Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Haircuts and big ears: learning to STFU

This year, on Pride weekend, I celebrated my love of the Elgybeeties by having the world's most righteous haircut.

They are explicitly LGBT-friendly. They have a sliding price scale where you pay what you can afford, so that even the impoverished can have queer hairdos. They have an option for you to indicate your preferred pronoun on the booking form.

They are Open Barbers, and they are awesome.

You know that awkward hairdresser conversation which rarely strays beyond the officially ratified safe topics of work, holidays, and split ends? Not here. We chatted about mutual friends, sordid pasts, Orange Is The New Black (which, thinking about it, is possibly the feminist/trans/ladygay equivalent of Nice Weather We've Been Having), Irish abortion law, Belgium's haircutting equality law, and, well, my haircut, obviously.

At the beginning of your appointment, you are also given the option not to chat at all.

I'd been thinking a lot about counselling training and empathic listening, about how, when talking to the women who call the Abortion Support Network hotline, your politics and beliefs are instantly sidelined: they're probably what brought you to the work in the first place, but they could hardly be less relevant to the woman on the other end of the phone. Like, if the woman you're talking to refers to Londonderry, that's what you call it for the rest of the conversation. If she says she lives in Northern Ireland, or Ulster, or The Unlawfully Occuppied Six Counties And By The Way I'm Still Pissed Off About The Treaty Of 1921 - well, you'd probably shorten the latter, but you don't, ever, correct her. She has the right to define her own life. When so much agency has been stripped away from her, the last thing she needs is you taking that little bit more. Similarly, you follow her lead in referring to The Pregnancy, or The Baby, or This Fucking Alien Parasite Squatting In My Uterus. If she tells you flat out, "I am going to hell for killing this baby," this is not the time to convince her of the righteousness of the pro-choice cause. You're there for the practicalities: first and foremost, to listen to her.

So during my revolutionary haircut, we were talking about the unexpected similarities between righteous barbering and volunteering for an abortion fund. Of the importance of listening to what people are actually telling you, leaving a blank slate inside yourself rather than a series of tick boxes. Monitoring your own responses so you're not giving people cues as to the "right" response, whether the question is "how long do you want your sideburns?" or "does anyone else know you're pregnant?".

It's something I try to do in life, as well; while there are some non-negotiables - like, if someone starts revving up the Men Are Just More Visually Stimulated Than Women bandwagon, I'm not going to respect their right to define the world as they see fit, because they're talking untrammeled bullshit and also disrespecting my right to define my own reality, so fuck them - when people are talking about stuff that matters, I make a conscious effort to leave a space around what they say rather than mentally shoehorning it into the most appropriate pigeonhole and racing to give them my own interpretation of what they've just said.

One of the most common ways I've screwed up around social justice stuff is in trying desperately to show how cool I am about someone's gender identity or ethnicity or whatever. "LOOK," I shout, metaphorically speaking, "I AM SO COOL ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU ARE NOT A STRAIGHT WHITE MIDDLE CLASS CIS DUDE, LET ME SHOW YOU HOW COOL I AM." I'm learning that, sometimes, just not responding - leaving that space open for them to say more - is infinitely more valuable. Chilling the fuck out, basically. Not leaping in with what you think they mean to show how read up on The Issues you are.

It's also a lot less tiring.

So back to Open Barbers.

They give you the haircut you actually want, rather than the one they think you should have. They give you the option to face away from the mirror while they're working. They create a sense of endless time, never making you feel like you should just cut your losses and accept a do you don't actually want rather than boring them any longer.

They are awesome, and you can book your very own righteous haircut here.

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