A non-binary barber says they are ready to tear up the hair industry’s rulebook after their own experiences with discrimination. Keri Blue is determined to change the way Manchester’s trans and non-binary community get a haircut.
About ten years ago, they were living in Brighton and tried to get a haircut at a local barbers. Keri, who uses they/them pronouns, asked a member of staff if they could get a skin fade and was refused service. Keri said the experience still stays with them today.
“I’ll never get over being refused a haircut,” Keri, originally from West London, tells the MEN “All I wanted was a skin fade – it’s something that any man could have. They said they couldn’t cut a female’s hair because they weren’t insured to do so. But there is actually no such thing as being insured to cut women’s hair.”
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Keri, who identified as female at the time, said the experience made them feel embarrassed and upset. They explain: “It made me feel like s***, to be honest.
“I was really upset and gutted about the whole situation. Once you put a gown on someone, why should it matter what’s between your legs and why should it decipher how people cut your hair?”
Ten years after Keri’s experience, it’s sadly something that many trans and non-binary people still go through. Earlier this year, transgender man James was refused service at a Bolton barber shop. James said the experience made him feel ‘ashamed of his body’ after the barber said they were ‘only qualified for men’s haircuts’.
“After what I experienced, I never wanted anyone to have to go through that again,” Keri said. “I learned to be a barber so that I could stop people being refused a haircut.”
Keri is now a qualified barber in the Northern Quarter, specializing in everything from wet shaves to afro hair. All while coming to terms with their own identity of her. Keri has been cutting hair for just over four years now.
“My gender identity has been something I’ve been struggling with my entire life and it’s only recently that I’ve started to become more comfortable with it,” Keri said. “As I was working at various places, I would ask if staff could use they/them pronouns just because I wanted to see how it felt.
“I remember one person being like ‘nah, if you’ve got tits then you’re a girl’. They just wouldn’t respect my decision. I realized I couldn’t work in an industry that didn’t support trans and non-binary people.”
With that in mind, Keri decided they would need to be the change they wanted to see. And that’s where Hair Has No Gender came about. Not only operating as a barber service for anyone – without fear of being misgendered or judged – it also serves as a chance to educate hair professionals on removing the barriers of gender identity.
Hair Has No Gender works on a per time basis. Customers are charged for the amount of time it takes to cut or style their hair based on what they ask for. They will also receive consultations, advice and support in a confidential, discrete and welcoming setting.
“If you just take away gender and do it by the skill or the time then surely it’s easier and it makes everyone feel they can walk into somewhere and be accepted?,” Keri asks. “It seems really obvious but gender is something that the industry has installed as normal.
“It’s illegal in Finland to charge people based on gender. We’re so backwards when it comes to things like that. But the more we fight it, the more awareness there will be.”
Having come across Keri’s business, Sam Marshall, the founder of The Beauty Guru at MediaCityUK, got in touch with them last year to invite them to attend a panel on the beauty and hair industry. The pair later came up with the idea of teaming up on something even bigger together.
“What Keri does for hair is what I am trying to do for the beauty world,” Sam explains. “I’ve worked with the trans community for quite a while and noticed how often they feel there are very limited spaces they can go where they feel safe.”
The Salford beauty therapist, who is also a committee member on the British Beauty Council, said she knew there was scope to create a trans awareness course that could be taught to businesses in beauty, hair and hospitality. Teaming up with Keri, she said, was a no-brainer.
The Be Trans Aware courses are created with support from the national transgender charity Sparkle, with 10% going back to the charity. “We want to go right from where people start their beauty or hair careers in college right up to the top to the directors who feel they know what they’re doing and don’t know much about this,” Sam added.
“I’m not trans or non-binary so I don’t have the lived experience that Keri has. But together we talk about the use of pronouns, representation, misgendering – all the things that can really make or break that experience for someone .
“We’ve had messages from people saying they’ve since had trans customers in and they were so pleased to see they were implementing these changes. We’ve found that people don’t know what they don’t know. But it doesn’t just help with their work, it helps with their everyday life.
“It’s basically just about making sure people are treated equally and anyone who comes to that space feels included and welcomed. That’s all it’s about – being nice humans.”
Sam and Keri, who are now in a relationship and live together in Manchester, said it’s very much a service that is needed right now.
“I have clients who come in one name and leave another because they’re too scared to live their lives,” Keri says. “People will cry during their haircut because it’s one of the first times they feel they are being listened to and valued.
“That one hour with me in the chair is the only time many of my clients feel they can live their authentic lives. We are in such a powerful position to make people feel empowered about themselves.
“The feeling of looking in the mirror and feeling in your head how you look for the first time is something that’s so overwhelming and euphoric – It’s something I can’t explain.
“Launching this has helped my own journey. There was a time where I felt like I genuinely might be the only non-binary person in the world. But it’s been like therapy for me as well as for some of the clients.”
And Keri says that they want Hair Has No Gender to be something for anyone who feels the traditional barber or salon experience is not for them. “I want anyone to come to me – I’d even accept dogs if I knew how to groom them,” Keri laughs.
“I know a lot of people don’t feel that comfortable getting a haircut. There are cis, straight women who have been refused a haircut because they have been told they are too pretty to have short hair or told they can’t get a skin fade. We live in a very binary world where things are very male or female and I think it’s now time to make those changes.
“I’m not trying to eradicate what exists and it’s important that some people still have those options, but it’s just about being mindful that there are others who maybe don’t fit that bracket and that they need to be welcomed too.
“Seeing people being refused a haircut breaks my heart for so many reasons and not just because I can identify with how that feels. I need anyone who experiences that to come and see me because that would never happen with me. If this is one thing that can make someone’s life easier – where they can feel comfortable having a haircut – then I’m gonna do it.
“We educate ourselves on style and hair, why can’t we just educate each other on how to be decent human beings and accept one another? It’s old-school and it’s getting boring now – it’s time to change.”
You can follow Keri on Instagram, where you can inquire about a haircut. You can also follow Hair Has No Gender and Be Trans Aware on Instagram.
Read more stories from the Manchester Evening News here.