LGBTQ+ people say they have been turned away by hairdressers for not quite meting their gendered expectations (Picture: Facebook / Metro.co.uk)
Every six weeks or so, Vic Leon-Cutter, 35, gets behind the wheel and drives eight miles from Lancing to Hove to get their haircut.
They have a pretty no-thrills hairstyle – short back and sides, like the Swedish footballer Lina Hurtig – but this simple request can be met with a lot of fuss.
‘As someone who is non-binary but (assigned-female-at-birth) I find that lots of barbers won’t cut my hair because I’m not a guy and many salons either don’t cut hair with clippers or if they do they are reluctant or judgemental about cutting my hair short,’ the teacher tells Metro.co.uk.
’I’ve rung to book appointments only to be told, “We only cut men’s hair,” on arrival and then been made to leave in front of a packed salon, which is super embarrassing.
‘I’ve been asked to confirm my gender in front of a salon full of people. Also had hairdressers tell me that they don’t think I should have such short hair being a girl.’
So to avoid this all, they drive to the closest LGBTQ+ salon run by a queer hairdresser to them, Lightning Like Scissors. ‘It’s a million times more inclusive,’ Leon-Cutter adds.
For many, hair salons and barbershops are places to get a good pampering or sit silently before nodding when you’re shown the back of your head.
Vic Leon-Cutter treks to an LGBTQ+ salon because of the bigotry they’ve faced for being non-binary (Picture: Vic Leon-Cutter)
But for LGBTQ+ people like Leon-Cutter, the hairdressers can be intimidating and unwelcoming because they’re so gendered.
Pricing and styling can rely on gendered stereotypes: think a standard gent’s cut being a fair amount cheaper than a ladies’ cut.
This can be tricky for trans and non-binary clients too, where stylists might make assumptions about them – and booking systems might force them to choose a gendered cut that doesn’t align with who they are.
A 2019 survey by Pantene found that 93% of trans and non-binary people had been misgendered at a salon. Making it not surprising a third feel stressed before every visit.
A third of LGBTQ+ have been turned away from a barbershop due to their gender or sexual identity, Hair Has No Gender found. More than a quarter faced homophobia or transphobia.
Keri Blue, a non-binary short hair specialist and founder of Human First that organised the survey, isn’t surprised by this.
‘Remember that gender is a social construct, and the depressing stereotypes commonly associated with what it means to be a man or a woman have simply been invented over time,’ they say.
‘Some trans people seek to completely change their appearance to match their true gender by having a gender-affirming “masculine” or “feminine” haircut which gives them a sense of gender euphoria (although it should be noted that this is not the case for every trans or non binary person).
Keri Blue launched the Hair Has No Gender survey over lockdown (Picture: Keri Blue)
‘For me, being non-binary, the way I cut my hair makes me feel comfortable in my own skin. It was the reason I ever became a barber in the first place, so I can help other people get the confidence to go about their day.’
Metro.co.uk spoke to LGBTQ+ people about how the ways hair can be gendered makes life that little bit harder for them.
‘Short hair was symbolic of me becoming a man’
Harry Nicholas, 26, the author of A Trans Man Walks into a Gay Bar, says getting a haircut when he first came out as trans was important to him.
‘For me, short hair was what I’d longed for, and was symbolic of me becoming a man,’ he says.
Trans people make a lot of changes – both big and small – to feel a sense of trans joy. Hair, after all, is one of the first things people see.
But his first haircut when he came out was not just about choosing scissors or clippers – it was about feeling inner peace.
‘I went to a barber, nervous about whether they’d let me in or not, and I was surprised at how rough everything felt,’ Harry says. ‘It was head forward in a sink, quick clippers here and there, and little talking unless it was about the footy last week.’
Harry says getting his haircut after coming out as trans was an affirming moment (Picture: Sophie Davidson)
The one perk, says Harry? His gent’s cut was £25 quid cheaper than the ladies’ style he used to have.
‘I felt like I had to endure an experience I was uncomfortable with because “that’s what boys do”,’ he added.
Harry now goes to a mixed-gender hairdresser who treats his hair ‘gently and allows me to talk about my life, gender and my partner’.
‘At first, I thought it was necessary to go to a gendered hairdresser,’ Harry says.
‘But now I realise that it’s most important to feel comfortable and get a haircut you’re happy with, then force yourself into societal expectations.’
‘With something as simple as a haircut there’re so many pitfalls’
Eden, 27, who is transfeminine and works in the charity sector, says xe can’t use any old barbers as she has to out herself as trans.
