Short Hair is for Boys 

LGBTBy Trang Le

I am a girl. That is a simple fact.

But six years ago I cut my hair short and everything changed.

I still dressed the same, acted the same, walked and talked the same. (All admittedly tomboyish). But suddenly everyone saw me as a boy.

All because of a haircut.

I’d thought people might be shocked. And I thought I might be mistaken for a boy. But I didn’t expect it to be so burdensome.

Like the time I walked into our high school bathroom and a girl came up and questioned my gender. She proceeded to ask if she could touch me to confirm, because she didn’t believe it. I got so uncomfortable going into public restrooms or locker rooms that now I just avoid it.

I’m often mistaken for a boy, yet I’ve never questioned my gender. In fact, I often wonder why people assume I’m a boy when it’s so obvious to me and my friends that I’m not.

Some ask if I am transgender. I do strongly relate to their issues. And there have been times when I’ve wondered if I’d have been better off as a boy. But I strongly identify as a girl. I’ve held onto that part of myself for a long time and it’s not something I see myself questioning in the future.

They say male-to-female transitions are more common in the transgender community. And I’m not surprised. Females are generally given more room to express themselves, and their identity isn’t questioned as much if they choose to explore their masculinity. Men face more rigid boundaries because feminine traits are deemed less valuable in our patriarchal society. So men acting feminine is more threatening and less tolerated.

Tao Te LBGTQ

Tao Te LBGTQ

But for me, even though I walk like a guy, talk like a guy, hate wearing dresses and makeup, and love video games, I still feel like a girl.

Also, a lot of people assume I’m gay, so I’ve faced plenty of homophobia, like girls keeping their distance.

At first I vehemently rejected the notion because of my own internalized homophobia. I was already “abnormal” enough by society’s standards and didn’t need more reasons to be seen as deviant.

I resented myself for a long time but finally became comfortable enough to identify as bisexual — and later as pansexual.

There’s still the idea that gender and sexuality are two sides of the same coin, even though they may overlap or not.

My identity as a girl and how I have chosen to present have become a big part of my life and have shaped some very big decisions as I think about the future.

I’m sure that people will keep misgendering me and make assumptions about who I am. But it’s only driven me to further question why things are the way they are, and think about what I can do to change it.

Trang is one of my students who gave permission to post this

October is LGBTQ month

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 17, 2014, in feminism, gender, LGBT+ and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. Gender is such an interesting issue. I completely identified with your previous post “Tomboy to Sex Object”–exactly the same transition growing up. I find it very interesting that you’re a “pansexual.” Have you written any previous posts explaining this? I’m a Behavioral Therapist on an adolescent mental health unit and so many of the teenagers now are identifying themselves as “pansexuals.” A couple of years ago I was thrown off by this, but after having researched it a quite a bit I understand what the kids are meaning when they say this now. I still think it would be very interesting to hear from your perspective though. Let me know-Thanks BB!

  2. Society has some set notions which it always tries to put on everybody…and whenever anyone behaves otherwise they are ‘marked’ and treated in the way Trang has described….. 😦 ..

  3. Yeesh – I’m sorry you have to go through this.

    If it makes you feel better, when I was in high school and had basically no friends, a group of girls I was on the basketball team with were doing that teenage girl thing where they giggle and whisper behind someone’s back. At me. Occasionally they would throw a comment in my direction and they would all laugh. I never understood what was funny. One day I was informed that all of this treatment was because they had decided I was a lesbian. (!) Okay, then. I am as straight as they come, and even as the devout Catholic I was, it made NO sense to me to treat someone different because they are a lesbian.

    My point is – it seems to be a near-universal experience that people get picked on. It may be hard to reframe it in your head, but it really does say more about them than you. Normal, decent people don’t treat other people the way you are getting treated; why are they so insecure that they need to classify someone as “other” just so they can feel more “normal”?

    I 99.9% guarantee you (because nothing is 100% certain) that when you get out into the real adult world, no one is going to care about your tomboyish looks. And if they do, it’s a signal that you need to leave that toxic environment and find a new one. One of the things that sucks about school is that if it’s a bad environment, you really are kinda trapped; but that won’t always be true.

    Good luck!

  4. So it was not just short hair, but her clothes, way she walked, talked, that made her look or seem like a boy to people? It’s more then hair though, sounds like she was dressing what some would say slightly butchish, there’s another word, I can’t remember, unisex which is more mild. Anyway, it’s not simply short hair, as I’ve know quite a bit of girls with short hair, who not only look like girls, but are quite feminine looking and very pretty. Sure some do look better when having longer hair, but others look as good with short hair and still pretty and feminine. Nobody questions the girls I know with short hair, and definitely know they are girls and feminine.

