I knew that when we moved to Wellington I’d have a lot of new experiences, like converting temperatures to Celsius, walking uphill both ways to get anywhere, and feigning interest in conversations about rugby.
What I hadn’t really thought through was that one of the most intimidating new experiences would be one I had been putting off for years back in Philly.
You see, despite a lot of fear and anxiety on my part, yesterday – for the first time in my life! – I visited a barber.
A barber! Back in Philly I had a rather expensive high-end salon habit that I mitigated by only getting my hair cut a few times a year, at most.
I have big, thick, wavy, difficult hair. I’m sure a lot of other guys do too, but they either keep it too short to notice or they just suck it up and get bad haircuts – and I am way too vain for that to happen.
The few times in my life I’ve visited a casual, utilitarian hair cuttery my locks would get utterly butchered. Even a buzzcut on me will stand straight up like a trimmed hedge. My hair needs to be chopped aggressively from every possible angle to give it any hope of laying relatively flat on my head and not looking like a half-deflated pompadour, which in turn tends to make me look like a round-faced 12-year-old boy. I need layers upon layers cross-cut in every direction for my hair to lay flat or look elegantly tousled.
I have found exactly two hairdressers over the past two decades who understood how to give me a hair cut that wasn’t disastrous and could handle my hair in both short and long configurations. Not coincidentally, they both primarily cut women’s hair. They both dealt with more lengths, more textures, anda much higher vested interest in their cuts actually looking good, because in general women pay more attention to their appearance than men, and especially women visiting a high-end salon.
The one problem with this arrangement is that I was paying high-end salon prices for what would sometimes be a pretty short, barber-esque hair cut.
Why not just go to a barber? Not only do I not know the first thing about barbers, the idea of being in a guy-filled barber shop scares the hell out of me.
I have an ingrained hesitance to placing myself in any kind of all-male environment. Once I was done with high school gym class I swore them off almost entirely. I don’t understand how to interact with a room full of randomly sampled men. They put me on edge. I cannot tolerate their leering humor. Sometimes they can even be threatening!
This tracks with my generally not having any idea about any sort of typical “guy stuff” (that really ought not to be gendered at all, but that’s another post entirely).
No one taught me how to shave; I got rid of my burgeoning adolescent mustache by stealing one of my mother’s Lady Bic pink disposable razors and just figuring it out for myself. (And, honestly, I’m still pretty terrible at it). I learned about power tools from working backstage in college theatre. I learned about sex by becoming a certified peer sex educator.
So, I was scared about the barber shop in more ways than one. I’ve been procrastinating on making an appointment since the week we touched down here, despite my hair growing from a length I could manageably slick back to an unruly shag of curls.
Every time I got past my fear of a bad haircut I’d advance to my fear of entering barber shop. Then I’d look at the prices to go to a fancy salon instead. Then I’d just give up on the entire effort for another week or two.
Finally, the sheer weight of my vanity forced me into action, as I was skipping perfectly good opportunities to shoot new videos because of less-than-ideal hair days. I asked short-haired Kiwis for advice, found a shop with decent recommendations, and booked an appointment online – which took me three entire days of mulling over options, cancelling on the last step, and having tiny anxiety attacks before I finally selected a “full service” cut and hoped for the best.
The good spirits of Wellington must have been watching over my barber selection process. My selection turned out to be a tiny, two-chair shop on an alley-way blasting New Wave music with a brightly tattooed barber with a shelf full of classic G.I. Joes and a daughter the same age as EV6. I spotted Cobra Commander just as some B-52s popped onto the stereo and I breathed such a sigh of relief.
There was no crowd of leering, lecherous men. It turns out there was not any kind of secret dude-code I needed to get me through my appointment. I had a couple stymied moments, like when he put a sort of paper cuff around my neck and later when he asked me my clipper number and I said, “my what now?”
My first hair cut isn’t perfect, but it’s not awful either. Certainly not the worst I’ve had in my first outing with someone new! And, I’m very happy to go back. We didn’t even get to talk about G.I. Joes yet!
Not only do I finally have all my curls shorn, but I feel like I learned an important lesson. My fear of men and masculinity shouldn’t stop me from engaging with the world any more now than it did when I was 17. Both men and masculinity are different in a different country, as are many other aspects of the world around me that I take for granted.
I didn’t move here to maintain the same set of fears and prejudices that I built up as a form of defense in Philadelphia. If I’m ever going to become a Kiwi, I need to let some of these assumptions go and try new things (and re-try some old ones).