Here's How to Find a Gender-Affirming Hair Salon — and Why It Matters

Image Source: By Sam Sulam, Courtesy of Strands for Trans

Going to a hair salon shouldn’t induce feelings of anxiety or stress, but for many in the LGBTQ+ community, that can be the reality. That’s what inspired Xavier Cruz and JP Gomez to start Strands for Trans, a nonprofit organization with a mission to create safe places for everyone to see a hairstylist without fear of discrimination.

It all started seven years ago when the couple came across a lawsuit out of Long Beach, CA, where a transgender man was denied a haircut by a local barbershop. “This infuriated both of us,” Cruz tells POPSUGAR. Knowing this was going on all over the world motivated him to take his 40 years of experience as a hairstylist, and his husband Gomez’s expertise as a creative director at an advertising firm, to launch into action.

“After working with my agency as a pro bono idea, we came up with Strands For Trans,” says Gomez. They wanted to create a database of gender-neutral salons where members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans people, could safely and comfortably enjoy hair services. When a salon registers online, they’re subsequently added to the digital database and have the option to purchase a special barbershop sticker to put in the window, further signifying that it’s a safe environment for transgender people. From there, anyone seeking a haircut simply has to input their zip code into the website for a list of participating salons in their area.

Initially, they didn’t know if it would be a success and if salons would even bother signing up, but two weeks later, they had a registered location in every state. “It was a snowball effect,” says Cruz. “A couple of weeks later, Marc Jacobs came to our shop here in Chelsea, NY, and he got his hair pink, white, and blue as a symbol of solidarity.” This helped raise widespread awareness of the mission. Fast forward five years and Strands for Trans has gone international with registered trans-friendly salons in 28 countries. “Right now we’re about 7,500 locations,” says Gomez. “Every day we’re counting more, and more, and more.”

Image Source: Courtesy of Strands for Trans

Now, the mission goes deeper than that. With a healthy, growing database of registered salons, Cruz and Gomez have turned their focus to education. “We are very aware that the beauty and the fashion industry want to be inclusive when it comes to creating campaigns and having trans people being part of the campaigns,” Gomez says. “That’s all great and all, but when it comes to the everyday one-to-one service, the industry is not as friendly as it seems.”

They’re creating a guide that outlines the basics of how to be gender-affirming in a salon setting, similar to how many businesses have an employee handbook. But that’s only the beginning: they also want to challenge the traditional and overly gendered way in which salon menus are formatted.

“One of the things that we changed immediately with our salon is to take away the gender from our menu,” says Cruz. “There’s always an uptick in the prices of female-oriented services.” Instead of being based on gender, they believe services should be based on hair length and the amount of time needed to perform a service. “A haircut is a haircut — hair has no gender,” he says. “We want to go into those salons and start creating a gender-neutral menu that everyone feels comfortable with and affirmed by. That changes everyone’s perspective on haircutting.”

This would be impactful not just for the trans community, but for anyone seeking a haircut that doesn’t fit the “stereotypical” archetype for their gender. “Having a gender-neutral menu symbolizes that you want everyone to feel welcome,” says Gomez. On the other hand, having a menu geared toward men versus women leaves nonbinary people feeling lost. “This is a very old-school way to look at hair.”

In general, they want to see the hair industry become a more welcoming atmosphere to all people. “Not just trans people, although this is our mission, but [salons] need to feel safe across the board.”

The positive mark of Strands for Trans has already been made very clear. Cruz and Gomez get countless messages from people sharing how the database has changed lives. “We get incredible stories of people going to a salon and getting that affirming haircut and feeling so joyous,” says Cruz.

Hair is deeply tied to identity and a simple haircut can make all the difference in helping someone feel more like themselves. Especially for trans people, a hairstyle can deeply impact how you’re portrayed to the world. “Not every state has general-affirming care, and a haircut could be the first experience to feel affirmed — the way you look, the way you present to the world,” says Gomez.

With transgender rights under attack in many states across the U.S., a having a safe space to get your haircut isn’t just about comfort — it’s survival. “Even in those states that are stopping gender-affirming care, they cannot legislate haircuts,” says Cruz. “They cannot stop you from getting the haircut that you want.”

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