Friar Tuck’s Barbershop offers style, peace and purpose

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For many Utahns, getting their hair cut can often be trivial or routine. But for Utahns who navigate the sometimes complicated landscape of gender and identity, getting a haircut can be a more important prospect – practically and emotionally.

“Your hairstyle, for queer and trans people, is almost as important as gender-affirming surgery or hormones or any other way you experience your transition and your identity,” said Patrick Costigan. “That first haircut, for a lot of people, is life changing. It is invigorating. “

Costigan, who works as a campaign manager for the Democratic Party in Utah, is a trans man. He was worried as he searched for a new barber after moving to Salt Lake City from Chicago, he said, as he wasn’t sure he could replace the experience he had in a salon. queer hairstyle there. But when he went to the Friar Tuck barber shop, as recommended by his friends, he said he was “super impressed”.

Kylee Howell founded Friar Tuck’s Barbershop to provide a safe space for LGBTQ people to have their hair cut after facing gender and identity issues related to their hair in their own lives. The one-chair store, which is heavily adorned with pride flags and queer literature, is located at 11 W. and 1700 South.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kylee Howell, owner of Friar Tuck’s Barber Shop in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

Howell opened the store after graduating from barber school in their hometown of Price in 2015. They were inspired by a restaurant there that donated a portion of the sales to a charitable organization. nonprofit and wanted to open a business that could also give back to the community.

Originally, they wanted to give the store the name Robin Hood to fit this theme of giving back to the community. But they chose Brother Tuck instead because of his desire to educate and his compassion for the marginalized. (His skills with a sword and an unusual haircut made him a particularly good fit to partner with a barbershop, Howell said.)

Haircut is common in Howell’s family – their uncle worked as a barber at Price, and their mother owned a beauty salon and worked as a Mary Kay consultant. They grew up around feminine things, they said, but didn’t feel like a “particularly feminine person.”

“It’s interesting because I grew up in this small town, I knew something was wrong with me – that I was different – but I had no word for it,” said Howell. “I didn’t hear the word ‘lesbian’ until 1999 or 2000. My sister had a friend who turned out to be a lesbian and I was like, ‘What is a lesbian? And she was like, ‘I’m a crazy girl instead of a crazy boy.’ And immediately I was like, ‘Oh, so that’s what I’ve been trying to ignore since year two.’ “

“There are so many layers of bullying”

When Howell decided to have his hair cut for the first time, they headed to a salon. After expressing slight disappointment with the femininity of the cut, the stylist recommended that they try a hair salon instead.

“As a queer person, I just couldn’t have super comfortable experiences [at barbershops]”Howell said.” I struggled to get the haircut I wanted, like people wanted to leave it on longer to make it more feminine. Or I found the barber shop that would give me the cut hair that I wanted, but I sort of just sat there in silence. Barbers weren’t talking to me even though they were talking to other clients, so I felt like it wasn’t my space. ‘to be.

Some barber shops have banned women from serving altogether, Howell said.

Howell began to hear about similar experiences from their LGBTQ friends. “If they were trans, for example, they weren’t comfortable talking about hormones and beyond that, they prayed that it wouldn’t be revealed in this type of atmosphere,” said Howell.

“I’ve talked to a lot of gay men who talk about changing codes at the barber shop and trying to look straight. I talk to a lot of gay women who say going to the hairdresser is uncomfortable because they are constantly being hit and asked about their sexuality. They just want the haircut they want.

Howell decided they wanted to open a hair salon that would cater to LGBTQ people and opened a hair school in Price in 2014.

“I went to a very traditional barber school, like an old boys barber school, which was great because I learned a lot of basic barbering things…” Howell said. “Being part of this club, there was a lot of genre on techniques and all that. … It’s a very gendered industry.

Howell remembers an instructor who specifically told the class to only give men bob haircuts and women more rounded haircuts. They continue to use this training now, but not as originally intended by their instructor.

“By using that knowledge, I get the kind out of it,” Howell said. “When someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, I want a haircut that makes my face more masculine. Taking what I learned in barber school, I can use angles and square shapes to masculinize a haircut that lends itself to people who are just trying to figure things out.

