Let’s do a little thought experiment.
Take a llama. This llama was born in Peru, like most llamas. He wears one of those little Peruvian caps the peasants wear in The Emperor’s New Groove. Everyday, he takes the same mountain trail, and one day, while doing so, his little Peruvian cap blows right off his fuzzy head and down into the yawning gorge below and is swallowed up by the jungle. Then, the llama no longer has his little Peruvian cap.
Is he still a Peruvian llama even though he has nothing to differentiate him from his neighbour, a Bolivian llama? The Peruvian llama is a Peruvian llama because he is Peruvian, and not because he wears a little hat on his head. The hat just makes him easier to identify as a Peruvian llama. I think most rational people would agree that he is, and that using purely physical appearance — in this case, the Peruvian cap — to ascribe something as complicated as identity is absurd.
About two months ago I decided on a whim to cut my hair. And by cut, I mean lop off like Marie Antoinette’s head: straight cut, no questions asked, boyishly short. I was walking by a barber shop and said to myself, “Self, would what would happen if?” The next thing I knew I was telling the stylist that yes, I did, indeed want her to cut it all off. No I was not worried about looking “unfeminine” thank you, please cut it right to the nape of my neck.
The mechanics of short hair aside — gels and mousse and the unfamiliar sensation of air on the back of my neck — it wasn’t long before I noticed something else other than my bed-head was different. People began assuming — or rather, making comments to let me know they assumed — that I was a lesbian.
Certain girls began to smile at me who had not smiled at me before, and certain boys stopped — and there is nothing to complain about there. Who can complain about more of the good sort of attention and less of the kind you don’t want?
Just as the sort of women I did want to look at me were looking at me, other people, both men and women, started looking at me differently, and not always positively. It was in the way they would or would not meet my eye. Assumptions — now of the accurate variety — were being made and are being made about my sexuality based on my physical appearance.
Now, one could argue this is purely a benefit. I am more visible to the queer community and this visibility translates into an increased presence in the general community. But what does it say about the assumptions people make, and the nature of stereotypes?
I admit that I feel “gayer” with short hair — more natural, if you will — but I’m no more queer than I ever was before. I’ve always given the pretty girl at the café a flirty smile. (And the one at the bookstore. And the cafeteria.) Somehow the length of my hair doesn’t seem to have any impact of my natural attraction to members of the same sex and my love of Ellen. But it does seem to make other people aware — even uncomfortable — about my sexuality and their perceptions of it.
More importantly, what do assumptions about sexuality based on physical appearance say about the nature of femininity? Am I less “feminine”(as my hair dresser tactlessly suggested) for having shorter hair? Is a lesbian with long hair less of a dyke? I was a woman the day before I cut my hair and I continued — according to my drivers license and a quick panty check — to be a just as much of a woman after I had it all lopped off. We’re all women. We’re all female. We are all “feminine.” Outward appearance is a way to tell each other from the crowd — but is the crowd imposing these idea about our identity on us, or we are imposing our own identity on the crowd?
If I were to decide to just let my hair grown out again, to let it grow long and style it, people would likely assume that I was straight, both in the general and the queer community. Cutting my hair wasn’t an expression of sexuality — it was an experiment to see if it would effect the perceptions people had about me would alter. Identity isn’t about what you wear or how you cut your hair or whether or not you choose to wear make-up. It’s about how you feel, and who you are as a person. Although there’s no reason to not be proud of who you are and show it off — so long as how you show it off is an expression of you.