It Was All Over a Haircut

It Was All Over a Haircut

A Story by Rae

They were always like this, but their mother did not acknowledge that. The only thing that was different when they were a kid was the fact that they did not talk about it. Jo took the letter in their hand, and started walking towards the front door of their soon to be ex-home. It felt like a breakup, only the kind where you hope the other does not actually want you gone.

They loved doing Amara’s makeup the most. Amara had these freckles right around the outer corner of her eye, that formed a small triangle. Jo would always connect the dots with eyeliner while doing Amara’s makeup to make her laugh when she turned to the mirror.
It was halfway into freshman year, before Amara’s first date with some boy named Jacob. Amara asked what they were thinking about. Jo thought Jacob was not the kind of boy they wanted to be, but the second that thought came it passed, washed down the neural stream of other thoughts they threw aside every few days.
“I don’t know. Nothing, really. Do you ever just... question what you think you are and that the thing you think you are might just be what other people think you are?”
Amara pushed Jo’s hand down and made eye contact with them.
“What do you think you are,” Amara asked.
“I don’t know. I have these thoughts sometimes and I always want to tell you them. And let me finish up your concealer, there’s blotches literally all over your face.”
Jo rubbed her cheek and her cheek was like their suede couch at home, that was worn into but still new, its softness acknowledged every time skin brushed it.
“You can tell me, Jo. I’ve known you for so long, nothing ever surprises me. Except that you keep up on the current Teen Vogue magazines… Tell me, why does Harry Styles refer to himself as ‘quite old-fashioned’?”
Jo spun around to their bedside table, and there it was. The other big secret they had been keeping from Amara. Can you blame them for wanting to keep up on snapshots of celebrities falling over in public and quizzes that tell you what kind of citrus fruit you are?
“Oh, f**k me. I can’t believe I left that out. Never living that one down.”
Jo touched her face again. After blending in the concealer, they were now applying that one light brown color on Amara’s Covergirl pallet that made her eyes look like the acorns that fall on their front yard sometimes.
“Jo, seriously, what are you thinking about?”

Jo remembers thinking back to first grade in that moment. During recess, the boys and the girls would separate into these teams, and battle it out on the playground for who could swing through the monkeybars quicker, or who could slide down the aluminum slide first. One day, Jo had on these camo shorts their friend Ethan let them borrow, and one of the only track and field t-shirts their mom let them keep in the closet. Mostly, it was stuff like, purple shirts with a sequined unicorn, or a fitted little v-neck that says Princess. Jo hated it all. Lately, they got to change into Ethan’s clothes once they got to school for the day, because his mom bought him way too many things on birthdays, anyways.
That day at recess, it was going to be the battle of the small climbing wall on the side of the jungle gym. The boys and girls split up, trying to elect their best climbers to come forward and rack up another point on the “BOYS VS. GIRLS” list they had been adding to for that entire month. Jo headed over to the girls team, ready to start the height of first grade daily entertainment.
That’s when a girl, Darcy, stepped in front of them.
“Why are you on this side? You don’t even look like a girl.” A few of her other friends behind her laughed.
“Why do you call yourself Jo all the time? Your name is JoAnn,” she said again.
“I just like Jo better. It’s easier to say.”
“If you want to use a boy’s name, and Ethan’s gross clothes, you can be on the boy’s team.”
“But I’m a girl. I just, I don’t like looking like you. I’m a girl, though.”
Jo’s eyes started to swell, and their face turned that color of red it only turns when half of your first grade class is staring at you.
One of the boys, huddled up behind a group, shouted at them.
“If you’re really a girl, pull down your pants and show us!”
Everyone erupted into laughter.
“Come on, show us! Then you can be on our team,” Darcy said between weird, spitty laughs. Jo remembered her looking like old pictures of her mom.
Jo turned around, and started to run away. That’s when they heard a girl’s voice, pissing angry, throwing a heap of mud and stepping on Darcy’s new open toed shoes her mom got her.
It was the new girl, Amara.
“What is wrong with you, Darcy? Who cares what Jo looks like! She’s the best drawer in our grade, and she makes such better pictures of her dogs than you! Your drawings are stupid. If you’re mean to her again I’ll ruin your other shoes.”
Of course, that’s the only part the teacher saw. Amara got sent to the office, and Jo felt so bad that they came in later that day to try explaining what happened. Their teacher told them that kids were cruel, but it would be a lot easier for them if they tried to blend in, and not make the other kids confused about what they were.
Amara and Jo walked out of the principal’s office together.
“You’re new, aren’t you?” Jo asked.
“Yeah, I just moved from Idaho. I’m sorry kids here are mean. I like your clothes a lot.”
“Us against them?”
“Us against them.”
Jo had to stay back, and wait for their mom to pick them up from school. She’d received a call about the incident; it was like waiting 30 whole minutes for someone to slap you in the face, waiting for the thing that hurts most, and knowing it’s going to happen. She pulled up the car quickly, parked it, and walked up to Jo with clothes in her hand.
“Go change into these, JoAnna. I can’t keep doing this with you. You look like a little boy.”
“I don’t like wearing those. They make me feel weird.”
“I don’t care. JoAnna, I don’t know what to tell you, honey. I love you, but you are my daughter. I don’t know what kids are influencing you, or making you want to dress this way, or trying to convince you that you’re a lesbian. You’re not. Those… people, they aren’t real.”
“Auntie Chris doesn’t look like a girl, and she loves a girl. It doesn’t seem that weird to me.”
“Your aunt’s name is Christina, and there’s a reason you don’t see her anymore. She chose that lifestyle over her family; I practically raised her while your grandmother was out trying to make us money, and she chose to abandon everything we believed in. Go change and get in the car.”

