- Beth Johnstone
More Than A Trim: Haircuts When You're Trans
© Joy, Illustration by INJECTION - Alicia Lupieri
Trips to the hair salon or barbershop can be deeply uncomfortable, even traumatic, for transgender people. Some trans women, like Joy from Edinburgh, instead opt for home haircuts - a safer, easier option.
This may come as news to some, but for lots of us a trip to the hairdressers isn’t the relaxing day out it’s meant to be. What we want and who we are should be so straightforward, so conventional that they can be defined in just a few sentences, and easily snipped into being. Thankfully, we’re not all clones and reality isn’t that boring. Knowing this unfortunately doesn’t make it any easier to get a damn haircut.
For the many thousands of transgender people living in the UK, having a haircut in a traditional salon can be an excruciatingly uncomfortable, even traumatic experience. Despite the opening of explicitly queer and trans-friendly barbers and hairdressers in cities across the UK over the last few years, trans people still have few safe options. Initiatives like Clip Transphobia, organised by the University of Glasgow’s LGBTQ+ society, have encouraged salons and barbershops to get engaged and tackle the issue. Thus far, six of the seven signed up are ‘barbers’, i.e. specialising in masculine styles. The offering for trans women with long hair that wish to have their hair cut and styled in traditionally ‘feminine’ ways lags behind.
For many trans women, having their hair cut by professionals just isn’t worth it. We spoke to Joy, a performer and musician living in Edinburgh. For her, cutting her hair herself, in the comfort of her own home, is much more appealing.
How important is your hair to your identity?
My hair has been both a friend and a foe in my struggle to understand and learn to love my identity. At times it can make me feel beautiful and proud of my body and at others it has made me feel deeply dysphoric and dissociated. It is super important to my identity now that it’s long and it has been with me for such a long time. But over the years I’ve had to learn the cruel lesson that no amount of haircuts will cure gender dysphoria, and that I can't rely on it as a source of self-confidence and worth. It’s not really about how it looks, but about how you see it and as a result, how you wear it.
In the early stages of your transition, where were you having your hair cut/styled? Why did you choose this salon?
I cut my own hair. I found salons quite intimidating places and I wasn’t aware of anywhere that I could go where I knew that they’d worked with people like me before. Going into the often hyper gendered spaces that are barbers or salons can be super aggravating if you feel that you don't fit into that binary. When I was a kid the boys would go with my dad to the barber and the girls would go to the salon. At the time I don't think I really realised, but as I began to reconcile myself with the truth of my identity, I became ever more aware of the way in which hair and hairdressers are structured as an industry to support, by and large, heteronormative beauty standards.
Have you ever been to a salon specifically because they market themselves as being trans-friendly? If not, is it something you can envision yourself doing in the future?
I’ve since been to Queer spaces and have found them manageable. But, honestly I still prefer cutting my own hair. It might not look that great, but I don't really like sitting in front of a mirror for an hour in the company of a stranger, so I didn’t stick with it long enough to get to know the person and get comfortable.
What are the warning signs that a beauty/hair salon may be transphobic?
It’s not really about that, so much as if a place doesn’t openly state that it is for queer people, I feel like I can reasonably expect that they don’t know how to interact with someone like me and will likely make me somewhat uncomfortable.
What changes could people working in beauty/hair salons make that would help trans customers feel more at ease?
Employ trans and queer people! I immediately feel more comfortable that a service company will know how to behave appropriately around queer folk if they are working with them on a daily basis. Consider flying flags representing intersectionality and presenting outward support for the community. ACTUALLY LEARN ABOUT US. Don’t rely on queer people to teach you. If you want to create a safe space for vulnerable people, you need to know what might upset them. Make the effort to ensure you and your staff are aware of the basics around trans and queer issues. Ask people what their pronouns are (not their ‘preferred’ pronouns). Avoid binary options on sign-up sheets. Once you have done a good amount of work to ensure you understand what it means to be an ally, make some noise about it! Be loud and proud and let people know that your salon is for everyone and no intolerance will be tolerated.
What are your future plans for your hair?
I had dyed hair for a long time, I think I’m enjoying natural at the moment. I’m gonna keep growing it out and tie it into some sick plaits.