Every week I have to go on a mission — a mission that on paper sounds like it should be simple.
Step 1: Call the barber, schedule an appointment
Step 2: Show up to appointment, get haircut
Step 3: Pay the barber and go on my merry way
Unfortunately, this simple task is marred by a narrative that many of us Black queer men face far too often. Somewhere between Steps 2 and 3, many of us are forced into a place of erasure and silence. Forced to be complacent with the many stories around us being told out of a fear of repercussion, condemnation and potential violence should we express how we live our lives as out queer people.
As one of the most recognizable staples in the Black community, the barbershop is a perceived place of enlightening conversation, interaction, good stories and that first “right of passage into manhood” signified by a boy’s first haircut. The Black barbershop narrative has even been seen in major movie depictions including Coming to America and the Barbershop series, where the world was given a chance to see our social interaction in all its glory. People playing the dozens, arguing sports, discussing current events, all while jamming to the newest music on the radio.
In limited doses, I have been privy to the great culture found within the barbershop setting. As a child, I learned to play chess and felt like the coolest kid on the block with each new haircut style that came. Too young to fully appreciate my sexuality, many of the these conversations were above my intellectual grasp. As an adult, fully affirmed in who I am, I now have to listen to conversations based in transphobia, misogyny and homophobic rhetoric far too often in order to get my grooming needs met.
The environment for me is best described as hyper-masculine, out of touch with the intersectionality of Blackness as well as the customer base it is now supporting. It is almost as if barbers, primarily cis hetero Black men, are unaware of the fact that they have a clientele that includes several members of the LGBT community and women. Referring to women as ‘bitches and hoes’ as they walk by the window with fat asses. Homophobic slurs with gay ment sitting in the barber chair. Little boys and little girls subject to listening to this, only to follow the same pathology years later. These statements are often prefaced with “I don’t mean any harm” or “I’m cool if you live your life like that” in effort to minimize the damage only to be followed with a “but” before the disrespectful comment.
On several occasions, I have made statements against any type of harmful comments, in effort to create a teachable moment for clients and barbers who might not understand LGBT issues or the offense they bring. Generally my declarations have only created more arguments and placed me in a position where I am in a “one vs. many” fight and forced to back down from my position out of self-protection. These constant interactions where dialogue becomes violent against the livelihood of the LGBT community become toxic and create a space where silence equals safety for many of us. Furthermore, it is aesthetically risky to disagree with a barber who is providing a service out of fear of retaliation, i.e. a bad haircut.
The more unapologetic I have become as a Black queer male, the less tolerance I have for the “faggot” and “tranny” flow of conversations. Transgender individuals are not “tricking” men. Kobe Bryant is not a “faggot” because he missed a jumper. Barber Tony is not a “faggot” because he didn’t lock the shop up properly. If you don’t understand gender and sex, you should not comment on it. Healthy discussion is always accepted, but only if you are willing to expand your thinking to acceptance of what is generally not society’s standard. To avoid these interactions, I typically request the earliest appointment time to dodge the bullshit of dealing with lots of people in the shop. These instances can spark anger and frustration, but don’t let it stop there.
From my anger, I issue a challenge.
I challenge barbers to remember that the Black community consists of more than just heterosexual Black men. I challenge barbers to expand the generally accepted principles of society and allow a space where the ever-growing landscape of the Black community can thrive and support one another. During a time of #Blacklivesmatter, the barbershop has to become a setting where we are teaching the principles that #allBlacklivesmatter. If we are going to go forward as a race, we must start to build and nurture from within.
George M Johnson is a blogger located in Washington DC. He has written for Pride.com, Rolereboot.org, Ebony.com and Musedmagonline.com. Follow him on twitter @iamgmjohnson.
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