The Homegirl Project interviewed Dez Marshall on her mission to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to have their hair cut. For our full essay on Dez, click here.
By Malavika Kannan
Why are you passionate about creating LGBTQ+-friendly spaces for haircuts?
Cutting hair was something I was passionate about. I knew I wanted to provide the experience I never got at shops. I want to create an experience where no one has to hide who they are. As queer/trans GNC folks, we make ourselves smaller for safety and survival. We get othered. We get mistreated. Simple things like a haircut can become traumatic or event violent episodes. Folks are misgendered or ignored all together. With me you can bring your entire self to the cut. You don't have to censor who you are. You will be seen. You will be heard. You will be respected.
Who inspires you in life?
It sounds super cliche, but my mom inspires me. It was just her, [myself], and my two older brothers. My mom sacrificed a lot for us growing up. She worked more than one job at a time. We moved around a lot [and] lived paycheck to paycheck. She worked hard to make sure we always had a roof over us, food in our bellies, and clothes on our backs. I saw how tired she was. She didn't get breaks. She didn't get a lot of help. My mom taught me how to survive with not very much. Because of my mom I'm not afraid to work hard or work more than others. Most importantly, my mom taught me to not [care] what others think about me. To do me. To be true to myself.
Why did you start branding yourself as “Queer With Shears?”
My chair is safe space. Clients know [that] when they get a cut with me, they will not be judged for their gender identity or expression. They will be seen, fully. They will get the cut they ask for. My challenge to everyone else in the shop is to treat my clients with the respect they deserve. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I was once at a shop that was good at first, but as time progressed, folks weren't the allies I needed them to be. So I left. I'm still young in the game. But I know more about what I need from the shops I am in, and I have more confidence to demand it. At the end of the day, I am asking folks to see my clients as people.
What do you wish others understood about the queer experience?
I'm not even asking for tolerance, because [what] is that? You're going to tolerate my existence? We are here. We are real. We exist. And we deserve the basic service of a haircut without the [bigotry]. It's so much easier to treat folks with respect than it is to be a bigot. Bigotry takes too much intentional energy. I don't need that, and neither do my clients.
What are your thoughts on the intersection of racial and queer identities?
I am a queer cis woman of color. I experience discrimination based on my gender, my skin color, and my queerness on a regular basis. They don't happen independently of each other, because I am not a woman one part of the day, queer the next, and Black the week after. I am all of those things all of the time. The same goes for many of my clients. The beauty of the Black barbershop is that it’s always been a neighborhood hub, primarily a space for straight cis men to gather and build. Queer and trans folks have always been a part of this community. It's not like we just came into existence. I'm just not hiding us anymore.
The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?
I am a queer woman of color in an industry dominated by cis men. When I first started out as barber, no one wanted to sit in my chair. The belief was [that] I didn't know what I was doing. Even though I had a station and a barber jacket on, folks would assume I was just hanging out at the shop. That wouldn't have happened if I was a guy. Since I'm queer, men at shops also assumed [that] I would participate in their misogyny. In some ways, I was looked at as one of the boys, which allowed me access that I wouldn't necessarily have otherwise. But it limited how they viewed me.
What is one issue that you want to change about the world?
White supremacy is at the root of so many issues. It's so ingrained into every fabric of life, I'm not sure if it can be changed. But I will challenge it til my last breath.