Español
Franšais
On Being a Longhair

Part 4 - How People Feel About Long Hair


Reactions from Others

They may not be what you think. Most people will, of course, not have any real reaction to you at all, any different than they would have before. But some stereotypes, mostly myths, need to be visited.

Will people think I'm a girl? Well, that depends on how masculine the rest of you looks. If you are big boned with a very masculine face and you are six feet seven inches (two meters) tall, no one will think that. They won't ask you either! If you are slight and effeminate in appearance, and you were counting on a masculine style of haircut before, to make you look masculine, then you might confuse some people. Hair not heavily styled is the long hair style that looks the most masculine, but unlike many male short haircuts, such long hair styles do not really carry a sex message at all. So your long hair will not provide the clues your short hair once did, and you will find yourself needing to rely on other things that people see.

The one way to dispel all misconceptions promptly is to grow facial hair. Head hair is not a sexual marker, but facial hair is, and in the direction you want to be read. No one will mistake you at all once you grow it, from the moment it is seen.

I have one friend who has long hair and is very short. He says he is occasionally hit upon from behind by straight men in dark bars. His solution is to turn around, revealing his beard and saying in his very deep voice, "I don't really think I'm your type!" He says that with a smile, and he says immediately afterward he usually shares a good laugh over the event with the unfortunate fellow who made the misreading.

Will people think I am gay? Only the ignorant ones. At the moment, long hair is quite rare in the gay community, and most longhairs that one sees are straight. In reality, being read as gay is seldom a problem. This is mostly a myth thrown in with the other scary "what ifs" that float through the head of a potential longhair.

Though the gay community nowadays is pretty international in scope, some societies are burdened with these misconceptions more than others. Those so burdened tend to be the more tropical cultures, where a hot climate makes long hair less popular with the populace at large and thus an easier target for stereotyping. Some longhairs in Hispanic and African cultures have experienced much more difficulty in this area than their brethren in cooler climes, where the practicality of long hair is more appreciated by men in the community at large.

Some ultra-conservative Moslem sects are under the misconception that longhairs are transgenders, and assaults and mutilations of longhairs have occurred in places they control as a result. Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia should be avoided by longhairs, as attacks have been well-documented in the media in those two places. In 2004, there have been isolated attacks in Iraq and the nation of Turkmenistan has outlawed longhairs altogether.

Will gay men hit on me? This is an oft cited fear and one completely unfounded. My answer from personal experience would be, "Probably less often than before." The fear is probably rooted in the misconception that gay men are looking for longhairs because they want men who look like women. In reality, most longhairs do not look like women, most gay men do not want men who look like women anyway, and long hair is out of fashion at the moment in most gay circles, anyway. So forget this one. But really, the solution if anyone should come on to you is simple, and the same as the one used to dissuade straight men who might think you are a girl. Just say, "Sorry, you're not my type." Gay men will almost invariably accept that.

Be aware that as a longhair you may find more women hitting on you! Some women really like men with long hair.

What other things will people think? Probably that you're a rock musician, that you like to do drugs, or that you ride a Harley. These three stereotypes have been thrown at us so long that they have become jokes among longhairs. But the clueless keep coming up with them over and over. Fortunately, one quickly gets used to it, and it soon becomes something to laugh about. If you like one of those stereotypes and it actually fits you, you can choose to play the part (with clothing, mannerisms, etc.). This consistency in your appearance can make things easier in one way - people will be more comfortable around you when they can rapidly pigeonhole you into one of their stereotypes.

Some security guards in places such as building lobbies will challenge longhairs. But since one never goes into any such place without business there in the first place, these types immediately become helpful once you tell them why you're there. They usually approach you with a "can I help you" line, so I take advantage of the situation, getting precise directions to where I am going, while all the shorthaired folk are left to fend for themselves!

Recognizing Slurs

As a member of a minority, you will occasionally be subjected to slurs. Until longhairs met one another on the Internet and began to discuss this, we found we were conditioned by those who would oppress us to not recognize their slurs for what they actually were.

