Open Barbers are the Best Hairdressers I’ve Ever Been To

Admittedly I’m not a connoisseur. I hadn’t paid more than £15 for a haircut since I’d started paying rent 14 years ago, and more often than not my haircuts have been free (6hrs long and done by students) or £7 from the Cutting Bar in Angel where you can walk in and they cut your hair dry in a sort of production line manner. The cheapness wasn’t the only appeal…

I grew up in Bath where everyone looks like an extra from Hollyoaks*, and I never felt like I fitted in (or wanted to). I liked grunge and being a Tomboy and things like piercings and tattoos. Of course, when I moved to Brighton, everything fitted into place, but hairdressers still held a sort of unexplained terror for me. With their polished brightness and whiteness, adherence to strange beauty rituals I didn’t understand (like bronzing and hair straightening) and the vacuity of smalltalk I felt, at best, uneasy.

openbarbeGoing to the hairdressers usually felt a lot like getting bullied at school by the older, cooler kids, and having to hand them your pocket money at the end. They must have smelt my vulnerability, because I can’t believe how many times my hair’s been on the receiving end of some very harsh and passive-aggressively-arrived-at judgements from people who you are paying for the privilege. (Yes, okay, I did cut my hair myself. Yes, I do know I have very ‘fine’ hair, that yes, gets greasy easily and looks lank and lifeless. Yes, yes, they told me that last time.) I would squirm in the chair just wishing the time would be over. The only aim I can see is to try and make you feel sufficiently shit about yourself that you’re grateful afterwards – like those beauty magazine adverts that project such perfection that you are made to feel ugly and cower at their feet, agreeing to pay whatever price they name. Or Stockholm syndrome.

A trans friend recommended Open Barbers and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the best haircut of my life. The atmosphere is friendly and open – their main USP that everyone is welcome drips down to even those who aren’t marginalised – I realised I’ve never felt like I could be myself in a hairdressers. It sounds ridiculous but sometimes I’d dress up as a more ‘normal’ version of myself before I went.

openbarbI never noticed before but perhaps it’s the strictness of gender codes in average hairdressers that makes me feel out of place. As a feminist one of my main rebellions has always been not to conform to gender roles as they get meted out, but to be aware of and true to who I am irrespective of what society expects my gender to do. Like Bath, hairdressers are often spaces in which women are feminine in certain, dictated ways – after all, you’re having your hair done, which in itself is seen as a ‘feminine’ act.

Thinking about how uncomfortable I often feel in those spaces made me consider how trans people could feel in spaces they don’t feel at home or welcome, and to see the value of everyday services catering inclusively, without judgement.

The best part is the payment which happens in an honesty box – for a 1 hour appointment you can choose to pay between £10 and £40 depending on what you can afford. I ended up paying £20 – more than I’d paid in 14 years, and felt really happy about it. For people who can afford less they even do a £1 – £10 dry haircut.

I did worry that as a cisgender person I would be stealing a trans person’s spot, but as I see it this isn’t about cis people clogging up trans spaces (I suppose a cis person would think that!) Well, at least, I don’t think it’s the same as a hen party rocking up to a gay bar for some casual Queer Tourism. open barbersBecause what they’ve created really did resonate with me and I appreciated it too. Hopefully, the more custom and support they get, the more (trans) hairdressers they can employ, and the bigger an open space they can create. It would be great if they could also go into dentistry and General Practisery. And maybe hardware shops… There is evidence of an LGBTQ wage gap as well as higher unemployment, so paying a bit more will subsidise the cheaper haircuts, benefitting those who need it.

Open Barbers have a few more days to hit their crowd funding target to set up in a new venue. They’ve got lots of rewards to offer, including a £20 pledge that’ll get you a haircut later on.  Here’s a video they’ve made and a link to their page:

* Manicured, pastel and bland


The World Goes Pop at the Tate Modern

The World Goes Pop is an exciting exhibition that opens up Pop Art to a wider range of voices than the standard Western male – with artists from all over the world and lots of female contributors – but not just sandwiched in in the usual token way to comment only on diversity issues. It’s a refreshing and eye opening show that made me realise how narrow a view we are often presented with in art, and actually gave me hope that curators might be getting with the program: not only because they should, but because it makes for a more interesting viewing. The works were beautiful, funny & sad, and there was lots to digest; even though they mostly derive from the sixties and seventies, they still felt extremely relevant and modern. It’s on until 24th January 2016, and I highly recommend it. 

