Dyke

I got a haircut the other day at a student salon because I am a poor midwifery student. I went in with the intention of getting a stylish, short hair cut a la Natalie Portman. Instead, I got a very very very short haircut that looks like someone gave me a buzz cut. I look very much like the hair I had after I was growing out my shaved head in high school. I’m getting used to it. It’s not so much that I don’t like my new hair as much as it’s not at all what I asked for. I also find myself almost unconsciously preparing myself for unfriendly remarks – probably because that was my experience when I last had hair like this.

What is it about a haircut that gives people permission to violate your sense of self and safety? Today I was called a dyke for the first time since high school. I could see it coming a mile away. Parking our car outside of our tiny apartment, I could see the two guys across the street staring at me. They were about my age and lounging against the side of their car, enjoying the rare Maine sunshine like any sensible person would be doing today. I glanced over, they were still staring. I got out of my car to their laughter, and then one of them calls out, “Dyke.” I ignore them and keep walking.

On the scale of harassment, this is a pretty minor offense. I’ve had people do things that actually scared me and made me worried about my safety – I’ve had people follow me for blocks at midnight in a neighborhood where it was commonplace to beat up queers, I’ve had people corner me on public transportation and say things to me that were so dirty and disgusting I would never repeat it to anyone else. All in all, I count myself extremely lucky. No one has ever hurt me physically, and what queer person hasn’t these things or much much worse done to them? Still, I say to myself, this should not be a commonplace experience. It should not be my experience. I should not have to steel myself against these sorts of intrusions when I am in public spaces.

There’s something about the word dyke, though, that I can’t let go. It ricochets me right back into high school and a whole separate world of rules. I have since worked hard to reclaim that word for myself – preferring it as a term to describe myself over all others, even enjoying at times the momentary looks of shock when I describe myself as a dyke to people who never hear that term used in polite company. But in high school, it cut deep. It immobilized me. Unlike now when I hear that word verbally hurled at me and I keep walking, more aware of my surroundings perhaps, but essentially unfazed. In high school, though, I couldn’t. Senior year I had a girlfriend and I couldn’t be anywhere on campus without being called a dyke and being told that I was going to hell (oh the creativity of high schoolers). At that time, I was a loud vocal opponent against anything I perceived to be racist or sexist (I have since learned the subtle art of nuance and a whole lot more about the actual manifestations of racism and sexism in our daily lives), but when it came to standing up for myself or other queers I was paralyzed. It cut too deep to the bone, I couldn’t say or do anything. Plus, there was the phenomenon of the power of anonymity where the only people who said nasty things to me were nameless people I didn’t know and couldn’t track down again. In my small high school, no one I knew ever said anything derogatory to me (even those I knew did not approve of my queerness), only folks from other classes who didn’t know me.

So I’ll keep trucking, but I can’t say I’m thrilled about this latest development. But I am pleased that I don’t feel as powerless and paralyzed as I used to. And looking on the bright side, I can always channel that anger into something positive – like continuing to queer up midwifery. Because what else is a dyke to do?

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13 responses to “Dyke

  1. Coming from a mom of 3, who was married for 6 years and now has a girlfriend, only now can I relate. I’m a Doula and working towards becoming a midwife. I often wonder how my sexual preference will now be looked at in a female saturated field. I wonder what people will think.

    Have you touch on that before in your blog? I would love to hear more if you are ever so inclined.

    • Jes, I’ve definitely been hoping to address that topic, thanks for the kick in the pants to get going on it.

      A couple of quick things – it helps me to check in with queer-identified birth workers like Miriam Perez over at Radical Doula and Kristin Kali at MAIA Midwifery for my own sanity.

      Beyond that, it depends largely on the area you’re located in. If folks aren’t batting an eyelash at you being a queer doula, they probably won’t worry too much about you being a queer midwife. I sometimes think that there’s more prejudice within the midwifery community about queer midwives than there is with clients choosing a queer midwife. Personally, I’ve found much more happiness and confidence just being out about who I am in all aspects of my life and have found people to respond positively. And there’s always the truth that people don’t always see what they aren’t looking to find. People can assume whatever they want about my sexual orientation, but what truly matters to them is whether we can develop a good interpersonal relationship and whether they can trust me and my skills as their care provider. If I don’t make it an issue (or better yet, if I act confidently as a queer midwife) other people don’t make it an issue either.

      And then finally, there’s the asset of my sexuality with some clients. Queer and trans clients as well as clients who are currently in relationships with men but have had relationships with women in the past may feel more comfortable with me than with a midwife who hasn’t had my experiences. It’s all so dependent on the situation.

      Regardless, I’d love to hear more about your experiences too – has sexuality ever come up for you as a doula or a student midwife either positively or negatively?

  2. I can’t believe somebody would say that to you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of this type of situation unless occuring jokingly between gay friends. Maybe you should head over here to sunny California where homosexuality and short hair cuts are embraced :)

    • Depends on where you are in California, although I do miss the sun. We got harassed regularly where we were living in the Los Angeles area. I imagine I’d have better luck in the Bay Area though …

  3. I shaved my head for three years, and as a very obviously-girly girl, I got a lot of questions as to why I shaved my head. A lot of people thought I had cancer even though I didn’t look anything close to sick, and I got very very tired of random people thinking I cared what they thought of my hair.

    I understand the not-getting-what-you-asked-for dislike, but (if you care what I think :P) your haircut is very cute. It’s just a little shorter than what I’m looking for, but I will save your photo for future haircut references. :)

    • Oh, that’s not a picture of me. It’s Natalie Portman. That’s what I wished I looked like. But I think my hair is growing out ok in the end.

  4. Ha. I thought it looked too much like a webcam shot to be Natalie Portman, but was thinking, ‘wow, she looks a lot like her! No wonder the haircut looks so good.’

    • Lol. I only wished I looked like Natalie Portman in that picture. And believe me, I would not be complaining if that was the haircut I had received!

  5. i was just looking for some short hairstyles for my friend, and i happened to stumble on your page, but i just had to say, as a guy, (i am from northern california lol), but hair length doesn’t matter. There are lot of women with short hair that are extremely gorgeous. Don’t worry about stupid people. Regardless of what happens, there will be unenlightened people as you go through your day. The thoughts of those people are not worth wasting your time and energy on. Live for yourself, and how you want to live your life. There are guys out there that will also think you are gorgeous with short hair. So just do what you want to do!

  6. The woman in this photo sure doesn’t look like a dyke. She looks like a sexy femme! Oh, YEAH. (Mmmm, I am one lesbian who needs to turn on the A/C because it’s hot in here.
    Nice haircut. When people make snide remarks about me and MY haircut, I ignore it for the most part. Screw ’em. I have been out for YEARS and I honestly don’t care what people say or what they think of me being gay. We all have a right to be happy and be proud of who we are. If someone doesn’t like it – they can shut up or let’s take this outside so I can clear it up for them.

  7. I don’t know you, but I was looking for very short haircuts. I absolutely LOVE your haircut! It’s so ridiculously adorable! I don’t even think it looks “dyke-ish”. It’s feminine and looks new and trendy and cute, kind of like Michelle Williams. Rock it, because it’s too cute.

  8. Sorry you got a bad cut. I am hoping to get a short cute cut, too. I was thinking about possibly trying a student cut but now I am thinking maybe not. I had never considered the consequences of a short cut and people viewing you differently. Sorry you had to have such experiences with people who are so rude and mean. Hope you are rocking you new look and not letting what people think bug you too much. I would say try to find a stylist who is good with short cuts and hopefully you can get a style you are happy with. I love the look in the pic. I would be very happy with that, too!

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