By Genevieve Kyle

Meet the gender-inclusive salon owners fighting for social justice through hair.

“Use Hair As A Form Of Social Justice” is Project Q salon’s ethos. Project Q is an intersection between a gender-fluid and a texture-inclusive salon, where “all texture types, lengths, and genders have a safe space to support their gender expression.” Project Q does not stand alone in its Mission. All over the U.S., hair salons are cropping up with a mission to empower their customers and dismantle gender binaries. From Barbra&Barbra in Chicago to Acute Salon in Texas, gender-inclusive salons facilitate an open conversation around gender expression. 

The concept of gender expression through hair holds weight. Many salons charge by gender and not the cut, a custom known as the pink tax. “Going to a salon can be a very emotional experience, for a variety of reasons, and creating a gender-neutral space was one way to progress and create positivity for those that have felt trauma in the past,” explains Barbra & Barbra salon member Larn Kieninger. According to Larn, the pink tax, “assumes an individual’s gender and then charges them based on that assumption.”

For these salons, helping clients celebrate their identity begins with a consultation. At Project Q, this process starts with “sitting with a new client eye to eye and setting up accessible expectations as well as a plan for future hair goals.” In a similar vein, Acute salon’s process begins with “listening to [the customers] their needs.” “I don’t focus a lot on gender identity or expression unless they bring it up. A lot of folks seek out our salon because they do not want a stylist that asks a ton of uncomfortable questions about their gender. Everyone wants a haircut that makes them feel confident”, explains Acute Salon owner Chelsea Bonham.

Gender-neutral salons and the elimination of the pink tax allow “every person to create a version of themselves that they are proud to present to the world,” states Madin. However, it’s not just about hair but about giving back to the community for these salons. Project Q hosts a series of programs that help champion the LGBTQ+ community. From providing self-empowering workshops and food & hygiene boxes to offering access to a network of queer-owned businesses to providing LGBTQIA+ youth with jobs, Project Q’s roots lie within social justice.

Like Project Q, Acute Salon is looking to give back to the community. According to Bonham, Acute “has hosted some adult sex ed classes with Planned Parenthood.” They have also hosted a quarterly trans-inclusive lactation class, a drag show fundraiser, and worked with The Help Center to provide free condoms for their clients. Last year they had a free pantry built outside the salon that folks could use to share non-perishable foods and other items. 

The works of Acute Salon, Project Q, and Barbra & Barbra shine a light on the importance of celebrating gender fluidity, diversity, and listening to every customer. Setting an example for cisgender salons while impacting their community, these salons demonstrate how much progress businesses can make when not driven by gender binaries.