Lessons and Failures from a Haircut

Below is a post from guest blogger Robson Govine about his experience getting a haircut and having to find a new hairdresser after moving away from his hometown.

“So what are we doing today?  The usual?”   I sat down in the chair and looked at Kristen, my hairdresser, through the mirror.

Who didn't think about getting "The Shane" at one point?

“Actually, no, I thought we’d try something different,” I said, somewhat fearful, as I handed her a picture of the new haircut I had been inching towards for years.  It was stereotypical – beyond that even – the epitome of gay.  Shane, from the L Word, Season Two (I know, I’m judging me too).  “I was thinking this only less strung-out-coke-head-chopped-my-hair-with-a-weed-whacker look.”

“This is different, I think I can manage.” Kristen went to work on chopping off about six inches of hair.  She tweaked the cut, of course, making it my own, and every visit it seemed to get shorter and shorter till we had it down to an unspoken science for the next four years.

One of the first "let's go shorter" cuts.

Kristen had made the task of getting a hair cut easy.  I didn’t have to worry about walking into a barber shop surrounded by men, or going to a random shop with a different person each time trying to explain how to cut my hair. I never thought that getting my haircut would be difficult – until three weeks ago when I moved away from my hometown and relocated to Boston.

My hair was shaggy and I was dying for a clean, fresh, cut – but where to go? I had already clogged the sink of my friend’s bathroom when I stubbornly decided I was just going to trim it myself.  “You’re screwing it up!  Don’t cut your hair in my bathroom, Robbie!  Just wait and go to my friend!  The back isn’t even!”

She wasn’t wrong.  I snipped more generously in some areas as opposed to others and for the next week sported a spotty trim. My roommate had suggested Supercuts because it was cheap. I was tight on cash, I figured it would be fine, it’s just hair right?

After walking in the wrong direction down Mass Ave. for five minutes, I walked into Supercuts, somewhat sweaty, in a pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt, looking like a twelve year-old boy who had just tried chasing down an ice cream truck and miserably failed.

I checked in, having to use my first name (which sounds like I should have my own line of Southern bake goods) because I had to use a card to pay.  Evaluating my surroundings, I pinpointed the hairdresser with purple hair and decided she should be the one to cut my hair.  Unfortunately, right as I decided this, another woman walked up to the counter and called my name.

She introduced herself as I sat down in the chair.  “So how would you like it cut?”

“So, usually, I have the back taken in, along with the sides, but leave the top a little long.  No layering.  And the bangs just trimmed up, not too short, and chipped into so they’re shaggy and not straight across.”

She seemed confused.  I didn’t blame her.  I just gave her instructions that were as simple as a Rubik’s Cube with some of the colors missing.  “So do you use clippers for the back and sides?”

“Just on the back.”  Kristen had always used scissors for the sides.

“Do you know what number on the clippers?”

“Um…” crap, “no, sorry.”

Lesson number one: clippers have numbers.
Fail number one: I didn’t know clippers had numbers.

Not-Kristen took the clippers and started at a modest number saying we could go shorter if needed.  She began to clip the back, clearly the easy part, since it took her no longer than a minute.   Next she took a spray bottle, wetted down the rest of my hair and began to comb it.  And comb it.  And comb it.  I realized she had no idea what to do.  Any other person would have offered some direction, but I had no direction to give her.  I tried to think about possible terms someone like me could use that she, too, would understand.  Think Ellen meets Justin Beiber?  No, that would confuse her; I don’t think she would have understood what a forty old lesbian would have in common with a fifteen year-old pop singer.  Dani Cambell?  Who?  Gender-queer without the hipster?  Gender-what?   I realized there were no terms that could easily overlap.

Lesson number two: Language and communication is important.
Fail number two: I’m an English major. (I should be good at this, right?)

Slowly she began to cut.  She glanced the sides, and attacked my bangs in a way that made me nervous.  She did nothing with my sideburns.  “Is it okay if I put product in?”

“Sure.”  This can’t get much worse, right?

Lesson number three: Things can always get worse.
Fail number three: I’m optimistic.

Cute haircut. For her. Not me.

