A ‘Little Off The Top’ Can Be Too Much To Bear

“I’m too old and I’ve come too far to go back in the closet every time I sit in the chair.”

Photo by Carlos Magno/Unsplash

I remember my childhood barber. He was a friend of my father named Mr. Charlie, and his shop was a four minute drive away from our house. My brother and I got our haircuts there for years until Mr. Charlie closed up shop. Then a new barber shop opened right around the corner from my house. It was quite convenient. Then, as I got older and moved about, I would just go to the most convenient shop I could find to get my low and even all around. Something else I remember about my haircut history though, if you will, is that I was always stone silent when I was in a barber shop. A talkative child, an outgoing teenager, a social adult–yet damn near mute in a loud, boisterous barber shop. In my younger years, I knew I shouldn’t interact with the conversations I was hearing. But when I got older, I knew I couldn’t interact with the conversations I was hearing. So I didn’t. And I really didn’t think much of it.

Then one morning last month I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a video posted by my friend C.J. Mitchell. He had just gotten a haircut and was sitting in his car, looking a bit distressed. I pressed play and watched as he recalled the very uncomfortable experience he just went through.

C.J., a fellow member of the LGBTQIA community, will be getting married soon and his engagement ring sparked a barrage of comments and questions about his future ‘bride.’

“I have to sit there as a gay man and decide whether or not I come out of the closet to a room full of strangers because I’m required to in this conversation,” he said. “Barbers feel they can safely conclude that everyone in the room is straight and they can have these ‘locker room’ conversations and they FORCE you to be a part of them.”

via C.J. Mitchell, published with permission.

C.J. grew angrier and also got more personal.

“I hate how my voice changes when I’m in a barber shop just to fit in. I didn’t come here to admit my sexuality to you. I came for grooming.”

I immediately empathized with C.J. in that moment. I am well aware of the barber shop defense mechanisms. Silence, avoidance, and of course flat-out lying and deepened voices when needed. Comments later piled up on the post from other members of the queer community detailing their own barber shop anxieties. A true commiseration moment.

I reached out to C.J. and asked if he would elaborate more about his feelings on barber shop culture.

“I’ve had countless, rough barber shop encounters,” he told me. “I’ve had barbers bash gay people out loud in conversation and I just sat there trying to be ok. I’ve had barbers make fun of me for wearing tight pants or dying my hair. Realizing that I have to step back into the closet for a damn haircut in my thirties is disappointing.” Who can disagree with that point?

This toxically masculine environment is expected, but is it encouraged in any way? I have a regular barber now, appropriately named Leo Sideburns (of 18/8 Fine Men’s Salon). I asked Leo if any of this was taught at barber school.

“You’re basically told to be prepared to have any kind of conversation: sex, girlfriends. Shops are where guys go to talk shit and talk about their sex lives and you need to participate or you’re going to be really uncomfortable about what’s going on around you.”

What I’m gathering, though, is that barbers are being taught to be ready and open to talk about anything with their clients but are not being taught that their clients may include people that are not cisgender and/or heterosexual. That’s a key component that is missing from their training and, ultimately, we pay the price for that on top of the cost of a haircut.

You may have noticed that I asked my barber something. Yes, I talk to my barber now. I’m downright chatty when I’m getting my haircut with Leo. I finally feel comfortable. Leo is a great, friendly barber but they also understand the struggle and wants to give back to their community.

“I identify as transmasculine and agender and my inherent nature is to want to make everybody comfortable, no matter how they identify. I want everybody to feel as comfortable being themselves as I am being myself and I want to make you love the way you look by the time you get out of my chair.”

There is enough to worry about in this life to have anxiety about getting a haircut. As C.J. puts it, “I’m too old and I’ve come too far to go back in the closet every time I sit in the chair.” Haven’t we all? I reached out to other members of the LGBTQIA members of the community who were happy with their barber shops/salons and assembled a small list:

For BIPOC members of the LGBTQIA community:

The Barbers Inn
5744 Baum Boulevard
Pittsburgh PA 15206
(412) 404-7101

Robin’s Grooming Studio
5241 Liberty Avenue (Sola Salon Studios)
Pittsburgh PA 15224
(412) 513-9688
Booking website: styleseat.com/robinthebarber

Clippers Haircuts for everyone, not just people who identify as male:

PageBoy Salon & Boutique
420 North Avenue
Millvale PA 15209
(412) 224-2294

Queer Friendly Barber Shops/Mens’ Salons:

18/8 Fine Mens Salon
8011 McKnight Road
Pittsburgh PA 15237
(412) 564-4911

Mister Grooming & Goods
4504 Butler Street
Pittsburgh PA 15201
(412) 326-5964

Mec Modern Barbering
659 Washington Road
Pittsburgh PA 15228

This list is just the beginning and we’d like it to grow. Please, if you’re reading this and you’re happy with your barber/stylist, comment on the article or our Facebook and Instagram post and leave their information.  Any suggestion made to help out our community would be greatly appreciated. We all deserve to look good, feel good and feel safe. After all, a haircut shouldn’t be a trigger.

Jason Shavers is a born and raised Pittsburgh native. He is an actor that has worked extensively on stage and not so extensively on screen. Jason is also a self proclaimed expert on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Musical Theater and sitcoms that feature 4 women leads. Yeah, he’s gay AF. Follow him on Instagram. (He / Him / His)