The most common slur is "Get a haircut!" This is "the n-word" for us - it is what gets yelled at us from pickup trucks. You should recognize this expression carries the offensive message that you are not wanted where you are. Once you realize this is a slur and not a grooming tip, you can more properly deal with the offensive nature that the utterance entails. The appropriate response to a slur is indignation, which can be shown by returning a cold stare, dressing down the offender, or totally ignoring him thereafter.

Other slurs occasionally heard are that you look female or homosexual. If they say, "You look like a girl," don't believe for a minute they really believe that. People don't say that to real girls. It's a slur, dude.

One other slur you might get thrown your way is a comment that a particular mannerism looks feminine. Such as pushing your hair out of your face. This is hogwash. All longhairs do these things because they relate to having long hair.

From time to time people will combine the fact that you have long hair into some milder statement of offense. They will state that your hair makes you look too old, too young, etc. The truth is, you will look that way with or without the hair. Some balding longhairs have been told they look like "old hippies", for example, but I've been told the same thing and I have all my hair. Comments such as these are only mildly offensive and warrant a less forceful response than do full blown slurs. Deflecting the comment from your hair to addressing the underlying accusation works best, e.g., "Hey, I'll look old no matter what I do!"

Some statements you'll hear are derogatory, but in a lesser way. You will probably want to let those slide, unless they are being used in an attempt to belittle, offend, or disrespect you. Expressions such as "clean cut" and "clean shaven" in a backhanded way suggest that hair is dirty. Commenting that we "wear" hair or a beard (instead of "having" or "growing" it) equates our hair to clothing, easily changed, rather than a part of our bodies which cannot readily be taken off and put back on. If someone is doing battle with you by using such phrases, it's appropriate to point out why they are inappropriate.

Dealing with Childhood Abuse

It is not uncommon for longhaired men to have been physically abused as children about their hair. Because longhaired males are in a minority, support structures are weak and often lacking altogether, and boys must often suffer the abuse alone. One man tells of being wrestled to the ground when a child by his father and another adult and forcefully shorn, leaving his hair badly butchered and bruises all over his face and head. When he went to school the following day and tried to hide the injuries with a ball cap, his teachers hassled him about wearing the cap in school rather than supporting him for having been beaten. And no other students consoled or supported him either. Sadly, stories such as these are not rare.

As adults, some of us can forgive such abusers and some of us cannot. For some of us the pain runs so deep that the only sane response is to write such people out of our lives. This is a decision each victim must make for himself.

Many perpetrators are not aware how serious their acts are, and that such acts break up families. Adult longhairs do frequently report that such perpetrators are eventually cut out of their lives. If it helps, one may remind such an abuser of such things such as that they may never get to see their grandchildren, and that they may grow old alone. It's tough to say such things to a parent, but you may feel the truth should be said.

Be aware that perpetrators may seek to justify their act with an assertion "that it is legal". In some jurisdictions it may be. That, however, does not make it right. Slavery, beating your wife, and shooting Indians for sport were at one time legal, but they were never right.

If you are a young longhair and find yourself in an an abusive situation, you should seek out support. Support on the Internet is helpful, but nothing beats support from adults in your community. If your abuse is coming from fellow students, seek support from faculty or administrators, or from your parents or other family adults. If your abuse is coming from adults at school, seek out support from other adults at school, from your parents, or parents of friends. If your abuse is coming from family members, seek support from other family members such as aunts or uncles, or seek support from parents of friends or adults at school. Then add to your support team by rounding up whatever support you can muster from people your age. The more people who will speak for you, the less you are apt to be bothered.

If you should be assaulted, get witnesses and take photographs. Abusers often follow up an attack with insisting that you go to a haircutter to "clean up" the damage - the aftermath of such an assault if you resist is never pretty. Recognize such demands for what they are - they are attempts to conceal evidence. You will get more support if people actually see what was done to you, so you may wish to document the evidence with photographs and with visits to criminal prosecutors or others who would make good witnesses first.