    • You are right, it’s not just the hair. And yet she was seen as a girl before she cut her hair — so for her that did make all of the difference.

      Women can dress pretty masculine and still be seen as female.

      But I wanted a short, catchy title. (You may have noticed that my titles don’t always accurately reflect reality, like Tom Friedman’s book: the world is flat.)

      • “You are right, it’s not just the hair. And yet she was seen as a girl before she cut her hair — so for her that did make all of the difference.”

        My question then is, if cutting her hair did make the difference. Is it more likely because that girl has, say a less feminine face? What I mean by that, is there are some girls and women who dress masculine or baggy, and it’s hard to tell if they are female,not just because their dress and hair, but because their faces were already “rougher” anyway, so a short hair cut only made it hard to decipher their sex. It’s not a knock on these women, but people obviously, come in different shapes and sizes as well as different looking faces obviously. I’ve seen women, regular women, not dressed in butch or with long hair.

        They have long hair, and you can tell they’re women, but if they cut their hair shot, it would be harder to decipher because of their, less feminine faces. Maybe that’s the case for this girl and why her cutting her hair caused the difference. Whereas, other girls and women have feminine or very feminie pretty faces, so simply having short hair doesn’t make a difference as their facial structure, whether the small features, cheek bones, eyes, there’s something with girls or women where such features are very femine and every knows and can tell they’re women even if dressing more masculine and having short hair.

        Just look at the guy’s from Nelson, they have the long hair, but it’s more so their faces that made them kind look girlish or like chicks. Wherease, the singer to Twister Sister, he would have lipstick and make up and long hair too. Yet, because of his, maybe uglinness, but also his prominent facial features and nose, definitely made it obvious he’s a dude, from such masculine facial features. It can go that way for women too maybe.

      • I guess the short hair added the final necessary cue for her appearance to become confusing in our society.

      • As a genderqueer person who is specifically TRYING to present an ambiguous appearance because having people be confused about my gender is the closest I will be able to come, in most places, to people recognizing that I don’t have a gender, this was certainly my experience. I wear very masculine clothing much of the time and some of my mannerisms and speech patterns are masculine but as long as I had long hair people never failed to gender me female. I cut my hair short (and not even that short!) and suddenly I started hearing “sir” from time to time. This is GREAT and feels very validating, but it turns out I hate having short hair so now I’m really struggling with which is more important to me – looking how I want or being read how I want.

      • Really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  5. One of my sons had long hair, loved dancing and sparkly things. In some ways I expect he would be considered effeminate. But he loves girls and likes being a boy. Almost the opposite of the situation above. When he entered high school he had had enough bullying and changed his look to fit in a bit more.

    Crossing gender-definitions seems to frighten parents who then transfer their fears to their children. At least that was our experience. Lots of scars for that kid of mine (who is now an adult).

    • So sorry to hear about that.

      My student, Trang, is lucky enough to live in the San Francisco Bay Area where it’s fairly progressive on these sorts of issues — but less so in high school, in particular, so even she has had struggles.

  6. Personally, I think women with short hair look very feminine and sexy… nothing like a short and sassy pixie…

  7. There is nothing like a sexy and confident woman. I love the short hair look. I think it is very sensuous.
    What really makes a woman sexy is her confidence. If that is with short hair, it really does not matter to me. Just as it does not matter whether she wears a skirt, pants, or a dress.
    I saw an Asian young lady last week in the public library. She had very short hair and was wearing a purple Brooks Brothers shirt, black khaki pants, and a pair of flats with very short hair. Friendly with a lovely smile. Very pretty and sexy!!!

  8. Thanks for sharing your experiences Trang. It’s hard for me to imagine the struggles of discovering your own gender identity while being judged by everyone around you. The closest I can imagine is the fact I’ve feared the judgement of others at times very strongly at points in my life, like during high school, but never on an issue as controversial as gender identity.

    I think it’s great that you’ve used your hardships and experiences to make yourself a more aware individual who wants to question the status quo and why things are the way that they are. Many people let traumatic events take over their lives and live with that fear, but what you’ve done is much more constructive and has only made you a stronger individual. I hope that our society learns to become more accepting of gender issues moving forward so that people don’t have to suffer through the same experiences that you have.

