It was supposed to be a routine visit to the barbershop. A bi-weekly beard appointment that’s always an experience, to say the least. My barbershop is no different than the average black male safe space I’ve known since childhood. A Dutch oven of homemade stew made with camaraderie, a dash of misogyny, black pride, sports talk, and the occasional smidgeon of homophobia. On this day, it would be the latter ingredient which proved to be a bit too much for my taste buds to handle. Insert heavy sigh and deep eye roll.


To reference banging a guy out, regardless of context was a no-go, and I and most of the room picked up on the “error” immediately.


My barber, (I’ll call him Manny) is dope. A millennial guy with a football build, and an equally tough bravado to match. What makes him unique is that there is an element of compassion present in his demeanor juxtaposed to his former jock life often mentioned when reminiscing about his high school days.



During this visit, it was an unseasonably mild Saturday in the DMV, and I was ready to take advantage of the great weather with a freshly lined beard and in Patti Labelle fashion, a new attitude. As I exchanged basic life updates with Manny while my upper lip was getting supreme razor treatment, I tried to keep from laughing at the banter in the room. The topic of discussion was an upcoming fight between Jake Paul, the popular (problematic) YouTuber now boxer, and Mike Tyson, a former heavyweight (also problematic) champ of the world.


I must admit, I’m not a huge boxing fan so the boisterous debate of who will beat whom was of no interest to me. There was however, an element of curiosity given the celebrity aspect of such an event. As one baby boomer barber from across the room cast doubt on Tyson, another Gen Z barber surprisingly felt differently, believing Robin Given’s ex would be the victor. My guy, the millennial agreed. As boomer barber aggressively defended his opinion accompanied by a raise in tone, it forced my barber to say Tyson is still in good shape, runs daily, and could still bang a guy out.”



Remember that eye roll, and heavy sigh I mentioned earlier? Something tells me you just did the same. This my friends, was the moment I said to myself here we go. Now if you’re a little slow as to what just happened, let me help you out. My barber, the cool dope, jock millennial just made an accidental slip of the tongue. He unconsciously committed the grave error of saying something – gay. A cardinal sin in spaces where the modern-day hunter-and-gathers come to let their proverbial hair down and be men…. Particularly straight men. To reference banging a guy out, regardless of context was a no-go, and I, and most of the room picked up on the “error” immediately.


Boomer barber said with the full barrel of his chest, man what did you say? Not yet aware of the slip, my barber replied what? boomer then says, “ You said “Bang another guy out and didn’t say Pause.” This was met with Def Comedy Jam club level laughter complete with a body slide out of a chair. I didn’t think it was worthy of such a reaction but I have to remember where I was. I began to fidget and grind my teeth in anticipation of my barber’s reply which could have gone a myriad of ways. Although I sensed embarrassment, he took a breath, and calmly replied, ok! Now anyone who is a proud card-carrying member of the black community knows that when someone responds to your foolery with “K or okay”, be worried.



Manny went on to say he didn’t mean anything by his wording but he would remember this moment and act (payback) accordingly when the time is right. That was the end of the discussion as the room could visibly see Manny was annoyed. As he cleaned me up and placed the mirror in front me to approve his artistry, I got up, paid, then bid him adieu with a culturally approved  humped shoulder guy-hug.


On the ride home while stealing glances in the rear view mirror of my fresh line up , I thought about how much I wanted to come to Manny’s defense. The reality was that I could never. It  bothered me that I, authentically living my life, on every trip to the barbershop was in hetero mode. I played a role, one that often gave me much discomfort.



Manny on the other hand is a straight male working in one of the most masculine presenting facets of the style industry- the black barbershop. He wasn’t hiding the truth of how or whom he loves, but he is a man existing in a world with made-up limitations dictating what a man should be. He didn’t need to be anyone other than himself but a casual comment as I described as a slip of the tongue, levied much more socially nuanced weight in this manosphere. The rules of engagement amongst straight men often apply a negative connotation to various words in our vocabulary based on homophobia, and inaccuracies as to who same-gender-loving men are.


I’m proud of Manny. He handled an awkward situation in the most adult, and professional way possible. I have to be transparent however and admit I’ve heard him too have questionable opinions about SGL men. I struggled at that time on whether to educate him on the spot about his language and how his words could be hurtful, and then I realized I didn’t have the energy. I’ve let his personal thoughts slide because the brother hooks me up each and every time I sit in his chair. Also, do I have to be a social justice warrior on a Saturday morning? I know that’s an excuse for not checking folks, but some days I don’t feel like getting in good trouble. I too want to let my hair down and allow myself to receive the royal beard treatment at a routine visit to the barbershop.