3 LGBTQIA+ Hair Pros on Exploring Queer Identity Through Hair

06/29/2021

Although some may think that hair is “just hair,” for many folx in marginalized communities, there is more to hair than meets the eye. For some, it’s a sign of protest. For others, it’s an expression of their cultural heritage and ethnic roots. And when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community, hair is the lens through which many choose to explore their identity.

In a world where many Queer folx are subjected to discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, hair is one element they can find solace in. With every major hair change — whether it be a new style, cut, or color, Queer folx are given an opportunity to present themselves to the world in a way in which they actually want to be seen.

To better explore the significance of hair to the LGBTQIA+ community, The Tease spoke to three Queer hair pros about the importance of hair, how their hair has helped shape their identity, and how the hair industry can better include them.

Lane Cook, @myhairmagick (she/her)

Hair colorist and curly hair specialist

How do you describe or feel about your relationship with your hair?

I have a very close relationship with my hair. We have been through a lot. For years, I damaged my hair with relaxing/flat ironing, etc. to fit into the White patriarchal ideal of beauty. When I came out as a lesbian at 21, I cut my hair very short (a Mohawk style) and started coloring it crazy colors to fit the “White queer” ideal. Now at 30, I identify as pansexual. I have dropped this White cis/het view of how I “should” look as a Black Queer Woman. I have my grown out hair, I only wear my natural texture and protective styles, but I still keep my curls dope ass colors.

A haircut can be transformative. Is there a particular cut or style that you’ve had that felt very distinctive or significant to you?

My hair as it is now — natural, big, curly, wild, and bright (currently orange) — is my truest form. I have never felt more beautiful than I do now. I feel as though my self-expression is always evolving as I gain more confidence in who I am, a Black Queer Woman and as I do the work to heal my own trauma and white conditiioning.

Why do you think expression through hair is so important to a lot of people in the LGBTQIA+ community?

I don’t speak for the entire LGBTQIA+ community, but I used to use my hairstyle and hair color as a form of protest to the cisgender hetero “norms” pushed on me from society. I think other queer people use their creative hair expression, among many others, for this reason. Now, I just do whatever the hell I feel like with my hair because I don’t care what message people think I’m portraying — I’m authentically portraying me. Also, hair color is fun! Why wouldn’t we want to have fun with our appearance. Life is too short not to do what makes us happy.

Are there any hair brands or companies that are positively representing the LGBTQIA+ community right now? If so, who?

To positively represent the Queer/Trans community you would need to positively represent the BIPOC Queer/Trans commnity, which I haven’t seen yet from any big name brands, except from Amika and Cult+King.

How can hair brands and companies ensure that they are not capitalizing on or tokenizing queerness?

There are a lot of popular brands that come with special Pride edition products etc. but aren’t really actually doing anything to support the Black and Brown Trans/Queer communities that are at risk. Selling rainbow merch is not support, especially if the profits aren’t going to BIPOC LGBTQIA+ organizations. Their “gestures” of support barely scratches the surface. Black and Brown Trans and Queer folx are the most disadvantaged and marginalized people in this industry and in society. These big brands love taking inspiration/creativity from these communities but aren’t paying us as much as our white peers or hiring us for leadership roles like creative directing, social media management, or education. We aren’t represented in the mainstream hair industry, yet all of our styles and swag are.

What changes would you like to see from hair salons and barbershops in terms of how they cater to the LGBTQIA+ community?

I want to see MORE Black and Brown Queer bodies in their campaigns and advertising, in their social media posts, and in positions of power in their companies/salons/barbershops. This industry and most salons/barbershops are oversaturated by White cis heternormativity and we are tired of the lack of representation and inclusion. The hair industry would be nowhere without queer bodies and the LGBTQIA+ commuity would be nowhere without Black and Brown folx.

Aika Flores, @aikafloreshair (she/her)

Celebrity groomer and co-owner of Project The Studio

How do you describe or feel about your relationship with your hair?

I’ve built my persona around my hair and feel that it is one of my defining traits. When I came out in high school, the first thing I wanted to do was change my look. I’m not sure if it was a rebellious thing or something that just felt right in the  moment, but I’ve always been adventurous with my hair and felt like changing it would play a huge role in both coming out and finding myself within my new queer identity. While I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the phrase, “it’s just hair,” I always tell myself the phrase when I’m about to change my hair drastically. I’ve found that with every new haircut comes a newfound confidence in my clothes and personality. Now, I keep it pretty simple with shaved sides and a long, textured top.

A haircut can be very transformative. Is there a particular cut or style that you’ve had that felt very distinctive or significant to you?

The first time I cut my hair short was in 5th grade right after I watched the first Harry Potter film. It was definitely one of the first times I wanted to be more masculine than feminine. I badly wanted to look like Harry Potter! During the first couple of movies, he had shaggy, long, boyish hair that felt so right to me. I remember asking my grandma, who was also a hairdresser, the night I came home from the movies to cut all of my hair off. I don’t think my grandma really understood what I actually wanted, and I ended up with a bowl cut. Even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I remember not caring because for the first time ever, I felt really confident with my new, short hair.

Why do you think expression through hair is so important to a lot of people in the LGBTQIA+ community?

