Ask Aunt Fran: The hair

Welcome to Ask Aunt Fran, where I manage somehow to explain the transgender trip to people who never would have guessed they would have to come up against it. But here I am and there you are …

Anyway, if you have a question you’ve been curious enough to ask, please send it to me at franoramaworld@gmail.com (or my personal address if you know it). Just remember that I’m no doctor or shrink, and my answers are based mostly on personal experience. And all questions will remain anonymous unless you want the notoriety …

This one warms my heart. You see, I took a huge step forward over the past week: I came out to my father’s side of the family — my aunts and female cousins in Pennsylvania and Georgia. And the response was wonderful. So that has reduced my anxiety level immensely — and I’m gonna need all the strength I have left to deal with the ongoing unemployment and the possible ending of my federal benefits by Congress very soon.

Anyway, one of my relatives had a practical, everyday question during my coming-out phone call to her, having seen my hairline come and go over the years:

“So what are you going to do about your hair?”

Regardless of gender, everybody asks themselves that question, don’t they? At least the ones who don’t go cleanhead

*****

One of the most traumatic experiences of my adulthood was losing my hair. When I was around 27, 28, I had two transformative body experiences: After five years at a desk job, my metabolism went from 60 to 0 in about 2.8 months — and then the hair up top started to disappear into my brush and down my drains. I went almost immediately from a skinny, blonde, vaguely androgynous rock’n’roller, in keeping with my true spirit, to a fat, balding schlep who started looking early 40s at 28. My self-esteem, never much to begin with, took a huge hit.

For someone born with gender dysphoria, I sure had juuuust enough testosterone, didn’t I? Anyway, it just added to the chronic depression, and it probably sabotaged at least a couple of my relationships — I just couldn’t see why a girl would want someone as fat and bald and ugly as me.

There wasn’t much I could do about the hair. If I cut it, I’d look like an accountant. If I wore it down, I’d look like a fat Riff Raff from “Rocky Horror.” Rugs were out of the question. So was Sy Sperling and his Hair Club. I wore it long and started tying it back with elastics into a ponytail. (Which led, in the ’90s, to a lot of “You know, you look like the singer from ‘The Commitments.’” Loved the movie, couldn’t stand the singer. Even less after that.)

I also started wearing hats — a leather hip-hop-style cylindrical, brimless cap, eventually a leather Greek fisherman’s cap (which I wore for a long while in the logo photo that accompanied my New Haven Register music columns), and lots of oddball baseball hats. (They’re still in a box somewhere, and these days I can’t believe I wore them: Weekly World News, NRBQ, Magilla Gorilla, Riff Raff from “Underdog,” The Smithereens, The Kentucky Headhunters, Los Lobos and a couple dozen others.)

I also began wearing berets about 10 years ago — black, purple, even a raspberry beret I found, believe it or don’t, in a secondhand store. I liked the look — gave me a softer, more feminine boy look — but if I wore the black one with my hair down, I was setting myself up to hear some asshole, at some point, say to the fat blonde guy in the black beret, “Hey, Sam Kinison!” To which I’d kindly respond, “SAM KINISON’S FUCKING DEAAAAAAAAAAAD! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” Or something to that effect.

There was the one night, though, at Rudy’s in New Haven, when some drunk dope came up to me and slurred softly, as he stuck out his hand, “Sam! Sam Kinison! It’s a pleasure to meet you!” I quickly sized him — the shortish brown hair, the mustache, the bent nose — and shot back, in my best Sam voice, “Larry! Larry Csonka! How the fuck have you’ve been?” His friend never let him hear the end of it the rest of the night as he grumbled over his seventh Bud. Like the Grinch lying to little Cindy Lou Who, I couldn’t believe I came up with it and came up with it quick.

And I always wished someone in Hollywood had shot a Kinison biopic while I still was fat and a boy. I would’ve been at the casting call hours ahead of time. I wouldn’t have had to worry about the money again … But even as I started morphing, in my early days of the gender transition, I would wear berets with my hair down and with makeup. Except it was usually my purple beret.

Eventually, I settled on the go-to simplicity of the doo-rag. The bandana. In many colors — lots of blacks and purples, but some blues and greens and, now, pinks as well. Most of my dwindling time in boy drag, I’m wearing one — riding the bike, running errands. They’re a hell of a lot more colorful and better looking than my balding top.

But thank God for gender transition. Thanks to my new lease on life, I don’t have to go hairless anymore.

*****

Two options:

Hair restoration. Hormones have made what hair I have left a little thicker, but they don’t make what’s gone grow back. The follicles are still lying dormant up there somewhere until I can get a resto job. But it’s expensive, and it’s so expensive I don’t even want to know how expensive it is. It’s an option, but only after I get the electrolysis done on my face. Which is after I get a damn job. Or win MegaMillions …

Wigs. Now we’re talking.

I knew my sorry-ass head of hair wouldn’t work when the time came to look and dress the part. The cheapest — and most stylish — way to do it, of course, is with fake hair. You can splurge on natural-hair wigs that cost hundreds, or even fakes that cost a bundle. But you can sometimes get lucky — stylishness and economy — as I did this past summer.

But where to go and what to wear? It’s like shoes — so many options, you don’t know where to start. And like shoes, there’s no set answer here — it’s all trial-and-error.

