My long brown hair fell to the floor in chunks, which brought a sweet relief to the aching hair follicles on my scalp. It was 14 days since my first chemo treatment, and my hair had been littering the house like tumbleweeds for the past two days.
I didn’t look at myself in the mirror while my head was shaved in a private room at a cancer apparel boutique. Instead, I glanced at my friend Tiffany, who gave me a warm but sad smile. My son, Sam, played with a mannequin modeling a peacock-coloured headscarf.
“What do you think?” I asked Sam while my former hair surrounded the barber’s chair like a moat.
Sam looked up at me and broke out into a huge smile. “You look really cool!” he exclaimed as he came over to sit on my lap.
That’s the best compliment I have ever received on my appearance. I sometimes can even believe it in my heart.
I looked in the mirror for the first time. Oh, that’s not too bad!
Tiffany snapped a picture for my wife, Brett, and my best friend, Alexis, and then I sent it off to them. Everyone was complimentary, and I kind of liked my new G.I. Jane appearance.
Then it was time to put on the new headscarf that Sam had picked out for me from a selection of dozens: a cozy cap of purples, greens, yellows, and blues with two long tails to tie up. With this armour chosen by my son, I felt ready to conquer the year ahead of intense cancer treatments.
Brett has been growing her hair out for the past several years of her gender transition. After my head had been shorn, I graciously bestowed upon Brett the family title of “The Hair.” This was a joke that had started several years ago when my youngest brother, Scott, wore his hair a bit longer than I usually did. After Scott cut his hair short, the title was given to me. And now that I had very little hair, I felt it was Brett’s time. Her hair is a shimmery blend of light brown with many blond highlights and sports a natural, beautiful wave. She is gorgeous and definitely “The Hair” of the family.
A few days after my head shave, even the cute G.I. Jane look started to hurt my scalp. So I got the shaving cream, my razor, and a towel before proceeding to carefully shave off the buzz cut in front of the bathroom mirror.
Shaving my own head is the most badass thing I’ve ever done. Even after the body dysphoria started, I still felt this to be true.
I caught a flash of a bald head in my bedroom mirror. Who is that? I momentarily wondered. That’s when I remembered that this bald head belonged to me, but even after a few months of being hairless, I failed to recognize myself.
When I would see Brett with her beautiful hair and feminine appearance, I would think about how I get, as much as a cis person can, what it must be like for some trans people to look in the mirror and not see their true selves. I always knew it was me with my headscarf on, but I didn’t know this weirdly ethereal creature who was completely hairless, and that’s why I never once recognized her at first glance.
Okay, Beatrice. Breathe. Just breathe. It’s not the worst thing in the world.
In my hands I held my beloved headscarf, which now sported a rather large hole running along the seam after I’d taken it from the dryer. The hole would create a gap where my unruly medium brown chemo curls could sprout through. I sat in the dark on the bright white linoleum floor in my parents-in-law’s laundry room. Sam, Brett, and I were visiting family in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and if I needed a new scarf, I had no idea where to get one.
My chemo curls felt completely wrong to me, and sometimes I had distressing pulling urges as my hair was growing back. The trichotillomania I’ve battled on and off since my earliest childhood memories threatened to come back in full force if I went too long with my head uncovered. Trichotillomania and the dysphoria kept me wearing my headscarf long after the point many cancer patients would have stopped wearing any sort of cancer-related head covering.
Fretfully, I walked from the laundry room to the mirror at the front entrance to the house. My mother-in-law, Alma, passed by me in the hallway, and I don’t think I sounded as panicked as I felt when I mentioned to her what had just happened. The sunlight gleamed through the windows along the door as I anxiously slid the scarf over my head and tied the tails to cover the hole. There, now you couldn’t see the hole. You couldn’t see this first dent in my armour against trichotillomania and body dysphoria. But I knew the dent was there, even if no one else could see it.
That’s when I decided after we got back to Calgary from Ontario, it was finally time for my first post-chemo haircut.
Check out Beatrice’s last post here.