Many of my friends would say I was lying if I told them how quiet I get inside the barbershop. I stare at my phone or at a picture on the wall so people won’t catch me looking at the attractive guys sitting next to me. I’m scared to talk or move in case my flamboyant nature comes out. Normally I’m known for being loud and outspoken but all I give them is one word answers. My mind is in a panic.
I glance anxiously at the door every couple of minutes and screen the customers coming in. You never know who you might have to deal with. There was a period of time where I jumped from barber to barber just trying to fit in or find a place I could vibe with. In the last couple of months I’ve become more open about my sexuality, so recently it’s been easier to get my hair cut by a friend at his house, where we can listen to music, have a drink and just feel comfortable. It’s not always the same as getting a professional cut but the relief I feel is worth it.
The barbershops I’ve been to in the past have been very misogynistic with a toxic atmosphere. They leer at young girls as they walk past or wolf whistle at women as they come in with their young sons. This pattern of hyper-masculinity always makes me feel uneasy and the level of respect they show women is disturbing.
I was in a barbershop a few months ago and a teenage boy was openly disrespecting a girl he had slept with, who also had a boyfriend. They were both aggressively slagging her off, bizarrely claiming she was the reason why men cheat and how women can’t be trusted. Throughout this conversation, I could hear other barbers cheering in agreement and I was frankly disgusted by what was being said. It never occurred to them to consider the number of black children who grow up with cheating, absent fathers. How many black people reading this can say they have a great relationship with their father? Stereotypes exist for a reason, yet these men couldn’t see how their behaviour is a part of the problem.
Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to share my views but this is not an environment I felt safe enough to be myself. One gay man, especially of colour against a room full of what I would assume ‘religious men’, who have outdated views on what “gay” means, and sprout the bible yet never consider that they are breaking the rules by behaving the way they do. I’d have a better argument shouting at a brick wall. Why is my sin worse than theirs? Why is my sexual attraction to men, something I can’t control worse than the CHOICES they make when they cheat on or disrespect women?
I do think the world is changing though. As sexuality has become a HOT topic, a lot of people for the first time in years are claiming their genders and sexualities. Pushing and breaking the hyper-masculine norm. Men are now allowed to talk more openly about their issues and mental health problems for the first time in a while. If we keep moving forward with positive changes like this it will have a massive effect on not just men in general, but especially men of colour. It would be amazing if the barbers could be a safe space to talk about your feelings but it is seen as a taboo.
My friend Jay Jay Revlon opened a nail pop up shop that is for men only, regardless of sexuality. You can book an appointment, chat and get to know each other for at least 15 minutes before you get your nails done. This opens up a level of trust and friendship which is so important and because people feel comfortable, they go back and support his business.
How much time do we have left before areas like Brixton and Peckham become completely gentrified and we won’t even be able to have these conversations with our black barbers?