The first wig shop I went to, in the summer of 2008, was one I had had passed by many times driving and bike riding. I finally mustered the courage to stop in one afternoon, with light makeup on, and ask the saleswoman for some help, so she slapped a wig cap on me and sat me in a chair.

I didn’t want long hair, as I was afraid it would look fake, like one of of my Halloween wigs. I didn’t want blonde, as it was my natural color, and since I wasn’t out yet, I wanted to essentially hide in plain sight — I didn’t want my hair color to be a giveaway.

The short-hair wigs didn’t frame my fat face very well, and framing my face just right, just as in hair styling, was important. And I really would’ve liked to have rocked a black wig — I always loved the black-hair/blue-eyed look. But while I’m fair-skinned, I’m not pale. And my skin tone didn’t lend itself to a black wig. So went my budding Goth career …

So I settled on a brunette number — shoulder-length, with bangs I could play into something ’60sish. Plus the wig cap, a brush, shampoo and conditioner, it ran me about $85. And so I went home and played with it.

And something I figured out instinctively early on that’s been very important in the Wide World of Wig-Wearing (affecting a Long Island voice here): Accessorize, dawling, accessorize. For me, that means plastic hairbands, an occasional clip, flowers — anything that makes my wig look less wiggy. There are few things more awkward than being read as a less-than-genetic girl because your hair looks fake.

I went back to Connecticut shortly after — where I had my first coming-out talks with my closest friends — and when I returned, feeling a bit more confident, I was ready to rock the wig on the town. And, for shits and giggles, there was also a shiny purple bob I picked up on St. Mark’s and Third in the Village ($20) when I went to NYC for the day with my friend Cary on that trip home.

But after the layoff, and I wasn’t as closeted anymore, and I was realizing this was where I was going full-time, I decided to go blonde again.  Went back to the wig shop, where I decided to be daring and go long. I bought a long blonde wig. I’m not quite sure it was a mistake, but I wasn’t as happy as I thought I’d be. For one, I’m driving a car without air conditioning, and for eight, nine months a year here, it means having to keep the windows open. For another, while I had long hair for a boy, I learned how much of a pain in the ass really long hair could be — just flying around, not staying where you want it, and that’s without an open car window.

Plus, even with flowers, it looked a lot wiggier than it looked in the store. But I did buy a set of clip-on combs so I could bring up the hair, and it actually transformed the look to something elegant and stylish. That night-on-the-town or professional look. So maybe it’s not such a mistake.

But I did need something else. And later that summer, I bought a shoulder-length blonde number similar to my brunette wig. It allowed me to accessorize in many ways, and for a year it did me well. But it, too, was a little hard to manage at times. Also, with the driving I was doing at the time, some of the hair would fly and snap around, even with an elastic hairband. And by the beginning of this summer, the ends started fraying and making the hair look fake.

Plus, I was looking for a new shop. The women I dealt with were generally nice, but the owner was off-putting. She either wasn’t used to trans customers or just didn’t like them. (And she had a problem with the pronoun thing, to boot.)

So I had heard of another wig shop in town, a couple miles from my first one. I went in one Friday in early July. The woman taking care of me was older, in her 60s, and didn’t bat a lash about me or what might be beneath my skirt. I scanned the room and saw a lot of steep price tags. But up in front was a bargain rack. And on that rack I found a revelation: a shortish bob style — think a cross between a flapper and Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction.” And in a natural-looking shade of blonde. And $45. Sold. One of my best fashion buys of the year.

It’s the hair I’m wearing in the Ask Aunt Fran photo and in several other more recent photos on the blog. I had finally found a go-to-style I was comfortable with. And since I was dropping weight, and daring to start rocking sleeveless dresses, it lent itself to a more confident, sassy look. Not to mention something that would go great in my favorite fashion period, the Mod ’60s. And I got beaucoup compliments on the wig. Bingbingbing! — we have a winner!

And I went back a month later and bought a second one, because I realized soon enough that, now that I was pretty close to full-time as my better half, I better get at least a couple of wigs so I could rotate them and not wear them out. I also decided to try a platinum blonde, with mixed results. And in October, they had a Halloween sale — $35, going up to $65 after — so I bought a third blonde bob,  plus, to be daring, one in red.

And that’s where I am now. Maybe my face will change some more as I keep losing the weight. But for now, it’s just right, and the short length means very low-maintenance. And whether I rock a hairband or a flower, it doesn’t look wiggy. And it helped me look like the cute, confident, comfortable chica I now am (especially on my “Jeopardy!” tryout in early November). And hopefully it’ll help me project the same image when the time comes for a job interview.

AHEM! I said when it comes time for a job interview!

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2 Responses to “Ask Aunt Fran: The hair”

  1. bob Says:

    hey hey hey ive been clean for 20 years[head that is]whatever you choose looks great fran love garvin

  2. Diana Mercer Says:

    as a female who has thinning hair, I must say I love my “pieces.”

    I was at a jewelry show with a friend, wearing my “piece” and because it looked so much more alluring than my thin, fading hair, we named my “piece” Francesca….and bought “her” earrings. The Italian man selling the earrings Emily and I said that would be perfect for Francesca asked “who is Francesca?” to which I answered “my wig!”

    I am sure he’s still telling that story! As am I.

    ; )…..lemons, lemonade.

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