Content note: This post explores trauma, abuse, PTSD, and dissociation.
In the three years since I first wrote about my #SpookyFemme identity, a lot has changed.
I fell in love, started a new job, moved from North Carolina to Massachusetts for that love, moved yet again when that love turned into abuse, came to some stark and difficult realizations about the way PTSD has affected my life since I was a teenager, fell in love again, started exploring non-monogamy, and began taking medication for the first time in four years to help stabilize my mood.
Those are just the big, life-altering events. So much more—the beautiful, the ugly, the devastating, the mundane, the joyous—has happened in the spaces between the big changes.
In the midst of all these changes, one thing has stayed the same: my spooky femmeness. Three years later, I wouldn’t say it’s fundamentally different or that it’s drastically changed. Rather, my #SpookyFemme has evolved to match a truer version of who I am at my core—and, just like my initial post about the power of spooky femme three years ago, this all starts with my hair.
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“I can’t lose my hair,” I fretted to my hairstylist last week. We were in the middle of a three-hour-long appointment—taking half of my two-toned tresses from green to purple—when I explained that I had just started Depakote, a mood stabilizer that causes hair loss in some patients. The night before, I had stayed up well past midnight on medical forums reading stories by people who had started to go bald just weeks into taking the medication. My psychiatrist hadn’t mentioned this potential side effect. To say I was worried would be an understatement.
My stylist explained she’d worked with clients before who faced hair loss as a side effect of medication, and she kindly offered to be there for me any time of the day or night if it started happening. Nevertheless, I got scared to brush or wash my hair for fear that chunks would begin to fall out and slip between my fingers. I’m still scared. I just started my medication two weeks ago and I’ve already considered skipping so I don’t have to face losing a part of myself.
Just two days ago, a week after my hair appointment, I met my therapist for our weekly session. I had barely reached the couch before I exclaimed, “No more green!”
My therapist looked at me and smiled. She understands me. “How do you feel?” she asked, observing the fresh color.
“Powerful,” I responded. “And terrified.”
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#SpookyFemme isn’t just a look or an outward aesthetic. It’s not something I put on in the morning and take off at night. It’s a feeling, an identity, an integral part of who I am. Ultimately, it’s a reclamation of everything my abuser told me I couldn’t and shouldn’t be. It is simultaneously a “fuck you” to my abuser and a love letter to myself.
Still, I can’t shake the creeping feelings of guilt that tell me I’m not allowed to value this; that I shouldn’t care about losing my hair when I’m facing some very real mental health challenges that warrant trying medication again; that I’m vain, that that I’m conceited, that there are better things to be worrying about. Sometimes I have to work hard to remember that those things aren’t true.
Here’s the real truth: caring about my spooky femmeness adds value to my life.
Over the past three years, I’ve had a heavy helping of very difficult changes that have caused some major adjustments in my life. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve been working with my therapist to understand how PTSD, and particularly dissociation, has impacted me for the past twelve years. Living through another abusive relationship was a trial I didn’t think I’d have to endure again, either, and I certainly didn’t expect to uproot my life just to have it shift again a year later.
Even the good changes have impacted my femme identity in ways I didn’t anticipate. Working from home, for example, doesn’t give me the opportunity to show my spookiness to the world every day. When I do have that chance, it feels special and precious and helps me return to my body, especially when I’m dissociating.
Throughout all of these revelations and experiences, both good and challenging, #SpookyFemme has been my mainstay.
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#SpookyFemme has evolved as I have to both protect and empower me. Three years ago, I only wanted to wear all-black: black clothing, black hair, black lipstick. Now, embracing my truest version of #SpookyFemme—and by default, my truest version of myself—means playing with brightly-colored hair, allowing myself to wear fun, spooky patterns and prints that others may deem “childish,” and recognizing that I am spooky femme even if I’m just at home on the couch with my cat and my partner, wearing sweatpants and an oversized college sweatshirt.
I can’t wait to see what the next three years will bring.
This post first appeared on Formidable Femme.