Gay bashed at the barber shop

(As written for my forgiveness class at seminary)

I was gay bashed at a barber shop on Friday. Since moving to the bay, I’ve let down the pretense of being a masculine cis man, and have settled more into the effeminate behaviors that come naturally to me. As a result, if people don’t read me as trans, they read me as gay- and I had forgotten to view barber shops (and the culture of masculinity that often gets enforced there) as a threat.

The barbershop was well reviewed on yelp, by lots of people, so I just walked in and asked for what I normally ask for- the 4 on top and the 2 on the sides. I remember, when I sat down, that I watched myself cross my legs and fold my hands – “what a homo”, I thought to myself- but kindly, with a comfortable sense of identity and pride.

The abuse wasn’t physical or verbal beyond the nastiness that can be given in a quiet haircut- the pain that can be physically inflicted, the cuts that can be ignored, the irregular haircut that is dramatically different than what was asked for. I didn’t say anything, the whole time- I was socialized not to say any thing, and I kept choosing to assume that it would turn out okay- after all, maybe he was giving me a good haircut that I’d enjoy.

But I he wasn’t, and when I got back to my office, I realized how wrong the back was- how visibly irregular it was, how crooked his lines were, the patches of long hair left in places where it didn’t belong. It didn’t make sense, for a 1-chair barber shop that was so well reviewed.

Two hours later, I was sitting in a queer-run barber shop in a different part of Oakland, while the barber figured out how to turn my head into something that looked neat and intentional. He asked a few questions about what I had asked for, and made some comments to me and the barber next to him about what had happened. But it wasn’t until he asked me, “do you think you were being hated on?” that I let that possibility exist. And once it did, I realized I had been.

When I first realized how bad it was, I just felt ashamed, as if I had somehow contributed to the result. Once I identified that feeling, I recognized it as something that would pass. And as I moved throughout the day, that shame faded and was replaced by sadness, and the hard work of accepting this queer-hate as a reality that exists for me. Also the sadness and gratefulness that this type of attack on my identity is so uncommon, when for so many of my queer family members, every day is an attack. This is the exception, not the rule, in my life, and recognizing that made my heart break for all the work we have left to do.

But anger didn’t enter into it. That barber and I have very different life histories- I don’t know his, but our cultures and identities have been shaped and formed by the worlds we live in. I’m a young queer/trans dude who’s in the bay and able to afford the new price bracket, he’s an older chinese man who speaks some english, and has a well-reviewed barber shop in a neighborhood he’s likely to be rapidly priced out of. We have taken incredibly different paths to get to that room where I put my hair in his hands.

I’m sad that it happened to me- I’m sad that he’s the one to have done that to me. I’m sad that his neighborhood is disappearing as gentrification pushes outward from san fran and downtown oakland. I’m sad that the level of financial security I have, as a 20-something paying my way through grad school, could easily be on par or higher than his, through no rational difference of our work ethic or worth as human beings. I’m sad that when I put my head in his hands, the path that made the most sense to him was to hurt me in ways that I wasn’t expecting.

The barber that fixed my hair, I read as gay. And he took 40 minutes to gently undo as much of the damage that had been done as he could. His hands, as they moved over my strangely naked head, were healing hands, and I felt the love of my community hold me as he let me sit quietly and work through the deep sense of shame that I was washed in. By the end of the haircut, I could meet his eyes.

I don’t know if this is a story of forgiveness. I’m still processing the whole thing- I have not been bashed like this before. This is a very new experience, and I am still sad about it. Should I be angrier? Would that somehow make more sense? But this wasn’t a thing that makes sense any more than what happened in Paris, and Beirut, and Syria, this week. Aren’t we all led to various parts of our lives by the meanings we are led to, or that we create, that we hold to, that make sense for us as we go along our journeys? What are we, if not creations of our environments? And what response is there to that except to work towards changing those environments, and pouring love into the world?

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