• Marie Tattiana Aqeel

Transitioning my locs

I've grown dreadlocs for seven years. Started off with a shaved head after my mother died. I was in mourning and I wanted to do something physical about it. I had a set of locs before that, formed by my own hands, but it hurt my head when they pulled and I decided that my hair wasn't happy. So when I let my hair start growing in 2010, I vowed to neither put a comb nor hand to it- except to wash it- and just allow them to form on their own. They started early with little fingerling-looking tight curls fused together on top of a bush. Then they formed longer, larger dreads that were shaped by my pillow; the front one stood straight up on my head like a horn. By the time the horn was fully formed, I was living in Oakland and finding my way through grief, my newly expanded family (and responsibilities to them), a new place, new job, new dancing spirit. I found farming the following year, 2012, and I found a thriving neo-anarchist cannabis industry. I found my samba and a family with SambaFunk! and King Theo. I found healing through dance and breathwork. I found deeper relatability in a queer and trans community, maatjical connections that have outlasted my tenure there, and some strength to say no. I had my first real soul-shaking heart break. I came back to DC quietly, changed and changing. I finally made friends with my forever bae, Ambar Michal. We helped heal one another over meals and lots of conversation, and sharing love of music and dance and cannabis infused edibles. We made a home for each other. She still calls me tattopus: tatti + octopus. It was 2013 and she remained my domestic partner for a year until I was ready enough to spread out and start to see the world again in my home city. By then, I had shoulder-length natty dreads, 3-4 jobs, 1-2 weeknight classes and a workstudy shift at a dance school. I met Be Steadwell by auditioning for a film she was conjuring, Vow of Silence. I wasn't feeling particularly lovely about a love story but it was still good timing. I had a big healing to do in my heart. We did the film, I made more friends. Later, I wrote my story and showcased it in a cathartic monologue about sex and love, dishonesty and betrayal. My tentacles hung to my wing tips. It was 2015. Be Steadwell loaned me her studio to record my first EP. I called it "Move Me," after the title track revealed itself a maatjic spell that sent my current lover to me. They took the photo that I used for the album cover on a day that I was thinking a lot about my mother and honoring her at the river.


My mother was beautiful. Elegant and graceful, she would glide through a room with her head up. I learned to have pride by watching her. I have her long legs, arms, and neck, slender wrists, mystery eyes. I have her hair too- more than I have of my father's- and I'm thankful for that. Her hair was nappy. Nappy nappy. All the way. No wave, no sheen, not long. There had been only one period on her life when she wore it freely- in her late 20's and early 30's before she birthed me. She had it styled into a short anglular afro that looked majestic sitting on top of her gorgeous face and long body. She modeled it for my cousin, a burgeoning photographer; but not for the runway- the sea of white bodies with straight long blonde threads like silk falling down their backs, the blue, green, and grey eyes behind camera lenses snapping their images of beauty that would later be disseminated to newsstands and checkout aisles for lily white women to gawk at and become dissatisfied. She had unknowingly intrigued the designers who arranged a wardrobe just for her- her hair, the way of it, the shape- but she lacked confidence in her new look, and at the last minute before walking on stage, she covered her crown with the longest, straightest wig she could find and stepped out as a brown blotch on a white canvas. "The designers were floored," she said. They were highly upset, and she too, was disappointed in herself for giving into her fear. She never forgot that moment, and she told it to my sister and I so that we may decide to be stronger when tested by respectability and beauty politics. Here's why I dreaded my hair:



Wild and natural, I would learn to know and love myself consistently, so that what others think and say to me will not move my understanding of what (beauty) I have. I had to find out for myself what it is. Even when my grandmother, Black folks at my job, white children and their culturally illiterate parents would stare, turn their lips up, and furrow their brows at me, I would still understand my purpose- for natty dreading. And I still do believe in it. Only, now I see myself differently. Most of the people I hang out with have only known me to look like this. They have attached these locs to my identity. They marvel at how long they've gotten. No Black woman in our family has had hair down her back before my sister and I grew our dreads out. Not because they couldn't, but because they'd straightened their hair for so long that the follicles had retracted. Or they wore wigs and extensions all the time so their hair suffocated and pulled clean out of their heads. We are a shape shifting people but God knows a shape-shifter has to know how to get back to Herself. It's a tiring act running from one mask to another. Rest. God said rest. And I did. I let my hair rest, restart, recharge, reignite, regain, and retaliate for me. Now, it's time to rebirth. I have no plans to grow my hair out long again. I still get asked how long I think my hair would be if I didn't have locs. Fuck this culture of mystifying long hair. Fuck barbies. And fuck Frozen and Rapunzel's longass blonde hair that became her cage and her rescue... but in the Black version by Fred H. Crump, she cuts it all off to free herself (I see you Fred H. Crump;-) and to bandage the prince's wounds after he helped her. It's symbolism y'all. I am the Prince and I have patched my own wounds with my hair. I withstood the wicked spells of advertising and Disney, remained true to my love when my validity was questioned, and refused to let gender roles usurp my presentation as I hold my decision to cut it all off and bend whichever way I want to on any given day. Freedom is a mindset. I'm building on Love, family. And the journey continues. There's a lot of labor to be won. I gotta shed this mane so that I can move quicker. Power up.

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