If you receive threats, take them seriously. Often such threats are acted upon that very day or the next, so you may wish to get out. It will be helpful to have already arranged a safe haven in the home of a relative or friend, if you see an act of this nature coming. From such a safe haven you can then make a decision as to what you want to do. Agencies who counsel abused youth tell us, "Only the youth can make that decision, and it must be his to make." You'll be making a "between a rock and a hard place" decision, perhaps one of the more important in your life. Only you know how you feel about your hair and all the other issues which inevitably surround such a decision. From the safety of a refuge you can consider choices and talk to others, and best make it.

An Important General Comment About Abuse

Demands made upon a man to cut hair are seldom about appearance and almost always about power. To fight your best battle you need to dig down to the real issues, which center around power, and deal with those.

For further information and resources for dealing with discrimination and abuse, see:

Abuse in the Media

As do all minorities, longhairs complain that they are underrepresented in the media, cast in limited roles, or cast in roles as undesirable characters. This is harmful because it reinforces untrue stereotypes about us, and encourages those who would disrespect us with slurs or other abuse.

Far worse is when slurs are actually aired, or abuse is acted out by taking hair off men not really willing. To longhaired men, this is as offensive as dragging a black man behind a truck. Someone can be found by television producers to do almost anything, but when people in real life are being abused with an act, its portrayal is offensive. For each cheerful "makeover" on television in the afternoon, we cry, because we know that night a hundred boys will be beaten.

Some of us choose to speak out against abuse in the media and some do not, but recognizing abuse for what it is, is the first step, for those of us who do.

Longhairs as a Social Group

Some people may ask, "Why are longhaired men subjected to discriminatory treatment such as minorities get, while longhaired women are not?" The reason is that longhaired men are perceived by many as a separate social group. If a woman gets shorter hair in a makeover or simply cuts her hair, no one sees it as an event with any significance beyond one of her own preference. If a man does the same thing, he is seen as having moved from one social group to another. Everyone will be talking about it. The reason is such an act has social significance.

If a TV program made black people look more white and gloated over how much better they looked afterward, black people would be outraged. Such a program would portray black people as less worthy, and would thus encourage discrimination and violence against them. A makeover that trims a longhair's hair but leaves him a longhair is not offensive to longhaired men. It is the crossing of a line between social groups that causes the offense.

One piece of evidence that longhairs are seen as a separate social group is the mere existence of the word "longhair". A special word to define us occurs in English and in several other languages. These words are loaded with far more meaning than just hair length. No such single word appears for longhaired women.

Although many longhaired men do not identify with "being longhaired" at a social-group level, it becomes clear to anyone who visits longhair chat boards that longhairs have some distinctive social and personality traits that set them apart. The mere willingness to stand up for oneself for several years straight, never wavering once, sets longhaired men apart as being men who are strong individualists and who strongly respect that trait in others. Foisting overly conformist attitudes on others is just not an accepted behavior among longhaired men.

Some longhaired men experience what we consider to be a very positive change in their outlook on life as their hair first grows out. The pride in standing up for yourself and exposure to the ways you are treated differently all contribute to personality changes. It has been said that a man gains as much growth underneath his scalp as he does above it. Growing one's hair takes so long that personality shifts are possible during this time, and these shifts often take a man in the same direction as that where other longhaired men will be found.

Longhaired men on chat boards will often get on certain topics over and over, such as rock bands, wrestlers, and longhaired movie stars. That these topics are not considered "off topic" is evidence that there is such a thing as a longhair culture, and these topics are a part of it. Indeed, these topics have some correlation to the stereotypes we joked about further up this page. As is the case with other minorities, we want to be seen as individuals though, not just as being "one of those people". This is especially so for members of a social group where individuality is a most-valued trait of its culture.

Second Thoughts

If your own thoughts should turn to second thoughts from time to time about being a longhair, remember that a haircut will seem darned near permanent after it is done. You should formulate for yourself a reasonable procedure for irreversible decisions so you won't make ones you later regret.