Not-Kristen took some styling gel and began to rub it through my hair.  She took the tips of my sideburns and pointed them, pulling them forward onto my cheekbones.  The sides, still somewhat long since she hadn’t cut much, also were pulled forward so the flared tips stuck to the sides my temples.  The front was smoothed down and to the side.  My initial discomfort and fear was confirmed:  she was styling my hair like a girl’s.  Anybody else would have said something.  Unfortunately, I was concentrating more on controlling my face so that it didn’t look like I was pained from constipation.  Also, I’m generally nervous about criticizing people who have easy access to sharp objects.

Not-Kristen finished smoothing in the product.  As I got up I handed her my card, I felt the back of my shirt stuck to me with sweat.  She ran the card, and I tried to smile at her. She awkwardly smiled back as if to say, “It’s okay, I don’t expect you to come back.” Our spoken communication had ceased since Lesson Number Two.  I scribbled my name in a way that would make a doctor jealous and left.

Every window I passed, I looked at my reflection running my hands through my hair trying to mess it up.  I practically jogged from Central back to my apartment trying to remember where I had a pair a scissors, and if it was possible to fix my hair so I no longer looked like a gender confused version of Pink.  When I reached my apartment I bolted upstairs to our bathroom, hands on my head hoping none of my roommates would see me.

I have huge cute potential. See?

With scissors in hand I took the sides in more, and flattened the ends of my sideburns, shortening them.  I didn’t care if I screwed it up, I just needed to not feel feminine.  After ten minutes of scrutinizing, and hacking, my anxiety went away.  The hairdresser hadn’t done a horrible job of cutting my hair. The little more I took off alleviated the Liza look.  The anxiety I had came from the feeling of her cutting my hair.  She was not Kristen, or another gay person, who knew how to chop up a queer boi’s head.  That wasn’t her fault.  It wasn’t mine either.  The problem was she didn’t know there were more than two types of hair, and I didn’t realize I had to explain it.

Lesson Number Four: Gender is in everything.
Fail Number Four: People tend not to see it unless they live outside it.


5 responses to “Lessons and Failures from a Haircut

  1. Alisha at Hair-Co in Porter Square is amazing! Completely put this genderqueer dyke at ease and has been giving me amazing (and fairly cheap!) haircuts for 2 years!

  2. pretty much everyone (but especially cassius! he has been cutting my hair for a year now) at station 8 in JP gives ridiculously awesome queer haircuts. i used to painfully frequent supercuts…but have discovered paying a little extra is totally worth it for a much better cut and anxiety-free styling with another fellow queermo or queer-ally.

  3. First of all, to everything you said: EXACTLY. I had the love-of-my-life-hairdresser leave the salon I’d found her at with no notice, and spent about 2.5 years trying to find anyone else who was adequate. In the meantime, I got terrifying my-dad-in-peewee-football crew cuts, I got the girlie forward-pointy-sideburns, and then some mediocre dyke cuts. I’m going to second the shout-out to Alisha at Hair-Co (who’s a sweetheart to boot), add in Sarah K. at Floyd’s near Cambridge Commons (who just needs to figure out what to do about cowlicks), and Dominique at Miss Laura’s in JP (who I saw yesterday–love).

  4. I got my hair cut short for the first time since I was five in March. I went to my mom’s hair stylist. He’d cut my hair several times before. He’d been cutting my mom’s hair for years. I handed him the picture of the short, shaggy hair that I wanted, and he gamely began hacking away.
    Him: “So what is your mom going to think about this short hair?”
    Me: “Well, she didn’t mind when I came out, so I doubt a haircut is going to bother her.”
    Him: “Came out of what?”
    Me: “The closet.”
    Him: “What?”
    Me: “Came out of the closet.” Pause. “I like girls.”
    Him: “Oh.”

    Did he not go to cosmetology school?

  5. Robbie – great post.

    I’ve been there x 100. I’ve wound up with Erin at (queer-owned) Station 8 Salon in JP. She’s amazing. Not only is she a ridiculously good queer hairstylist, she’s also a great therapist/confidant/laid back person who will take the time and energy to make you feel good about yourself.

    R, wtg for writing. You will find someone amazing. And if you don’t, come visit in JP. They’ll do you up right.

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