  9. Funny, when I started university I shared room with another girl, we lived in a house with maybe 20 other girls. She was so friendly, smart, great friend; many girls would come to our room, or we would go to their room, no big deal until someone figured out she was in the school´s soccer team. Since then other girls would gossip on her back, ad spy her. No one would come to our room anymore, or invite her over. It was very shocking that big change for a simple matter as it is a sport, but coming from a society that volleyball is for girls and soccer for boys, it´s hard for many to actually be willing to experience something different.

    It is just a matter of society and its stereotyping, we learn gender socialization since we are babies, as it is in the clothes and room decoration, so our family is the first one that exposes us to stereotyping, then the social institutions that teach us gender expectations. It is funny that here in the US people presumes to be liberal, free, etc., but when it comes to gender, race, or social status, many would judge. I think that all comes from ignorance, we are afraid of something that we don´t know or understand.

    • Soccer for boys? what place is this? It’s one thing to have gender expectations when there is a big difference. But soccer? For all of my life, soccer has always been quite the girl sport or just as much a girl sport as guy’s. Nothing masculine about the sport, or quite the unisex spot. Even girly girls I know have played sports. It’s very popular for girls to play and a very common sport for girls, so it’s weird that it was seen as a boy sport. Common girls sports are volleyball, softball, soccer, and field hockey. That’s not counting swimming and track and field stuff which is neither masculine or feminine sport. Now onthe other hand, if they were playing, say rugby, that would be seen as more tomboyish. I can’t say basketball is really non feminine either or something that would be a guyish sport for girls. The few exceptions would be rugby because of how physical it is, hockey would be seen more tomboyish, wrestling, football and boxing, not that would make sense as far as girls being seen differently for playing these “boy’s sports”/

  10. It is interesting how we identify gender and sexuality as separate entities, when society does not allow us to develop our own overlapping perspectives on how the two coincide; sure we are “allowed” to think and feel whatever we please, but everything has its own consequences, even when you are being completely true to yourself.Who do we care so much about the appearance or sexual preference of others? Something is deeply wrong with our society, when you cannot have organic feelings without being labeled something offensive. For what its worth, my mother wore her head short/bald for most of my life, it never seemed out of the ordinary; it only encouraged me to be myself and do what makes me happy.

  11. It’s crazy that even though there aren’t supposed to be any hard rules when it comes to gender (as opposed to sex, which is biologically-based), there are still pretty hard rules out there on gender that our cultures have set. Even here in the Bay Area where the culture generally more open-minded than some other regions and it consists of a melting pot of perspectives and backgrounds, there are lingering expectations that go along with gender definitions. In my parents’ case (they immigrated to the US from Vietnam), there’s not a lot of leeway when it comes to gender. Girls are supposed to comport themselves and look a certain way, and guys another. It comes as no surprise that my parents never approved of my playing rugby where girls tackle each other; my parents were even more appalled when they saw two of my female teammates rock faux hawks. Still, their expectations are more loose than they would have been if my parents had stayed in Vietnam. For some others in the Bay Area, gender may be harder to box, but some standards are still in place. I’ve overheard people judge Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for letting their kid Shiloh dress and look like a tomboy. Outside of the crossfit community, I hear a lot of guys comment about how certain girls are too muscular and no longer lady-like. I’ve even had a close acquaintance tell me that I shouldn’t work out more than I already do so that I won’t lose my curves and become too “man-like.” I know that Americans, particularly moderate to liberal Americans, have come a long way when it comes to gender, but comments like those aforementioned still shock me.

  12. Pansexual is a new term for me. I’m glad Trang has stayed her own course and taken people’s lack of understanding and questions as fuel to come to her choices about who she is!

  13. Why is it that in almost every society women are expected to have long hair? I remember researching this a long time ago but didn’t find anything helpful. Was there a time when men and women both had long/short hair or the opposite was true? I’ve always wondered why women are expected to have long hair. It’s a little ironic since now days we’re also expected to be completely hairless from our neck down. As much as I love my long hair and would be absolutely devastated if I lost my long hair it’s also true that long hair is more difficult to maintain, care for, time consuming and often restricting. My guess is that it’s a standard set to make it easier to differentiate between men and women, just like clothing. Through out history, in many cultures and even religious doctrine men and women are given dress codes and this includes restricting one gender from wearing certain colors, clothing material, designs and accessories and what’s worn by women has often been less practical and/or decorative. So my guess is the different standards for hair length/style is also meant to make it easier to differentiate between men and women. Women might also be the one expected to have long hair because we’re less likely to go bald so there are other reasons to explain the double standard other than women getting the crappy deal just because of the restrictive and impractical clothing reason I gave earlier.

    I would love to read a post by you on the topic or just your thoughts.

