There is a woman in my mind. I plait my hair to be more like her, but when I look in the mirror I see myself sans-bangs, sans-fringe, sans-highlights and dye. I see what I was trying to hide. I see that I was trying to hide.
As I advanced in my studies at the university, I was exposed to the argument that non-white women who bleach their hair, get plastic surgery, take on certain inflections, etc., are “fake.” That is, that these women of color had so internalized racist beauty standards that they were attempting to erase their ethnicities, their status as other, by feeding the so-called beauty industry by buying promises of whiteness in the forms of products and services. And, as a young woman of color who had begun dying her hair at 14, I thought that assessment was callous and one-sided. My feeling about this argument was not aided by the fact that it was men of color and white women who expressed these views. What did they know about being a young woman of color? Why did I have to be more ascetic than the white girls I knew who regularly adorned themselves with whatever they could afford? Because of phenotype? Because some man might read my pink hair as racial rejection? Because some woman might see me as treacherous on top of foreign?
I had thought that in the land of rugged individualism I could negate this faux-group ownership through hours of dreary work. I wanted more than the ability to escape the compliments of the adults I knew who, all my life, had remarked on the shiny blackness of my hair while reaching out to fondle a few strands. I knew that they meant to compliment me, but as a transracial adoptee I was convinced of myself as a castaway outlier. The heart of these compliments was the ever-present beat questioning my authenticity.
This question of authenticity remains, but now I can hold it in the palm of one hand. I have claimed control, and I maneuver it around until the question becomes: “What right have you to judge my authenticity?”
The ability to change an orientation, even if it is just my own, has made me see that in bleaching and dying my hair, in clothing myself and piercing my skin, I was trying to become someone different. But more than that, I was trying to become. And in trying to become, I was attempting to blot out the uneasy questions of who my actions dictated I was.
I wasn’t “trying to be white” when I bleached my hair. I was trying to live in a world in which I wasn’t primarily congratulated on and judged because of something that grew out of my head. I was trying to force everyone around me to work to see me.
This woman in my mind is part of a cast of characters who take up and replenish my energy. I have been writing and revising, but mostly I have been reading, and in doing so I have been creating. I am tired of feeling like an ascetic because the things I used to love have turned so twisted, so misogynistic, so racist, so violent, so hateful that I have begun to stop loving. I am taking comics, action, sci-fi, folk tales, and turning them over in the palms of my hands. I am taking everything and everyone I have ever loved and am letting them all turn me. I look at myself barefaced and see no almond eyes, no yellow skin, no stereotypical traits.
Now that I have begun this work I see me.