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Hair Salons For The LGBTQIA+ Community: Barbershops & Beauty Spaces Leading The Way, And What Needs To Change


Hair salons are a place of joy for many people. As well as a space to feel looked after and pampered, it’s somewhere to chat, relax and spend a little time on yourself. And for so many, hair is an expression of self and identity.

But for some, booking an appointment at a salon isn’t just about finding space in the diary or deciding whether to try a balayage this summer. For a proportion of the LGBTQIA+ community, salons and barbershops can feel intimidating and unwelcoming, based on a number of gender stereotypes that are still upheld within many beauty spaces.

Though often unconscious, long-held practices such as gendered pricing (and styling) and a lack of awareness towards the trans and non-binary community can make getting something as simple as a haircut – or even just considering it – a troubling experience for many.

A 2019 survey by Pantene found some worrying statistics. 93% of trans and non-binary people had been mis-gendered at a salon, and nearly a third feel stressed before every visit. Here in the UK, awareness platform Hair Has No Gender reports that over a quarter of LGBTQIA+ respondents have been told their hair needs to be more suited to their assumed gender while visiting a hair professional, and almost a third have been turned away from a barbershop due to their gender or sexual orientation.

GLAMOUR spoke to a number of members of the LGBTQIA+ community about their own experiences within beauty and grooming spaces, and how things can change for the better.

“Hair is one of those things that’s so personal”

Non-binary writer and activist Ben Pechey has a loyal hairdresser they trust to create their signature half-long half-short style, often driving for hours to visit them because the more local salons haven’t felt comfortable. 

“For me, a salon is one of those really scary places,” Ben says. “Without really trying, they state very binary gender options. It’s very much female spaces and male spaces. And when you sit outside of that, it’s like – where should I go? Where do I feel safe?

“For me, I’m too scared to go anywhere new. I’ve been to the same stylist for 12 years – I travel over an hour to get there. I tried other stylists, it just didn’t work for me. I have quite an ‘out there’ haircut, so at a barbers, they didn’t want to touch it, and going to a female salon, they’d try to convince me it was too much, or had other ideas about it. Having that confidence and trust in stylists has just never been there for me.”

For Ben, being in a salon is a vulnerable experience. “I’m very comfortable in who I am, but all it takes is speaking to someone who questions me to derail my day. Hair is one of those things that’s so personal. You’re at the mercy of a hairdresser when you’re sat in that chair… you never look worse than when you stare at yourself in that mirror! It’s a very vulnerable position to be in. When you throw in discomfort about how they’re going to address you… are they going to get my pronouns right, are we going to have to argue about the styling? It’s a big fear. At the moment, I don’t feel I can use any other salon.”

Like many of us, getting a haircut is an identity-affirming experience for Ben. “My hair is a big thing for me, because before I came out, I used to have to go to barbershops, which I hated.

“When I could finally pick where I wanted to go, choose a salon and pick the haircut I wanted, it was such an affirming moment for me. My hair sums me up. It’s individual, it’s exactly who I want to me. Going to a salon is self care; putting that gleam and shine back in. It’s a special experience, so feeling safe and comfortable is so important. And not having to worry. For many trans and non-binary people, every time we step out the door, we worry. Because there’s always a chance there’s going to be a situation or an altercation.”

“I used to go to women’s salons, but I would end up with a more feminine version of what I wanted”

Rhy Brignell tells GLAMOUR they have had mixed experiences at salons and beauty spaces as a non-binary person – and that it’s been difficult to get the cut they want due to gendered assumptions. “My style is androgynous and my current hairstyle leans towards a masculine cut,” they say. “My hair is a big component of my appearance – I enjoy experimenting with it and it allows me to express something fundamental about myself and my identity. 

“I’ve generally found that hairdressing spaces are quite clearly gendered – most places either do men’s or women’s hair (which is fine by me – most people are one of these things). I used to go to women’s salons, but I would end up with a more feminine version of what I wanted – more of a pixie style – or paying 3 or 4 times the price of what it would have cost in a barbers.

“When we came out of lockdown, I plucked up the courage to go to a barbers instead of a salon. I spent quite a while looking up the different barbers in my city online to see if I could read their vibes and asking my friends for their recommendations. My friends warned me away from a couple of places as they said they likely wouldn’t be welcoming to someone like me. I expected some curious glances but I did worry about outright hostility. 

“The first barber I tried was initially very friendly, and I chose them because they had photos of people that looked like me on their Facebook page. But the second time I went I got hit on by one of the guys in there, which was very uncomfortable. Hard to leave when he’s mid way through cutting your hair with scissors in his hand!” 

Rhy wants to make it clear that there are welcoming, safe and inclusive barbershops out there.”I tried a different place on a friend’s recommendation and they’ve been pretty great so far – shout out to Brothers in Norwich! They were welcoming from the start and treat me like any other customer. I really like the way they cut and style my hair.”

