of “ok today I’m going to be teaching you how to French braid, it’s actually a fairly easy process” resounds in my earbuds.
I stare at the video. Re-parting my hair down the center, put one half in a pigtail and leave the other down. Gently I separate my hair into three parts at the crown of my head then release a breath of confidence. Reaffirming to myself that I can do this. And then it begins. I braid strand after strand, feeding new hair into the groups of hair my hands amateurly weave. Once I am done and my hair sits at the nape of my neck, I grab a cow print scrunchie and tie the bottom of the braid. Finishing the process. Then I repeat this on the left side.
I stare at myself in the little mirror decorated with lights along its edges. Inspecting my hair. It is not perfect. There is a slight frizz emanating from the front of my head and I think I see a couple strands of hair left out. Pride fills my soul though. This is the best my hair has ever looked.
I jump up out of my chair, take a selfie of my hair and send it to my friend Elisabeth. Typing “look how talented I am” on the screen.
Deciding it is time to get ready for bed, I stand up out of the uncomfortable black chair with legs shaped like a u and grab my toothbrush out of the cup that sits on the top shelf of my desk. Then spin around the room, making sure I have all the utensils for proper nighttime dental hygiene. Once I am confident that I have everything I need, I slip on my black crocs and walk towards the door. I grab the icy cold metal handle and open it slowly. Peeking out into the hallway to make sure that the coast is clear, it is. Oswego is a school filled with conservatives and bigots, so I try my best to interact with as little people in my dorm as possible.
The bathroom is only three doors down. I reach the worn door with chipped white paint in only a couple of steps. Then rip open the door confidently and freeze. Standing by the sink directly in front of me is a group of three boys all in football jerseys.
I clutch my toothbrush firmly; my knuckles whitening and then turn to leave.
“Oh my god that’s that thing I’ve seen around here” laughter erupts.
The thistle of anxiety pierces my skin. The goosebumps on my arms sprout painfully as my hands struggle to remain still, no longer holding the door firmly.
I close the door fast.
Those words resound in my ear, echoing past the thick wooden door.
The slurs ring out like church bells although they hit me every second rather than every hour. There footsteps sounding out from behind. They are trailing me. My heartbeat intensifies. Paralysis enthralling my heart. I rip open my door, and practically leap into the room. Grabbing the doorknob that is still warm from my touch I slam the door quick. Blocking them out.
“Now we know where it lives” laughter rings, my fear echoing it.
Tears stain my vision.
I grab my mirror.
Look at my face.
I am disgusted.
I rip the scrunchies out of my hair, releasing it from the confines of the feminine braids and cry.
Then I open my computer, swipping on the pad until the glowing document of a transfer form placates my vision. I am done with this hell of a school.