Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to run rampant across the globe, claiming lifestyles, livelihoods, and human lives. But as a queer Brooklynite more than a week into social distancing, the scope of this public health crisis truly sank in last Friday, March 20, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all tattoo studios, hair and nail salons, and barbershops in the tristate area to close indefinitely.
I’m in the chair now for an emergency fade with gloves. Barber has on a mask. https://t.co/7n6J0WDPZU
— Michael Arceneaux (@youngsinick) March 20, 2020
I kid, kind of. We’re all navigating the newfound sense of “plague dread” that has descended upon us in different ways. For me, that looks like mimicking my “normal” by sticking to everyday habits while social distancing—think showering and getting dressed to work from home, taking regular breaks for at-home exercise, etc. And, barring my daily work commute and weekly therapy sessions, getting my fade touched up at my favorite barbershop was one of the only truly regular fixtures of my pre-coronavirus life.
On the grand scale of things, is a biweekly haircut really that much of a loss? No, especially not in the face of a viral pandemic with a growing death toll. But it is another creature comfort to succumb to COVID-19, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t clinging to every shred of normalcy I can grasp right now.
I’m not the only LGBTQ person who feels this way. Leo Rocha, a gay New Yorker who “religiously [gets] a haircut every 30 days,” tells me he’s not sure how to handle this new facet of the pandemic. As a recent NYC transplant, Rocha has yet to find a regular barber, so he’s unable to remotely consult anyone for guidance. He’s lucky enough to have some clippers of his own on-hand, though, and desperate times call for desperate measures.
“If it gets to a certain point, I may be tempted to just give it a whirl,” he admits. “But I also don’t want to look like a clown.”
Personally, I’m with Rocha, and may or may not have already pleaded my roommate to “learn a new skill” and give me a very overdue touch-up on the sides of my pixie cut. The impetus for a panic-induced “quarancut” is real: NewNowNext contributor Bobby Box confesses that he shaved his “entire body”—including his head—from the comfort of his Toronto home last week. Why the drastic measure? “Not sure!”
standing in solidarity with all my folks who are about to see a full head of their natural hair color for the first time in 10 years
— Greg Mania (@gregmania) March 16, 2020
Greg Mania, a queer New York-based writer, says he got his last haircut in “the beginning of February, so about 27 panic attacks ago.” Jokes aside, however, Mania tells me he treats looking well-coiffed at all times as a means of self-expression. He views his hair as an external representation of how he feels inside, he explains, “and if I neglect that, I neglect my sense of self.”
That sentiment was echoed repeatedly by transgender, gender nonconforming, and butch folks, who flooded my DMs after I put out a tweet asking if I was the only queer person plagued by this extremely important and not-at-all vain dilemma. One friend cited the importance of regular haircuts as an affirmation of her butch identity. Another—a trans woman—mentioned how difficult it was for her to find a trans-affirming stylist at all. With her salon of choice closed for the time being, she isn’t just losing a regular appointment—she’s losing contact with a trusted provider whose support she values.
Mania also misses his “hairy godmother” Amanda Jane, a New Jersey-based colorist and stylist. I’m in a similar position: At a week-and-a-half into social distancing, I’d give just about anything for a visit to my stylist, Stevie Barbieri. Barbieri, a stylist of four years, works at Hairrari, a queer-owned salon with three locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. With Hairrari closed, Barbieri tells me she’s been thrown for a loop financially and emotionally.
“If we don’t work, we don’t get paid, so this is a really daunting time for stylists,” she explains. “Aside from the financial stress, the hardest part for me has been the lack of social contact. I talk to and touch people all day long. The drastic change of not being able to work at all has been emotionally jarring.”
Sydney Shlakman, a nonbinary stylist of eight years and fellow Hairrari employee, echoes Barbieri’s observation about interpersonal connection. It goes both ways, they explain: “I think what’s so special about getting a professional haircut is the human connection. Working in a shop where we have so many queer clients is so special and inclusive—I think it helps people feel more comfortable and more like themselves. Getting a haircut allows for a relationship between stylist and client, and I think that both parties walk away with a sense of community and also confidence.”
Wondering what you can do to support stylists and other beauty and grooming professionals amid the pandemic? Since there’s no clear end in sight for social distancing and self-quarantining measures, stylists I spoke to recommend contacting your salon of choice and inquiring about a donation-based relief fund for employees. (Hairrari, for instance, has launched a GoFundMe to support stylists while the salon remains closed.)
Barbieri also suggests virtually tipping your stylist whatever funds you had already set aside for haircuts in March and April via Venmo or Paypal. Some stylists—Barbieri included—plan to offer video tutorials to teach clients how to do simple trims or touch-ups at home. (Shlakman recommends their clients “keep the [at-home] cuts to just clean ups,” and Barbieri agrees, with one caveat: “Have fun! Hair grows back!”) I even got intel from Autostraddle that the queer publication is hosting a live haircutting demo on Instagram this Wednesday, March 25 at 8pm.
Most importantly, though, you can help slow the spread of the virus by staying home and minimizing physical contact with others.
“This is so crucial because in order for us to get back to normalcy in the future, we have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus,” Shlakman advises. “Wash your hands, stay inside, and be kind to your neighbors and colleagues! We need it right now.”
Plus, Barbieri brings up a good point: If you’ve ever been tempted to “grow out your hair or push through an awkward phase,” then now is a perfect time to do so.