I feel like a lot of the Queer community build their identity around their hair. It can be such a big defining characteristic. Everyone has different aspects of their own appearance that are particularly important to them and the queer community, in my opinion, has the strongest feelings about their hair. Hair can often be what makes queer people feel connected to the rest of the community. Queer folks will always find each other, and our hair can be that beacon.

How you wear your hair can definitely make or break your confidence. Being visibly queer isn’t always easy, so we might as well look good while doing it. Having my hair short doesn’t make me more gay than the next person, and while there’s no rainbow rulebook that determines your “queer” look, getting my sides shaved felt true to me and it was when I felt the most openly confident. I read as queer, which was pretty validating for my idenity early on. As a hairstylist for 8 years, it has always been my pleasure to be able to see someone light up when I give them the haircut that helps them identify with their inner selves, outwardly!

Are there any hair brands or companies that are positively representing the LGBTQIA+ community right now? If so, who?

Adler New York is an awesome skin and hair line that I accidentally discovered in my hotel bathroom during a job in New York. The line is based in Brooklyn and was founded by two best friends David J. Krause and Nino Zilka. It’s a queer and woman-owned beauty line dedicated to making clean beauty accessible to everyone! Their core philosophy revolves around the idea that skin and hair products have nothing to do with gender. Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown also recently founded a face and scalp product line called Mantl. A line inspired by bald individuals that can be used by anyone.

How can hair brands and companies ensure that they are not capitalizing on or tokenizing queerness?

By making sure that they are not only representing and respecting the queer person’s identity but also allowing queer voices to speak for their brand. By staffing queer individuals all the time, not only when they are asked why they are not represented in their teams and leadership. By making sure queer voices, stories, and people are respresented not only during Pride month, but all year round.

What changes would you like to see from hair salons and barbershops in terms of how they cater to the LGBTQIA+ community?

I’ve always made it a point to provide a caring and safe space for all individuals. It’s important to me that my clients feel welcomed, listened to, validated, and free from gendered assumptions when they visit my hair studio. Something as small as asking someone what their preferred pronouns are prior to starting their service can make a world of difference in the overall experience.

The hairdressing and barbering community needs to veer away from traditional approaches in how women need to have long hair to be desirable or men need to keep their hair short. We need to stop making assumptions as well as limiting people based on their assumed gender. Clients are in charge of their own identities and appearances. If we all listened and recognized that the clients are coming to and trusting us to help them feel their best, the community could begin to recognise that we are providing something far beyond just cutting or coloring hair.

Khane Kutzwell, @khanekutzwell (she/her)

Master barber and owner of Camera Ready Kutz

How do you describe or feel about your relationship with your hair?

I love my hair. I always have. I’ve had many styles and many colors. I’m always open to something new. It’s very rare that I keep the same style for years, besides when I had locs. I had those for 7 years.

A haircut can be very transformative. Is there a particular cut or style that you’ve had that felt very distinctive or significant to you?

I had locs for 7 years in the late ‘90s and when I cut them off that’s when I learned how much hair affects how people treat you. It was so jarring and interesting to experience how differently people treated me. When I had my locs I was greeted with lots of respect from men. I had doors opened for me and was spoken to gently. When I cut them off, I did not receive the same nice treatment. I wasn’t disrespected, but I definitely didn’t have doors automatically opened for me. Even the type of women that were attached to me changed. This was all before I even thought about becoming a barber. I never forgot the contrast in people’s behavior between me having locs and cutting them off. That experience gave me inspiration to make sure people always leave my chair feeling extra confident when I started my barbering profession because that confidence will help the client when they walk out the door and present their new look to the world.

Why do you think expression through hair is so important to a lot of people in the LGBTQIA+ community?

In the Queer community, hair helps to express what we feel inside. It helps us to look on the outside the way we feel on the inside, especially for the transgender community. Hair can also express a form of non-conformity, freedom and pride in individual self-expression which are all very important to our community.

Are there any hair brands or companies that are positively representing the LGBTQIA+ community right now? If so, who?

The Bevel brand donated hair products and trimmers to all of the barbers in my shop a couple of years ago as a “thank you” in recognition of what my shop does for the Queer community. Besides Bevel, I don’t personally know of any other hair care brands or companies that positively represent the Queer community, but I’m sure they do. I can say that there are many who support Black-owned and Woman-owned businesses like mine.

How can hair brands and companies ensure that they are not capitalizing on or tokenizing queerness?

Just like any other company, the best thing for hair brands and companies to do is make sure they’re hiring and the general work atmosphere is all inclusive. Basically, it’s about walking your talk even when no one is watching and all year round, not only during Pride Month.

What changes would you like to see from hair salons and barbershops in terms of how they cater to the LGBTQIA+ community?

I’m in the process of building that change with the beginnings of my barber school because that’s where it all starts. The mindset of what it means to be a barber needs to change. Barbering is a service industry. Barbershops and salons need to remember this, owners need to remember this. Barbers and beauticians need to think about how they would feel if someone treated them the way they treat the LGBTQIA+ community. I would like to see these shops see their businesses in a more professional light with a full service oriented view of how to treat clients.

Interviews have been lightly edited for lengths and clarity.

To see these incredible hair pros at work, be sure to follow @myhairmagick, @aikafloreshair, and @khanekutzwell on Instagram.

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Camille Nzengung

Camille Nzengung is a Features Editor at The Tease, where she covers all things hair. You can find her writing about the best hair products, the coolest hair trends, and all the exciting new hair launches.

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