More than just a haircut

Something as simple as a haircut can be a small respite against gender dysphoria

“Are you sure you want to go that short? I feel like it doesn’t suit you. You’ll look bad.”

“Well, I guess if you want to make your hair look worse.”

These are all actual things I’ve heard as a trans guy who’s gone to get a haircut. I’ve heard variations of both these statements from many different stylists in many different salons around Waterloo Region. It already sucks to live in a society that forces you into a gender binary. It sucks even more when you try to make yourself more comfortable in your body and the person who’s supposed to help you, only reinforces society’s transphobic expectations. 

Being trans is hard, and that’s putting it lightly. I often find it difficult to explain what it really is like to people who are cis-gender. I am a trans man of colour who is also bisexual and very flamboyuant. I like wearing make-up, and having fabulous nails. This makes folks who don’t know me very confused. It feels like I’m a walking question mark sometimes and I see it in people’s faces.

Something as simple as cutting your hair short can provide a person with years of relief from gender dysphoria, the persistent unease with having the physical characteristics of one’s gender. For folks who may want to change their appearances to match their gender identity, hairstylists are imperative. 

(Photo provided)

I first got my gender affirming haircut by Kate Jandal (she/they) of Control Hair Salon, a non-binary hairstylist who understands the importance to a young trans queer like myself. She has been a hairstylist for two years and currently cuts at Control Hair Salon in Waterloo, specializing in razor cuts and creative colouring.

“I think that as a trans person I have been very used to just cutting my own hair because it felt more comfortable than putting myself into the hands of someone that might not see me for who I am or understand what I’m going for,” Jandal said.

“At least when I sit down with a queer trans person and try to connect with them first and listen. It’s just nice when people come in and they’ve told me that they cut their own hair for the last however many years and this is the first haircut.”

According to the Outlook Study compiled by local trans community members from OK2BME and ACCKWA, 86 per cent of trans people have tried not to appear trans. According to statistics from the Trans PULSE project, trans people have a lower sense of belonging to the local community than cisgender people. A concerning fact as a lack of parental or community support makes trans individuals more vulnerable. They are more likely to face mental and physical health concerns as well as problems with housing. That is why making a space for trans people in public spaces is so important. Having a haircut that makes you feel safe and comfortable with yourself can literally be a life-saving event.

Oliver Eckert. Photo provided.

Another person in our region who accommodates queer and/or trans clients is Oliver Eckert. After years of uncertainty, they now proudly identify as a non-binary, trans-masculine person. Eckert first started their hairstyling career at the St. Louis Adult Learning Centre and later gained a co-op position at Good Hair Co. in Kitchener, where they have been ever since.

“They don’t tolerate bullshit. They don’t tolerate any bad vibes. If someone is there and you’re making somebody uncomfortable, if you do not stop, I will ask you to leave and knowing that I have full coverage in that sense makes me feel really safe, which I didn’t have in jobs before.” they said.

“It makes you feel good in your skin. And you’re able to represent yourself. It’s so much more than just a haircut,” Eckert said. “And I understand that it sounds dramatic, but especially as a trans person. Sometimes it’s life and death being able to represent yourself how you want to.” 

For many of us trans and gender-non conforming folks, going into a hair salon can be a daunting task. Never mind the ever-present threat of COVID-19. It’s the fear of not being listened to. Will strangers listen to the pronoun pin that’s glaring at them from your jacket or will they ignore it like the other seven strangers before them? 

“But a lot of the time a haircut is so affirming for someone and to be able to have that is treated kind of like a privilege in society, which is bullshit and I hate it but because of the hair industry because of how binary it is because of how kind of queer phobic it really is.” Eckert said.

I was assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) there have been many times where I have been told my desired hair-cut is “too short.” When I first came home with my short hair my mother actually cried, like she lost someone who didn’t even exist. It hurt, because I finally started to feel comfortable in my body, but my own family couldn’t accept it. They mourned the loss of their long-haired “Daughter,” which – as a young trans-person trying to get through his undergrad – I really didn’t need.

“Yeah, it’s never just a haircut. I think as queer folks, especially being able to put on a mask and take it off is something that we’ve had to do. And a lot of the time a haircut, gets rid of that mask for a while.” Eckert said.

I have lived in the Waterloo region for the past five years. This “mask” that Eckert discussed is something that I am familiar with as well. When I walk into a bank, I feel like I have to tone down my flamboyancy in order to be taken seriously. Cutting my hair short I feel like I can still keep a little queer/trans part of me.

“Being able to have a haircut that is you; it’s what you want; it makes you feel good in your skin. And you’re able to represent yourself. It’s so much more than just a haircut,” Eckert said.

When a trans person says they want to present themselves a certain way, we deserve to be heard. I don’t want someone else to tell me what I want to do with my body. Especially when I’ve been forced my whole life to look a certain way, and especially not with my hair length. Like Kate and Oliver, I want hair salons and other beauty services to be more trans inclusive. And the first step to that is having staff who listen to us. 

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