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by Kat Joplin

A reassurance, a threat, a dare.


Over the years of bleaching and dyeing my hair black, blue, and purple, I told my mother every time: “Worst case, I’ll just go Sinéad.”


"Going Sinéad” was always an intriguing and tantalizing prospect. “Pulling the Britney,” “the Furiosa,” “the Mass Effect Jack”: all euphemisms for pulling hair clippers across the scalp, the crown, up the nape of the neck and over and through. I’d been shaving the back and sides of my head for almost a decade. You wouldn’t think the full shave would be that different.


My hairdresser back in Yokohama once said, “You have an amazing head shape. Like a rugby ball.”

My dance teacher in Tokyo, too, told me, “Kat, I think you have a beautiful skull.”


Thanks guys, I thought. How reassuring.


And yet it was terrifying, thrilling. In the thirty minutes before my appointment, sitting in a cafe just down the street with my sandaled feet kicking the chair legs, I texted friends over and over and over again.

"Shall I do it? Shall I? Is this the day? Is it?”


I thought of how deeply I loved my hair. The lovely soft weight of it swinging past my shoulders, the deep, rich, glossy aubergine, when it was freshly dyed. Twisting it into a high bun on some days, parting it down the middle and straightening it to a bob on others. Everyone knew me as “that purple-haired friend,” “the one with the Two Block,” “you know—that Cyberpunk-looking fella.” It was my calling card. So much of how I imagined myself had been tied up, indirectly, with my hair.


But I thought too of how annoying maintaining the purple hair had been these past years. The stains on my pillowcase and splatters in the bathroom, like a killing room for grapes. How dreadful and streaky when the dye faded. How expensive to order the dye I liked from America. How frizzy and hot during the summer months.


I touched the velvety shaved sides of my head and imagined what it would feel like when my whole scalp felt like this. Was my face shape good for a buzz? I’d googled pictures of buzzcut female figure people for weeks. Wasn’t my chin too long, my forehead too prominent? My favorite celebrities with shaved heads—Sinéad and Natalie Portman—had cute, round-ish faces, big eyes, brilliant smiles. I tilted my head this way and that in my phone’s camera, wondering how similar or different my own face would look. 


“I’m just sad because I know I won’t actually look like either of them,” I’d sighed to my friend Alejandro once.

"That’s true,” he said, and then in a moment of great profundity, “but you’ll look like you.”


It was ten minutes till my appointment. I paid my lunch bill and got up. My stomach was trembling like a helium balloon.


I always got so many compliments for the purple hair!

No, I told myself. You gotta be punk. You shouldn’t care about compliments or being pretty. That’s what a shaved head is all about!

But I liked getting compliments.

No! You gotta be punk! Fuck beauty norms!


I procrastinated the whole way to the salon, killing time by wandering down breezy side streets. It was midday on a weekday, and a sleepy time in my west Tokyo neighborhood. Some moments I felt white-faced and nervous, at others I giggled madly.


Finally, I made it to the salon, just a tad late as I always am to everything. I sat down in the chair as a stylist named Miyauchi (himself something of a rocker, by the looks of him) whisked a smock over my shoulders.


“We’re doing it?” he asked.

“We’re doing it,” I affirmed. “.5 millimeters please. The baseball boy cut.”


This salon knew me well—again, thanks to the purple hair—and I could see the receptionist and a few other staff members peeking over.


Looking in the mirror, I felt my nervousness fade away. My hair looked awful. So faded and patchy, with fried pink ends and greasy roots. A shaggy sheep dog ready for a before-and-after. The stylist gathered my hair into a big bunch in his hand and held it straight up, like he was pulling a turnip out of the ground.


"Are you sure?” he murmured, already turning on the clippers and letting them hum up my undercut, collecting a velvety puff of dark brown hair in its teeth.


"So sure,” I said, but before the words were even out I could feel the clippers crossing up and beyond the point of no return—into the long mop of hair. I could see a sheared clump swinging in the stylist’s fist. I squealed.


"Here we go! It’s going now!” he cried.


He took another pass, this time from the back, and I could see the bundle of hair slackening as it came free. A few more passes—really, it took less than a minute, years and years to grow and now less than a minute to whizz off—and he was waving the mop of hair triumphantly above his head like Perseus and Medusa.


"It’s done!” he exclaimed.

“It’s done!” I shrieked. In the mirror, the face that looked back was as awkward and raw as a newborn chick, the uneven tufts of hair sticking out at odd angles, the scalp pink and shiny. Shockingly shiny. I didn’t know a buzzcut head got so shiny. And my face seemed to float, like a glowing orb. I need eyeliner, I thought. Blush. And big chunky earrings.


I chucked a little. How ridiculous—I’d actually worried, I’d look less queer with a buzzcut.


Miyauchi tied the hair mop with a scrunchie and set it aside in a small gift bag. Then he went back to tidying his handiwork. He went over my fuzzy little head over and over, folding my ears down to reach the tricky spots. 


Then I was in the sink, getting bathed, baptized, soaked in treatments and shampoos. Everything felt different: the weight of my head tipped backwards, the stylist’s hands scrubbing quickly across my head, the toweling after he was done. He flicked small strands of hair off my face with a large brush.


"What do you think?” Miyauchi asked, holding a giant mirror so I could see the back of my head. “No surprises? No 666?”

"Rugby ball,” I said and started laughing. “Baseball boy.”

"It’s so Stranger Things!” said the receptionist, her eyes sparkling.

"I was thinking Deadpool,” offered the shop assistant. “You know, the cellphone girl.”


I felt my hair over and over. Velvet. Soft yet prickly. A strand from my sweater stuck to my head like it was velcro and I picked it out. 


Ahead of me was a new future: prancing home, beaming at strangers. Standing in front of the mirror and relearning my reflection. Feeling my partner’s hands knead my scalp. Buying my own clippers and shaving my head alone. But for the moment I was in the local salon in west Tokyo, picking sweater fluff from my hair.   


“It’s me,” I said, cradling my head in both hands. “I look like me.”

Image by Evie S.
Image by Kenny Eliason

Kat Joplin is a freelance journalist and fiction/nonfiction writer based in Tokyo, Japan. Mainly, Kat's work can be found in the Japan Times, Gay Times, and Tokyo Weekender, focusing especially on Kat's knowledge of queer culture and experiences in the drag community. Kat Joplin's greatest inspirations are queer identity, gender fluidity, and questions of belonging and foreignness. 

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