i had a nightmare last night that my hair had grown out long again.
disembodied, i watched myself look in a bathroom mirror.
i couldn’t recognize the person standing in front of the glass
and they couldn’t recognize their own reflection.
all three of us stared at each other
through the veils separating our realities.

a few inches, that’s all it took
to alienate me from myself.
my heart pounded when i felt the thick locks
between my fingers.
haunting reminders of a past life,
ghosts of the character i used to play
and the wig i wore to look the part.
dream logic convinced me
this deformity was permanent,
that i was condemned to return
to this former half-self.

i live in fear of my body’s betrayal
a single long strand could strangle me,
a softness in the wrong place could reveal me.
when i speak, i know my own voice will indict me.
this corporeal form is a liar i must silence—
muffle it under loose fabric, arrange in an inconspicuous pose,
modify, battle, obscure and deny.

i am probed by every self-declared taxonomer
who can classify me in one unforgiving glance.
before i can protest, my appearance speaks for me.
if i am superficial, i am only trying to maintain eye contact
with the people observing me. can you blame me
for floating on the surface of a shallow world?
i fight to be seen the only way i know how.

hair is the fine line protecting me from the appearance of femininity.
it is the millimeter boundary i set between myself and the binary,
a flimsy cover, but at least some sense of security.
i arm myself with aesthetics, ready to kill
the girl that onlookers perceive in my place.
in my nightmares i see myself defenseless,
at the mercy of assumptions.

yet when i wake, when i run my hands over my head
and feel the reassuring prickles, i know the relief is temporary.
i can trim and i can shapeshift,
i can mold myself like clay
but i will always be performing,
fighting to externalize an invisible experience.
yet, there’s freedom in futility.
that’s the thought that lets me rest.

*Article thumbnail "Oster Classic 76 Hair Clipper" by Mr.TinDC is licensed for use under CC BY-ND 2.0.