Last month, my hairdresser moved salons.
It was very sudden. One day I was walking past the salon in my neighbourhood and looked through the window to see her chair empty, the Polaroids of her and her girlfriend and their cat gone and replaced by someone else.
I panicked. Where did she go? I had been seeing her for two years. She wasn’t just my hairdresser, she was my queer hairdresser. I needed her.
I stand by the idea that your hairdresser is one of the most important relationships in your life. Not only do they serve the bartender/therapist role of listening to your life’s troubles, they also help you feel like you. We don’t need to get our hair cut. We do it because we want to change something about how we look to feel more comfortable. And your hairdresser controls that.
A bad one can leave you feeling lost and disoriented. A good one can help you find yourself.
I’m proud to be out and queer, and I show it. I own way too many patterned button-ups with fruit on them. I talk about being gay on the internet constantly. I literally have a tattoo of Rachel Weisz from “The Favourite” on my calf. At this point in my life, I’m all in on lesbian culture.
And my hair. It’s cropped, a tight fade on the sides with just enough on top to brush back and pretend I’m John Travolta in “Grease.” It’s hella gay.
But, like my coming out, it’s a hair journey that’s taken time.
People always laugh when they see photos of me from high school. My face is the same, but it’s flanked by stock-straight, long brown hair and Zooey Deschanel fringe bangs. They can’t believe I’m that person.
To be honest, neither can I.
I came out in my second year of undergrad, but not all at once. To my best friend, to my family, and then slowly to people around me and new people I met. It wasn’t some grand declaration, and similarly, I made no grand declaration with my hair. I just kept asking for a bit shorter, here and there, as I became increasingly comfortable in my newfound queerness.
Hair is often important aspect of identity for a broad spectrum of queer people. Trans-feminine folks will often grow theirs out to feel more feminine, while trans-masculine folks can feel joy in chopping it off. Queer people of all sorts often dye their hair bright colours as if to say “I’m here!”
So, when I moved away from my small town in rural Alberta to Calgary for undergrad, I had to find my own stylist. Until then, I’d always cycled through various people at different salons. Every time I’d sit down, I’d sheepishly say “shorter,” never plunging for the full cut, never connecting enough with the person behind the chair or sure enough in my own identity to ask for what I knew I wanted.
There’s often “the big chop.” That moment many queer women go through — whether early in coming out or long after — where we feel the need to be visible or feel more comfortable in our skin, that often involves a dramatic haircut. A haircut that says “I’m here, I’m queer and there is nothing to fear.” Think Kristen Stewart — our queen of dramatic hair transformations.
Like my gradual coming out, my “big chop” was more of a steady sawing off, bit by bit to reach a traditional pixie cut by the end of my undergrad studies in Calgary — think “I want to speak to your manager,” but on a then-22-year-old.
It wasn’t a good look, but I also couldn’t articulate what I wanted. I resisted going to a men’s barber, because I felt like an imposter. I wasn’t a man, nor did I want to be. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when it came to my gender or sexuality, not enough to put into clear words.
Then I moved to Vancouver for graduate school, and I found my queer hairdresser.
She worked at the salon by my house that did gender-neutral pricing, played rock music over the intercom and had dogs that danced around under your feet while you got your hair cut. She knew exactly what I meant when I said I wanted it short, but not in a mom way, and that I didn’t want to look like a man — but also I kind of wanted to look like a man.
I remember leaving the salon that first day beaming, finally feeling like I’d found the hair I was supposed to have.
While I wear the stereotypical Ellen-Degeneres-meets-Kristen-Stewart lesbian tight fade with pride, not every queer person does. There are queer people with long hair, and short hair, and no hair. Queer people with blue hair, and natural hair, and permed hair, and mullets. What matters is that you feel good in the hair you have. I certainly feel good in the hair I have. Finding my queer hairdresser was part of that.
I kept going back to her every six weeks over the next two years. We bantered about everything from her cat to where to find the best lesbian bars Shanghai when I was planning a trip to China. One day a few months ago, as she shaved the sides of my head she playfully pointed out the first signs of silver creeping into my hairline, noting that her girlfriend was also going grey and that “salt-n-pepper” was in right now.
“When you find your version of my queer hairdresser, you’ll know.”
So when I stood outside of the salon on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive last month looking at her empty chair, I panicked. I thought about having to build that connection with someone else, go through the motions of holding up alternating pictures of Ruby Rose and Dan Levy to explain what I wanted. It almost felt as daunting as coming out all over again.
Then I found her on Instagram, now working from a salon a 45-minute bus ride from my neighbourhood. I called and booked in with her the next day.
When I walked through the door, her face lit up.
“You found me!”
“I did!” I laughed, and she led me to her new chair where the same Polaroids of her and her girlfriend and their cat were tacked up on the mirror. She didn’t even ask what I wanted, just started in up with the razor, shaving down the sides as usual. We picked up where we’d left off in banter, discussing my commute to the new place and where the best coffee was nearby.
It felt like home.
Whatever comes next in my hair journey — I mean, I can’t chop much more off — I will have my queer hairdresser to guide me. Whether I grow it out or shave to side or dye it blonde like Captain Marvel, she will be there.
When you find your version of my queer hairdresser, you’ll know. Because you’ll never want to let them go.
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