For nearly a decade, I’ve been walking my dog around my Chicago suburb donning a rainbow dyed mohawk. What began out of boredom and on a whim one day has, over the years, become something of a signature look. It’s how people know me, how people spot me from the other end of the block. When I was employed as a dog walker and taking public transit to get to my walking route each day, my hair made an otherwise isolating job social. Every day someone on the bus would comment on it, compliment it. We’d strike up a conversation for the duration of the ride, both of us departing with a smile.
I’ve gotten every reaction to my hair imaginable. People believe it’s so hard to maintain, balking at what they imagine takes a lot of effort (and vanity). Once, a parent threatened her daughter. “You want me to do your hair like that?” “No!” the little girl said and started to cry. “Then you better listen to me!” the parent said. People shout from their cars as they drive by, “I love your hair!” There’s a friendly man who doesn’t know my name, but every day that we cross paths, he greets me with, “Hey, Rainbow!”
Walking around as a human Pride flag, I always feel it goes without saying that I’m queer. That’s always the assumption upon seeing me and it’s the only assumption about me I readily embrace. But I also just really like bright colors, much to the dismay of people who learn that I’m nearly 38-years-old and still decorate my home and myself in the brightest tones I can find. Who decided that adulthood required the adoption of muted earth tones, anyway?
Being nearly 38-years-old, I hear plenty of voices insisting that I grow up, start to look my age. “No one is ever going to take you seriously,” they say. “You’ll never make professional connections looking like that!” To which I reply, “I work in video games and my roster of professional friends is rather impressive, if I may say so myself.”
As much as my hair is a way for others to recognize me, it’s become a way for me to feel at home in myself. I didn’t grow up in the most open of towns and when I came out at 14-years-old, my peers certainly didn’t make life easy. For so long, I tried to find who I was supposed to be, what that person was supposed to look like, and nothing I tried ever worked because to survive growing up where I did, I made myself forgettable. And I was so successful at only that that even my closest friends easily forgot about me.
Don’t worry, this is not a sad story. I moved far from that tiny town and where I live now is the first place that truly feels like home. Now, when people stare, they do it because they’re intrigued, not afraid or horrified. I’m no longer a target for homophobic slurs, I’m a target for compliments and smiles.
It wasn’t until very recently though, that I learned the thing I love about myself — my trademark hair — mattered to others and actually makes a difference in this often painful world.
While out walking my dog in mid-September, I passed a woman and her child out taking a selfie in front of a house with a big Pride flag flying. The woman saw me and shouted to me from across the street, “Excuse me, could you come help us for a minute?”
I crossed the street to see how I could be of assistance and the woman continued. “I see you out walking your dog every day and I was so hoping to run into you today.”
I smiled, intrigued as to why a perfect stranger would be happy to see me.
“My son is being bullied because he’s gay,” the woman said. “So we’re out taking pictures with every rainbow thing we see.”
This is no small feat considering the sheer volume of Pride flags that fly in my town.
She continued, “Can we take a picture with you to show my son that people like you exist and that his bullies won’t last forever?”
Now, you’re probably wondering how I managed to fulfill this request without ugly-crying, yes? Just barely, is how. I smiled and posed for my best profile shot, my rainbowhawk in all its glory, and then after we parted ways, I walked my dog back home, snotting the whole way.
This simple exchange of kindness — I can’t get it out of my head. I never would have imagined that me just being who I am, the obnoxiously bright androgynous person, could be someone a stranger looks to as a role model for their child. And it’s brought me to the realization that there’s tremendous power in just being who you are, and unashamed at that.