I adhere to what I call "the two week rule". Any time I get a notion to cut hair, I note the date. If I feel the same way for two weeks straight without wavering once, then I proceed. Otherwise, I deem myself not ready, and I am thankful I had a procedure to prevent me from taking an action I would have regretted.

If I am having a particularly bad hair day, I cheer myself up with this reminder: For the shorthaired, every day is a bad hair day!

Discrimination

As a longhair, as with anyone in a minority, you will face some discrimination. People are usually delighted to take your money, so the main place you'll find discrimination is not when you are buying stuff. It will be in the workplace.

For now, in most places such discrimination is legal. Employers can discriminate against almost anything except a short list of characteristics, and long hair is not on that list. So you must decide how important your long hair is to you, and then accept the extra effort it might take to find a position where you are accepted.

Finding a job if you have long hair is a lot like finding an apartment if you have a dog. If you really like your dog, or your long hair, you will just keep looking until you are successful. Think about it - all the people you see enjoying their dogs in the city's parks found apartments. And all the longhairs you see in the city's cafes found ways to support themselves. Most of them are working somewhere. If they succeeded, so can you!

Don't expect to find that magical place where most of the workers are longhairs. It is not likely to happen, because longhairs make up only about two to three percent of the adult male population. Most longhairs work where they are either the only one, or only one of a few. It's far easier to find a place where you will be accepted as a minority, than it is to track down a place where you will be in the majority. Longhairs are just too scarce.

If a potential employer wants to discuss your hair, offer to negotiate style, but never length. A style can be dissembled at five o'clock if you don't care for it. Length changes take so long to repair that the change will seem permanent.

You should never cut hair with the idea that you will "get the job and then grow it back". Longhairs report that it is far more difficult to grow long hair on a job than it is to keep it if you already had it. Employers will think, "He was shorthaired when I hired him, so he certainly can live with being shorthaired now!"

You should also not start a precedent of acquiescing to length-cutting requests. Once you've allowed them one such request, you have no assurance they will not keep coming back for more. Your yielding the first time will greatly weaken your position should repeat requests occur.

Most people with short hair equate "neatness" with trimming, because that is how one makes short hair look neater. You may need to point out that one achieves neatness with long hair in other ways, such as by combing it frequently or by tying it back. Some longhairs report that their employers are aware of this difference, telling all the shorthaired men to get haircuts when, for example, a dignitary is coming, but sparing the longhairs from the directive.

Most shorthaired people have no concept as to how much time and effort goes into growing a head of long hair. A man who runs to the barbershop every two weeks will from his own perspective regard hair as being almost as changeable as clothing. From a longhair's perspective, a hair cutting is not at all akin to a clothing change. Because a hair cutting will affect one's appearance for years to come, it is far more akin to a mutilation. Thus many shorthaired people have little grasp of just how much they are asking, when they suggest you alter the length of your hair. It may help to explain just how long it took to grow hair the length of yours.

As with most discrimination, those who hassle longhairs often do it because they don't like the person in question. If they like you and your work, chances are slim that they will push too hard about your hair. Good employees are tough to find and costly to replace. So think long and hard whether any hassling about your hair might be just because they don't like you and are trying to find a way to get rid of you anyway. If this is the case you surely do not want to cut your hair, because if you do, they will then just find another reason to dislike you, and soon you will be both without your job, and without your hair! Forcing someone to mutilate himself is a serious assault - and it constitutes a serious blow to his self-esteem. You don't really want to be under that burden in addition to the others which will rest upon you at such a time.

Consider this: It's bad enough when others write their ideas on the wall of your house, but nothing constitutes a greater affront than having others write their ideas on you. It becomes graffiti of the gravest sort.

One important thing to consider at a time discrimination occurs is the answer to the question, "Why am I a longhair?" The answer may help you decide whether you will cut your hair or not.

Why Be a Longhair?

