Photo credit: Josh @1000eyesphotography
I go by turtle (he/they) and am a 32 year old trans, Autistic person born and raised on stolen Lenapehoking territory (Brooklyn, NYC) by poor/working class Nuyorican and Salvadoran families.
The first time I got my hair cut at a barbershop was the Summer of 2016 in Harlem. I was just discovering my trans identity and my friend insisted on this rite of passage. I didn’t know what to ask for, so my friend spoke for me. Feeling the euphoria of a fresh cut, I made sure to memorize the instructions (“high skin fade”), which my friend let me know would ensure the longevity of the cut. But when I attempted to go to shops alone, I was often ignored, assumed to be another client’s girlfriend, or given cuts I didn’t ask for.
About a year later while housing my younger brother, I inherited his pair of corded Wahl Color Pro’s. I spent that year going to town on my hair, giving myself caesars and eventually trying fades. While it felt good to reclaim my hair after a lifetime of hair stylists (and now barbers) refusing to honor my bodily autonomy, I was not very good at it. In those days I had just two friends (jae & Genesiss) who would let me practice line ups on them, using the Silver Annie’s straight-razor Genesiss had gifted me. Though I wasn’t good at those self-cuts, I never went back to a barbershop.
In 2020, I turned 30 and leaned more deeply into my community care work, nourishing the friendships that made survival possible — whether we were paying for each other to live/eat, supporting one another’s endless transformations, or simply showing up. During this time, my friend Hazel gifted me corded Wahl Designers, and I found myself seduced by the world of self-cut tutorials on Youtube. At the end of that year, jae asked me to cut off all their hair in the midst of their own metamorphosis; afterward, I realized I could feel in my own body what it was that jae had needed to shed. That’s when I started to make connections between my care work and barbering.
With those early seeds planted, I went harder into study and found myself spending hours on Youtube, falling into a deeper fascination with all the things I was learning about hair. Word had started to get around that I cut hair, so it was important to me to feel prepared. It turned out I was not alone: a lot of us wanted cool haircuts, but didn’t know where to go that would feel safe, accessible, and affordable, even in our own neighborhoods.
Then my great grandmother, Luz, passed away on August 1st, 2021. Luz was 99 — I figured there was something to learn from her. So for forty days, I sat with her in the mornings to support her journey to the next place, inheriting more information about her life and spirit than I ever had while she was alive. With Luz’s support, I could see the next step so clearly… and so I began to tell my friends that I was ready to go to barber school. Within a few months time, I brought some of us together to help me envision how I could make this happen, started to fundraise my tuition, and enrolled for the first class of 2022. It was because of my relations and their webs of support that I was able to commit myself to something that is giving me life.
On April 29th, 2022, I completed the American Barber Institute’s 500-hour program and as of June 22, 2022 I am now a NYS Licensed Barber. My experience at ABI helped me to assert my values around care, consent, and providing affirming haircutting experiences for Queer & Trans people. And now — with your support, and across our many care webs — I hope to humbly continue this practice.