The two most beautiful words in the English language are “crew cut”, but the bleached-blonde beautician doing my hair apparently doesn’t agree. I told her what I want, but there must be no ears under the poodle-like perm sitting on the top of her head. Although the hairdresser seems not to hear, she can see. She sees my long brown hair and blue eyes and decides I want a little trim and some makeup tips. She probably wants to give me mall bangs and blue eye shadow. That is not what I want. I have this image of myself—white tee-shirt, Levi’s, black plastic unbreakable comb—cool and classic like James Dean. Butch. If she gets this right, I won’t even need the comb, but it’s part of the fantasy, strong and sexy. I know just where I’ll keep it.
She can’t see me because I’m in disguise. I’m ready to come out of hiding, but I need her help. I can buy my own jeans and tee-shirt, but I don’t want to cut my hair myself. Someday I’ll get my own clippers but I’m still on Lesbian 101: cut your hair, find a girlfriend, come out to your mom. I thought the haircut would be the easy part.
The beautician, Monique, spins my chair around so that I can see her work in the mirror. “I know you wanted it shorter,” she said, “so I’ve given you a cute little bob.” I look in the mirror and I look just like that redhead Molly Ringwald from the Breakfast Club. Why is it that every time there’s a popular new actress they try to make everyone look like her? Monique picks up a can of Aqua Net like she’s armed for battle.
“You’re not listening to me,” I say, gesturing at her to put the can down. “I want a crew cut.”
“But you’re such a pretty girl,” she says, “and that’s a man’s haircut.”
Or a lesbian’s, I think, but I’m not ready to say it out loud. What if she freaks out and calls me a queer? What if she starts screaming about the Bible? I heard enough of that at St. Benedict’s growing up, and now that I’ve graduated I can’t take any more lectures about how sick people like me are. Practically everyone in this town is Catholic, and I’m sure some of them believe I’m going to hell, but New York City is two hours away and too far for a haircut. The best I could do today was riding a bus to the other end of town where I wasn’t likely to run into anyone I knew. I’m not ready to get yelled at for my “man’s” haircut. I take the chicken’s way out.
“I need it for ROTC,” I tell her. “I’m going into the army this fall so they’ll pay for my college.”
“Oh,” she says, “thank you for your service.” She puts down the hair spray with metallic finality.
I close my eyes as she starts the clippers and my disguise falls to the floor in little brown tufts. When I look in the mirror this time, I start to cry. Sometimes the fairy princess is a butch dyke in 501s and a tee-shirt waiting to emerge from captivity and once she’s free you’ll never let her be trapped again. I realize I have come out. They’ll see me and they’ll know. I can’t tell everyone I’m joining the army, and now I don’t want to. I want to march out of the shop and have my own private Pride parade.
I smile at Monique. “This is perfect, thank you.” I give her a big tip. When I’m back out on the street I whisper “And Monique? I’m a lesbian.” Then I say it a little louder. Then louder. That woman shouting? It’s me. I’m the sexy one with the black plastic comb in her back pocket.