This traditional barber training also helped them learn how to trim facial hair. Howell had shaved his face for a while, but did it the same way they shaved their legs. After obtaining more specific instructions for managing facial hair, Howell can now answer questions from clients who are also learning how to shave their face.

“As I had more and more transmasculine clients taking testosterone and their facials [hair] was happening, I realized they had no idea how to deal with it, ”Howell said. “It can be intimidating to just google it, because there is a lot of fetishization… You don’t really want to ask your friends because you don’t want to reveal yourself. There are so many levels of intimidation in finding this information that it becomes a terrible thing when it should be a celebration.

Recently, Howell brought in a client who had just made the switch. The client told Howell that she was waiting for her Cisgender friends to teach her how to apply makeup properly. She tried looking for tutorials on YouTube, but was overwhelmed by the amount of information. Howell used the knowledge they learned in their mother’s beauty salon and taught her how to do it for free.

“Fight for visibility and build relationships”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kylee Howell cuts BobbiJo Kanter’s hair at Friar Tuck’s Barber Shop in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

These types of interactions created a sense of community at Friar Tuck’s, and Howell said they were proud of the safe space they created for LGBTQ people.

“In working in politics in Utah, for some gay people, we have to keep a low profile…” said Costigan. “Friar Tuck’s has been a space where I can come to sympathize and let off steam and feel comfortable talking about my identity and my sexual orientation… These feelings are shared by everyone I know who goes to Friar Tuck’s. “

Costigan said there aren’t many spaces that promote discussion of queer issues like Friar Tuck’s in Utah.

“The queer community here in Utah is overwhelmed by a lot of things that are fundamentally different from my experience in the Midwest,” said Costigan. “There are a lot of people who can’t just go to a Great Clips in Draper… They feel like if they’re going to ask for a haircut that reflects their identity, they won’t be able to have that experience.”

Costigan said Howell’s genderless approach provides peace of mind for trans and non-conforming people as she recognizes that a haircut is not a gendered experience.

“Walking in spaces that force you to choose a gender, even if it’s inadvertent, can tip you over,” Costigan added. He has personally seen how Friar Tuck can transform the way people think about queer issues, he said, thanks to Howell’s activism.

Costigan worked as a campaign manager for Mayor Erin Mendenhall in 2019. Howell was then vice president of the Utah LGBTQ + Chamber of Commerce, and Costigan suggested that Mendenhall host a roundtable at Friar Tuck’s with community members.

“She arrived before the shoot we had in the store,” Howell said, “and we had a great discussion about her knowledge of the LGBTQ community and also her opportunities where she had blind spots.”

Mendenhall answered a few questions during the community session on Saturday, but mostly listened to Howell’s clients and friends talk about their struggles as LGBTQ people in Utah.

“Erin came out of there as completely transformed,” Costigan said. “She really had a better idea of, like, ‘It’s not just about same-sex marriage. It’s about allowing people to go to a bathroom that feels safe, and what can I do to make sure that happens. “

Mendenhall announced on June 4 that Salt Lake City employees and their eligible dependents can request gender-affirming surgery as part of their health care plans.

Howell has also spoken at the Utah State University-Eastern Diversity Conferences and plans to continue cutting homeless hair at the Volunteers of Utah Homeless Resource Center, after being forced to stop due of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“He is someone who is involved, not only to make sure that people feel comfortable with their hairstyle, but someone who is invested in the community in general …”, said Costigan. “When it comes to walking, I think Friar Tuck’s isn’t just a barbershop, it’s a place that fights for visibility and builds relationships with stakeholders who can make decisions. “

Howell thanks their community for keeping Brother Tuck afloat after state warrants forced the store to close. The store did not receive any CARES laws or unemployment benefits during the pandemic, they said.

Grateful for how their one-chair barbershop allows them to interact with people on a more intimate level, Howell thought the difficulties they encountered while trying to get a haircut at Price continued to grow. influence the way they run their business today.

“Now I’m joking that I’m a professional gay man,” Howell said. “I succeed not in spite of my homosexuality, but a little because of it.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friar Tuck’s Barber Shop in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.


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