From hair colour to buzz cuts to wigs, queer folks relationship with their hair has a much deeper meaning than mere aesthetic value. It is a form of self-expression and is often used to defy the normative, binary beauty standard. We spotlight the narratives of five young queer people who track their journey with their hair and how it has helped affirm their identity and create a sense of belonging.
Sam Ali Ahmed
“When I coloured my hair for the first time, I fell in love with myself instantly”
Sam Ali Ahmed is a 23-year-old, Mumbai-based sommelier whose fascination with hair colour began when he was 14 years old – about the same time he realised he was queer. What started as a few sparing highlights here and there has, over the past few years, turned into a full head of colour in the hues of bubble gum pink and lavender. “When I coloured my hair for the first time, I fell in love with myself instantly. Ever since then, I haven’t stopped. It has become an integral part of my identity. Everyone recognises me because of it.
”For people, hair is an identifier of gender. For me, it naturally exists”
Tarun Panwar is a 27-year-old producer and model. Their hair length, which is a little below the shoulders, often leads to confusion about their gender for people around them. Just a glance at their hair, and people think they are a cis woman only to later associate them with a cis man upon looking at their body. This very confusion of not being able to place them in the stereotypical setting of male or female helped Panwar affirm their gender-queer expression. For them, their hair’s fluidity is akin to their identity. Their journey with their hair is not one that looks inward. Instead, they derive it from their day-to-day interactions with others. “For people, hair is an identifier of gender. For me, it naturally exists. Through the years, as and when my hair changed physically, people’s reaction towards me changed, which in turn has helped me understand myself better”.
“Most brands, when they cast individuals for pride month campaigns, have a criterion for models to look queer enough. Hence, I decided to chop them off.”
In the last four years, Gaurav Ganapathy has sported an androgynous look with his lush, curly, shoulder-length hair. Tired of being typecast as a visibly queer-looking model, the 25-year-old shaved his head. “People have always made assumptions about my sexuality because of my hair, which I believe is not appropriate,” he shares. “Most brands, when they cast individuals for pride month campaigns, have a criterion for models to look ‘queer enough’. Hence, I decided to chop them off.” He further intends to defy the cis heterosexual stereotypical gaze of what queer people look like.
“My hair has helped me heal my relationship with my body and accept myself as I am.”
Siddhant Bandekar, a 20-year-old humanities student, felt more at home in his body after he started growing out his hair. As a child, a lack of encouragement for expressing his gender-nonconforming self led him to feel repressed. In such an environment, under the guise of donating his hair, he decided to grow it. Several years later, it is his long hair which allows him to be comfortable in his skin and accept his identity. “My hair has helped me heal my relationship with my body and accept myself as I am,” shares Priyadeep. “It is not all positive because I get misgendered and femme-shamed very often. Further, it is assumed that I am a submissive, and because of my gender neutral appearance, I’m expected to be deviant when it comes to sex. It is a constant topic of contention, even with my family. Yet, it is my hair that makes me feel like myself, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” he adds.
“Cis-gendered binary folks are limited to gendered markers when it comes to hair. I identify as non-binary; hence, I don’t conform to either.”
Growing up, Nin Kala always wanted to have long hair. Mustering up the courage to grow out their hair marked their coming of age. They fell in love with their long tresses and believed that it helped them understand their gender identity and even explore modelling as a career. But with a socio-economic background like theirs, affirming one’s gender expression through physical attributes comes with navigating the stigma and queerphobia associated with it. “While stepping out in my neighbourhood, I would hide my hair length by wearing a cap. But when I was within the confines of my home, I would enjoy my hair,” recalls the 27-year-old entrepreneur, model and production designer.
According to them, “Cis-gendered binary folks are limited to gendered markers when it comes to hair. Femme individuals would usually have long hair, and masculine-representing individuals generally would have shorter hair length. I identify as non-binary; hence, I don’t conform to either,” they share.
Creative Direction and Photographs: Hunar Daga; Concept and Words: Ojas Kolvankar; Talent: Sam Ali Ahmed (Purple Thoughts), Tarun Panwar (Feat Artists), Nin Kala (A Little Fly), Gaurav Ganpathy (Purple Thoughts), Siddhant Bandekar; Hair and Makeup: Suraj Tiwari; Assisted By: Shiptu Shil and Luluwa Sallumbarwal (Hair and Make-up)
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