BPA-free Masculinity

BPA-free Masculinity

I went to a barber shop recently, for the first time in many years as I’ve been pretty bald for a pretty long time. I have a long beard, though, long enough that I need a professional to keep it from looking like I just came back from being “off the grid” for a few years.

This barber shop is pretty bro-y, and it’s obvious in every way they project themselves into the world. You know right away looking at a business card, their storefront, the sign standing at the corner of the parking lot, and certainly if you happen upon their web site. These are men. Men who like sports and drink whiskey and “wrench on” motorcycles and muscle cars when they’re not, you know, giving each other glow-ups at the shop.

I did not look forward to visiting or supporting such a place, but after the third fellow beard aficionado recommended them for beard grooming, I booked an appointment.

It felt exactly like I thought it would when I entered. I recognized that not-that-familiar-as-it-had-been-a-while atmosphere right away. Everyone seemed to be talking in the deepest timbres their vocal cords offered. Nearly every sentence included the word “fuck.” The TV was playing baseball, and people were shouting at it.

The second time—save your judgment—I went, though, I paid more attention, and what I heard surprised me. I listened a little more closely to the conversations going on around me. I noticed first that the actual content of the conversations, which I hadn’t noticed because I thought I’d heard everything I needed to by the tones and curses, was not what I thought it was. For instance, I heard two dudes discussing their cars, which felt on-brand, but they weren’t arguing torque specifications or carburetor brand allegiances. They were bragging about having stood up to customer service agents when scheduling appointments or insisting their warranties be honored. They were chest-thumping about grown-ups that spoke up for themselves on phone calls.

Then I heard a guy discussing the music that was playing. After a bit of heated critique of the song that was playing he said, “I like the album before this because it’s about his emotions. He’s really vulnerable on that album. That’s my shit. I like when a [N-word] let’s you in like that and gets real vulnerable.”

I heard a younger guy on the other side of me piping about about his favorite team and thought, “Okay, here it is.” I listened more closely, and this one took a while to figure out, but they were talking about e-sports. They were talking about professional video game players. The patron was doing most of the talking, but the barber was excitedly nodding along and agreeing and countering here and there. They fit right in.

These assuredly sound like baby-steps, or maybe even nothing at all to a lot of people. But to someone that would have been terrified to admit I liked video games in a salon full of capital-D Dudes when I was a younger man, I found it comforting. I’m not saying there wasn’t any toxic masculinity happening at this place. But I am saying that I’m excited to know that even in a place like this people can be honest about what they’re into—from video games to emotionally honest, vulnerable lyrics—and not be shunned. It feels like progress to me. I think I’m feeling a bit starved for that feeling, of late, and I needed this.

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