What butch queer identity has to do with hair

Robert Hundley

A new exhibition, Near Shave, celebrates and pays tribute to butch dyke identity and type through the lens of haircuts

When the musician k.d. lang came out as a lesbian in 1992, country new music stations in the US banned her audio and she faced protests outdoors the Grammys. In the Summer season of 1993, Self-importance Honest put her on the go over of the magazine. Dressed in a waistcoat, crisp white shirt and tie, she sits back again in an old-school barber’s chair for a shut shave from supermodel Cindy Crawford

The go over is what we might call “dykonic” – a breakthrough minute in lesbian media illustration it sent out the message that butch lesbian identity and type is not just to be celebrated, but to be seen as alluring. 

The impression is one of the inspirations for the new exhibition Close Shave, opening at the hair-salon-slash-gallery Sunbury in East London this week. Motivated by the butch barbershop encounter, the portraits in Near Shave take a look at themes of butch-on-butch treatment, enjoy and trust, clarifies curator Lucy Nurnberg. The portraits in the present, taken by the photographer Lydia Garnett, capture (in her words and phrases) all that butch is “typical, attractive, intimate, intriguing, self-confident, a bit moody, intimate.”

Alongside with the Self-importance Honest cover, Garnett was inspired by Catherine Opie’s well known portraits of leather communities from the 90s, and the photographer Phylis Christopher’s shots of dyke lifestyle in 90s San Francisco. Close Shave as a title “makes me assume of a close come across and it is also a hairstyle preference,” suggests Garnett. “It’s very a camp, passionate name for a show that options mostly pretty brief haircuts.”

The relationship in between butch dyke lifestyle and hair styling goes back much additional than the 90s. Get the painter Gluck, who sported a quick masculine haircut in the 1930s, or Gertrude Stein’s shorter moppish lower. Zara Toppin, co-organiser of Shut Shave, founder of Sunbury Studios, and the hairdresser who styled the versions in the portraits, clarifies that the objective was to fork out homage to the extensive partnership involving hair styling and butch id.

Though owning brief hair and pinpointing as butch really don’t essentially appear as a pair, for butch folks, haircuts can be transformational – getting your hair reduce off brings you nearer to your gender identification. This was the situation for Toppin who reduce their hair shorter at 21. “Before I did it, I was tying my hair up, putting a cap on, I had these a potent desire to slice it off. That’s not the only way to be butch of study course – and it is practically nothing like prime medical procedures, for instance – but it is an act of eliminating a little something to get to this visualised point out of getting that you are, and not just as a result of dresses.” 

Gabby, 32, from London, who is effective in tech and does drag on the facet, and seems in Shut Shave feels in the same way: “I minimize my hair shorter about a 12 months back. I under no circumstances had prolonged hair but I was normally far too concerned to slice it small in circumstance individuals addressed me otherwise, I was apprehensive people today would see butch as unattractive,” Gabby describes, referencing the societal expectations about femininity. “But it is the ideal thing I have at any time completed for myself. My journey with my hair has enormous backlinks with my gender, expression and how I feel about myself – I’ve never ever seemed additional like me. I don’t believe I’ve stopped getting thirst trap selfies since.” 

Ahead of Toppin lower their have hair quick, they considered about accomplishing it for eight months. “With hair, you have to give handle more than to an individual else to change it into the subsequent section. Almost certainly the purpose I was taking 8 months was that I thinking who could do that for me.” The rise of LGBTQ+ barbers in the British isles speaks to this require for queer and trans persons to come to feel understood and also safe at the salon. Whilst Toppin’s salon is not only catering to LGBTQ+ people, they have given many people today their “first butch haircut” and hope that they are “able to realize how significantly that initial shorter haircut indicates outside of an aesthetic option in a way that many others could possibly not.”

In this sense, it would make sense to show the pictures in Shut Shave at Toppin’s salon, and also for the reason that “in portraits there is the exact same intimacy that goes on as with the haircutting encounter,” Toppin observes, “where you are providing on your own in a susceptible way to an individual else to be taken care of, or viewed, or captured,” states Toppin. This intimacy links again to the idea of butch tenderness. Frequently we consider of butches as challenging – a stereotype that is born out of the requirement to self-protect and self-protect. Garnett and Toppin wanted to portray matters in a different way. “There’s a thing exclusive about butch-on-butch care and validation and the collection is as about butch-on-butch trust and like as substantially as it is about design and how we categorical ourselves,” claims Garnett, who was possessing her hair cut by Toppin when the concept came up. 

When asked whether there are cultural or visual references of butch hair Toppin thinks about when offering persons cuts, they say “not really” – the references appear a lot more from male hair salon imagery, that’s why it felt essential to build these references, to create a catalogue of modern butch culture as nicely as a new hairstyle catalogue for a much more gender fluid age (and as the series grows with much more pictures in future, this will proceed). The series exhibits what type of butch haircuts are probable, the spectrum of choices on offer 90s boyband heartthrob, typical 30s masculinity, shaved head or skinhead search. Garnett shot in black and white “to reference the barbershop, and for the exhibition to reflect that encounter of remaining seemed at by all these powerful portraits when you are in the barbershop chair.”

When butches have been obfuscated in tradition historically owing to prejudice (and patriarchy) adding to the canon of butch illustration however feels politically pertinent. “Reference points continue being pretty niche,” suggests Toppin, pointing to Opie or Christopher’s operate. Still Garnett is hopeful that there is a butch renaissance occurring: “I come to feel like there is supercharged energy about the butches in my existence at the moment and I really like it. I believe while probably butches have been neglected or misunderstood broadly, now there appears to be a experience of persons stepping into their queer power and staying additional visible.”

Gabby agrees: “I like the term Butch! Growing up I was very afraid of currently being observed as a butch. Even once I came out as queer, I would uncover myself hoping to design myself in a way that I did not look as well a lot like a butch. This all modified after I reduce my hair brief. Butch for me, signifies independence of expression and id – the largest compliment for me now would be a person saying I look extremely butch now.”

Shut Shave in the end aims to stand for as wide a church of butch appears to be like as achievable, from light t-shirts to sportswear, to classic suits, ties, white vests and boxers. As people today uncover their nonbinary or trans-masculine id, sometimes the phrase “butch” or “lesbian” can really feel too gendered Garnett and Toppin desired to include things like nonbinary, trans and lesbian people in the demonstrate for a combine of butch representation. Toppin goes amongst applying all of these terms at different times, doubtful of whether they even want to or have to have to choose on a person. Amidst the force to self-label, hair turns into even additional pertinent, they clarify: a hairstyle is a visible language that conveys meaning, a single that breaks absent from the constraints of words. 

Shut Shave will be open up Wednesday-Saturday 21st Oct to 17th November at Sunbury, e book a take a look at below.

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