Interview with Faye Wheeler

So to start Faye, could you tell us a little bit about who you are and how you identify.

Well, I enjoy music, theatre and having a laugh, though I’m quite ditzy at times and people usually find that amusing. I was born male and after realising femininity has been a part of me my whole life I came out about two years ago as a female. 

When you started your transition did you have short hair? 

Yes, before transitioning I never really thought about growing my hair out. When I was younger I was told girls have long hair and boys have short and that idea really stuck with me so I never really questioned it and no one told me otherwise. It’s only since discovering who I am that I realised it doesn’t matter whether girls or boys have long or short hair. 

Did your short hair contribute to any gender dysphoria? Was growing your hair long an important part of your transition? 

I never thought about having it long before transitioning but after discovering my identity I was very conscious about having long hair so people could identify me as female. I didn’t want to be misgendered and judged by others so I felt as though I needed it long. It was and still is very important to me in my transition. 

Did you ever wear wigs?

If so: Did wearing a wig make you feel more confident / more yourself? When you stopped wearing wigs and had your hair naturally long as you do now, did it make you feel any different?

Wigs were such a big help to me feeling and looking feminine. I started in a nasty black wig which I wore to my first Brighton Pride. That kept me going until I found a shoulder length wig made with real hair which I loved. Having my hair natural for the first time felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. It was good to finally feel free to do something with my own hair and still look feminine. The length it is now gives me the confidence to do more with my life. I always catch a glimpse in the mirror and feel satisfied, though I am still trying to grow it longer.  

Do you feel your hair is a key feature in your identity as a woman? (Are identity and image the same thing/linked?) 

Certainly, it is one of the first things people comment or make judgment on, so I feel it’s important to maintain it and keep it growing. To me, they’re linked, you base your image on how you identify, and personally, the way I identify means keeping it nice and long. 

Could you ever have short hair again? Or do you feel your long hair, like most women, is important for your female identity? 

For me, not really. I don’t think I could ever have it shorter than shoulder length as short hair doesn’t particularly suit me. There are so many women I admire with short hair, though I feel having longer hair adds to my feelings of femininity. It is one of the things I spend my most time on in the morning, apart from make up of course!

Is there anything else you'd like to add; perhaps why / if you think having long hair is so important for women? 

I think it depends on the individual, after all, everyone is different. But i think hair, long or short, is important to most people. People will notice and comment on a new hairstyle or cut, the right hairdo can really finish off an outfit, its really satisfying to sit there and style it. For me, Long hair is important because it adds to my feeling of femininity and has added to mine and other women’s confidence so much.

'You're so lucky its not Afro' - Yasmin Roye


“You’re so lucky it’s not Afro”

I don’t blame my hairdresser for saying that. I don’t think she’s racist or biased in any way. She, like the rest of us, happens to be a victim of beauty culture. For the majority of the 20th and 21st centuries, manufacturers and large beauty companies have almost exclusively promoted the idea that natural black hair needs to be forced and changed into an entirely different texture. I fell victim to this too; I spent the majority of my life feeling grateful that my hair wasn’t afro, as if I had narrowly escaped a life-long curse. I let society convince me that the natural hair of black women was ‘unruly’, ‘unmanageable’, ‘frizzy’, and needed to be tamed into something far more aesthetically acceptable. As I got older and more socially aware I noticed that for the black woman the way you wear your hair is not just an aesthetic choice, but a political standpoint; your hair is not simply hair, a cluster of protein filaments that keep your head warm; it determines whether you get the job or whether you don’t. 

As a black woman, you’re dammed if you do and damned if you don’t. A wig is false, relaxing is trying too hard, natural is lazy. Ironically, more often than not it’s our own people that oust us based on the hair choices we make and this just further emphasises the desire for ‘good hair’ and the fear of ‘bad hair’. This fear runs through black culture and is ignited at a young age; young girls are given barbies with long, soft, blonde brushable hair and this marks the start of a life-long journey of looking for something that cannot be found. This journey is not only costly and time consuming, it can be damaging for your health. Wig glue discolouring skin, relaxers burning hair clean from the scalp. A recent study found that black hair products contained the most carcinogens and formaldehyde releasers, way above those marketed at Caucasian hair. Black hair maintenance isn’t pretty. It isn’t going to the hairdressers with your girlfriends on your lunch break. It’s a dreaded chore requiring ipubrofen and eight hours of your day.

The cultural attitude to black hair comes from the wounds racism has left. People who have never experienced racism first hand are living (and styling their hair) a certain way because of the racial hatred their ancestors experienced hundreds of years ago. These wounds dictate the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us. Black hair is a taboo, black makeup is a taboo, living as an emancipated black woman is a taboo. Why? Because we live in a society that elevates whiteness over blackness, where simply being born white with straight hair is a privilege. Until this privilege ceases the black woman will spend her life burning her skin trying to straighten out something so beautiful in search of acceptance.