My history with London Pride is a bit slippery. It always seemed to evade me, the stars lining up so that I just missed the parade.
As a teenager still puzzling with my gender and sexuality, I was fascinated by Pride. I was drawn in by that feeling of recognition, even if I didn’t quite know what I was recognising.
But my mum didn’t like getting stuck in huge crowds, so I was left to always admire it from afar, mesmerised by the news reports that flashed with glitter, feathers and shiny patent leather.
The summer I turned 16, everything changed. I’d come a long way with putting words to my identity. I knew then that all those nights I’d spent frantically searching through obscure film channels hoping for some glimpse of queerness were another attempt to seek out a sense of community, just like watching the reports on Pride had always been. I knew then that all the colour and flair belonged to me, too.
I decided I was going to cut all my hair off. It wasn’t an intentional choice, but one of those funny coincidences that make you feel like a character in a coming-of-age film.
It felt like a rite of passage, a way to flaunt on the outside this internal revelation I’d spent my whole life unearthing; a visible signifier of the queerness I was coming to embrace.
I spent hours agonising over pictures of celebrity women with pixie cuts before landing on the right one – an edgy Agyness Deyn editorial. She was a model I had long been obsessed with, way before I understood why.
The train ride was spent flicking my phone screen on and off so I could scrutinise reference pictures. My heart was pounding, my hands damp with sweat, and I was so caught up in my own internal monologue that I didn’t quite catch the more flamboyantly dressed denizens who shared the train carriage with me.
At last, I arrived in Soho, the esteemed location of my usual hairdressers, and walked into the belly of the beast. It was early, before the parade had swallowed up Piccadilly Circus, but people were there in all their colourful glory. The barriers were up, everyone’s Pride gear was on full display, and rain was starting to spit from the sky. It was a classic London Pride weekend. It felt like fate.
I ran my fingers through my hair, still long enough to skim my shoulders, and strode through the crowd, booming music catching on my heartbeat. They say our brains confuse anxiety and excitement because they create such similar responses; quivering muscles and a quickening heart rate. I don’t know which I felt more, but when I wove through the rainbow-lined Soho backstreets, I felt like I was on the precipice of something huge.
Sitting in the hairdresser’s chair, I fished out my phone again. Agyness Deyn pouted up at me through her sleek cap of hair. “I want that”, I told the hairdresser, watching as he placed a razor alongside the scissors I was more accustomed to. It was happening. I was cutting away the traditional femininity that hadn’t felt like it fit for some time, and in its place would be something a bit more androgynous, and a lot more me. Long tufts of dyed-blue hair fell into my lap.
“Are you sure?” the hairdresser asked me. “No going back now. I nodded and thrilled at the touch of the buzzing razor at the back of my head. He ran some wax through the ends and presented the new me in the backlit mirror. I felt euphoric. Operation baby’s first gay haircut was a roaring success.
When I left the hairdresser’s, the crowds were even bigger. I wasn’t quite ready yet to get lost in the crush, but I felt the approving eyes on me as I made my way through the masses. They could see now as well as I could that I belonged there. It’s funny how that happens. That small change to my outward appearance made my insides bloom, and I felt connected to all of these strangers because we all shared something profound and beautiful. We’re here, we’re queer.
Now that I’m older, and more engaged with the community, I’ve been to all sorts of different Pride events but when I think of my first Pride in London, what I think about is that train ride home from the hairdresser in Soho.
I think of seeing a girl in a rainbow bikini and glittering face paint smiling at me from across the carriage with a sense of obvious recognition. I think about that feeling that I belonged, openly and boldly, maybe for the very first time.
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