Monday, June 13, 2016

Me and My Boi: Not Just Hair

I wrote “Not Just Hair” about two and a half years ago, and now that it’s finally coming out, in Sacchi Green’s Me and My Boi: Queer Erotic Stories, I get to read it afresh with the clear vision of hindsight.

I was going through some stuff when I wrote this story. I came out as bisexual when I was a teenager, but over the course of my life I’d wound up semi-closeted again. Though I told people I was queer if the subject came up, most people saw me as straight. After years of being told bisexuality was just a phase, I’d even started to believe it. When I thought about it, I sometimes wondered if saying I was bi was a way of trying to claim a place in a queer community I didn’t really belong to, of trying to portray myself as special when I was actually just run of the mill. Alert readers will probably recognize the internalized biphobia in those wonderings.

Then a series of things went down at the beginning of my thirties that forced me to start taking my queer orientation seriously again.

For one thing, I fell madly in love with my best friend, in that deep, undeniable way that wreaks havoc through a whole swath of relationships. Nothing looked the same in my life after that happened, even when I was still trying to claim things like I loved her but I didn’t love her that way.

A publisher asked me to submit a proposal for a possible novel, something I really wanted to write deep down. I came up with a story I cared about it and sent it in—then heard back that the publisher was worried that the book would be “too queer” for the intended heterosexual audience. That was news to me. After being told so often that bisexuality was a phase and I must actually be straight, I’d eventually started to assume that I must… actually be straight. My thoughts and feelings about women must be normal and common, things any straight person would think. This was the beginning of a wakeup call that, no, straight women don’t seem to think the way I do.

Another publisher had a call for butch/femme novellas. At the time, I wrote stuff for as many calls as I could. I just wanted to write fast and well and make a living at this career. I didn’t think I had any particular interest in butch/femme novellas (I had never thought of myself as butch, and none of my girlfriends had presented in a particularly masculine way), but I decided to give it a shot… Only to find myself melting my own panties off as I typed. There was an undeniable fire for me in the butch/femme dynamic, something I didn’t normally feel when I wrote erotica. The editor who accepted my book wrote to me about how authentic it felt, how my butch character came out so masculine and so thoroughly a woman at the same time, and how different and refreshing that was compared to a common “pretend a male character is female” theme she’d seen in submissions. While praise is always nice, I was bemused by this. I hadn’t experienced any difficulty in writing a butch character.

By now, this was adding up to a serious crisis of identity. I had forgotten how to take my own sexual orientation seriously. My life had built up around me in a way that made that hard to do, but now things were boiling out of me that I couldn’t hold back anymore.

I remember the weekend I wrote “Not Just Hair.” My male partner was away. I thought I would bang out the story in a couple of hours and spend the rest of the time relaxing. Instead, I found myself writing and crying and putting together the pieces I wrote about here and then some.

A while ago on Twitter, I talked about how I’ve realized that anger fuels much of my writing. Reading “Not Just Hair” now, I think it’s a really hot story. At the same time, I see the core of anger inside it, the desperate feeling you get to escape the roles that start to trap you, the need to reinvent yourself, the fucking unbelievable exhilaration and freedom you get when you take the steps you need to take. The story was out ahead of me, as my writing usually is, but I did follow it.

At the time, I was feeling my own queerness bubbling up, forcing its way into an active role in my life. But when I read “Not Just Hair” now, I see more than that. I see questions about gender presentation and masculinity and femininity that are still active sources of confusion for me. I see a desire to break out of kink roles and try new ones.

Here’s what I wrote in the story:

Years ago, Darla had naively believed that coming out as a lesbian would put an end to agonizing conversations about her sexual identity, but in fact those moments had marked a beginning. Ever since, it seemed she'd been struggling to figure out and articulate more about what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it, and to negotiate with partners about whether what she wanted was okay.

I haven’t gone into what’s behind the title of the story yet, but that’s important, too. I’ve been talking about big stuff, things that go to the core of a person’s identity. In the throes of that sort of change, it can feel overwhelming and impossible. But it’s amazing how something that might seem small and trivial can take you a very long way. Something like a haircut.

I didn’t get the courage to take a razor to my head until last fall, but it’s amazing what changed when I got the undercut I’d been dreaming of. I feel more confident, more able to talk about my various identities, less apologetic to everyone. So as deep as the questions can get, sometimes a haircut can be the tipping point. Because it’s not just hair.

You can order the book here or at your favorite local bookstore.

I wrote this as part of the blog tour for Me and My Boi. You should check out the rest of the posts at the links below, and comment for a chance to win.

