As some of you may know, I do a lot of senior portraits. Most of my client work is from graduating seniors in high school and college. Recently, a lot of other trans people of color have been asking me to do their portraits because they expressed concerns of being in the closet but still wanting to present the way that makes them feel comfortable. This is an issue I have experienced both as a photographer and as a subject of a photo shoot as well. Often times, many white cis male photographers can perpetuate racism, the male gaze, and also make many people who are questioning their gender or gender presentation uncomfortable. This leads to people not really feeling celebrated and also just creating a bad environment for the photo shoot.
Recently I had a really great portrait session with my friend Castro. Castro is also a queer, non-binary person of color who is graduating from Saint Mary’s College of California, the same college I graduated from last year. It was a really beautiful seeing someone who has a very similar lived experience as me. During this shoot, I realized how rare of an experience that is getting commissions from people who walk through life like me.
So this is dedicated to the people who aren’t seen, the people who live in the grey areas, the queer, trans, people of color.
Here is Castro’s film they made about the feeling of being non-binary and what it feels like to have histories erased.
The whole reason I created Hair Growth was that I had my own issues with my hair that hit many assets of my identity. I created this project because I figured if I had all these feelings about my hair-I’m sure there are many others out there that feel the same way. I learned so many things about this project for over three years and it’s bittersweet to end Hair Growth but I am very happy with the journey Hair Growth has taken me on.
I grew up hating my hair for a plethora of reasons. Neither of my parents had the same hair texture as me because I’m biracial. I had to learn how to do my hair on my own and in many different points in my life, my hair texture changed on its own. Because of this difficulty, I began to resent my hair. I thought I got the ugliest physical traits of my two ethnicities. I was pale with frizzy hair but it was awkwardly textured with frizzy waves that I didn’t know what to do with bc neither of my parents had the same hair texture as me. my hair in middle school was wildly different than it is now and I hated it for the longest time. I remember family members who were also black telling me that I had “good hair” which made me feel guilty and angry. Why was my hair considered good hair? What does that really mean? Why do people treat black hair so poorly? Am I even really black if I don’t look like it? Are there others like me?
I was a dancer for 13 years and a huge part of the dance world is hair. I almost always wore my hair in a bun. I was one of the very few black students at my ballet academy and I was also at a predominantly white school during most of my dance career. This greatly affected my self-perception who I really am. I never met anyone besides my brother and cousins who were white passing and black. Whenever I asked questions about it, I was shut down.
I had a burning desire to just shave off my hair. I didn’t like how I looked and I dismissed it as just being a teenager who hated themselves. It’s amazing the things you lie to yourself about when you’re trans and a person of color.
As much as I loved being a dancer, it was a fiercely toxic part of my life because it kept me in the closet. Strict gender roles, especially with hair, took a toll on me. It turns out I was not the only one who felt this way because Emily Tan and Jessica Lawrence who both danced at the same dance studio I did, created a blog called Queer Ballerinas. I remember looking at the male dancers and wishing I could look like them and then being mad at myself that I felt that way in the first place. I couldn’t even cut my hair the way I wanted without it being labeled as a freak or a bad dancer. I noticed all of the good dancers did not have a thing that was ambiguous about them. Their hair was easy to put into a ballet bun and most importantly, they were girls good at being girls.
I kept with dance through high school and took a break once in college. Taking a chance to step back from that environment was hard because there are many things that I miss about it. It was hard to let go but ultimately this was a good step for me because I finally had the courage to cut my hair and discover different ways to express my gender.
I finally realized what I have been hiding from myself and been too scared to express. I am a trans person of color and that I was tired of playing along with what people thought I was.
I wanted to cut my hair so I did. I wanted to wear boys clothes so I did. I wanted to actually talk about my race so I did.
shout out to Katherine Manely for shaving my head and for helping me capture these images!
After four years of this incredible journey, I am so glad I decided to make this series and talk with you all.
Nathan speaks on gender fluidity and expectations with gender and hair:
“I shaved the side of the head the first time I felt freedom with my hair. i dyed it different colors, i cut it all off myself, i got fades routinely.
Now I feel like I’m fully owning what I do with my hair.
hair has always been tied to my gender expression. when I wore it more masculinely, it was when I was running from the presumptions of my “womanhood” that was tied to feminine, long hair. I was running from the idea that if I was femme that I was assumed to be a woman.
now that I have a partner that sees me for exactly who I am, it helps me feel fearless in doing that, too. I don’t care if people will (and they do) misgender me based on my aesthetic. I am femme as heck. I now have bleach blonde hair that’s turning into a bob with an undercut. it’s exactly what I want, and I’m not afraid of long hair anymore.
a butch trans woman is a woman, a femme trans man is a man, a DFAB femme nonbinary person is still nonbinary and yes hello it is me. :) some people get cispicious a bout all the different terms and words folks use to define themselves, when it’s like…… it’s not a big deal. just let people tell you who they are cause you just cant assume. its nice to look back at all the different hair stages ive had and think ‘i was a lost nonbinary baby just trying to find myself within the binary.. and now i’m here… not giving a frick’ goodbye binary! Ur boring and hurtful! xo now i know however i do my hair, its not defined by other peoples opinions or thoughts on it. it doesnt matter if they think i’m nonbinary enough or not. my hair is gender neutral because i am, and that’s that. peace and love. anyone out there wanting to talk about hair i’m always open. i love hair…i love ryans project. what an amazing binch :) I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!