by Hel Gurney
I have carried my hair like a flag since the day it passed my shoulder-blades.
This is the hair of feminine indolence —
of hours sacrificed to brush and wash and dry,
of cultivated shimmer and availability:
a signal to chevaliers from high-built towers, to be guillotined at the wedding altar.
The hair of someone who goes out with nice boys.
This is the hair hacked off by Silence and Eugenia
and a thousand nameless others who left the jewel from the crown of their heads
and swaddled themselves in travelling-cloaks and new, rough voices.
Pantene, L'Oréal, and Garnier consider me a target market.
This is my malleable raw material, to be pinned and ribboned and curled.
Every day untended betrays the soul of womankind!
This is the hair I hid behind in class,
newly-inked universes spiralling across my notepad.
I always drew myself with one eye covered.
When I spoke, I felt my voice echoing from a brunette cavern.
The hair which slapped across my face when I was five and
sticking my head out of the car window — a practice flight
for when I grew up and became King of the Eagles.
This is the hair my nan called a "bird's nest"
and painstakingly brushed until arthritis took her joints.
The hair that flames up copper with brown eyes in the sunset.
That has been two decades mine.
This is the hair that traps me.
The promised lands of Butch and Passing lie beyond a gate
around which these tresses twine — a lock, or two,
that lets me only look at the recognisably masculine.
But I am "passing" every day.
I am passing as a normal fucking woman
and it is the biggest and most terrifying lie I have lived.
I could make my life legible on it with dye and gel and clippers.
I could hack it off or spike it up or brand it rainbow.
Because what is it? Raw material for a style.
A new one every day — shorter, brighter, wilder, sterner,
with clippings left for stick-on stubble.
This is the frustrating, tangled, dirty mess that I know I can tease into beauty.
This is memory. This is something certain.
This is the number one part of my corporeal presence that I have no desire to bring to an expert with sharp implements who offers to change my life with a few strategic incisions.
This is no-one's prize but mine — and no-one's price but mine.
This is the flag I bring to the battles of my days.
Hel Gurney was born in rural Oxfordshire, studied English Language and Literature at King's College London, and is now in Brighton pursuing postgraduate studies in representations of gender-transgression since the 16th century. Hel is fascinated by borders and binaries, memories and mythologies, and how they can be blurred and transcended. Working with a range of traditions, influences, and languages, Hel's poetry roams across time, space, and genre. A committed activist, Hel also operates queer-feminist promotions label 'The Cutlery Drawer', organising events that showcase marginalised artists and fundraise for causes related to gender and sexuality.
Photography: Heretics, by Roberto Condado.