“When I first transitioned, there was a real lack of guidance on what space was okay to go into”

GLAMOUR also spoke with Cleo Madeleine, communications officer at charity Gendered Intelligence, about her own experiences in beauty spaces as a trans woman – and the organisation’s stance on the salon industry.

“Many years ago, when I first transitioned, there was a real lack of guidance on what space was okay to go into – and I think there still is, to an extent,” she says. “And that really compounds the anxiety around whether or not you’re going to experience transphobia, whether you’re going to be allowed to access these spaces.”

She offers that the fear and anxiety around attending a salon as a trans or non-binary person is potentially a lot larger than actual incidences of discrimination – and that the beauty industry is mainly positive in its treatment of LGBTQIA+ people from her own experience. But the stress factor is still very real.

“There are lots and lots of trans people – and this was me for many years – who avoid hair salons, nail salons and beauty salons, because they are too anxious to get through the door in the first place, rather than that they’ve had a bad experience,” she says. “So I do try to encourage people to move past that fear.”

But there are things salons, hairdressers and barbers can do to help with that. “The absolutely key thing is for people to be comfortable talking to trans or gender non-conforming people,” she says. “If you’re not sure how someone should be addressed – feeling comfortable asking their pronouns, being mindful that not everybody who wants to access a salon will look a certain way. You might have people who look less ‘masculine’ who want to use a barbershop, for example.

“The issues tend to arise not because people are transphobic or need to be less transphobic, but because they’re worried about getting it wrong – and so they might push away trans or non-binary people trying to use their services. I think being able to say to people, ‘I’m sorry I got that wrong, what can I do in future?’, is so much more powerful than feeling like you need to be completely up to speed in trans issues, or have the place decked out in Pride flags or something.”

“The hair industry has its roots deep in tradition”

Barber Keri Blue launched Hair Has No Gender UK – an organisation that aims to educate hairdressers and barbers in making their salons more LGBTQIA+ friendly – after feeling let down by the hair industry themself.

“Getting refused a haircut 12 years ago in Brighton made me want to train as a barber, and over the years I’d always felt it was very much men in one salon and women in another,” they say. “Then after coming out as non-binary and not having my pronouns respected, I decided during lockdown I would see if this happened to anyone else. I started a survey and got such a great response so decided there needs to be more gender identity education to help the industry change for the better.”

The survey found that 96% of respondents who are LGBTQIA+ would rather go to a recognised supportive space to have their hair done, and that more than half have felt anxious before going to a barbershop due to how they identify, or based on previous experiences.

Of the gendered nature of salons, Keri says: “The hair industry has its roots deep in tradition – with typical styles for men and typical styles for women – and we’ve lived for a long time without anybody questioning that. It’s only really in the last couple of decades that LGBTQIA+ people can truly be themselves – although that’s still not the case for everyone – so people who don’t fit into the gender norms of society are often missed out completely. 

“Salons are scared to embrace the change because they feel like it might upset their current clientele, which is a sign of how little people know about our community.”

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Making a change

Gladly, there are now a number of genderless or queer-friendly salons opening across the UK – as well as solo hairdressers and barbers who have left mainstream salons to cater to LGBTQIA+ clientele. A number of established salons are removing things like gendered pricing from their service menus, too, which is particularly excluding for non-binary people.

“This is part of a much bigger conversation around service prevision for non-binary people in general,” says Cleo. “So much of what we do, whether it is grassroots sports, beauty services or healthcare, is gendered. A lot of it is habit, rather than because it necessarily needs to be gendered. The visibility of non-binary people is so poor – we’re talking about tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people in the UK – they’re forced to make arbitrary choices when they don’t have to. For some non-binary people, it may be that a hair salon or a barbershop suits them fine. But ultimately, gendering these spaces in the first place is in itself a form of exclusion.”

Salons such as London’s Not Another Salon have their staff members wearing their pronouns on a pin, while others simply list themselves as LGBTQIA+ friendly on their social channels. But most importantly, it’s about kindness and acceptance.

Ben has a suggestion. “Salons don’t do it so much anymore, but when you used to go you would fill out a client care card,” they say. “There’s a lot of online booking now, but even an online form would work. Clients could put their pronouns in, and any experiences they’ve had before – then you could state that you’re nervous of going to a hairdresser based on a certain experience. I think trans and non-binary people could front a bit of trauma there, by letting the hairdresser know about anxiety about gendering or feeling unwelcome, or that someone has refused to do your cut before. I think that would really help stylists out too, in how to take care of people and make them feel comfortable – and trans and non-binary people would feel that they’re going into a safe and welcoming space.”

There are a number of wonderful salons and barbershops in the UK that are leading the way when it comes to LGBTQIA+ inclusion – scroll down to meet them…





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