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Barbershop Butterflies

Author Trudier Harris once stated: “It is an environment that can bolster egos and be supportive as well as a place where phony men can be destroyed, or at least shamed, from participation in verbal contests and other contests of skill.

By Jude Samson

It is a retreat, a haven, an escape from nagging wives and the cares of the world. It is a place where men can be men.”

When most people think of barber shops they probably imagine the famous red white and blue pole – although the colors have nothing to do with American patriotism. They may even call to mind various images from movies – even the Barbershop film trilogy (2002, 2004, 2016) or their predecessor Coming to America (1988). Perhaps you see the scenes from The Untouchables (1987), Mississippi Burning (1988), or even in musicals as in the more widely-known Tim Burton-directed adaptation starring Johnny Depp of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (originally a penny dreadful then a Broadway show).

“REGARDLESS OF WHAT POPS IMMEDIATELY TO MIND WHEN YOU HEAR “BARBER” ODDS ARE YOU ALSO, EVEN IF SUBCONSCIOUSLY, ACKNOWLEDGE IT AS A PLACE FOR MEN..”

Regardless of what pops immediately to mind when you hear “barber” odds are you also, even if subconsciously, acknowledge it as a place for men, almost like a sanctuary for them. As Harris mentioned, it is a place where men can be men, where they can banter and speak as they want. Where the elders can impart wisdom from their years, where the youth can be brought into the circle. For a trans man, this can even seem like the holy grail of places and the thought of entering these sanctums could be great cause for distress.

While we cover it often enough that there’s no singular way to be a man, that society imposes certain expectations or criteria about what a man is, and that gender is fluid, some trans guys do ascribe to more “traditional” characteristics of what society perceives as “maleness” and among those, the first trip to the barber can cause butterflies to outright panic attacks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked up to the door and then quickly dodged out of site.

“..I FELT I HAD PASSED THE FIRST PHASE AND THEREIN WOULD BE GRANTED ACCESS TO THE NEXT LEVEL LIKE I WAS IN SOME KIND OF VIDEO GAME.”

The first time I attempted to go to a barber I already had facial hair, somehow in my head, I felt I had passed the first phase and therein would be granted access to the next level like I was in some kind of video game. I passed pretty well but I’m pre-op so my chest gives me pretty considerable dysphoria but I figured with my jacket on during this fine spring day I could easily hide these growths and get my first seat in a barber shop. I sat down and the jacked-up barber asked if I could wait a few minutes while he finished the guy he had in the chair. Of course, I could. Then I began to get extra nervous, then I realized – I’m going to probably have to take off my jacket so he can reach the nape of my neck and so it doesn’t seem incredibly awkward. I told the barber I was going next door to the deli while he finished up and I high-tailed it out of there.

Since then, I’ve found a wonderful woman at my local Supercuts that’s so close to my house I can walk there. She’s got my style down, she’s incredibly patient with me when I can only afford to get cut every couple of months and I wind up with a massive mop on my head that needs a weed-whacker taken to it first before she can even start the actual haircut. Still, a part of me would love to sit in the chair of a barber shop one day. Not many things give me anxiety but for some reason, this place has always seemed to hold such a mystique about it and, therein, gives me the most butterflies about going and sitting in the chair.

Let’s hear from you. What place seems the embodiment of what you’re striving for and yet gives you the most anxiety about getting to?

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