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What It’s Like Being A Faggot At A Black Barber Shop

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When I was younger my grandmother forced me to go to the barber shop and I hated going because it really hurt. But I had to look presentable for the Lord and, well, “Pretty Hurts,” Beyoncé would tell me. Now I barely go two weeks without getting my hair cut, but I hate going for different reasons. After more than 20 years of linings and shape ups, going to the black barber still gives me serious anxiety.

They give me anxiety because black or latino barber shops can be some of the most homophobic spaces for gay men of color.

For almost a decade my staple barber shop was Smooth’s in New Haven, right on Whalley Avenue, right next to Popeye’s. I’d roll out of my dorm on a Saturday morning and put on the most heterosexual, straight-acting drag I could think of and, really, whatever was left on the floor: sneakers and my ugliest, least skinny pair of jeans, a plain white t-shirt. And I would even sometimes wear a baseball cap or a hoodie and cover my head, just so my queerness wouldn’t be legible. This wasn’t me, this was the boy I needed to be to get a haircut.

When I got there I’d nervously sit down, pick up a magazine, and wait until someone was free. There are only a few topics of conversation at the black barber shop: sports, women and how hot they are, God, and President Bush (at the time). And there is always more comedy at the black barber shop than anything else. Joke after joke, insult after insult, and I remember hearing some of the funniest comeback lines and quips in the presence of these men.

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But the homophobia I’ve experienced in these places has scarred me for life. Once a barber told me he couldn’t cut my hair because he didn’t like gay people, as I sat there in my best I swear I did not just have sex with a dude last night look. It was clear I made them uncomfortable. They never joked with me the way they joked with the other regulars. I never got asked about any girls I was seeing like all the other regulars. These were men at the pinnacle of masculinity in every possible way. Sometimes they would even talk about gay people right in front of me, chastising us, commenting on a recent gay scandal, almost as if to let me know they weren’t okay with my dick sucking.

“Man, I don’t fool with that gay shit,” a barber said once. Not to me specifically, but in my presence. “It’s not natural. Ain’t nothing like a woman.”

I didn’t want to be preached to, I just wanted a haircut, a box in the back, and to get the fuck out of there. But I keep going, every other Saturday.

Black barber shops make me so anxious that I got fed up decided to try a chain place. All the black people reading this will laugh at me, as you should, but I went to Great Clips. Yes, GREAT CLIPS. If you are a black man, you know you can’t go to the mainstream (read: white) places for a hair cut. If you are a black man or woman and you step away from your usual hair spot you know that the first question you ask the person at the front desk is, “Do you cut black hair?” or “Can you handle black hair?”

This wasn’t me, this was the boy I needed to be to get a haircut.

“We cut all hair here, we don’t discriminate!” I was promised.

“There’s no such thing as a “black” place and a “white” place” another stylist reassured me. Trusting them, I went with it. $25 dollars later I looked exactly the same.

A few weeks ago I was in bad need of a haircut so I went to the Hair Cuttery in Lakeview by my friend’s place. I got there and asked the girl if she knew what to do, “Of course!” so I rolled with it. I knew enough at that point to tell her to leave the top as is but to give me a 0 on the sides.

“Are you sure you want a 0 on the sides? That’s, like, completely bald” she warned.

“Oh, well. I dunno. I guess 1/2 is okay” I told her.

The haircut was tepid. Though I was not nervous because, here I was, in a space with tons of gay stylists in a gay neighborhood, I could tell that she was really nervous. She was nervous to have a black head in front of her, not sure what to do but trying to be professional. The haircut itself was just okay — I kept waiting for her to get up in the crevices the way the black barbers do.

$25 later I had a little bit less hair than I did before, but I wasn’t poppin like I normally am after the black barber. I’m too gay for the black places and too black for the chain places.

For the past few months I’ve been going to the black barber down the street from me. When you walk in it’s joyous and people are laughing, joking, having a good time, telling stories, and just generally enjoying life. I still go in my straight boy drag, but now I just accept the place for what it is. Truthfully, black barber shops are the same everywhere and homophobic though they may be, I do enjoy the familiarity and comfort of an institution I’ve been frequenting since I’m 5 years old.

And I mean, plus, I know these men at the black barber shop know how to get me together. TC mark

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      […] I just finished reading your article, “What It’s Like Being A Faggot At A Black Barber Shop” over at the Thought Catalog. […]

    • http://chatpdx.wordpress.com CHATpdx

      Reblogged this on CHATmosphere! and commented:
      “For almost a decade my staple barber shop was Smooth’s in New Haven, right on Whalley Avenue, right next to Popeye’s. I’d roll out of my dorm on a Saturday morning and put on the most heterosexual, straight-acting drag I could think of and, really, whatever was left on the floor: sneakers and my ugliest, least skinny pair of jeans, a plain white t-shirt. And I would even sometimes wear a baseball cap or a hoodie and cover my head, just so my queerness wouldn’t be legible. This wasn’t me, this was the boy I needed to be to get a haircut.”

      So thoughtful – This is what intersectionality really means.

    • http://heynaturalbeauties.wordpress.com heynaturalbeauties

      Thanks for sharing! It’s such a shame that heterosexual male culture can be so hostile to difference at times. Simple things like a haircut can become a harrowing idea. Enjoyed your post, hope it gets better.

      http://www.heynaturalbeauties.com

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