domingo, abril 06, 2008

Hipsters, Samson, and family vacations

This semester I'm teaching 2 classes of first-year students. (My third class has students from all levels, including a lot who will be graduating this spring). It makes me think about how we re-invent ourselves. A new school, in particular, is always an opportunity to re-invent yourself. You can declare a new diminutive to your name or insist on the name in its longest form. You can be vague about your your background, your history. You can become a cultural nationalist, or queer, when previously you were assimilationist or homophobic. (I say this having gone through all of these transformations, myself.)

I'm starting to notice a pattern in school vacations, though, and their effect on the students' self-invention. And it is manifested in hair. Last semester, for example, this big white dude had this big hair! It was like the redheaded guy from Room 222. I mean it was huge!

After thanksgiving, he came back with a shorn head and baseball cap. Which to me, means he went home for the holiday, and his mama took one look at him and grabbed him by the earlobe and dragged him to the barber.

Or that girl with the weave: it was really well-maintained but also just looked like a cap of braids sitting on her head. She came back from spring break with a new crop that is much more flattering to her face.

But one of the guys, a long-haired Latino, also came back with a shorn head, and it kind of made me sad.

Maybe because I agree with parents whipping their teenagers into shape when it looks like they have "no home training." (Personally, I would like to send them photos of their kids walking around campus in pajamas and yes, girl, a towel!--did someone steal her clothes while she was swimming?) But when the kid's self invention challenges gender norms--even a little bit--then it seems more like a squashing. I don't particularly think that this kid is queer (certainly in Chicano studies long hair on a boy is not a clue to his sexual identity. In fact the gay guys tend to have short haircuts. and good product.) but his long hair was cool and lovely. And now he looks like a baby bird.