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How Gender-Affirming Haircuts Celebrate Personal Identity

Jade Rabbit, Bohemian Style House and The Cut cultivate safe spaces for queer folks

a portrait of a hairstylist from Bohemian Style House providing a haircut
Bohemian Style House (Photo by Kelsey Mard)

Everyone has had a bad hair day. 

Maybe it looks too flat, or the side part is strange; it’s been put up and it’s been put down; for some reason, the dry shampoo is making it look greasier; for some other reason, a few strands look like coils in a sea of waves. 

Whether it’s realized or not, hair can play a huge role in our self-confidence. On those bad hair days, sometimes we don’t feel like ourselves. We wonder if anyone can notice the differences we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror.

Most of the time, people are too focused on themselves to notice the minute changes we see in ourselves daily. One thing only we can know for sure is what changes internally. 

People constantly change, be it due to differences in environment, self-realization, or personal values. When those internal changes happen, sometimes we want external characteristics to reflect that.

A large part of identity hinges on what we decide to display — the clothes we wear, the people we surround ourselves with or what we do in our free time. For those in the queer community who are exploring their identity, gender-affirming haircuts are an important part of that journey.

The Jade Rabbit, owned by Storm Lover, is a cutting parlor in Charlotte that has been providing grooming services for three years. Hannah Baxter joined the business about a month ago, working with Lover to give haircuts, scalp treatments, scalp massages, eyebrow waxing, eyebrow shaping and beard facial care services. They call it wellness barbering.

Lover and Baxter’s main focus has always been providing a safe space for queer folks, seeing that it’s not always the easiest situation for those who are queer to get a haircut that perhaps doesn’t fall in line with the way other people perceive them. 

“I’ve had an experience where I explain the kind of haircut I want and show them a picture and they’re like, ‘Well, don’t you want it more feminine? Don’t you want it to be like a pixie cut?’ No, no thank you,” Lover said.

“Getting a haircut can already be a scary experience,” Baxter added. “For people coming into their identity and figuring out who they are, it’s really important to us to create a safe space for them to know that at the end of the experience — they’re going to be more affirmed. We’re going to get them a haircut that they want, and that makes them feel good.”

a portrait of the owner of The Jade Rabbit, Storm Lover and coworker Hannah Baxter smiling and laughing
Storm Lover and Hannah Baxter (Photo by Storm Lover)

The two express the importance of language and communication throughout the haircut experience. Language can be tough for someone who’s not well-versed in hair and can sometimes ask for things that aren’t what they mean.

Starting with pronouns

For any barber or hair stylist, asking pronouns at the beginning of a service is important in order to know who you’re talking to. It’s also important to ask if someone wants an androgynous, masculine or feminine haircut to set the base for the vibe someone’s going for.

When it comes to language, Storm and Baxter say that using the term “cutting parlor” removes an association with gender.

“We have clients representing the full gender spectrum that come in. Every haircut is a gender-affirming haircut. You’re validating someone for who they are and how they want to be presented to the world,” Baxter said.

Lover insists that a “gender-affirming haircut” is for everyone, not just queer folks. You could be a “cis South End banker bro who goes into the barbershop” and the haircut that you get would still be a gender-affirming haircut, she explains. 

“It’s the hair professional’s job to take the time to understand who’s in their chair and what their lifestyle is — to know what they want, how they want to be perceived, and how they want to feel inside,” Lover said.

Like Jade Rabbit, Bohemian Style House strides to take gender out of the equation when providing services to affirm anyone’s identity.

Bohemian was the first salon in Charlotte to offer hourly pricing rather than pricing for women’s and men’s haircuts. For someone who identifies as nonbinary or trans, seeing a list of services without gender offers security; whatever haircut they’re looking for doesn’t have to be defined.

Candace Stamper, co-owner of Bohemian Style House, has been doing hair for 17 years. Stamper and business partner Mary Scott purchased the salon’s property in 2020 and have since advocated for the queer community through their work.

a portrait of Bohemian Style House co-owner Candance Stamper
Candance Stamper (right) (Photo by Kelsey Mard)

Stamper is intentional when it comes to creating a safe and inclusive environment for those in the queer community through Bohemian’s business practices.

“Most of us wear pins on our aprons with our pronouns on them,” Stamper explained. “When you fill out our new client forms, there’s a place to put your pronouns as well.”

