When It Gets Personal.
I got my haircut today at my barbershop. I sat in the chair a regular, knowing which barber coaches pee-wee league football and who likes good bourbon. It felt comfortable to get my cut there.
They call me, “hon.” It’s a nod to my gender, to the curves of my body and the rhinestone rings on my hand. They are not as polite with me as they used to be. They swear freely, only occasionally begging my pardon, more often laughing men’s rough, roaring laughter.
The speakers today played classic rock—four Lynyrd Skynyrd deep cuts—while my guy snipped and clippered my hair into something respectable.
The cut was sharp.
Appropriate for someone who now occasionally gets caught on TV. I joke that being from around here and having my first television appearance be totally unrelated to a tornado or a meth-lab explosion is already winning.
It’s the kind of joke that make people say aloud, “That’s funny,” but never really laugh.
I left into the chill of a day returning to its February sensibilities after the break of false spring. The wind whipped my jacket and the blocks of identical American flags that lined every lamppost along the downtown street.
I’ve appeared on TV twice in the Capitol testifying on the kinds of issues that people care a lot about these days. It’s splashy and loud in the stories. In the marble hallways and the crowded, cheap committee rooms, it’s basically folks feeling a whole lot or very, very little towards each other. Some people are furious and terrified. Some are politely dismissive.
Much to my surprise, the first time I was in a hearing, I saw lots of people were just bored. They check their phones, shuffle in and out of the packed rooms, and don’t listen to each other. Everything about the process just screams, “It’s nothing personal, mind you.”
Except it is.
It’s all personal. It’s always personal.
When I sit in my barber chair, I don’t tell them what I do in the Capitol, beyond bare details. They don’t ask what side I speak for. I think it’s just because we like liking each other. There’s an unspoken worry that maybe we won’t if we talk about the world as it is. Not just pee-wee football. Not just bourbon or our favorite Skynyrd songs or, God help us, the weather turning shitty when it was so nice just yesterday.
It’s bad for business to be less than jocular as a barber.
Or maybe it will just piss off the guy in the next chair over—dark-headed, getting something just shy of a high and tight. He remains silent as a I joke with the guys. Maybe he’s just quiet, but I keep things to myself.
For whatever reason, we don’t talk about the fact that queer people like me are angry. That trans kids, right here in this town, are scared. People all over the state are full of sorrow and rage, as they see the world getting less safe.
I went to the bullriding buck-off last Saturday night. I helped sell fifty-fifty raffle tickets, running up and down the aisles of the arena, hawking tickets for a local nonprofit. My heart sang to see the community that gathered. Cowboy hats on people of all ages, tiny kids to elderly folks, Black and white. I heard a lot of Spanish and talked to a cowboy who chatted in Ukrainian to his buddy on his cellphone.
It’s my home.
And then it came time for the grand opening.
The cowgirl who would later do trick-riding rode out on a horse with an American flag hung with strands of red, white, and blue lights in the darkened arena. Everyone stood, and the emcee prayed a wandering prayer thankful for freedom and America and our heritage “in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, amen.” I stood quietly, my hat dangling in my hands. I crossed myself softly, crying a little, wanting so much for that America to embrace everyone, queer and straight. To know that emcee saw Jesus as love, not a weapon. And I felt in my heart that that prayer was a pledge recited to a club I didn’t really belong to.
And when they played a tinny recording of our National Anthem, I remained standing, placing my hat over my heart as my Dad would have. But when the country quartet sang, “Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” it felt like an open-ended question.
Does it? I wondered. That over-the-top lit-up flag on that horse? Does it wave over a land for the free? Does it wave for me?
I looked around the arena, and I realized that most of these folks believed very differently than I believe about the issues I had spent weeks crying myself to sleep and worrying myself to death over. Most of these folks would love me if I just stayed in the closet.
It’s my home.
I’ll go back to the capital on Sunday sometime after church. I’ll drive across fifty-some-odd miles of Missouri. I observe the seasons and the land as I drive. My heart beats faster when the clouds are pink and gold. When they hang gray and serious over the fields, it’s hard not to ache with them. Last week I saw the first calf of this season, and I grinned when the little fellow kicked up his heels.
I drive that distance regularly now, looking tenderly at what I see.
When I get to the capital, I will return to my work, sporting my sharp new haircut. And I will advocate for people like me and unlike me. I will support those who curse and cry in marble hallways. I will say soft prayers and ask for blessings when I speak. And win or lose, I’m not running from my home. I want to laugh with my barbers. I want to watch bullriders hit dirt in my arena. And I want to watch my hills until I feel like my heart’s turning into a river in my chest.
It's my home.