    To your student: I’m sorry you had to go through that. I think people often get uncomfortable when they can’t easily differentiate between men and women because then they don’t know how to treat that person. One of the reason why strangers often demand to know sex of babies, so they’ll know how to view and interact. Hair has become a big part of what differentiates us. I really hope we can get past that some day and treat all humans as humans and let people be and I believe for that to happen we need strong people like you to be you. Not everyone can be strong enough to allow themselves to be who they are and you doing just that will make it easier for others.

    • Okay. Thanks for the blog post idea. And thanks for the comment to Trang.

    • A lot of gendered grooming and dress standards are about taking natural tendencies and exaggerating them – cis-female bodies are naturally less hairy than cis-male bodies to cis-females exaggerate this by removing more of their hair. Cis-male bodies are naturally broader-shouldered than cis-female bodies so they wear suits that accentuate the breadth of their shoulders. It also turns out that in addition to being more likely to go bald, cis-male bodies usually cannot grow head-hair as long as cis-female bodies. So, again, we take this natural tendency and exaggerate it.

      At least that’s my guess as to why.

  14. I think this society has a need to keep everything in order. People like to label things so they don’t need to face their fear of facing something new and unusually. So that’s why boy has to act like a boy, dress like a boy, and talk like a boy; same as girls. People tend to not ask why, but they just know that it’s something that everybody follows. And if you are lucky, then you don’t need to face the oppression and judgement from others. It is extremely hard fot those who can not fit the standard. It is not because they are not normal, like the author said, she is totally normal and consider herself as a female, but the existing standard that has to be questioned. Why do we need to keep things in the old way? Maybe in the future short hair of a girl can symbolize as independent, confident, and sexy. We need to challenge our views and change through the time. That’s the modern way to do it.

  15. I take great pride in my acceptance of everyone. It doesn’t matter hair length, color of skin or eyes, sexuality or birth gender. . .I do not judge people for that. I am speechless when events like this are happening everyday and no one is willing to take a stand for this. Girls can have short hair and boys can have long and vice versa. I do not think that certain hairstyles, clothes, or bodytypes belong to a certain gender. To judge someone by their appearance is absolutely outrageous to me. I admire how you didn’t let these people get to you and hinder you being yourself. Yes people can be insensitive at times and with a boy-ish figure and short hair people will question, but to create hate or bias against that person for being who they want to be is disturbing to me. Curiousity is one thing, and to create hate based off appearance, sexuality, or gender is horrible. Thank you so much for posting this, I really admire your openness with this topic despite the fact there may be negative comments towards you.

  16. Gender is defined by the society. All things have masculine and feminine, for example, pink is the color of girls, but blue is the color of boys. However, some boys like colorful things but have to hide their fond due to the public opinion of the outside world, which is just to avoid being teased. Actually, the existence of this phenomenon is really bad for the social development. Sometimes, force may have the opposite effect. Just like when I was in high school, the boys’ hair cannot cover their ears and eyebrows, and if your hair is long enough so that it surpasses the standard, the overall points of your class will be reduced, and even worse, your classes will be suspended. However, the reason the school gave was that having long hair was the right for girls. I think the gender created by the society and the human mind is really bad and sometimes it will make things deviate. As I mentioned, is the school not a place for study? Is it that schools should focus more on learning? But why do they focus on the appearance? Such kinds of force will only make adolescent students more rebellious. There can be gender, but it cannot be over-defined.

  17. I makes me sad that people have to go through these types of things. Cutting your hair should not even be close to such a big deal. Society has embedded a strict image of how women and men should look. Today, there are millions of men and women who do not reflect theses images and are discriminated every single day for being “different.” I believe society should be proud of these people who actually have the courage to be themselves and not fake it just to fit in.

    I never thought to analyze a possible reason for gender transitions, however this gives me a whole new perspective. Although males are the seen as the superior gender in society, they are often judged more than women if they show qualities from a the opposite gender. Men who have feminine traits are automatically assumed to be gay. On the other hand women can have stereotypical male traits and people do not even think to question their sexuality or gender. Sometimes, women are seen as more desirable when they show male traits. For example, women who play video games are considered hot by some men. Also, many men like athletic women rather than the girly girl afraid of getting dirty.

    Society builds these barriers that many times contridict each other, but people never question its strict rules, instead we live by them and judge those who do not follow them.

    • “Although males are the seen as the superior gender in society, they are often judged more than women if they show qualities from a the opposite gender.”

      Yes. And the two go together. Because men are judged superior they’re seen as demeaning themselves if they cross gender boundaries. Not so for women.