Remembering Diane Charlemagne

Diane died yesterday &, like hundreds of other people, I can’t help but feel incredibly sad about it.

We met at a project where she was working as a security guard. Immediately she was the person that everyone knew, the one who sorted out problems and gave out hugs indiscriminately. She had a huge warm heart and smile, a giant hearty laugh and a biting sense of humour that didn’t suffer fools. I remember her especially as being someone who was always ready to fight for the rights of the people she worked with or who worked under her – those who were weaker or more vulnerable.

It was only after a couple of weeks we found out about her secret double identity as a famous singer. It was a shock to discover her as someone so celebrated, whose songs I knew, had sung along to, whose music videos I’d SEEN, was working as one of US, not living in a mansion making music & drinking champagne. It didn’t make sense.

She admitted XFactor kept pestering her to go on the show, saying they’d put her thought to the final round and pay her for it too, but she wasn’t interested. She loved to sing, but didn’t love fame or the music industry, who’d screwed her over again and again. She was a tough urban cookie – fiercely loyal and adamantly fair – and refused to play a game where those in charge exploited the artists for their own ends and spat them out the other side – for one of her most famous tracks ‘The Key, The Secret’ she hardly saw any of the revenue.

Diane was a real character – a unique talent and caring old wise soul. I’m so glad I met her, she gave me a lot of encouragement to do what I’m doing at a time when I needed it, and she showed me that you shouldn’t just expect to be treated badly, you had to fight to get what you deserved.

This is one of my favourite videos of her performing, if only I’d liked Moby at the time I might’ve seen it live, but how was I to know he was performing with such a f**king superstar? Maybe he didn’t realise it either, she only got paid £67.50 to do the gig, if I remember rightly…

I made this video of Diane singing at the wrap party to that first project we worked on together – the camera’s so shaky at the beginning it’s almost impossible to watch, but I think I kept it in because of what she says, which is bolshy and sweet at the same time: as always she was unashamedly herself.

Rest in peace, Diane, we will miss you x

Life Drawing Model at Winterwell Festival

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I’ve always wanted to try out life modelling, and this weekend lent the opportunity – drawing instructor Mia Rivka Gubbay invited me to Winterwell festival in Cambridgeshire, with the added proviso that if I wanted to earn some money I could take my clothes off and let drunk people draw me. Without really thinking about it, I said yes.

Nearer the time, I began to get anxious about what I’d agreed to. What was ‘normal’ pubic hair? What if I started my period in the middle? What if I saw someone I knew? … If I’d let the worries take over, I realised, I’d waste the experience, so I gave my bikini line a brief, inefficient wax and decided that:

a) If I didn’t know what ‘normal’ pubic hair looked like it wouldn’t matter, and maybe no one did: I should just have it how I liked it.

b) If I started my period it would be embarrassing but worth it for the story I’d be able to tell afterwards.

c) If someone I knew saw me they’d probably just be impressed by my huge balls.

So, I did it. I practised the moment when I took off my robe, so it wouldn’t be awkward, and pretended I was completely at ease, and after the first few moments, I actually was. Then, after about 10 more moments, holding poses became uncomfortable, an exercise in mind over matter: you become very aware of your muscles, posture and breathing. Halfway through the first hour and a half, I also managed to convince myself that I HAD started my period – I could feel liquid gushing down my leg and over my ankle.  I desperately tried to communicate with Mia telepathically – I’d already made her swear she’d get people out if she saw any blood. To her credit, she did ask if I was okay. But I wasn’t sure about using the code word we’d worked out. If I used it once on a false alarm I wouldn’t be able to use it again. So I just carried on and hoped for the best. Which is lucky, because it was all in my mind.

We had 2 sessions of 1 and a half hours each, and they were both very interesting experiences. I’m glad I did it, and glad that it was a less formal environment than an average class. The students were a mixture of people who’d done it before and those who hadn’t, drunk and sober, men and women. One drunk man kept us entertained by lecturing us on Geography. Most of the ‘good’ drawings were taken away by the artists, but they let me keep the rest. But actually some of those drawings are my favourites. Luckily I made friends with my body long ago, otherwise I may have had some issues with some of their proportions!  (I know I have a small head but…. really?)

Mia’s blog describes some of the work she does:

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