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.
Going 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.
I 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. Because 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