With the flick of a lever, my chair tips back and the hairdresser looms over me—the slope of his belly on my forehead, my future in his hands.
“What can I do for you today, sweetie?”
I freeze up. I slipped through my first year of college with a blunt pair of scissors and three dollar hairwax. I spent the first month of summer with a skaterboy shag that I shaped from choppy remnants of Girl Hair. It’s time for some professional help.
“You probably don’t get this very often, but I want something that will make me look more…masculine.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“For drag shows.” I add quickly. “I’m a performer.”
He nods, slowly stretching puffy cheeks into a grin.
“Oh honey, I know all about that. I was a drag queen!”
The hairdresser proceeds to tell me all about his Bette Midler lipsyncing heyday while he attacks my head with scissors, transforming my look along with my perception of my hometown. He tells me I should really meet Sharlene, the hottie who works across the street at McDonald’s.
“You didn’t hear it from me, but that place is a breeding ground for closetcases! Anyway, you HAVE to meet Sharlene. She’s femme and she’s single and she’d love a baby butch like you.” He must have felt me cringe because he pauses amidst a flurry of freshly cut hair. He looks at me again. “Oh.” His smile is teasing. “I know what you are.”
“Are you a transboy?”
“What do you want me to call you?” He has been using my birthname the entire time, the name I used when I made the appointment. “Go on, you can tell me.”
“Malic.” He rolls the name around on his lisping tongue. “Malic, Malic, Malic. Ooh, that’s a great name. It’s strong, playful. Love it. LOVE it. Ladies, take look at Mr. Malic here. Isn’t he handsome?”
A pair of old women with fresh perms shift warily in their plastic capes and curlers and pretend to smile. They are clearly uncomfortable. My ex-drag queen hairdresser is eating it up.
He whirls me around so I can see myself in the mirror. After consenting uncertainly to his incessant “Just a little more from the sides? A little more off the top?” I’ve been totally transformed. He doesn’t wait to see whether my silence is a product of awe or dissatisfaction.
“See how I cut it like that around your ears? It squares off your jaw. See? The girl is gone. The GIRL is GONE.”
His words have a singsong tone, a nonchalance that settles at my feet with downy tufts of hair that used to be mine.
The Girl is gone.
I clumsily thank my comrade from the midwestern underbelly and stumble to my car in a trance. I turn up the radio and roll the windows down, staring at myself in the rearview mirror. My scalp tingles in places where it has never felt the air before.