Barbers clash due to suspected gay client

Confirmed: A barber shop in East Kingston nearing Rockfort was the scene of a clash between two male barbers in late May 2013 following a long standing feud based on an allegation that one barber had too many suspected gay male clients and the other involved taking major exception. According to my sources one of which is also a barber in a nearby rival shop tension had been building for some time between the two male barbers and despite the repeated interventions of the only female barber as well as the female facialist and manicurist for the men to calm down and proceed with business never minding the perceived sexuality of the clients things went downhill none the less. This is not the first time I have seen this play out in the industry as a popular shop in the Half Way Tree area just across the court house had a similar major incident in 2011 where another male barber was forced to relocate to his own shop eventually as he was monitored closely by the other chair renters in the large shop and his clients were carefully scrutinised for any deviations they thought were out of place. A major argument erupted between them as another barber in confidence informed the man of the situation and discourse happening unknowingly of him and his “battyman clients” the suspected barber confronted his accuser and the relationship soured so much so that his client count dropped drastically as persons stayed away and others defected to other chair holders in the establishment.

A formal complaint was filed to the owner of the shop who at first ignored the agitation and warned the men to get along but the persistent homo-negative barber threatened to leave and expose the man and the shop as a place sympathetic to homosexuals and with supposed fear of a wounded reputation of his business with such a competitive industry with so many other shops nearby he was asked to quietly make his exit and so he did, thankfully they did him a favour as he now owns and operates his own shop with tweezing, wash and dry and other male grooming services far better that the original location with a growing client list.  Indeed the grooming and beauty industries were once the more tolerant professions for LGBT people to morph into and not be bothered via phobic outbreaks but it seems over time there has been a change in the culture towards barbers and indeed their clients as persons are scrutinized far more these days for any stereotypical male homosexual traits despite the metro-sexual aesthetics acceptances in Jamaican culture overall with individuality becoming far more commonplace. In fact it was once surmised that some barbers get into the business so as to make themselves available or close to other men easily but there has also been a trend as of recent years where all female shops are popping up and offering services with advertisements and marketing strategies that suggest certain personal services must not be done by men playing on the homophobic psyche I suppose. These services include tweezing, facials and close shaving along with buffering and skin treatment application. Some more uptown professional shops offer these and in fact the aforementioned shop in Half Way Tree my former personal barber does so despite the stereotype. I guess due to his maturity and his wife’s regular stops at the shop the speculation dies so the other male barbers allow it to go by without any open criticisms but isn’t it about professionalism and service to the clients that is important here and not whether the client or indeed the barber is homosexual?

Some barbers refuse to offer personal male to male services

That barber at the Half Way Tree shop to this day still offers those services complete with hot towelling and detailed tweezing as he spends a lot of time on his clients, my regular visits then when I resided in Kingston in any given session would run for over an hour sometimes as he checks and rechecks my face, neck , nape and hair, he also offers the occasional shampooing service as well, albeit that he is somewhat opposed to homosexuality as he has publicly made his feelings known but professionally has no qualms working in such personal closeness with male clients. His waiting list at times would be long and reservations had to be made days in advance so as to secure a spot yet in that same shop the fallout between the other two barbers occurred. That is how it should be, true professionalism in as far as the more senior barber is concerned. In that same shop two male hair dressers and a tattoo artist (they also are criticised for harbouring gays generally speaking) have since joined the staff but no clashes have occurred.

In fact it was from that shop that this blog post was developed some time ago when the Buju Banton court case and perceived gay set up issue was popular:

The lower one goes down the totem pole however given our highly stratified society is the less these more personal male to male services are offered and are frowned upon by male barbers, some shops I have seen nowadays make sure they employ females to do tweezing and facials so as to avoid such close contact between male barbers with male clients and the perception of an all male establishment may turn off some clients being too close for comfort for some. With persons now visiting barbers less as some shave themselves in full bald, grow and corn row their own hair or via a friend, add hair pieces (including males) at hairdressers and twist or lock style their hair barbers are having some challenges earning a living added to that are the numerous shops popping up despite a government crackdown some time ago for tax collection of license fees and their observance of health guidelines in running those and related establishments competition is stiff. Mobile barbers or barbering door to door is rising as in my housing scheme there are two such persons who walk with their equipment and offer services. One has gotten some attention from other same gender loving men around as he is well kept and is approachable and I am told he also offers facial and personal grooming services in your home while maintaining a professional distance I have not engaged them as yet.

Several years ago a popular community barber who resided in the Waterhouse area and who also offered a mobile grooming service where he would visit clients at their offices or homes was forcibly evicted from his rented flat as threats came that he was gay due to his mode of dress and style and his clientage, he also lived alone at the time, a major line item when profiling men to be gay as if a man especially in certain communities does not have a female companion then he is guilty even without any confirmation as to why. He ended up having to start from scratch as his equipment was stolen at the area shop where he worked and he was told bluntly not to be seen in the area. Female barbers have not escaped this as I am intimate with a case in Half Way Tree as well in a shop that is housed in the transportation centre where a female barber was constantly watched by the other male barbers coupled with their perception of her lesbian status professional jealousy also reared its ugly head as her large list of clientage did not sit well with her male counterparts so much so that attempts were made to sully her reputation to them in a bid to win their patronage and label her as a lesbian so she should not be handling them. She did eventually resign after a fight with one of the barbers then. She now resides overseas on asylum after a separate shooting incident involving her, her daughter and her brother as the adults were accused of being gay and told to leave the community at the time.

The East Kingston matter in question pertinent to this entry has been building for some time as according to reports from the very first day the client sat in the chair of this barber he was profiled by the other offending barber so much so that snide remarks would be passed whilst the client sat waiting his turn or even in the chair with some tacit support from the head barber or manager of the establishment. I can also imagine that with the rise in visibility of LGBT issues in recent months with a tolerance ad trial, major discussion and magazine shows carrying issues on homosexuality and the religious right movement’s public agitation and mobilization there is bound to be some fallout or spike in homo-negative instances and incidents. Short spats would ensue in the absence of the profiled client as the barber repeatedly defended his paying customer after all he wanted his continued patronage and the client for the most part did not care what the other barbers thought of him.

It was not until when the barber was also accused of being gay and that maybe himself and the man were involved sexually that things took a turn for the worse, tense standoffs, alternating work shifts were introduced and meetings with the boss were employed to quell the situation but those were not to help any, the final showdown occurred on May 18 during a busy period when the offending barber made comments and reported throw an item unto the counter-top of the docile barber. He retaliated and blows were rained with the female workers screaming to stop and supporting staff and clients on either side cheering or trying to stop the clash. It was clear to everyone that the name of the docile barber had been sullied as the supporters of the offending barber repeated the allegations and it was like a Matlock court cross-examination session asking if they were true, the accused barber denied them. The matter has since cooled but he is now thinking of relocating to another shop to avoid this and even his own family members were said to have visited the shop and warned the offending barber though no major threats were issued.

It is just beyond me sometimes why we allow questions and negative perceptions of another’s’ sexual orientation to cloud up professionalism overall and especially in the grooming industry where it was not so much a concern as far as I can remember. Hope this one works out and does not end up with any serious outcomes or loss of life for that matter as these days one can expect anything.

Peace and tolerance

H

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Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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