“Mom, I…” I hesitated. This really was the point of no return. Sure, I was prepared. I was heading out of state to college soon, I had a decent amount saved up from the various jobs mom had insisted I get throughout high school, so if I wasn’t going to come back, I could manage. But still, being prepared doesn’t mean you want to be disowned, and no matter how many backup plans you have in place no one wants to have to come out to their conservative mom. “I… I’m transgender. I want to be a boy.” She sucked air in through her teeth.
“Well.” She paused. This was it, possibly the last time I would talk to my mother. “We’re going to have to make some changes around here then. Be ready in ten minutes, we’re going out.” And with that she left. I couldn’t read her expression either way. Was she upset? If she was, I decided, it was best not to keep her waiting, so I hurried up to my bedroom to get ready for whatever this trip would involve.
My room wasn’t particularly suitable for a nineteen year old, more a nine year old girl, and that was probably the last time it was decorated, with pale pink walls and a subtle princess theme. I never really liked pink all that much but I was thrilled that my mom was able to spend that much time and energy on me at that age, and with her rather specific ideas about gender roles I wasn’t surprised that she decided I’d want a pink princess bedroom. Hell, sometimes I think she resented dad for leaving primarily because it meant she had to work and couldn’t be a stay at home mother like she thought women were supposed to. I made my way past the makeup desk, figuring at this point not wearing any wasn’t going to make things worse. I changed out of the skirt I was wearing and threw on one of the few pairs of jeans my mom allowed along with a hoodie I’m not sure she knew I had. I ran a brush through my shoulder length brown hair to neaten it up a bit, pulled on a pair of sneakers, and headed back downstairs to await my fate.
Mom’s gaze flicked up and down my new outfit as I entered, still showing no emotion. I nervously followed as she went outside to the car. We drove in silence for several minutes. I didn’t want to say anything because I wasn’t sure of where I stood, so it was mom that finally spoke first. “So,” she said softly “do you have a name picked out?”
“William.” I replied – my grandfather’s name.
“Nice to meet you, William.” She said, smiling ever so slightly with a warmth that finally let me relax. I let out a breath and felt some of the tension leave my shoulders. I was starting to think she might be coming around to the idea. This thought was cemented as we pulled into the parking lot of the local mall, she wasn’t just dropping me off and abandoning me.
“Well,” said mom, “if you’re going to be my son you’re going to need some proper smart clothes to make a good impression at college. We can’t have them thinking I raised you to dress like that all the time.” And typical mom returned. Our first stop was the men’s department of a quite fancy clothes store. Mom practically dragged me around, picking clothes off the racks: shirts, slacks, polos, and she insisted on showing me how to tie a tie. Occasionally she would ask for my input on a color, but mostly it was all her work. I was sent to the changing room with a mountain of men’s clothes to try on and show off to my mom who patiently waited outside and vetted every choice. Most outfits went into the reject pile, but some were deemed smart enough to buy. I had to admit, I really liked the way they made me look, how they de-emphasized my curves.
“Is it okay if I wear one of the outfits out of the store?” I asked an attendant, who told me it was fine with a smile. I picked one of the more casual offerings, a pale blue polo with navy pants. It would probably be the last time I wore those old clothes. We paid, and as I left the store I gave mom a little hug. “Thanks.” I said, a smile on my face.
“We’re not quite done yet.” She said. “One more stop first.”
We walked to a far corner of the mall, away from the majority of the foot traffic, and came to a stop in front of a small storefront with a red, white, and blue barber’s pole outside. “It’s almost a shame, but I can’t have my son going off to college looking like a hippie.” She opened the door for me, which rang a little bell as I entered first, followed by mom. The barbershop had no clients waiting, so I was ushered straight into the chair by a barber who looked to be fairly young, with a neat goattee and a slicked back haircut, clipped close on the sides.
“What’ll it be?” He asked, pulling out a length of tissue paper from a dispenser on the wall and clipping it round my neck. Before I could answer, mom chipped in.
“Frankly, his hair’s out of control. Give him something nice and short that’s going to last a long time.” I’d never had short hair. Mom’s policy was always long hair for girls, trimmed twice a year, and short hair for boys, with a preference for very short. I guess I was now on the other side of the equation. My heart started to flutter. I wasn’t sure if it was nerves or excitement. Probably a mixture of both. The barber shook out a large black nylon cape and draped it around me. He started to run a comb through my hair, and I felt aware of just how long it was. Mom put a hand on my shoulder. “Ready, William?” Hearing her calling me by new name made me feel all warm inside, and I nodded yes. I was swivelled away from the mirror.
The barber gathered my hair into a loose ponytail and started to cut. I felt the scissors close to my head, right at the base. A few quick crunches and the ponytail was severed. The barber unceremoniously dropped it into my lap. Holy crap, that was a lot of hair. There was a pause, then a click, a hum, and the barber’s hand firmly on my crown. “Head down.” He said, and slowly pushed my chin into my chest. A vibration touched my nap and was pushed up into my hair. The tone changed, it was almost a crackling sound as it worked its way up, and was pulled away. I felt the faint gust of a clump of hair being severed and dropping to the floor. The barber made a second pass up the back of my head with the clippers, this time taking them ever so slightly higher and dumping the cut off hair forwards so it tumbled past my face and joined my ponytail in my lap. It was his way of telling me just how short this cut would be.
The barber finished clipping the back, and moved around the sides. He drove the clippers up into my sideburns, buzzing up to the temple. Then around my ear, folding it down. His fingers felt cool, letting me know that my ears were probably bright red at this point. After both sides were done, he paused momentarily. I thought perhaps he would be done with the clippers, but instead he gave them a quick brush to clear out some of my hair, and placed them right at my forehead. This wasn’t just going to be a haircut, this was going to be a very short, neat, buzzcut, just like the ones on the boys from church mom would always try to set me up with. “Look how handsome he is!” She’d say. It was my turn now to be the handsome one. The long hair along my centre part was buzzed off, and fell away from my face, sliding down the cape. Soon, the top of my head was done, and the clippers were turned off. I wasn’t sure how much hair I had left, but I knew it was far, far less than what I walked in with. I went to reach out from under the cape to feel, but I was interrupted by a higher pitch buzzing and the barber’s hand once again on my head. He ran a smaller set of clippers up and down the sides and back, much more quickly, deftly blending the two lengths together. Finally, he dabbed a little shaving cream on my sideburns and at the back of my neck, and scraped it away with a cool steel straight razor.
I was dusted down, and swivelled around to face the mirror. I finally made eye contact with my reflection, and couldn’t help but grin. It was like looking at my actual reflection, me, William, a 19 year old boy, not anyone I had until this point been pretending to be. On top, my dark hair was buzzed to a short fuzz, tapered down to almost stubble. My sideburns ended in a crisp line. It felt so masculine, so right. I couldn’t stop smiling as the barber uncaped me and I stood up, sending the remnants of my old self tumbling to the floor to be swept into the garbage. I reached up and touched my head. It felt amazing, soft and fuzzy, but prickly too. We paid and left. Mom gave my head a rub too.
“Thank you. Thank you so much for letting me be me.” I said.
“Thank you for being a son I can be proud of.” She replied.