Melissa Potter almost always fell for the guys with long hair. And she finally figured out why.
It was 8th grade. It had already been a rough and rather pimply year. My family couldn’t afford designer jeans, since they’d been spending every last cent on private Quaker school for us, so a friend finally took pity on me and gave me an old pair of Sassoons. Anyway, my mom said they weren’t healthy so tight: the girls would lie on the bathroom floor to zip them up. I was a mash up of Princess Di, preppy whale turtleneck hand-me-downs from my granny, and my one pair of designer jeans. And a pair of Nikes my parents finally caved and bought me at Ernie’s Shoe Post. On sale, two sizes too big and stuffed with newspaper.
And then, the awakening. I was in class, and across the hall waltzed this creature with a feathered, long black Steve Perry-like hairdo, the palest skin and red lips. I remember I thought, I am not sure if this is a boy or a girl, but this is it. I’m in love.
As it turned out, it was a boy, and it also turned out he was a genius. Which…he was pretty vocal about. He was an Ozzy and Black Sabbath fan. And so, I followed suit. With some tour shirts and a copy of Paranoid (ahem, one of the greatest albums ever) from the local library I designed a new persona. Spencer’s Gifts put the icing on the cake: a set of skull earrings with a hatchet through the top, which I split with my bestie. Because you just don’t wear the same earring in both ears, of course. This didn’t go over well with my parents, but it really had nothing at all to do with goth and death. In retrospect, I wish everyone understood what it was really in reference to.
We had a brief phone romance, the fellow and I, but it didn’t last long. I bored him, according to sources, which I’m sure was absolutely true. Why was I so attracted to this guy? Well, he was totally different from anything else I’d ever seen or been around. Maybe he was even different from the a-hole boys who stood in the back of gym class and talked about which girls had nice butts in the designer jeans, and on whom they’d bestow the great honor of sex. Maybe he was nicer than the jerk who wrote in my yearbook he hoped my boobs got bigger over the summer. Male privilege: fully ensconced by age 13.
As the years went on, my penchant for different got deeper. It also got more serious. Something horrible happened in high school, something so cliche, so right out of a B grade film, you probably think “this never happened where I’m from.” In my later life, I was a rape crisis counselor. I have bad news for you. It happens everywhere.
It goes like this: a girl with a drinking problem and terrible self-esteem goes to a party. Add a group of boys. Football players, mostly, but a few “popular” types who seemed “nicer” than that. And they “party trained” her, in the words of my boyfriend, not one night, but on an ongoing basis. I feel like I’m about to throw up, no kidding, so I’ll cut this short. It was gang rape. My boyfriend told me he witnessed one guy in, with another guy finishing behind her. Though it was before the film The Accused came out (depicting a case in which the witnesses of a brutal gang rape were held accountable), I was aware that my boyfriend witnessed a crime. If you haven’t seen the film, it is an important piece of American history.
I tried to tell people about it, I was sickened, enraged, beaten down by it. No one would listen to me. I watched the perps go out with the popular girls. Some were even my friends—I had a spring semester when I somehow got on the fringes of the popular crew. It didn’t last, and I’m glad it didn’t. The girl who was gang-raped was routinely made fun of by some of those popular guys. You know, she was a slut and all that shit.
As I moved on to college, I had a greater selection of long-haired boys. They were also the pot smokers. I guess from this high school trauma, I was completely clear that alcohol and the abuse of women went hand-in-hand. My grandmother and mother once got on the “gateway drug” debate about pot. I said, “Look at it this way: your daughter is at a party. Do you want her going home with the drunk or the pothead?” Don’t think I bought into the idea the long hairs were radical feminists—ever read the comic Bitchy Bitch? One features a brilliant spoof on the role of women during the 60s protests—a lot of secretarial work and unsatisfying sex with uncommitted dopers.
But at the end of the day, my love for longhairs was a dream for something different. Someplace where my budding sexuality might be safe and cared for, not abused, and robbed from me. Though mostly a fantasy, I am grateful for the space it created in me to question the status quo, and I’ll gladly suffer the photographic evidence.
Originally published on Gender Assignment
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