'I Really Stepped Into Myself': Lena Waithe Says Cutting Her Hair Liberated Her from Gender Norms

Lena Waithe attends the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Grants Banquet on August 9, 2018 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Lena Waithe attends the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Grants Banquet on August 9, 2018 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Photo: Emma McIntyre (Getty Images)

Lena Waithe doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for who she is, how she loves or why she cut her famous locs last month; but the writer, actress and producer graciously gave one to Vanity Fair’s cameras while on the red carpet for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Grants Banquet on Thursday night.


After joking that she’s “gotten gayer” since cutting her locs in mid-July, she went on to explain exactly why her “big chop”—which she’d been contemplating for a while—was ultimately a liberating statement about her security with who she is.

I felt like I was holding onto a piece of femininity that would make the world feel comfortable with who I am. ... and I said, “Oh, I gotta put that down, [because] that’s something that is outside of me”...

If people call me a butch, or say “she’s stud” or call me “Sir” out in the world, so what? So be it. And I’m here with a Prada suit on, not a stitch of makeup and a haircut; I feel like, why can’t I exist in the world in that way?


This is, of course, just another in a series of deeply profound statements from Waithe, ranging from her Emmy award-winning episode of Master of None to her poignant tribute to Paris Is Burning while accepting the “Trailblazer” award at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards. But her statements to Vanity Fair are perhaps her most personal to date, as she rejects the need to perform the traditional trappings of gender—and in the process, creates space to simply be herself.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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I held onto my long hair for a long time and hewing it off was really liberating. I’m not gay but, as Hannah Gadsby has rightly noted, we cis-gendered straight people are obsessed with gender. The more I thought about it, the more the safety blanket of my long, feminine hair was bugging me. It’s weird that I thought of it as a safety blanket, because when I cut it very short the catcalls and unwanted attention virtually disappeared. Mind you, I don’t look like Lena with my short hair, I look like a doofus, but it was illuminating. I also get “ma’amed” a lot more with the short hair, and I do think it makes me look older. (Not in a bad way.)