There Jo was, back in front of 15 year old Amara. Coffee bean eyes, waiting patiently for an answer.
“Sorry, dude. I was thinking back to first grade. Remember how we met? That girl Darcy who moved away was harassing me for how I dressed, and you smeared mud all over her shoes.”
“That s**t was hilarious. I still tell people that story. I was like, a severely angry child. But I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Amara said. “Now please, tell me what you want to tell me.”
“Well, I was thinking about that because of how the whole thing started. I never liked looking like girls. I wanted to look like a boy all the time. But I always wanted to be on the girl’s team. Even now, all the boys just call me a dyke and ask if I want to have a dick. I don’t want to have a dick. I just…” Jo paused, knowing they could not keep in from their best friend any longer. “...I don’t feel like a boy or a girl.”
That’s when Amara thought about everything that Jo was. Jo was Saturday night sleepovers watching the new Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy and painting each other’s nails black. Jo was deep voiced, sharp jawed, pure masculine swagger most days, and other days Jo was in LuluLemon leggings. Still with a big sweatshirt on, but come on, no high school boys wore yoga pants. Jo was everything the boys she went on dates with was, protective, button ups leading to broad shoulders, no dangly earrings, only one small hoop on the right ear. But Jo was always much more than them. Jo actually answered the phone on Tuesday nights when her mom made her cry about a bad grade, and Jo understood the plight of PMSing while also getting the flu, when your body is just destroyed by period cramps and body aches. Jo was like, the spectrum of a thousand different boys, and a thousand different girls, mashed up and mixing together into this human form that fell somewhere in the middle of the two. Amara did not feel like she had a male friend, or a female friend. Just a friend, a best friend.
Amara was taking a very long pause.
“Please answer, you a*****e.”
“You’ve always wanted to tell me that, haven’t you?”
“Since I can remember. I don’t know, I started reading about it. Some people call themselves genderqueer, or non-binary. They just say they feel somewhere in the middle.”
“I’ve heard of that before, I think. And that’s how you feel?”
“I think so. I’ve always been different from you, and the other girls.”
“But you like your body?”
“I have no problem with it, like, I kinda like my tiny a*s b***s and how emotionally sensitive I get around my period. I can still be masculine but actually understand how s****y and awesome it is to be a girl, like body wise, and I’m really cool with that. I mean, I like everything but my hair. My mom hasn’t let me cut this stupid thing in a year.”
“You know I love you, Jo. I’ll smear mud on anyone’s shoes if you tell them and they make fun of you… and your mom, she won’t even let you out of the house in a big t-shirt when she can help it. F**k that.”
Amara was supposed to meet her date pretty soon, but she texted him, and told him that she was comforting a friend who needed her, and he replied with a super sympathetic: ‘Kk, gurl.’
“Jo,” she asked. “What if we cut off all your hair, like right now? What can your mom really do about it? Your brother has those like, buzzer things that shave heads.”
Jo thought back to that day in first grade again.
“No way, Amara. I would be disowned,” Jo said as they sat next to Amara on their fluffy bed, making it sink in a little bit more as they sat together.
“You can’t always be what she tells you to be. Remember what you asked me earlier? You can’t see yourself as other people see you, you just have to see you.”
It’s not like Jo did not spend hours picturing their hands running through a prickly head of small sprouting hairs. Their hair was the one thing their mom had not completely given up on. “I can’t, really, I can’t. I want to, but I can’t.”
“Jo, hold on. Just think about it.”
Amara tip-toed out of the room, using her ballet skills from when her mom made her take classes, and quietly stole the buzzer from Jo’s brother.
But, Jo could hear her brother coming back into his room from the bathroom down the hall.
“Amara? Why are you in here?”
“Oh, hey John. You look extra cute today.”
Jo could hear her pre-teen brother stammer a little bit, and rolled her eyes. Amara liked to mess with him.
“Oh, uh thanks. That’s really nice of you.”
“So is it cool if I borrow your hair buzzer?”
“Why do you need that,” John asked, clearly even more confused at this point.
Jo could feel Amara’s stress, since they were sort of telekinetic like best friends are, and ran into the room to save her.
“Honestly, John, Amara wants to shave my head. There’s no point in lying about it since you’re going to see it.”
“Jo… I know you’re different and mom doesn’t get it. But please, don’t do that.”
“I can’t take it anymore, John. I’m just trying to feel okay in my own body, and I really want to do this.”
“Take them. I… I love you. I’m sorry mom is batshit crazy.”
“Me too, champ,” Jo said, ruffling his head and walked out of the room.

