by Alexis Kassim
The following was told at a Story Hour event, themed “Stand Your Ground,” at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in July of 2017.
It was our regularly scheduled Sunday dinner at my mom’s house. I was sitting at the table across from my spouse and my mother who were chatting about the final season of Downton Abbey. I was deep in my own thoughts…stroking my long, straight hair.
“I think I’m really going to do it this time,” I said abruptly. “I’m going to start transitioning.”
I got no response. As per their usual, neither of them paid me any mind and just went about their business discussing their love of British television.
“HELLOOO! I’m transitioning here! Did you all hear me?!
I’m serious this time.”
“I’m sorry, what did you say dear?” my spouse replied.
“I just feel like it’s time you know…like, maybe transitioning will get me closer to living my best life…”
“Alexis, what ARE you talking about?” my mother asked.
“My hair! As of today, I am officially going natural!”
“AHAHAHAHA!” they both laughed.
“Oh my,” my spouse chuckled, “Not this again.”
“You all can stop laughing. It’s not funny! I’m serious!
Listen, you all don’t understand what my life is like! Every day while I’m at work writing passive aggressive emails practically BEGGING people in my congregation to teach Sunday School to their OWN children, I see young, beautiful, black activists leading protests and doing big things for the Movement and they all look good doing it! Just look at these pictures from the Black Lives Matter Open House that I missed… just look at those long, flowing locs and big, beautiful twist-outs…”
“So what does that have to do with you? I like your hair the way it is,” my mom said.
“Umm…HELLO?! Are you not seeing these pictures?” I said as I showed her my Facebook feed. “I don’t know what else I can say. Ooooh, look at this one! Just look at those braids…this is the woman who organized that protest last weekend. She is SLAYING it!”
“Hmm…well I don’t know about that,” my mother said. “You work in a church– a WHITE church– you can’t have all those braids like that and not expect it to ruffle some feathers.”
“Or worse yet” my spouse giggled, “they’ll all want to touch your hair and ask you if you’ve recently been to Africa. You’ll really love that!”
They erupted in laughter.
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take. I have to make some sort of change… I can’t just be out here sorting crayons for a living!” I said
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to go to the next Open House or the next protest?” my spouse asked. “Wouldn’t that get you closer to your precious ‘movement'”?
“Look- mock me all you want, but I can’t be everywhere at once! I would have loved to have been at that last protest, but I had to take the youth group bowling! I would love to go to the next BLM Open House but I have to prepare arts and crafts for Vacation Bible School in the evenings! Do either of YOU want to help me come up with ideas of what to do with 3 cases of modge podge?!”
“What the hell is modge podge?”
“My point exactly!”
“But wait, wait, wait– all joking aside, how is changing your hair going to help with that? No matter what your hair looks like, your job will still be your job, which is why you better not do anything too crazy with your hair or else they might put you out of there,” my mother advised.
“True!” I was laughing now.
“Look, maybe you two can’t understand all of this, but you’ll see! When I transition into the new me, I’ll be the one leading the movement. I’ll be the one impressing everyone with my perceptive powers of correct analysis. I’ll be on the frontlines leading the church into a new era– stopping the riots and negotiating the peace.
I. WILL. BE. GLORIOUS!“
“You’ll never make it,” my spouse said.
“I CAN and I WILL!” I declared, standing my ground.
“So what are you gonna do? Chop off all your hair?”
“Well, no. That’s why they call it transitioning, see, you just let it grow out over time. It’ll take some getting used to but I will remain strong.”
“You’ll never make it.”
“Yes I will! Remember what MLK said, ‘Eyes on the Prize!’ That’s going to be my new mantra. Eyes on the Prize! Eyes on the Prize!”
“Well, MLK didn’t have to do hair. You do. You really think you can last sitting in a chair for hours on end getting braids done? Oh Lord! You’ll never make it!” my mother laughed.
“I CAN AND I WILL! You’ll see– you’ll ALL see– by the time the Blacksonian opens up in September, I’ll be the new me, and I will attend the grand opening in all my natural glory”
“Whatever sweetie” my mom said.
Months later as I prepared to attend the grand opening of the Blacksonian– also known as the National Museum of African American History and Culture– I was struggling. Then 8 months into my transition, the “new me” wasn’t feeling “new” at all. My hair had a life of it’s own and often didn’t mirror the Pinterest looks I had saved. Every time I passed a woman with straight hair, I heard the voice of the enemy whispering in my ear…”Come back to me”
“NO!” I would shout, often startling strangers. “GET BEHIND ME SATAN!”
Eyes on the prize
Eyes on the prize
Eyes on the prize
I went to Grand Opening with my friend and had a wonderful time, but my hair hardly said ‘I’m out here living my best life.’ No. Definitely more like ‘I’ve just been mildly electrocuted.’ I felt like I had let the museum down. It deserved a better effort.
Months later, and after celebrating my one year anniversary of transitioning, (alone, because nobody else cared), I sat down to watch President Obama’s farewell speech.
I was all kinds of emotional– cheering and crying…and distracted. By Malia Obama, sitting there in the front row with long, beautiful hair that looked like it had been touched by the flat iron of God. I was captivated by her head…crowned with everything my heart truly longed for.
Then I heard the words of her father– “If something needs fixing, get up and do some organizing. Some struggles you’ll win and some you’ll lose, but show up anyway.”
Then I remembered the subtle advice of my family, through their laughter, “Larger than life hair will not compensate for a smaller than life, life. The changes you need to make have nothing to do with your hair.”
I cried myself to sleep after that farewell speech. The next morning, I got up, pinned a few pics of Malia Obama’s hair, and went to the salon to get my life back.
Well, actually, I went to get my hairstyle back. My best life is still out there.
Alexis is a pastor in the Washington, DC area.