There are two reasons men become longhairs. You either do it for others, or you do it for yourself. Of course, your reasons could be a hybrid. But consider these two scenarios, and then decide which one is more "you":

Humans are born with a drive to meet their identity needs first, and once that is done, to try to fit in with others. Thus men longhaired for the second set of reasons will put a higher priority on being longhaired than men in the first group. Just thinking of how people feel about other identity issues will illustrate this.

One's race, sex, sexual orientation, and nationality are characteristics usually held at the "identity" level. Think of how you would feel if your company decided to have a "high heels and dress" policy, and all employees, males included, would be required to dress that way. Would you feel comfortable because "everybody else was dressed that way"? Most males would shout "No!" and in that scenario we see identity raring its head. Identity cares not at all that "everybody else is doing it". And one is driven to meet his identity needs first. What others might think comes in second.

It should be added that identity concepts are generally locked in in early childhood, and as adults we are seldom able to change these very basic feelings as to who we really are.

Of course, it is because of identity drives that we have gay people, trans people, and people hanging onto minority nationality identities for generations. It would be far easier for all of these people to just "go with the flow". But identity is a strong drive. If you are in the second group of longhairs I described, you will feel strongly about not cutting your hair. If you are in the first group, since you are longhaired to please others anyway, you may decide in weighing the desires of different groups, that it is time for a haircut.

A bit more needs to be said about these two groups, those in the first group who are longhairs for social reasons, and those in the second group, for whom long hair is part of their identity.

Social Longhairs

Those in the first group, the social longhairs, account for fluctuations in the number of longhairs in various settings and eras. If long hair is "in", social longhairs will proliferate. If long hair is "out" with a particular group or in a particular place, the number of social longhairs there will decline.

This is not so likely to be the case with the second group, for whom the social environment means little, when it comes to something as important to them as long hair.

Born Longhairs

If being a longhair is part of your identity, you will probably feel like you were born that way. Identity arises in childhood, and it often goes back to our earliest memories. From our own perspectives, those of us with a longhair identity feel like we were born that way. And perhaps we were.

It could very well be that this kind of thing is indeed inherited. Among the human race we don't have people wanting to look like telephone poles, or dogs for that matter. We all identify as humans, and long hair is part of the human form. If the most primitive of animals can identify others of their species with ease, can we seriously argue that humans are incapable of this, and free of the identity mechanisms that come down with a heavy genetic component to every other species?

So long hair on the head, a trait uniquely human on this planet, may be embedded in the human psyche as one element to be seized upon by a human child in forming his identity. If you were such a child, you will always be a longhair inside. Adults can seldom change items of identity. You will never be happy without long hair. To find that happiness, you will probably want keep your hair long and accept that you are in a minority - and accept the reality that society is not fair towards minorities but that you are doing the best you can do to be happy and live your life.

If long hair is part of your identity, it may be as much a part of your mental picture of yourself as is your sex - generally another component of one's identity. If that is the case, you might find the idea of cutting your hair to be about as unpleasant as the thought of an unwanted sex change operation. Just because the surgical solution to achieve one such unwanted change is far simpler than the other does not for you make the coercion of it any less ugly, or the performance of it any less cruel.

If you are a man whose identity includes having long hair, the realization of that, of its importance to you, and of your determination to stand up for what you are, can bring you great internal peace. With that peace and determination, you can go much further than you ever could as a timid shorthaired man who was unhappy and clueless as to knowing who he was. This realization is a time for celebration, and a time for one to take pride in being what he is - a born longhair!


No man has expressed the essence of the longhair identity better, and yet in so few words, as has John Two-Hawks. You may wish to read his two short paragraphs here.

If you want to communicate with other longhairs about the longhair experience, the best place to do that is the Men's Long Hair Hyperboard!


Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Caring for Long Hair
Part 3 - Keeping Long Hair Neat
Part 4 - How People Feel About Long Hair


Copyright © 1998-2014 by Bill Choisser, All Rights Reserved.

[  About This Series  ]

[  Resources for Longhairs  ]