They walked back in with it and stood up on Jo’s stool, creating a pedestal for her masterful speech that would follow.
“Jo Wagner, I have in my hand both my backpack I brought over, and this thing that shaves your brother’s head in the other. Inside of my backpack is an Aquafina bottle full of my mother’s tequila. I would like you to please open it up, and take a minimum of four sips, and then think once again about my question. You want to do this. Let your inhibitions go on a quick tropical filled vacation and get back to me.”
Jo laughed, nervously, but also not, because when Amara tried to convince them of things she always stood on a chair to show her authority. They took the tequila out of Amara’s hand and gulped some of it down.
“This is not a tropical vacation, Amara. Inhibitions, I am dearly sorry for this poison...” Jo said while making that ‘I hate shots but still do them’ face.
They danced around for a few minutes to the radio, lowering the tequila and shouting about how Jo’s mom was going to FREAK OUT when she saw.
“F**k, okay, f**k, I’ll just do it right? What’s the worst she could do?”
“Jo, squeeze my hand, I’m gonna search a Youtube video super quick to found out how to use this buzzer thing.”
“No, I can’t do this. No no no, just turn that video off.”
“Shut up. It’s going to be okay.”
The hair came off bit by bit, Amara giggling as it formed weird chunks and tufts halfway through the cut. Jo felt their hair fall. Each section of hair, falling to the ground, felt like another thing people at school would say to them, things their mom would say to them, slowly slipping away from their follicles. Why do you dress like that if you’re a girl? Gone. We don’t like sitting with dykes at our lunch table. Gone. That freak Jo was totally staring at your tits in the locker room. Gone. The hair sat on their floor, it screamed to reattach to their head, to get back into their thoughts, to muddle up all the self confidence and make it burst into a million insults back in Jo’s head. But it was gone. Jo did not care anymore.
But then, their mom came home early.
Footsteps came up the stairs, as Jo and Amara freaked out to one another, trying to hide all of the hair even though it didn’t matter because their mom would see that it was not attached to their head anymore.
“Hey, JoAnna, are you in your room?”
There was no use running from it, so Jo opened the door and their mom screamed like the murdered hair was actually her murdered daughter.
“What the hell is going on? Amara, go downstairs right now. I’m driving you home the second I’m finished here.”
Amara looked Jo in the eyes for a long time. The kind of look you give someone, when you know it might be a while, when you are desperate to run into their arms for a hug, but you have to walk away.
“I love you, Jo,” she said, and left the room with a few tears.
“How dare you do this to me. You defy my rules in my own house, you disrespect your own appearance with this horrible haircut, you engage in inappropriate behavior with Amara. I can’t do this anymore, JoAnna.
“Mom, Amara and I kissed one time. It hasn’t happened since you banned me from seeing her for a month. We’ve both moved on from that. And, you’ve been telling me my whole life that you ‘can’t do this anymore’, and maybe I can’t either.”
“I should’ve never let you meet your Aunt. I should’ve raised you somewhere else. Instead you caught some kind of sick mental illness, instead she brainwashed you into thinking any of this is okay… I should’ve--”
“Mom, shut up,” John said, opening his door so hard that it slammed into the drywall.
“Excuse me?”
“Stop torturing Jo all the time. It’s a haircut. No one at our schools even care that much. It doesn’t matter if Jo is different if they’re happy.”
Jo was sitting silently on their bed, crying. They could not find words to say anymore. Instead, they smiled sadly, and deeply, as their younger brother showed an empathy for them stronger than their own mother.
“Jo is a really nice sister. They talk to me whenever you don’t, mom. You’re too busy trying to make us into the perfect children for you.”
Jo’s mom stared silently at both of them. There was something deep inside of their mother, fighting, clawing, scratching to break through, to show the understanding that had been buried deep inside of her for too many years.. But it never came out.
“Just do what you need to do, Mom. I’m done fighting. And thanks for using my pronoun, Johnny.”
Their mom always blamed Amara and it was all over a haircut. Amara got sent home that night, drunk, her mom screaming at her for what she had done. Their mom decided the family was going to move. This ‘toxic environment’ was too much. Jo had to start attending a church school for the next three years of high school, a few towns over. They rarely got to see Amara since then, only when they both snuck out and met in the middle to embrace and catch each other up, and it was all over a haircut.

