Hair Raising Questions at the Hair Salon
So I decided to try a new hair salon. After asking what kind of cut I wanted (it’s been the same cut for years), the stylist wrapped me in the salon cape and proceeded to cut my hair. We engaged in harmless small talk. Some people like to enjoy peace and quiet while receiving a haircut, but I don’t mind friendly conversation.
“Are you single?”
I’m used to this curveball.
“Oh? What does she do for a living?”
“He works in construction.”
She seemed shocked. She put down her scissors.
“He? Really? You don’t look or act gay.” She said this loudly. Some of the other customers could obviously hear.
Look or act gay. I took a deep breath. OK, I thought, I’ll let this one pass.
“Well, I am gay,” I explained.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said, almost trying to assure herself there wasn’t. Of course, even saying it implies that there might be. She proceeded to tell me about her friend who worked for a cruise line. “I’m pretty sure he’s gay,” she explained, “But he doesn’t know it. He’s married and, believe me, he is soo gay. Do you think he’s gay?”
“Listen—I have no idea if your friend is gay. How could I know?”
“Oh. Okay. Well, I was just wondering, because he definitely seems gay. I have another question.”
“In your relationship, which one is the man?”
Now we’ve crossed a line, I thought. Clearly, this woman was ignorant. I tried to remain calm. I didn’t really plan to openly discuss my sex life in a hair salon.
“We are both the man because we’re both men.”
“Oh...I see.” It sounded as if she hadn’t really considered that fact.
The cape felt tight around my neck, like a medieval neck restraint. Options? I could walk out without paying—with what would appear to be the haircut of an Amish boy—or I could sit there and try to educate this woman about gay sex. I wanted to ask, “Can’t you just Google this?”
I found the situation extremely awkward, but perhaps even awkwardness can be transformative. I wasn’t sure if she’d even met anyone who was openly gay—which I found unusual for Rehoboth.
If I walked out, the misconceptions would continue to exist. If I allowed her comments to make me angry, I would leave her with a negative impression of LBGTQ folk. I figured listening to her and calmly addressing her misconceptions was the best way out of this quandary. So I allowed her to ask about my life, and I answered any questions she had. I realized she really meant no harm—she was genuinely curious and wanted to know more.
I have some friends who will probably tell me I should’ve reacted more, but I’ve found that not much good can come from a place of anger, especially reactionary anger. I’m not sure if I handled the situation in the best way possible—but, I prefer others to be open and honest with me, so shouldn’t I be open and honest with others?
I do believe there should be boundaries for what is appropriate at-work discussion, but hey—we’re all learning, here. I could have reported her to her manager. I could have withheld a tip. But really, what good would any of that do?
Instead we talked about gay relationships, gay sex, gay anything else she wanted to know about while the other customers eavesdropped. And that was fine.
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “Your partner is 25 years older than you, and he’s not your sugar daddy?”
“That’s correct. Not my sugar daddy.”
I left that day with the same haircut I always get, but something was different—the anger had faded, and I felt acceptance. I imagined the woman after work, proudly explaining to family members her new vocabulary: “bear,” “twink,” and “cub.” ▼
James Adams Smith works as an English tutor at Delaware Technical & Community College and is studying to become an occupational therapist.