It was one of those days at Beauty School, it had been raining buckets all morning and hardly anyone was coming in for a service. When you are not working on a patron you are performing practicals on your mannequins. I was one of the lucky ones, I had a regular coming in for her weekly roller set. A roller set is not challenging like a cut and color but it is one practical count I needed to finish my totals for the month. I was in the dispensary obtaining the gel and rollers I needed when a fellow student walks in, all two hundred thirty pounds, five foot four inches tall with bright pink hair and two arm sleeve tattoos. She sees that I have rollers and gel and commences to recite her hackneyed soliloquy on why she prefers male patrons. I had ten minutes before my regular was scheduled to come in so I indulged her. She starts; “I hate doing perms and roller set, don’t you?” I didn’t even bother to answer her question, I knew it was rhetorical. She follows with “men don’t identify with their hair, at least not like women do”. She continues, “more than half the time women don’t know what they want and are very picky, I don’t want to deal with all that drama”. She finishes with, “I can’t wait till I graduate, then I can start Barbering School so I can work at a barbershop and do only men”. I was getting ready to say something when the receptionist walks in and informs me that my regular just arrived. Sometimes you are better off not saying anything and just smile, it was one of those times. I smiled said I liked her pink hair and returned to my station to drop off the gel and rollers.
I lived as a male for 54 years and as long as I can remember I identified with my hair. I always hated having my hair cut. If you had asked me when I was a child why I hated going to the barbershop, I probably couldn’t tell you exactly why. It was probably because I always left the barbershop with hardly any hair. I hated the sound of clippers. Could you imagine what goes on in the mind of a two year old. I remember crying the first few times while in the barber’s chair. I have photos from elementary school and when I look at them I cringe. Every time I walk by a barbershop I look the other way. From the iconic red and white barber pole, the large red leather barber chair, the leather strap used to sharpen the straight razor, bottles filled with that blue liquid and combs to the cloud of talcum powder it all brings back memories I soon rather forget.
Every few weeks my father, a man in his mid to late forties, five foot six with short salt and pepper hair and black rim glasses, would say, “get in the car, you need a hair cut”. I dreaded hearing those words. I would make myself scarce and try to delay the inevitable as long as I could. It got to the point that my father would catch me in the kitchen and then tell me to be waiting for him on a certain day and time. Guess he figured out what I was doing. Eventually as I got older I stopped making a big deal about it. It wasn’t until I was sixteen and secured my first real job and received a weekly paycheck that I was allowed to deal with my own hair. In others words as long as he my father had to pay for the haircut he mandated the barbershop I would have to go to. At around age twelve my father told the barber to cut it natural (Spanish pronunciation). I didn’t understand what my father meant by “natural” but the barber never used the clippers again. He only used shears and trimmers.
I grew up in a small conservative town in southwest TX, population around twelve thousand. The town is big enough to not know everybody but small enough to be noticed and made to feel uncomfortable. My high school had a dress code. My hair could not touch my shirt collar and had to be above the ears. Long hair was still in fashion and disco was the dance craze. My older brothers all had long hair but as I was in high school and living at home I had to abide by the rules. I grew up in era when guys went to barbershops and girls went to beauty shops. Beauty shops were like women’s restrooms; it was no place to be if you were a guy. When I was a boy my father would take me with him when he picked up my mother. She would have her weekly roller set and I would go into the beauty shop to let her know we were outside waiting for her. I have memories of walking past a row of women with rollers in their hair and their heads underneath dyers. The pungent smell of perm solution with a haze of cigarette smoke filled the air. By the time I was in high school unisex hair salons started opening up around town. I heard about one that had only male stylist. Word around school was there were three guys and they were all married and two were in a band. During that time you never let a “homo” cut your hair. They would wash your hair; cut your hair wet and then use a hand held blow dryer to style your hair. The only issue was it would cost around eight dollars. The barbershop was three dollars, the barber cut your hair dry and you left with hair all over you.
My father never liked me paying eight dollars for a cut that in his eye wasn’t short enough. He would look at me, shake his head and say “you are wasting your money, son”. I made sure I never wore a shirt with buttons and a collar to school or work. If it wasn’t my father giving me shit about my hair, it was school administrators or my boss at work. I couldn’t for the life of me figure what the big deal was about long hair. I just liked my hair long, of course I never was allowed to have long hair. I guess you could say I wanted my hair long because I couldn’t have it long.
After high school I got into restaurant management and every restaurant chain I worked for had a dress code. Hair not touching the collar but your hair could cover your ears. It was the eighties and hair lengths got shorter but I still wanted to keep my hair as long as I could for as long as I could. My regional mangers always gave me grief about having to tell me to get a hair cut. In ’96 I left the restaurant industry I started managing a sign franchise that in ’98 I purchased from the owners that hired me. In ’97 I finally had the opportunity to start growing my hair. Because I never could was the driving force behind my decision to start growing it, so I thought.
My hair has always been coarse and wavy curly. I find it astonishing that of all twelve children my parents had I was the only one with wavy curly hair. It had always been a curse. As my hair grew, it grew mostly out before it grew down. Had my hair had a tight curl I would probably would have an afro. It was tough going, my hair basically looked like Wilson from the Tom Hank movie Cast Away for about a year. The wave was uncontrollable and couldn’t find a product that would keep it calm down. By mid ’98 I had a short ponytail. By 2000 my hair was at my shoulder blades and as they say in the sports world it was a game changer.
I started blow-drying my hair as a way to control the wave and curl. One morning as I was drying my hair I looked in the mirror and at different angles I would see reflections of my seven sisters. When I would cross dress at home (I was still in the closet) and with my hair long I could see and feel her. That’s the reason I always wanted long hair, she wanted me to see her. She had always been with me but now I could finally see her. From ’82 to ’96 I kept a mustache, cross-dressing in secret at home I could feel her but never could see her. As the saying goes Seeing is Believing.
It’s interesting now, I work for salon chain and cut mostly men’s hair. I use clippers about seventy percent of the time. I hate cutting little boy’s hair; it brings back too many bad memories. I wonder how many of these little boys hate having their hair cut or who are really little girls inside. What I find so fascinating is that every person that sits in my chair identifies with their hair, even small children. I guess I am not the only one.