Jo took the letter in their hand and walked up to their mother’s house. They were finally out of their mother’s house, going to college on the West Coast. That’s where their Aunt Chris lived, who they have been writing letters to for the past two years now. Amara was going to University of Washington, too. Jo could finally escape it all. Their mom had not really talked to them in three years. It’s not that she didn’t talk to them, she just didn’t really talk to them, the kind of talk that lets a teenager know their parent understands what they are going through. It was mostly just blank stares over leftover spaghetti. Jo read the last lines to themself again, thinking over all the things they had tried to say in the letter, crying a few tears, and set it down on the doormat.

“...You don’t have to accept me, or understand me. It was never about that. It was always about me, and the fact that who I am is just another weird something, and I am proud, who I am is a human, a speck on this earth that exists in between those fearful lines that always told me the things I needed to be.
I love you, because to me love does not mean capturing someone within the confinements of your own ideas, your concepts of what they should be. Our relationship, and my trust in the world around me, none of it was ever the same… and it was all over a haircut.
This letter is from Jo.
It’s not from JoAnna.”

© 2018 Rae

Author's Note

This is not at all related to my upbringing; my family has been accepting and wonderful towards every aspect of who I am. It is however a compilation of reactions and experiences I’ve had, and my friends have had. Although I use the pronouns she/her and feel like myself in the context of much sex being female, I am a part of the non binary community, and always have been. I do not see myself under the context of one gender or the other, and what society tells each gender to be.

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Added on October 23, 2018
Last Updated on October 23, 2018



Seattle, WA

18 years old. NYU student and tea enthusiast. Writing means the world to me; feel free to give reviews and help me greater improve. Writing has always been my escape, especially poetry. Life experie.. more..

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