William & Judi, and one of our clients were recently interviewed for another great article by Fawnia Soo Hoo for TeenVogue.com.
Thank you Fawnia for your great work; discussing such an important and relevant topic for our times.
Why Getting a Haircut Can Be a Traumatizing Experience for Transgender People
There needs to be a better system.
As most of us know, finding the right hair salon and stylist is a trial-and-error process filled with awkward interactions, miscommunication, raised and sometimes dashed hopes, and — at times — questionable hairstyles. But for a transgender or non-binary person, the search for the right hair salon or barbershop can be an even more precarious experience.
They can face a spectrum of responses, and not all of them positive. Well-meaning, but clueless, stylists may ask invasive questions and/or assume an incorrect identity of a person. “Our language is very gendered, so it’s challenging,” says L. Elaine Dutton, trans care services manager at the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ-focused health and wellness provider in Philadelphia. She points out that a stylist or salon staffer just asking about what pronouns to use can make a huge difference.
Community organizer Desirée “Dez” Marshall, a self-described “queer woman of color,”eventually turned her own discouraging experiences at barbershops into a new career as a barber specializing in queer, transgender, and non-binary clientele. “[It was] hard to find a barber who would cut my hair the way I wanted it and wasn’t being a jerk,” she says. “A lot of times, as a woman walking into the barbershop, guys were always asking, why do I have short hair? Do I want the ‘lesbian haircut?’ [Or they asked] me inappropriate questions about my sex life. … I was like, screw this, I’m gonna just cut my own hair.” She eventually earned her barber license and now has her own business doing house visits and giving dope cuts (as she calls them) at The Gamesman in Brooklyn. Her clients there have shared with her some horror stories of their own.
“One person told me how they went and got passed around between different barbers because [the barbers] couldn’t guess what the person’s gender was, so they couldn’t do their hair,” Dez says. They’ve also told her about not feeling secure enough to communicate their hair goals to stylists and walking out with a “horrible cut” and “dejected” feelings. That’s why she wanted to create a welcoming, nonjudgmental space for her clients to feel confident enough to ask for and receive the haircut they want. “As a queer person of color, I knew what my experience was going into a barbershop: not always feeling so welcomed or even being comfortable enough to talk about what type of hairstyle I want,” she adds.
An additional challenge for Dez: The barbershop holds a longtime tradition of being a community center — and a bit of a traditional, male-dominated one, at that. “[The barbershop is] a neighborhood hub,” she says. “It’s where a lot of people go to just share information, and you can’t do that if you’re ostracizing certain demographics.” At her last barbershop, she found that creating a safe, nonjudgmental haven via her chair became a juggling act. “There were, in my opinion, a lot of side comments that were homophobic and transphobic in nature. There were a lot of comments that came off really misogynist and sexist,” Dez said. “And for me, it was a balance. Because one, I was trying to create a safe space for my community, [but two] within a safe space for another group of folks.”
So she left and, through a referral from her own barber, set up her chair at The Gamesman. Frank, the owner of the old school barbershop in downtown Brooklyn, has been in the business for over 50 years.
“I think I put some pep in his step now,” said Dez, who, by the way, is also a spoken word poet.
As for a more comprehensive hair salon, transgender-friendly ones sometimes need to offer more than just a welcoming environment and traditional services, like cuts, color, and styling. Seattle-based William Collier Design specializes in hair augmentation and replacement services (including people with trichotillomania), which is especially helpful for transgender women growing out their hair. The salon also offers the sanctuary of private rooms and encourages a sensitive and mindful environment for all clients. “[We] encourage the conversation necessary to find [what] the goal is,” explains owner William Collier. The salon offers a complimentary consultation session to first establish the client-stylist relationship, and makes a point to tailor the hair-replacement options to what the person needs.
Transgender women, especially ones who transition later in life, may be suffering from male-pattern baldness or receding hairlines, so William Collier’s custom-fit wigs and hairpieces help the grow-out process along the way. “Some might wear a partial [hair piece] to augment their own hair, so we will cut their own hair to keep it blending in with their supplemental hair,” explains salon manager Judi Wygant.
While Bailey Bell first considered transitioning in her mid 20s, she finally went through the process nearly three decades later and found William Collier after a couple less than satisfactory experiences at other salons. Bailey started out with a topper that William styled and fit, but then decided to grow out her own hair, without the help of a hairpiece. “I wanted to use my own hair to feel like me. It just was something I wanted, but didn’t know whether I could have it or not,” she explains. William then suggested specialized hair growth products, and it sounds like they’re working. “To feel my own hair falling over my shoulders — it makes me feel feminine and helps me bring out the essence of myself,” she says. If the client’s hair has completely grown out, they’re welcome to return to William Collier for regular cuts, color, and styling, as many do.
Sarah Scaccia is a transgender-friendly stylist offering specialized cut and styling services out of her chair at Salon 525, in an otherwise Bible Belt conservative Bristol, Virginia. She has her own strategies for helping clients with baldness and receding hairlines as they grow out their locks. “My job as a stylist is to make everybody feel confident and to pull confidence out of themselves,” she says. Sarah teaches her transgender clients ways to part and style their hair to disguise bald spots. Offering her clients guidance in navigating the wide world of hair products is also an essential part of the equation. “It’s overwhelming, for one, and that’s for everybody,” Sarah said about all the hair products out there. “Hair products are scary. There’s a lot. There’s too many.”
And then there’s the rates — and how they’re set up. Traditionally, salons use gendered language to base their rates, i.e., “ladies’ cut and blow dry,” “men’s cut,” etc., which can be confusing, awkward, and insensitive for non-binary clientele. That’s why William charges clients based on the quality and work that each custom replacement solution entails. Dez bases her barber prices on the work involved, with cuts starting at $20 at the shop and $25 for house visits. Sarah, however, does differentiate her haircut pricing by “gentleman’s haircut” ($20) versus “ladies’ haircut and style” ($40), mainly because her clients make appointments via an app with pre-set booking fields. Her non-binary clients feel fine with booking a “gentleman’s haircut,” but it can be confusing for new clientele. While a definitive solution is still up in the air, pricing is a subject that Sarah’s peers “are thinking about” right now. (Although we’d like to throw a suggestion in the ring: Salons could base rates on the stylist level, like a range for services from a senior stylist versus junior stylist. Just a thought.)
But beyond getting the right cut and style, visiting a hair salon can be a deeply personal and social experience. “When [people are] transitioning socially or medically, [going to a salon] can be really exciting and supportive of the person’s gender expression,” Elaine explains. Take Bailey, for example — she left her longtime stylist and started going to William after she realized she no longer felt supported by her previous salon. “I didn’t really want to discuss [my transition] and educate anyone there,” she says. “I just wanted to find more kindred spirits.”
Transitioning may take a few years, as in Bailey’s case, and can be emotionally taxing. But her visits to William were reassuring along the way. “It’s like getting a hug when you need one,” she says. “We’re all social animals, we all need that.”
“It’s so isolating to transition and any time you can have a really positive interaction it makes you feel good and it’s therapeutic,” she adds. “It’s something that no antidepressant can give to you.”
Here’s a link to Fawnia’s article: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/transgender-haircut-salon-experience