the white hair era: dyeing my hair and discovering i actually liked myself


Late last summer, I finally did something I had told myself I was going to do for a long time. It didn't feel particularly profound or significant at the time. In fact, the only significant part of it was the thought that it would take *at least* a few months for it to all grow out again in the event I didn't like it. And if anything, I think it even felt a little childish. So, no, I wasn't running around with lofty philosophical ideas in my mind at the time, but I went ahead and dyed my hair silver/white anyway. I didn't know dyeing my hair was going to change my life.



Countless hours, three rounds of bleach, and one round of toner later...

Maybe that sounds melodramatic. Maybe that is melodramatic, but I really believe the last 6 months of my life might've played out differently if I hadn't decided to dye my hair white. It's funny, you know, how you find those small sacred things that have a way of needling their way into your soul and so drastically changing you that you're not even fully aware of it until months have passed. That's what I've been discovering about my white hair.


But let's back up a little. Late into 2017, I posted an instagram  where I said something I realized I hadn't said in a very long time. I confessed that I finally, actually liked myself, and when I took the time to think about this, it dawned on me that I probably hadn't felt that way, much less said that out loud since I was probably 11 or 12. For the last 10 years, I hadn't been able to say that I actually liked myself. And I think a big part of that was dyeing my hair.

Let me explain.

Over the course of this past summer and the back end of 2017, I realized that since I came out to myself and starting coming out to others at 15, SO MUCH of what I had been doing hadn't really been for myself. For years, I was trying to convince myself and others that I was still okay, that I was still an alright human being, that I hadn't changed or given away any part of who I was before simply because I had come to terms with my queerness and come out. So, I tried to blend in as much as possible. I tried not to be too queer, to convince people I was still a Christian. I tried not to be too much of an activist, to convince people I wasn't a radical. I tried not to be "too much" anything, because I felt like my friends, the church, and even God might turn on me in an instant. And when it all came down to it, everything I did was to convince myself and everyone around me that I still had worth as a queer person. But none of it was for myself. It was all for everyone else, and I was always so anxious about what other people might think of me. 


But I grew up a lot over the course of 2016 and 2017, and something I learned was that if people truly care about you, there's nothing you can do that will make them love you any more or any less. Slowly, it started to sink in that people weren't going to scatter just because I was queer or because I wrote this post or liked this guy. It felt a little like riding a bike without the training wheels for the first time, because for so long I had been taught by experience that the minute I voice this opinion about this queer issue or the minute I voice that I'm queer at all, that these certain people I thought were my friends would disappear. It was a long unlearning process.

And so I dyed my hair white, and it was one of the first things I had done in an incredibly long time that was just for myself. I knew it would stand out. I knew it might possibly be polarizing. But I did it anyway, and over the next several months, my white hair taught me what it was like to do things for myself and only myself. My white hair taught me how to actually love myself. Or perhaps I should say my white hair gave me permission to love myself.


Maybe that sounds trivial, but for this queer Christian, it was a grueling exercise. For years I had been taught that others were supposed to validate my faith and my goodness as a Christian, that the church was supposed to validate the stances I took on my own queerness, and that turned into me constantly looking to everyone but myself for approval.

My white hair changed that, starting on micro-levels. White hair gets brassy quickly, since there's basically no color in it, and that was one of the first ways I started to learn to look to myself for approval. I made sure to keep the color and brass level to my own liking, and it would bother me if I thought the color was off or it was looking dull, even if my friends and coworkers said it looked fine. It was a small, but gradual transition to no longer letting my validation come from other people. Beginning with my white hair, I started validating myself.

From there, it spread to other things. I validated my own feelings. I validated my fears. I even validated the way I chose to dress, no longer worrying whether people would think this outfit was too queer or too androgynous. Ultimately, it came down to me finally being able to validate my own queerness, without needing other Christians or the church to tell me I was okay, and I actually had a breakdown in therapy the day I realized it. I realized I liked myself better with my white hair, and then I realized I actually liked myself and that my white hair had been the catalyst. It changed the way I saw myself, and that changed the way I treated myself. 


Right now, I'm actually growing my hair out from white. I first dyed it all in September 2017, followed by a haircut and touching up the roots in November, but I'm thinking I'm going to want it dark again for the summer. Knowing how fast my hair typically grows, I knew that it'd likely need to grow out all the way until May for me to be dark again for the summer, but I know that even once my white hair has grown out that the person I've become with it will remain, the person that finally knows his queerness is good, that finally knows how to love himself, and that finally knows that being deserving of love and respect doesn't come from other people, but from our own inherent imago dei.

The same day I told my therapist I actually liked myself and why I thought my white hair had something to do with it, I also told him something else. I told him that in a way I felt emotionally connected to my white hair and that there would be a high possibility of me returning to it again sometime in the future if I ever felt like I "needed" to be white hair Jonah. He laughed a little, but then he told me that he thought that made sense, that it's not a bad thing to have psychological shifts like that, to be able to step back into the persona of someone you were when you learned something profound, or to simply do something that allows you to feel more connected to your own essence. For me, apparently that's my white hair self. And I hope, to the deepest parts of my soul, that everyone is able to find their own white hair self, whoever that might be.