“Do you have a match?” An unlit candle sits in the soapstone dish that will serve as our altar tonight.
My friend Courtney asks if I want still images or video. Courtney is a dear friend and Charlotte native living and working in San Francisco. She and her wife, Amberle, are in town visiting friends and family. On this night, we gather to share in a southern New Year’s Day feast.
As a ritual artist, I am rooted in the knowledge that ritual practice provides bones for the fleshy places in our lives. I knew that a shift like this is the manifestation of deeper revolution, one that begs for a moment of reflection and intention. As Coco Chanel says, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
The candle is lit. We share a cup of tea made from a blend of healing herbs and massage peppermint oil onto our hands. With a pair of scissors, I cut four small pieces of hair – vocalizing each one as an intention. The four portions of hair are collected into a cloth sack. There’s no road map for this kind of ritual. I create my own from the language and elements that have guided me through the changes of the past year.
For me, 2017 was about distinguishing who I am from who I “ought” to be. I found an awareness of how often I am surrounded by people, systems and media who exploit my fear, pain and insecurities to sell me “solutions” that generally revolve around the idea that there’s something wrong with me.
The fear that this evokes, the fear of never being enough, of all the terrible things that can happen – this fear that grips my stomach in the middle of the night, asks only that I fall in line, never speak out. This fear is the soundtrack of every moment from my life that told me there would be hell to pay if I refused to play along.
“Be careful what you say and do. We may never love/fund/feature/hire/talk to you again.”
This fear sits at the root of every trauma and every moment in my life where someone tried to cut me down, discard me or invalidate my body and personhood.
For almost a decade, I have wanted to shave my head. Every time I got close, someone came along to tell me why people would judge me, think less of me or why it would keep me from getting hired as a performer. It was all fear. And it worked, for a very long time.
This past year, my travels, coaching, therapy, and experiences introduced me to a community of people who refuse to submit to these systems of hate, antiquated binaries and oppressive logic. From Fort Greene lofts, filled with queer artists of color to Seattle streets, from anti-capitalist Austin book clubs to collective spaces in New Orleans, this undercurrent of change helped me to release my grip on fear, and see myself more clearly.
It is this community that has guided me to this place tonight. As Amberle begins to remove my hair with an electric razor, first in broad strokes and then with more precision around the ears and the nape of the neck, I know I am done making decisions out of fear.
I shave my head because I’m tired of having hair by default or because it’s what’s expected of me. I do it because I don’t want to spend so much time thinking or worrying about the “acceptable” aesthetics of my appearance. I do it because we’re taught that a woman’s value is dependent largely on how she presents herself. I do it because I am breaking away from communities who need me to look a certain way or act a certain way in order to honor my humanity and my work. I shave my head so that everything I do with my hair after this is my choice.
Most of all, I do it because I want to and I’m tired of that reason not being good enough to justify my choices.
Amberle finishes. I put more oil into my hands and work them across my scalp. The feeling is pleasant and strange. My hands recognize the touch of a close cut, but the skin beneath my hair is unaccustomed to that sort of contact.
This past year, I’ve found myself bored by all of the systems, industries and binaries I’m supposed to care about and intrigued by every place where I look over the edge and can’t see the bottom. I realized over and over again that doing a thing that scares you and making your way through to the other side, means you no longer have to fear any hypothetical outcomes.
We pass around the tea, apply more peppermint oil to our hands and extinguish the flame. When I leave, we exchange hugs and I receive a container full of food to take with me. I bundle up and I head out into the new year ready to face anything.
Photos: Brianna Smith