  18. Cristina Cibrian

    In today’s society, many people have strict views of gender roles and identities. Many people believe that females should act like “females” and males should act like “males.” However, these “norms” are culturally constructed. As a result, deviations from those views are deemed “abnormal.” I too have noticed that girls who cut their hair short or have a “pixie” hair cut are viewed as more “masculine” than girls with long hair. It is very sad to say that a short hair cut automatically makes people question if she is a boy. When I was younger, one of the best players on my all girls basketball team cut her hair short. During one of our tournaments, she was accused of being a boy because of her “tomboy” appearance and her exceptional basketball skills. She too recognized with being a girl however, simply diverged from societies “norm.” I can not even imagine the tremendous impact this had on her at such a young age. I particularly liked the student who wrote this posts’ positive attitude. She described the harsh truth however, stated that she is able to help change societies mentality.

  19. About a year and 10 months ago I started growing out my hair after having a low buzz cut for the past 6 years of my life. As a guy I never really liked to give much thought about my hair so I even gave myself my own haircuts every 2 weeks. Since growing out my hair I have become more in tune with the world and the role hair has for both men and women. With women i have come to get the impression that hair is a statement of who you are and how you take care of yourself and body. It is also used as a symbol of how they feel in the moment whether they are feeling lazy and rocking a pony tail or curling it because they are feeling excited for the night. For guys when we have long hair, it’s usually because they just feel like growing it out for personally reasons, or they might be gay and want to feel more feminine. As a straight guy I find it amusing and funny when others guys notice my awesome hair and start trying to drive past me to take a look at my face, thinking that I am a women. Once we make eye contact and they notice my beard, they do a fast and great job of driving away. For me these moment are funny and give me a chuckle, but at the same time they give me an idea of what women have to go through both walking down the street and even driving a car.

  20. Gender and gender identity are rather tricky at times, especially for people who don’t present in a way that society deems to be “normal”. I can definitely relate to feeling as though you’re being ostracized by people that you’ve known your whole life all because of something as simple as getting your hair cut. People have always said to do what makes you comfortable and to be who you truly are, but when we actually get up the courage to do so, it seems like no one really wants to accept it. I went through the same issue when it came to using public restrooms after shaving off all of my hair in high school. I still deal with it today, ten years later, and while some days are easier, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. I never saw myself as anything other than a girl, and I never wanted to, but the minute I no longer looked like what society deemed to be “normal” for a girl, the world saw me as an anomaly. While women are usually more free to explore their more masculine sides, it’s also women who can, at times, be worse than men when it comes to judging others. There are days when I get stared at and questioned for being in a women’s bathroom so much that I find it less stressful to just use the men’s bathroom and I have never once been looked at sideways or asked if I had the wrong restroom. With how far we’ve come in society today, you would think that people would know by now that we are aware of what our own gender is and we can also read the sign on the door. We know where we belong and it’s no one else’s business.

  21. Hello Trang, I can identify with some of what you’ve said, although I have long hair. It seems that instantaneous judgements are constantly being made when people encounter one another. I too am often a little caught off guard when people misgender me and often laugh with friends as my female-ness seems obvious to myself and those who know me. I suppose being six feet tall, liking so-called masculine clothes as well as (I’ve been told) having masculine mannerisms plays a part. I agree that hair may be the tipping point and also an issue of contention for some. For example, I like having long hair but when I came out as gay many people said that I should cut it short to ‘fit in’ more in the gay community. It is funny how strict gender expression is, even within a supposedly open community. If women’s physical representation deviates from the norm it seems to almost be viewed as inherently political, even if you’ve just always liked dressing a certain way. I also find it interesting that the sexism I experience is definitely different because I read as more masculine than feminine. I find that I am never cat called by men, but am sometimes yelled at aggressively. P.s. it’s awesome that you’ve gone on a bit of a journey with self-expression and continue to question the silly restrictive social norms we have!

  22. I found some common points to the author. Sometimes I walk like a guy and talk like a guy. I love video game and action movies. However I am comfortable that I am a girl. Also I used to have short hair and I was sometimes mistaken for a boy by almost 19.
    When I read this article, I’m afraid of what my sexuality is. I don’t think I am gay but I’m not sure that I really like boys. I have never had boyfriend and dated. It is true that I am attracted to both of male bodies and female bodies but I have never thought that I want to have a sex with either male or female. I don’t discriminate any sexuality, but if I am not straight, I would be upset. Because I have been living as a straight girl and treated as a straight girl by people close to me.

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