Irish lesbian opens up about empowering her butch identity through hair

"I was butch with my long, thick, luscious locks, and butch with my hair shaved tight to my skull."

Black and white image of a butch haircut.

Throughout most of my life, ‘butch’ had been a dirty word. It was acceptable to be a tomboy as I was growing up, but it was never okay to challenge the boundaries of femininity to a point where you could be perceived as the aforementioned ‘profanity’.

When I reluctantly came out to my mother in 2019, one of the first conditions of her acceptance was that I didn’t cut my hair, something I’ve come to realise is common for parents to say to their queer daughters. Long hair is feminine, and to be feminine is to be beautiful. So much of a woman’s worth has historically been based on her appearance, so it’s not surprising that a mother’s instinct is to protect her child’s value.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge said it best in Fleabag: “Hair is everything. We wish it wasn’t so we could actually think about something else occasionally, but it is.

“It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day. We’re meant to think that it’s a symbol of power, that it’s a symbol of fertility. Some people are exploited for it… Hair is everything.”


Much like the biblical Samson, a lengthy mane to me represented some kind of armour and strength. It allowed me to dress in ‘boys’ clothes,’ have a makeup-free face, and walk swaying my shoulders instead of my hips without garnering too much negative attention. In contrast to Samson, my hair shielded me from masculinity and preserved my femininity in a way I was deeply afraid to sacrifice, no matter how much I wanted to.

Having long hair never really felt right and I didn’t know what to do with it. Curling wouldn’t work, french plaits absolutely not; sea salt spray, backcombing, volumising powder – you name it, I’d tried it and failed. Don’t even get me started on messy buns – little has frustrated me quite as much as being bested by this ‘effortless’ updo.

I had no idea how to be a girl, or what I thought a girl was supposed to be. My everyday and favourite look was a scraped-back high ponytail, but I got the most compliments when I felt most uncomfortable—wearing my hair down, free and wrestling with the Irish wind.

Honestly, my hair angered me. It felt like it worked against and not with me, but like many toxic relationships, I couldn’t bring myself to cut ties. However, that didn’t stop me from having adulterous thoughts about life with a tight trim.

I often worry that many of my decisions are ruled by fear, and it was certainly true in this case. I was afraid that if I cut my hair, my double chin, plump cheeks and chubby eyelids (yes, really) would be accentuated. Truthfully, I was terrified of being ugly and having the arguments of the naysayers ring true.

However, when I agreed to my mother’s compromise during that painful car journey several years ago, I knew it was a promise I would break once I found the courage I believed to be hiding somewhere within me.


It surfaced in 2022, at 11am on the 11th day, when I finally forced myself to enter a barbershop and dump the dead weight.

As I sat in the chair, the inches shredding from my head, I waited patiently for the debilitating panic to set in. It never did, and instead, I was filled with immense pride. At last, my inner and outer selves aligned.

I felt lighter, no longer carrying around the burden of conformity. To be called beautiful meant something entirely different now. It was to be complimented for authenticity, commended for resisting. This beauty felt unique to me, the result of something I sculpted rather than something I plagiarised.

It has been over a year since then, and, aided hugely by my cropped cut, I have never felt more confident in my androgyny. Although I had tried to avoid being butch for most of my life, I realised that it wasn’t something I became but rather something I was born.

I was butch in a ball gown at my secondary school Debs and butch in a suit at my college graduation. I was butch with a boy’s arm wrapped around my waist and butch with a girl’s acrylics caressing my neck. I was butch with my long, thick, luscious locks and butch with my hair shaved tight to my skull.

This story originally appeared in GCN’s March 2023 issue 376. Read the full issue here.

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 376 (March 1, 2023). Click here to read it now.

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Holding History

Issue 376 March 1, 2023

In our 35th anniversary edition, Tonie Walsh is holding the very first issue of GCN, a piece of history carefully removed from the archives.
March 1, 2023

This article was originally published in GCN Issue 376 (March 1, 2023).

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