Barbershop Talk

Going to the barbershop is probably one of the most ritualistic acts for a man. A man can give a woman a lot of crap for staying on top of her hair appointments and routine mani-pedis, but deep down, he enjoys these things just as much. As a gay man – and stereotypically speaking, yes – I like my hair to look good. Not only do I like my hair to look good, I prefer to get it cut in a black barbershop.

Ever since my brother and I were young boys, our father took us to get bi-weekly haircuts. 9 o’clock in the morning, every other Saturday, was our designated time and we’d only sit in only one barber’s chair. As I grew older and started to wrangle with my sexuality internally, the “barbershop” talk began to hit a little too close to home.

I was waiting to get my hair touched up over the weekend when one barber – not my barber – began to elaborate more on TV makeup and how he thought men shouldn’t wear makeup at all. Naturally, this snowballed into discussion about gay, black men and those of which who choose to openly wear full faces of makeup. “I don’t care if you’re gay, but I don’t need to know it.” One ignorant gentleman that sat in my barber’s chair even went as far to say gay men are “disrespecting their natural bodies.” What does that even mean?!

I sat quietly and fought the urge to jump in and come out in the middle of the shop. I wanted to say “What makes you think these brave souls care what you think?.. What gives you the right to dictate how we represent ourselves in the world?” Keep in mind the gentlemen spouting off this nonsense didn’t deserve any roses from anyone. I won’t stoop to their level, but I could say more about their appearances – how one didn’t appear the way I imagine a professional barber would, and how the ignorant patron looked as if… yeah, I won’t go there.

I’ll give a couple gentlemen in the shop some credit. They tried to explain how TV makeup works with the camera, but the conversation kept going back to sissy shit. “You should see the shit they get into on Empire! They’re wild on that show.” It’s funny because the gay character on the hit show is named Jamal. Jamal isn’t flamboyant and doesn’t wear a lot of makeup, but I appreciate the fact that the show lets his character express his sexuality and presents him as normal; as human.

In the end I stayed quiet because we as gay men – especially gay black men – argue too much about why we get to express ourselves the way we feel is right within our community and culture. I’m so over that argument and didn’t care to share any of my experiences with them in that moment.

Sure I could go to a more commercial haircut establishment – risking sitting in a chair that doesn’t know how to work with ethnic hair – but why should I have to do that? Nothing against those establishments, but I do value my culture and enjoy going to a black barbershop.

I realized this early, Saturday morning that that’s exactly what this barber and the ignorant patron wanted – for me and my fellow gay men to be commercial. I couldn’t be commercial if I tried. My spice comes out when it wants and it’s something I’ve had to learn to harness growing up in the black community.

STORY TIME:

I’ll never forget growing up and helping my cousin part and braid her dolls’ hair. I’d trot downstairs to show my mom and aunties my work, but had to get past the table filled with very loud, black dads that were busy slamming dominoes. “What’ve you got there, boy?!” My dad would shout where the whole house could hear. I’d simply hold the doll up to display the sharp and detail braids, styled and perfectly placed with my cousin’s approval. “Man, I couldn’t plait no hair like that! Keep up the good work and go show ya mama.” He’d then nudge my buzzed head and I’d hide a smile. Even at a young age, whether I knew I was gay then or not, I understood what the perception of a young boy doing great hair was – a gay boy in the making. My dad was a hard, Army veteran, but it was moments like this that made me view him as a superhero.

In closing – I’d like to share a note with the barber who felt it necessary to force his view upon me, the silent gay customer. You never know who is in your business or who is listening. You have to realize that you’re the face of the business in which you work and that comments like these should be kept to yourself if they’re not productive or being presented for an open discussion. Sure I could have jumped in and floored everyone, but I can only clean up so much ignorance at a time. On this particular morning, I was simply tired.

Keep in mind who and what you’re talking about the next time you speak, and realize they may have a platform where they can share their experience. Maybe you don’t care, and that’s fine, but here a few things I know and that you should as well about me:

  • I’m a black, gay man.
  • I’m married and in a stable relationship.
  • I take great care of my skin and I don’t mind sharing my regimen with you.
  • I’m just as much of a man – just as much as a black man – as you are, if not more.
  • And I’m also a customer service supervisor.

I’ll keep this story off Yelp though… (enter nail-painting emoji here)

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STRAIGHT

Forbidden fruit comes in the form of the heterosexual male.  During my time in the closet – from eighth grade until about three weeks into my college career – I had plenty of secret crushes on straight friends that I knew I could not have.  I strongly believe that it’s this time in the closet that causes the craving for a straight guy to brew and reach extremely potent levels.  I remember when guys would ask me “what I was looking for” in a guy – in various gay dating chat rooms – and I would simply respond with the descriptor: “straight-acting.”  What does that even mean?! That description is still frequently tossed around in regular conversation amongst gay friends. Stereotypically speaking, the term “straight-acting” represents a heterosexual guy who is macho, strong, and handy, is into sports, and doesn’t mind getting dirty; someone that can wrestle in a godly fashion. The picture next to my interpretation of the definition would be an image of thick, burly, muscular lumberjacks; complete with tight denim and a big axes.  He would be a bearded, gloriously-sweaty – Gaston from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” – or a Gerard Butler type of guy.

Little did I know then, that I would end up with my “straight-acting” guy.  It’s always an adventure with S, especially now that we live under one roof.  My daily interests revolve around the performing arts – having played music from a young age – Pinterest boards, organizing our closet, and stressing about the growing bald spot at the back of my head.  S will spend the entire college basketball off-season counting down to the first game of the next season. He grew up on a farm with real chores – raising horses and cleaning stalls – and can change the oil on his own car.  You’d think that being from Alaska I would be a better outdoors person, but he takes the cake in that area too.  We went hiking once with friends, and I spent the entire time running from ticks. Occasionally I’ll get in his car and he’ll have it tuned to a sports radio show. “What’s this?” was the question I would ask with the look of instant boredom smeared across my face. He would then proceed to laugh and let me plug in Spotify; set to the “Radiohead Radio” station most likely. I imagine S probably has the same look on his face when I turn on an episode of ABC’s “Scandal.”   Since our beginning, I have joked with friends and family about S being my “straight curse.”  Every day I gain life from the gifts my curse provides… for this I will be forever thankful.