June 12—Sacchi Green—

June 13—Annabeth Leong--

June 14—Anna Watson—

June 15—Sinclair Sexsmith--

June 16—Jove Belle--

June 17—Tamsin Flowers--

June 18—Victoria Villasenor—

June 19—J, Caladine—

June 20—Victoria Janssen--

June 21—Dena Hankins--

June 22—D. Orchid—

June 23—Pavini Moray--

June 24—Melissa Mayhew—

June 25—Jen Cross—

June 26—Kyle Jones--

June 27—Gigi

June 28—Aimee Hermann—

June 29—Sommer Marsden—

June 30—Axa Lee—

July 1— Kathleen Bradean—


Anyone who comments on any of the posts will be entered in a drawing for one free copy of the anthology. You can comment on more than one post and be entered more than once. The winner will be announced and notified by July 5th, if not sooner.

(EDITED 7:30 pm 6/13 to update blog tour links)


  1. Anabeth:
    Thanks for sharing. Very insightful. I think anger and or rage is a great place to write from but not a great place to be. Recently I came across a dismissive term for that period you mentioned about-it- "being just a phase"-gender dysphoria.

    1. Thanks for reading this Spencer.

      I think I've said this to you before, but there's a need for balance with respect to anger. While there are certainly people who need to tone down an out of control anger that they feel entitled to, there are also people who have been taught never to feel or acknowledge anger, for whom it is healthy to become fluent in an important part of one's inner emotional language. I have lived through very untenable situations because I did not feel able to recognize my own anger about what was happening to me. So it is frustrating to me, as a person who has spent a lot of time and thought and therapy trying to recover my ability to feel a vital human emotion, to be chided and warned when I mention it. It has been important for me to see that I can trust myself around anger. My reactions to it are to pay attention to the information it's giving me, to write things, to talk to people, to remain my compassionate self but also with a sense of what hurts me or people I love or care about. I think people are very weird about anger in our culture, and it's a problem. We conflate the emotion with having a bad reaction to the emotion, and that's just not correct. It doesn't make sense to try to completely suppress a feeling, and yet I frequently get that message when I try to talk about anger as a positive force (which for me it has been).

      The thing you said about gender dysphoria doesn't make sense. My understanding is that this term refers to a feeling of distress that comes about when one's gender identity does not match the gender assigned at birth. There's debate, I think, about the usefulness of this as a diagnosis, but not in the way you suggest here.

      When people tell a bisexual person that their bisexuality is a phase, that's about sexual orientation, not gender identity. (It's also not cool.) I would call that biphobia.

  2. Wonderful post, Annabeth. I particularly liked your description of how your new haircut changed your feelings about your self. Something like hair can be a potent symbol, a sort of external barometer to your internal sense of emotional pressure. To adopt a style that might be viewed as radical or confrontational also takes a certain kind of courage.

    Although LGBTQ has become more accepted and public in the past decade, that seems to carry its own dangers. Instead of being more or less invisible as lesbians once were, all at once the spotlight is on non-het behavior and feelings. There are social norms and the pressure to conform to them (There's that word, "pressure", again.) You can't just be yourself because the whole world is watching and of course, judging.

    I can't wait to read this book!

    1. Thanks for coming by!

      The big thing I find about a relatively radical hairstyle is that there's no hiding it. I've always had ways of "passing," and it takes some of that away, which I wanted. I like how that feels.

      And yes, especially recently, I've been feeling really aware of the dangers of being LGBTQIA+ in this world. I had/have a lot of fear of being myself, with good reason. I've encountered my own share of bias and trouble, and I've witnessed horrors inflicted on so many others. It really upsets me when people minimize that. Now, more than ever, we need to do whatever we can to make the world more inclusive.

      I hope you love the book!

  3. No wonder you said what you did when I told you I had an appointment with my hairdresser!

    I've had a lifelong struggle with anger, repressing it, feeling I have a right to get /be angry without being "punished" for feeling the emotion, learning how to channel it in a productive way. I haven't been writing long enough to even think about using it in writing, although you've given me something to think about. Since all my stories so far are fairly short, I've never gone into major conflicts that involve anger, but it is certainly powerful. And I've paid attention to biphobia for a long time. I've always said bisexuality is the red-haired step-child of the world, more harshly judged than anyone else (until transgender gained a lot of attention, at least). Sigh. Congratulations on continuing to learn how to understand and accept and love yourself--a lifelong journey for most of us.

    1. Hi there! You know, I wasn't aware of anything unusual about my reaction to your haircut, but I do have very strong feelings about the importance of haircuts, it's true.

      I'm really big into people feeling whatever emotions we need to feel, and being responsible about the reactions we have to them. Writing is a good place for all of that. I work out so much this way.

      Not to get into who's judged more harshly than who, but there are definitely a ton of negative stereotypes about bisexuality, and some really disturbing statistics about mental health in people who identify as bisexual, sexual violence against bisexual women, etc. I think many people are uncomfortable with any identity that isn't easy to explain in a single word. Certain kinds of queerness, genderqueerness, etc.

      I eventually sorted out an accurate way of describing my attractions, but it takes a sentence. :)

      That said, I'm far from having this all figured out. Thanks for the congratulations, and for reading this!