“My 12-year-old daughter wants to cut her hair really really short, but I’m worried that people will think she is a lesbian. I have suspected that she might be gay. Is this her way of coming out to me? And, should I let her cut her hair?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Grace Manger
There are multiple layers to this question: the more surface-level issue of a drastic haircut, along with the more complicated issues of what this haircut means for your daughter, and what it means for how others may perceive her. I think you need to look at each of these worries individually, and ask yourself what you’re really worried about.
I would first like to point out that short hair does not a lesbian make. That being said, when I got to college and started coming out to myself, I went full-on pixie cut, loved it, and felt more comfortable with my appearance than I had ever felt in my life. That haircut was a way for me to mull over all the (narrowly-defined) stereotypes and preconceptions of what a lesbian “should” look like before I could come to terms with the possibility of being gay myself. Even though I had relatively short hair for my whole life up until that point, The Great Cut of 2011 was, in a lot of ways, a first coming out moment for me. (Remember, coming out is a process.)
Your daughter could be in a similar position—perhaps without her even being aware of it—or, of course, she could be like plenty of heterosexual women that prefer shorter hair. In my humble opinion, short hair is the best: easy maintenance, shorter showers, and you can avoid ponytail-induced headaches. Like I said, I had short hair long before I was trying to make any kind of statement about my sexuality.
Regardless of any conscious or subconscious motivation, your daughter wants to cut her hair. As someone who has worked extensively with young girls on empowerment and self-esteem, I think we often underestimate the amount of times adults and people in power inadvertently convey to young girls that their bodies are not their own. We monitor what girls can wear and otherwise do with their bodies in ways that we wouldn’t even imagine doing for boys—think about school dress codes that disproportionately monitor girls’ clothing options in the name of not distracting boys. Controlling your daughter’s desire to change her appearance is another way of undermining her right to bodily autonomy and sends the message that other people’s opinions of her body and appearance are more important than how she feels about herself. I understand that she is your child, and that sometimes parents need to make decisions on behalf of their children. However, I do not think this is one of them.
While navigating this situation, try to remain aware of how your words and actions could affect your relationship with your daughter down the road, if and when she comes out to you. Not letting her cut her hair because she will “look like a lesbian,” or worrying that others will think she is a lesbian if you do let her cut her hair, sends the message that you think there is something inherently wrong or bad about being gay—or that there is something wrong or bad about her being her authentic self. Before you go any further with this, ask yourself if and why you think being gay is wrong, and if you want your daughter to keep her identity a secret from you because of this belief.
This whole culture of “looking like a lesbian” is something we all need to work to address. Lesbians are not all identical to each other, so there is no one way to “look like a lesbian;” rather, there are stereotypes of how lesbians look, which only serve to put us all in tiny boxes and discount the valid identities and experiences of those who do not fit the superficial stereotype. Sexuality, gender presentation, and physical appearance are all so complicated, and we all need to work together to separate them from each other. If someone gives your daughter a hard time and ignorantly equates having short hair with being a lesbian, you should take the opportunity to show your unconditional support of your daughter as well as educate someone in the process. You know that hairstyle is completely independent of sexuality, so you have the power to help dismantle that stereotype while being a fantastic ally to the whole LGBTQ community.
Talk to your daughter. Have an open conversation with her and be willing to hear about why she wants to cut her hair. You do not have to make it about sexuality or gender expression, but take your daughter’s lead on where the discussion goes. Your daughter is at a very vulnerable age with her body, so remind her that you will love her regardless of what she looks like.
Grace is the Senior Managing Editor here at My Kid Is Gay. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger
Want to become a volunteer writer? Tell us here!