When I was a young girl, I had a weekly ritual with my mother to do my hair. It was, and will always be, a particular time I hold dear to my heart. Every week my mother would care for her three daughters’ hair, a labor of love I learned early on. The hours she would spend on us — washing our hair, greasing our scalps, mentoring us on how to do our own hair eventually — I don’t know how she did it.
And while my journey with hair has and continues to see its valleys and peaks of emotion, as a young Black trans girl, I learned my hair was one of the first things I knew about myself.
The complexity of the stories our hair holds has been on my mind lately, as my thoughts and experiences have been shared as a contributor to The Hair Tales, a new docuseries series airing on Hulu and OWN that takes an honest, layered look into the sometimes tangled roots of Black hair culture and the role it plays in our identity and opportunities.
Executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, Trace Ellis Ross, and my dear friend Michaela Angela Davis, The Hair Tales leads the audience through a revelatory journey connecting the personal tales of phenomenal Black women to broader societal and historical themes. The stories shared in the series offer an honest and layered look into the complex history of Black hair and, ultimately, Black women’s identity, beauty, cultural and social contributions, and humanity.
While the series premiered recently, it is tonight I am equally excited about, as we are gathering for an intimate dinner party celebrating the vitality and truth of the topic in NYC. The topic takes on several additional nuances when considering gender, so my voice and experience add much-needed depth and richness to the story.
In those weekly rituals with my mother doing my hair, I internalized the time she spent on me, whether she knew it or not. While I knew doing my hair was a labor of love, I also couldn’t help to think loving me was a bit of a chore due to the time and attention she needed to be her best. While now I know that “chore” is a unique gift, I experienced bad hair moments more than good ones as a child.
Growing up in the American Midwest (Columbus, Ohio, to be exact), I didn’t know if my hair had a gender. As my hair texture is different from my siblings and mother’s, I also questioned if I had the hair of my own people.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve learned, from the stories shared with me, that many Black women have gone through the same journeys of loving ourselves and our hair. What a relief to learn I wasn’t alone!
As Black women, our hair is culture. Our hair is art, resistance, resilience, and revelation. Our hair, and the dynamic celebration of Black women’s identity, beauty, culture, history, and means of survival, are uniquely expressed through our hair stories.
Accepting our hair comes with an extra layer of complexity for Black trans women; as our interpretation of ourselves is cast wide open, so does the notion of who, what, and how our hair expresses our true self.
As we expand this moment of extraordinarily nuanced representation of Black women and our stories in media, we at the Marsha P. Johnson Institute know that a conversation about hair is rooted in the celebration of our identities and our inner knowing of our truths.
As Founder and Executive Director, I started Marsha P. Johnson Institute with the vision to elevate, support, and nourish the voices of Black trans people. Never as a young Black trans girl did I see myself in a docuseries alongside the inimitable Oprah Winfrey, Emmy nominee Issa Rae, GRAMMY nominees Chlöe Bailey and Chika, Congresswoman Ayanna Presley, “blackish” star Marsai Martin, and so many brilliant scholars, artists, and hair professionals. And yet it is precisely where I, and so many #girlslikeus, deserve to be.
Sending a loving thank you to The Hair Tales creator and executive producer, Michaela Angela Davis, for inviting me to contribute to this phenomenal project and her monumental life work, opening up this portal to celebrate, embrace, and heal. Black women, especially Black trans women, are the bar — always have been and always will be. It’s my hope young Black trans girls can see themselves through our stories shared in The Hair Tales.