‘Since coming out in 2016, I’ve only had two haircuts that I would describe as good experiences,’ the Manchester local said.
‘It makes me sad how ingrained the gender binary is in hairdressing, and it makes barbers and salons such a minefield for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.’
Eden spent years growing her hair out to get it professionally styled only for a hairdresser to ask xem ‘loads of invasive questions about my life and what surgeries I wanted’.
Eden says she was once grilled by a hairdresser on xyr medical history (Picture: Eden)
‘In another environment, I would have complained or left, but obviously, you can’t do that halfway through your hair’s being cut!
‘It astounded me how entitled the hairdresser felt to my intimate medical history, and he probably even felt as though he was being supportive while he did it.’
Eden avoided going to the hairdressers for years because of this until she moved to London so could swing by Open Barbers, a well-known inclusive crimper.
‘It’s just frustrating that for something as simple as a haircut there’s so many pitfalls and obstacles for our community,’ xe added.
‘Going to a barber meant having to hide my identity’
Mike Johnston-Cowley, 41, a gay and non-binary person living in Bishopton, Scotland, says that though getting a haircut can be an affirming act, the process can be anything but.
‘Going to a standard barber meant having to present as masculine and basically hide my identity. This also made it difficult to explain my preference for a more androgynous hairstyle,’ they say.
Mike Johnston-Cowley feels they have to step back into the closet when they go to barbershops (Picture: Mike Johnston-Cowley)
Even when Mike found an inclusive salon, the problems didn’t vanish. ‘There were still difficulties though as the stylist I’d booked only worked with female clients/styles so they moved me to their barber,’ they say.
‘I’ve moved salons again and I am comfortable with the guy who cuts my hair but I still have to book a gents cut.
‘In my experience (especially since moving to Scotland from London I’d say) is that most salons are very binary in the services they offer so you are forced to make a choice.’
‘I play the pronouns game’
David Bender, 32, a queer and bisexual project manager based in Brixton, south London, said he finds barbers ‘heteronormative’.
‘I’ve had the stylist next to me and her client openly chatting about the downsides of dating bi men (although they didn’t frame it like that – they were just talking about, “guys with a past with other men”), and it’s kind of hurtful sitting and listening to that,’ he says.
David chooses to be vague about his partner’s pronouns (Picture: David Bender)
Sitting down in front of the mirror, Bender adds that getting his haircut can be a nerve-wracking experience – does he feel safe enough to come out to the barber?
‘I’m not generally out to barbers except for my colourist,’ he says, ‘and I usually play the “pronoun game”, avoiding using anything that could identify the genders of the people I’m dating.
‘Barbers can veer into low-key misogynistic chat when they think I’m straight, which is pretty horrible to listen to.’
‘There’s no such thing as gender in the eyes of a haircut’
George Waterfield and his business partner, Darren Cunningham, recently cut their Leicestershire hair salon’s gendered booking system altogether.
Instead of paying for a men’s or women’s cut, clients at the Secret Garden in Clarendon Park now pay based on the type of haircut and the length of their hair.
‘We had a situation where a non-binary client wanted to book – they said they couldn’t because our system was either a lady’s or gent’s cut,’ George, who appeared on ITV2’s The Cabins, says.
‘There’s no such thing as gender in the eyes of a haircut.’
George hopes that the new approach could be used as a blueprint for other barbers and salons – though the swap hasn’t been without noise.
‘We’ve had a lot of comments saying we’re just a unisex salon – but we’re not, we’re a gender-neutral salon where anyone is welcome.’
George Waterfield Darren Cunningham made their salon’s booking system gender-neutral in a bid to be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ clients (Picture: Facebook / The Secret Garden)
The Secret Garden no longer asks people to book a gent’s or lady’s cut (Picture: Facebook / The Secret Garden)
George says waving an LGBTQ+ Pride flag is a simple way to show queer locals they’re safe inside (Picture: Google Maps)
Not only is this common sense, but embracing inclusivity is also a wise business decision, adds Blue.
‘When you’re part of a minority, representation is everything, and people from the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to visit a space where they can see themselves represented,’ they say.
‘For a business to promote a heavily gendered space is off-putting for lots of people.’
But Blue has some suggestions. As George did, hairdressers can do away with gender and price instead hair length or how long a cut takes.
There are many other inclusive barbershops and salons up and down the UK, with Hair Has No Gender offering a directory for LGBTQ+ people in need of a new do.
‘Gendered pricing is old-fashioned and makes an assumption that all men have short hair and all women have long hair,’ Blue adds, ‘I think we can all agree in 2023 that’s absolutely not the case.’
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories like this, check our news page.