I have a very simple haircut. Stop reading for a second and look up at my picture on the top of this page. See that? Short. Neat. Simple. I can be in and out of a barber shop in fewer than 10 minutes. The barber buzzes the back of my head with a two-blade and the sides with a three blade, and then just trims the top. I've found that barbers can do it better, and cheaper, than salons.
My two favorite places are both queer-friendly shops: Blade in the South End of Boston and the Monument Barbershop in Provincetown. I try to hold off on cuts until I am near one or the other. But earlier this week I looked in the mirror and saw that my hair was resembling Albie Grant's in Big Love. With a week of meetings to go until I vacation in Provincetown, I decided to give in and go to the barber in a nearby town.
When I arrived, the barber was busy cutting a man's hair in the first seat. I waited about five minutes, and another barber came out and called me back. She cut my hair in fewer than 10 minutes and I was on my way. The guy next to me was still getting his hair cut.
My barber rang me out for $25, and I handed $30 over to her, thinking to myself, "It's just as expensive in this Vermont town as it is in the South End?" And that's when it dawned on me that something wasn't right. I turned and looked for the posted prices, but they weren't there. So I asked:
"How much do you charge men for that same cut?"
"But I got what is generally considered a men's cut."
"We just charge women $25."
"But that's not right. You didn't do any more work."
She shrugged and said, "I just work here."
I didn't push it. I'm the sort of person who won't send back a bad meal because I don't want the waiter to think I'm impolite. I wasn't going to press a barber who didn't make the rules for $5. But as the day went on, it bothered me more. I got a haircut that took less time than the guy in the chair next to me, and I was charged $5 more based on my perceived gender.
I can understand charging a woman $5 more if she has longer hair or requests a more complex cut. But I would hope a man with long or complicated hair would be charged that $5 extra too. A certain cut should cost the same, regardless of gender.
I am sometimes struck by the reluctance of LGBTQ people to embrace the fight against gender discrimination as our own. The reality is that what happened today at the barber shop is a queer issue. We might be apt to dismiss it as a "women's issue" that's not relevant to the greater movement. But there's a danger in that. Beyond the fact that justice for us must be connected to justice for other groups, there is the reality that we live in a society obsessed with the gender binary and limited gender roles. The idea that it's a short jump from gender expectations to homophobia and transphobia seems at times to be lost on us.
And so, when we are faced with the little gender-based injustices of life, that is where our struggles begin. Whether it's checking off our gender on a marriage license application, fighting to have our correct gender shown on a driver's license, or paying five dollars too much for a haircut, it is a reality that our gender or perceived gender can be used to limit us, to unfairly define us, to control us.
Five dollars may not seem like much when we consider what it can buy. But in terms of what it costs us, it's a fortune.