For many non-binary and gender non-conforming people, simple things most take for granted can be the first step towards self-expression and identity affirmation.
Sakib Ibn Rashid Rhivu
Liz Fagan, a journalist and linguist from St. John’s, knew from a young age that they didn’t fit into society’s traditional gender norms. Growing up, they felt uncomfortable with the expectations placed on them as a woman.
However, it wasn’t until later in life that they discovered the transformative power of a gender-affirming haircut.
“A gender-affirming haircut is a physical manifestation of your identity,” Fagan said. “It reflects who you are on the inside in a physical way that others can see.”
Fagan says reclaiming their identity involved more than just cutting their hair. It meant rejecting society’s narrow definitions of femininity and embracing their true self.
“I realized that a lot of the femininity that I had constructed was done by society and not by me,” said Fagan. “Reclaiming my curly hair and reclaiming my identity had everything to do with me becoming who I am.”
Fagan’s experience is not unique, says Ali Pike. She has been a hairstylist in St. John’s for 17 years. For many non-binary and gender non-conforming people, a haircut can be a powerful tool for self-expression and identity affirmation.
“The gender binary is very exclusive, and it excludes so many people,” Pike said. “When we use inclusive language, we’re not excluding anybody. There’s no reason to use a gender binary when describing haircuts or when offering them.”
It’s essential for stylists to educate themselves about different gender identities, pronouns, and hair needs to provide a positive experience for clients, Pike says.
“The process of breaking down gender norms in the hair industry is not just about being inclusive,” said Pike. “It’s also about empowering individuals to express their true selves without fear of judgment.”
But despite the progress being made towards inclusivity, the recent shooting in Nashville, Tenn., which was carried out by a transgender individual, has reignited fears and prejudices against the transgender community.
“People are thinking that it’s an LGBTQ issue,” Fagan said referring to the shooting. ” I don’t think anyone from the trans community would say, ‘Yeah, I support this killing.’ No. It’s just this person. Their gender or sexuality has nothing to do with it.”
In the wake of the shooting, transgender people have been subjected to hate speech and harassment on social media platforms like Twitter.
For Fagan, it’s more critical than ever to create a safe and affirming environment for non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals.
“It’s like, you choose how you want to construct your identity,” said Fagan. “And that choice was taken from me when I was very little, because you watch movies and like romance movies, you know, the girl has to have long hair, it has to have red lipstick, and that’s what you’re taught a woman is supposed to look like. But now I’m learning who I am at the same time that you’re learning who I am.”
“When you can see what you feel, it proves that you exist, that you’re real.”– Liz Fagan
Pike says the hair industry has a responsibility to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of gender identity or expression. By breaking down gender norms and embracing diversity, stylists like her are trying to create a space where people can feel seen, heard, and validated.
“Hair has the power to tell a story,” Pike said. “And as stylists, it’s our privilege to help clients share their stories and express their identities through their unique hair journeys.”
The road to self-discovery and self-expression is not always easy, but for Fagan and others like them, a gender-affirming haircut can be a powerful step in the right direction.
“I’ve never resonated with society’s definition of what a woman is – It’s a very white view, a very patriarchal view of what a woman is,” said Fagan. “But now, when I look in the mirror, I see myself. And that’s an incredibly powerful feeling. When you can see what you feel, it proves that you exist, that you’re real.”