Bohemian often does volunteer work with Transcend Charlotte, a nonprofit that supports transgender folks, and is currently working on building an event within the salon to offer free gender-affirming haircuts. 

Transcend Charlotte has greatly aided Charlotte’s LGBTQ+ community. Amongst their several programs, one called Xpression Space offered an affirming place for those within the community looking to explore their gender expression. 

Xpression Space offered free clothing, makeup, shoes, binders, breast forms as well as free gender-affirming haircuts, though the space’s future is currently in limbo as Transcend deals with divestment issues from a partnering organization. 

Bohemian Style House also offers a “pay-when-you-can” program for those who don’t have as much disposable income.

“We find a lot of teenagers and young queer people who don’t have as much disposable income to pay $100, $150, $175 for a haircut,” said Stamper. “We let our stylists choose when they want to offer appointments individually, and then we post about it on Instagram.” 

The future of Charlotte’s hair scene

Stamper pointed out that there’s still a strong separation of ethnicities in the salon and beauty spaces of Charlotte, as well as a problem around exploitation of hair stylists. 

Stamper has heard stories where clientele don’t want to be touched by a different ethnicity and where a stylist’s coworkers were blatantly discriminatory by referring to the stylist as “it,” (even though their pronouns are they/them.)

a portrait of hairstylist Hannah Baxter providing a haircut
Jade Rabbit (Photo by Storm Lover)

“One of my rules is, if you’re being racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic … you will be asked to leave in the middle of your service. I don’t care — I will ask you to leave because you don’t deserve to occupy the space with other people when you’re speaking hatred,” Stamper says.

She added that she’s noticed many salons will pay lip service to inclusivity, but draw a line at a certain point in the LGBTQ spectrum. They can accept those who identify as gay or lesbian, but start to get uncomfortable when folks who are non-binary or trans show up.

“For a lot of people, inclusivity does stop at some point. It’s understandable for someone to say, ‘I’m uncomfortable because I’m not familiar with pronouns,’ or, ‘I’m uncomfortable because I don’t want to say the wrong thing,’” she explained. “That’s when you educate yourself and then move on from there.”

Read more: Stylists Tie Lack of Knowledge on Textured Hair to Education Shortfalls

Rebekah Leonard, a haircutting specialist and co-owner of The Cut in NoDa, believes that Charlotte’s hair and beauty scene needs more consistent effort when it comes to supporting the queer community. For a short amount of time during Pride Month, there seems to be support, but that falls off for the rest of the year, Leonard says.

“I think walking the walk and also talking the talk is important. Staying educated and knowledgeable about what being queer-friendly means is part of the walk when providing a queer-friendly space and a safe space for trans people,” Leonard said. 

To Leonard, creating a safe space means that the physical environment isn’t heavily gendered. Having gender neutral restrooms is important to help folks feel like they aren’t fighting for who they are and can be themselves without worrying about someone else judging them. 

a portrait of hair-specialist Rebekah Leonard from The Cute in NoDa
Rebekah Leonard (Photo by Kara Perry)

For Leonard, there’s nothing more fulfilling than making someone feel confident and comfortable in their own skin.

“I had a client come in who’s transitioning right now, and he was looking for a cut that was more masculine,” she explained. “We’ve been slowly transitioning into more and more masculine styles, and he’s really been loving it.”

“It feels good to know I’m able to provide that for someone and see them feeling confident while they’re still in the chair,” she said.

Read more: Ten Beauty Salons in Charlotte That Prioritize Inclusivity and Talent

Places like The Jade Rabbit, Bohemian Style House, The Cut, Explicit Salon, Bishops and Mane Vibe Collective continue to build strong communities that celebrate self-expression, identity and the importance of safe spaces for queer individuals.

They break the barriers of what it means to have a gender-affirming haircut by focusing on providing exemplary services through open and clear communication that’s free of judgment and full of support.

A gender-affirming haircut, put simply, is an affirming haircut for anyone. Whether you’re wanting to change your look or looking to explore new parts of your identity, you’ll be leaving the chair knowing a little bit more about who you are. 

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One Comment

  1. I’d hardly say bohemian is inclusive. Maybe inclusive of some mean girls and the money they raise as donations go to themselves. Source = me, former employee

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