Photo: Alonzo Arnold

Until recently, celebrity hairstylist Alonzo Arnold was one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets. But the now-national social media sensation is also known for his work with clientele such as Cardi B., Solange Knowles, Remy Ma, Kehlani, Karrueche Tran, Keke Palmer, K. Michelle, Porsha Williams of Real Housewives of Atlanta and several other notable personalities ( like the always flawless YouTube sensation Jackie Aina, for whom Arnold makes custom wigs). When Arnold isn’t slaying the scalps of the entertainment industry’s elite), he’s on Instagram entertaining his following of over 700,000 with gut-busting videos and skits that showcase his comedic alter ego.

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Not only is Arnold on the glow up and the come up; he’s become a spokesperson for gender-bending, queer-identified individuals everywhere. While he identifies as an asexual, cisgender male; many often perceive Arnold as a transgender woman—while others have even assumed he was assigned female at birth.

Many of his fans (predominantly cis hetero black women) were shocked when Arnold set the record straight after a Billboard magazine feature identified him as male. Not afraid to shake the table, Arnold is pushing boundaries by disrupting conventional gender norms via fluid presentation.

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“Gender-bending” is a form of social activism that actively destroys rigid gender roles while defying stereotypes which are often deemed oppressive. It’s a reaction to, and protest of, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and misandry. Some activists fight fire with fire—Arnold has chosen flatirons and hot rollers instead.

Photo: Alonzo Arnold

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A 2017 survey by GLAAD conducted by Harris Poll revealed 20% of millennials say they are something other than strictly heterosexual or cisgender, compared to 7% of boomers. The individuals in the group expressed potentially being sexually curious about people of their own gender, while others rejected the notion that they had a gender, to begin with.

As one publicly pushing the conversation on gender fluidity, Arnold agreed to speak with me on behalf of The Glow Up about how he pushes back against femme-phobia on daily basis.

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The Glow Up: There’s often so much pressure placed on black men within the African-American community to be hyper-masculine. Growing up, how did that directly impact you?

Alonzo Arnold: Not a thing about me has ever been butch. Growing up I was always tinier than everyone else in my class, more sensitive than most of the girls, and I didn’t have time to be rolling around in the dirt with the neighborhood boys. I was perfectly fine sitting in the house watching Miss Tyra Banks on “America’s Next Top Model” while I was fixing Barbie’s hair so she could pull up in her Corvette and flex on Ken and his new girl. My parents knew I wasn’t about to be the star quarterback of my school’s football team, and that was fine.

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TGU: How did your peers respond to you?

AA: Chile, I wasn’t worried about them. I would get picked on and teased a lot, but I wasn’t stupid; I knew that some of them either wanted me, or wanted to be me. It’s never about the bullied—as much as it is the bully and what they’re going through.

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TGU: What about the bullies of the social media age? Have you had to navigate online harassment as you become more visible?

AA: These days I read them for filth. I’m all grown up now. There’s nothing in the world that makes me happier than making black women look and feel more beautiful and confident, but there are always the ones who still can’t access their confidence—and decide to come for me instead. I just tip my wig to them and keep it pushing.

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Photo: Alonzo Arnold

TGU: What about the male trolls?

AA: What about them? Most of the time they’re too busy questioning their truth. Whether I’m a man or a woman, I’m beautiful, and they can’t take it. I’m not checking for them; I’m asexual anyway—the only man I’m checking for is Benjamin Franklin, boo.

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TGU: You know I’m not just going to let you drop the A-bomb and skirt on by, right?

AA: (laughs) Asexual just means I’m not really sexually attracted to people. I’m actually still a virgin and am completely comfortable not having sex. I ain’t missing nothing.

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TGU: We’re often socialized to believe that beauty is meant to stimulate desirability. How do you feel about that?

AA: I desire myself. I want others to have that same energy about themselves. It’s about self-love—period!

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TGU: We fight for the ones we love. As a proponent of self-love, how do you fight for yourself on a daily basis?

AA: By staying visible and unapologetic. I don’t owe anybody an explanation for who I am. Every day I slick this wig lace down and pump these curls up; I’m sending the message that I can not be bothered or bossed around.

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TGU: Whew! I felt that deep down in my mitochondria. Spoken like a true icon! Speaking of which; who are your muses of black beauty?

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AA: Grace Jones, Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell, Diana Ross, and Iman.

TGU: I now understand the full ferocity of your slayage. Any upcoming mega moves?

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AA: Everyday I’m alive is a mega move (laughs)—just playing. I’m launching my Wiggalicious line in March and proceeds will benefit a few causes that are near and dear to my heart. Some of the brand ambassadors and collaborators involved with the launch are going to leave y’all shaking, so wear an extra sweater.