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Vancouver's transgender barbershop all the buzz

Big Bro's Barbershop offers more than just haircuts. It's also a safe space and resource centre for Vancouver's transgender community.

Jessie Anderson, 25, is the owner of Big Bro’s Barbershop, a beauty and resource centre that was created as a safe space for Vancouver’s transgender community.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Jessie Anderson, 25, is the owner of Big Bro’s Barbershop, a beauty and resource centre that was created as a safe space for Vancouver’s transgender community.

Jessie Anderson still remembers the awful haircut.

The 25-year-old, who is a transgender man, was still a teenager and just starting to transition when he asked a hairstylist to cut his then-long hair into a Winona Ryder-inspired pixie cut.

“The stylist said, ‘Oh, you actually have the completely wrong hair type for this cut,’” Anderson recalled. “She cut off the tiniest, tiniest bit of hair and puffed and curled my hair as much as possible to give it this majorly feminized volume. It was just this bizarre goldilocks look on me and it was the worst.”

Jessie Anderson, 25, is the owner of Big Bro’s Barbershop.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Jessie Anderson, 25, is the owner of Big Bro’s Barbershop.

Reactions like that prompted Anderson to start Big Bro’s Barbershop, a queer and transgender barbershop run out of a nondescript warehouse on an industrial road in East Vancouver.

For many transgender people, Anderson said finding the right hairstylist can be challenging. He never wants another transgender person to endure the same traumatic experience.

“Tons of trans people either get flat-out rejected from barbershops or salons,” he said. “Or they will go and say they want this very specific haircut and the stylist will say, ‘Oh, but you won’t be pretty anymore. You don’t want that.’”

While Anderson is first and foremost a barber, he said Big Bro’s Barbershop is about more than just haircuts. A beauty and wellness emporium, the shop provides warm-towel shaves, makeup consultations, nail art, shoe shining and free clothing.

It also doubles as a queer and trans resource centre, offering gender affirmation products like chest binders and bra extenders.

Anderson came up with the idea while working at Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium. He spent four years working at the Davie Street shop, which began as a bookstore but morphed into a gay and lesbian resource centre.

As one of the only trans employees working there, he started stocking products for transgender customers, items they would otherwise have to buy online or in sex stores and often in the wrong size.

While celebrities like Caitlin Jenner, Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono have made trans people more visible in the public eye in recent years, and have helped more people feel comfortable identifying as trans, Anderson said those in the community still face a complex set of challenges.

Nearly a decade after he transitioned, Anderson said he still struggles with tasks like trying to figure out how to change the sex designation on his birth certificate.

“Every single thing is incredibly, absurdly complicated and you need help walking you through that process,” he said. “It still blows my mind that anybody manages to do it.”

Anderson later decided to go back to school to study barbering with a goal of starting his own business. After crowdfunding to cover the start-up costs, Big Bro’s Barbershop opened its doors last September.

While haircuts serve as the profit-generating aspect of the business to allow him to maintain a storefront, Anderson said the most important part is being able to sell niche products for the trans community.

“Trans people are systematically underemployed, so relying on trans people exclusively to keep my business afloat was impractical,” he said. “But everyone needs haircuts.”

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