I made the conscious decision to lock my hair in 1995. I chalked it up to DuBosian double consciousness: American by design, African/Caribbean by trade. My grandfather, a man never at a loss for words, said, “You have got to be the damnedest fool I’ve ever seen. You’ve got two degrees. Why in the hell would you do this to yourself?” In his mind, he believed my outward display of Afrocentrism was career suicide and more. Once, he even offered me $1000.00 to cut my hair. This “feud” went on for years; until he passed in 2006. Later that year, I became a new dad and my locs were long and strong. I recalled when I was a kid, I had a big Afro that I loved because I enjoyed the touch of my hair on my ears. And now here I was with a son who, too, liked the touch of my hair as he often “played” with it.
However, with my long locs, I quickly noted the assumptions made by other men and even some family members about my sexual orientation. My body was read as gay, particularly on the occasions when I had my stylist experimented with hair dye. Or, when a sales associate in suggested he and I could have matching sweaters for the holidays. Apparently, this is what was at the heart of my grandfather’s concerns. He knew that I would have to work to dispel falsehoods of homosexuality and that many in the Black community would struggle to separate my sexuality from my long hair. And as much as I’d proclaim, as songstress India Arie crooned, “I am not my hair!,” I was still bothered by the constraints of how I exhibited my masculinity.
Years passed, as did my locs, with the help of alopecia. I made another conscious decision to bid farewell to the locs I had worn for 17 years. That moment of Afrocentric self-expression was also transgressive in many ways for I knew my grandfather believed that men wore their hair a certain way to perform masculinity. Yet, circa 1990s, I was able to defy gender expectations with my hairstyle choices. And now, for my son, I hope the lesson is simple: masculinity is not determined by length or style of hair, but by your ability to confidently embrace one’s beliefs of what it means to be a man.