My teen son and his very long hair are in the General Conference youth choir.
The bishop met with me first, before extending a calling to my 14-year-old son to participate in the youth choir at General Conference. There would be lots of rehearsals. He wanted to make sure I was okay with the time commitment. He showed me the letter outlining the requirements.
I glanced at the rehearsal dates briefly before my eye was drawn to another part of the letter, listing the dress and grooming requirements. “If he needs help with clothes, we can help with that,” the bishop told me.
I wasn’t worried about the clothes. It was the bit about “no extreme hairstyles.”
My son has long, curly, big hair.
“What about his hair? Would they be okay if he just pulled it back into a man bun? Or are they going to make him get a missionary cut?” I asked.
I haven’t made any rules about my son’s hair length. My son’s hair is one of the least important things about him, and as a parent, his hairstyle is not the battle I choose.
In general, I don’t appreciate efforts of my fellow Latter-day Saints to push young men to conform to a 1950s business man look. To me, this seems like a misplaced use of effort which could be better directed toward things that actually matter, like the gospel.
I had flashbacks to when my son had just turned 11, and the church announced a new policy; all 11-year-old young men would be ordained en masse in January, instead of one at a time as each turned 12 over the course of the year. In Mormon-heavy Salt Lake City, the announcement caused a run on white dress shirts for boys. My husband and I dragged our son from one department store to another, but they were all out. We searched online, but no luck.
“Why are we even doing this?” I complained. We knew white shirts were not actually required. We had checked the church handbook. “What are we teaching him about the priesthood? That it’s all about clothes and looking the same as everyone else?”
But rule or no rule, all of the other deacons wore the white shirt uniform. If we didn’t come up with one, our kid would stand out and other church members might give him grief about it. I was willing to take a stand against the conformity police, but I didn’t want to force my pre-teen kid into the battle. My husband and I kept searching.
In the end, it was my murmuring that brought forth fruit. Just before the ordination, a kind mom from the ward who had heard me whine about our white shirt problem arrived at my doorstep and gifted me one of her son’s white shirts. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Actually, I became too relaxed. One Sunday, awhile after my son started passing the sacrament, he sat down next to me in the chapel wearing a nice, clean, conservative, peach-colored dress shirt instead of his white one. We hadn’t managed to get the white one washed on time.
“Why aren’t you sitting with the deacons?” I asked.
“I don’t have my white shirt,” he told me.
“You don’t need it. That’s not a real rule. It’s just a tradition,” I said, blithely forgetting the whole reason we had put ourselves through the great white shirt shopping debacle of 2018.
He headed over to the deacon’s row, only to be kicked out by the bishop for wearing the wrong shirt. I was the one who put him in that situation, setting him up to be shamed for his clothes. I didn’t care if he conformed, but I should have better protected him from those who do.
Our current bishop isn’t the same one who turned my child away for the peach shirt transgression. He promised to defend my son if the choir leaders brought up his hair, but of course, it wouldn’t be his choice in the end. I gave him the go-ahead to invite my son to join the choir. It would be a great experience—as long as they didn’t kick him out for his nonconformist look.
I was really nervous that they would. I talked to my son about the possibility, focusing on the specific situation of a televised choir performance, rather than trying to recite any of the nonsensical sermons I’ve heard about conformity as a virtue.
“I was in the choir when I was 12, and I wore a cute headband, and they made me take it off. They said it drew the eye. Being in a choir is different than singing a solo. Choirs are supposed to blend, not not have any one person standing out. I think you could just pull your hair back into a bun or a ponytail to blend, but they might ask you to cut it. Would you consider cutting it if they asked for that?”
That was a firm no. A haircut would not happen.
On the first day of rehearsal, I pulled his hair back into a ponytail and shoved it down the back of his shirt, hoping the powers that be would not notice. After I walked him in and peeked in from the back, I exhaled a little. I saw several boys in the tenor and bass sections with hair flowing down their backs. He wasn’t the only one who had shown up without a missionary haircut. If they did choose to make a thing out of it, at least he would not be singled out.
My son noticed too. He came to the next rehearsal with his glorious locks of hair flowing free.
Soon after, we received detailed instructions, with photos, about choir apparel for General Conference. In the boys’ section, it said, “Long hair must be pulled back.”
That was it. So reasonable. So easy. The battle I had dreaded didn’t happen.