We sat down with graduate student Derek Blair Cooper to talk long hair, short hair, and everything in between.

07.28.15 | PHOTOgraphed by Sean Santiago

This interview appears in full in Cakeboy Issue 01.

You told me you cut your hair every four years, in cycles. Why did you cut it this time? Every four years it’ll just click in my head…my childhood was divided up that way, even into young adulthood. And there’s this economic aspect to [the cycle]; as a man you’re told to cut your hair every four to six weeks. A lot of me growing my hair out is just extreme laziness, but a hair cut has a price point, and my hair has power as a symbol in this fight against an economy I don’t agree with.

So...free haircuts all around?
I think free haircuts implies an entirely different perspective on the world that we can’t deal with.

Do you think, in a sociopolitical sense, that cutting your hair is a charged act?
I think that political statements are economized so in that respect, yes. Everything that we do in public—the way we dress and talk and feel around other people—is to some degree a political statement. But in other respects I think that it’s utter bullshit that [my hair] has any political resonance.

It places you in a specific context.
And alters people's perception of you. They project an identity onto you. People on the street might have seen me as very West Coast, very laissez faire…

Very much like a hippie.
Yeah, and I think that’s fucking bullshit. The hippie movement fought what was considered appropriate by growing their hair out, yes, but also by living outside the suburbs and attacking American values. Well, not attacking American values, but having a different set of values.

Do you think your values are American?
I think my values are very American.

What are your values?
I don’t have an answer to that. I think that morality is very relative.

So is your haircut kind of a capitulation to the system?
There is that underlying social contract that what I’m doing, putting on clothing or showering or whatever, is for other people, because we have to. Though, "have to" is kind of subjective because I don’t think we have to…but, we have to.

You told me that men seemed to see you in a more sexual way after you cut your hair.
I think that in a lot of the ways in which gay men see [and interpret] other gay men is dictated by convention. I got a lot of attention from women, as opposed to men, because I had really long beautiful hair. But there’s a barrier that you create when you have long hair and you want to have a sexual relationship with another man.

What’s the barrier? How they interpret you?
Or just whatever they feel they’re “naturally” attracted to. Whatever they’ve been socialized to be attracted to—which is not long hair. Even homosexuality, in the context of outwardly showing affection, is socialized in such a way that if you have short hair I’m going to be more attracted to you than if you have long hair.

How do you perceive yourself now versus when you had long hair?
I don’t see myself as a different kind of person, but I see how I can be perceived as a more...appropriate individual.

Are you still having as much fun with your identity?
There are two sides to it, like, how can I individualize myself from other people in the way I look in public, but stay within certain bounds...meet certain standards. Everybody has to deal with the two sides of it and finding themselves in between.

 
We have to do these things that identify us as a human being in public.

Above: Cooper pre-visit to Hair Metal Salon in Williamsburg. Photos courtesy Derek Cooper.