Recently, a six-month old barbershop in Biñan, Laguna that goes by the catchy moniker Barbierro—a combo of the name Barbie and the Filipino word ‘barbero’—was the subject of Internet talk for claiming to be “The Philippines' first queer barbershop.” A member of the LGBTQ community took offense with the declaration saying the establishment is deleting the “baklang parlorista” from the Filipino queer narrative.
Maganda naman na mas marami ang ating queer spaces pero mahirap hindi pansinin ang "first queer barbershop" gayong marami sa mga queer nating kapatid ay matagal nang nakapagtayo at nag-ooperate ng mga pagupitan. Kaya may question mark sa linyang first-first. 😁 https://t.co/4WIeGQz419— Aldrin 🏳️🌈 (@missaldrinxxx) January 19, 2023
To get a better idea of the issue, ANCX reached out to Barbierro to get its side. According to Paul Sumayao, one of its owners, the contention is “an agreeable nuance” and “a valid statement.” But he also pointed out barbershops and salons are two completely different concepts.
“Historically, haircuts are gendered,” he says, quoting Strands for Trans, an initiative that documents barbershops and salons that are trans inclusive in the United States. “Salons are for women. Barbershops are for men.” Paul says the movement inspired him and his partner Jedi Directo to put up a barbershop where members of the queer, trans men, and trans women communities could go without being harassed, or without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome.
“If we publicly claim being the Philippines’ first queer barbershop, it’s not discrediting other LGBTQ-owned salons or barbershops,” says Paul, addressing the issue in a tweet. “We know they’re out there. They’ve been around. But we need their voices. Now. So umuna na kami.”
Barbierro is clearly built on good intentions. The owners sought to “claim a safe space for the first time in a male-dominated industry such as barbershops,” Paul explains.
Putting up Barbierro was inspired by personal experiences. “Since I grew up as a gay panganay in Camarines Sur and I didn’t really grow up with a father figure, I didn’t have somebody to take me to the barbershop,” Paul, the eldest of four children, offers. Later on, when he needed to take his two brothers to the barbershop for a trim, he found it quite stressful and uncomfortable.
“The barberos would talk to me about girlfriends, wives, sabong, chicks, basketball,” Paul recalls. Since he would get the discomforting stares from both customers and barbers, he felt he had to tone down his outfits in order to blend in with the barberya crowd.
At age 12 or 13, Paul was already “out and proud” but for his and his younger siblings’ safety, and so as not to cause his siblings any kind of embarrassment, he needed to be “subtle”—wear “pambahay shorts, a shirt that isn’t too tight and Islander slippers. The colorful parrot-print People Are People shirt I got on sale? Nope. Aparador ka muna,” he shares in a tweet.
Paul first entertained the idea of putting up a barbershop in 2017 while compiling a few poems he planned to submit for a national LGBTQ Writers Workshop. “What else can I do for my community?” the Ateneo de Naga AB Literature graduate asked himself. “What’s one problem I’d like to solve?”
When Paul entered grad school—he took up Masters in Entrepreneurship at the Tantoco Graduate School of Business in Jose Rizal University—he felt his vision continuing to manifest itself. “I started losing my hair (thanks, genes) and I realized I’d have more trips to the barbershops to take care of my bald spots,” he shares in a tweet.
Googling “queer-friendly barbershop,” “LGBTQ-friendly barbershop,” “queer-owned” strengthened his desire to own a space in the usually macho-ruled industry. “Walang lumalabas when I did my search locally,” he recalls. When he chanced upon the Strands for Trans initiative, he took it as a sign to go ahead with their plan.
Thus, last July 2022, Paul and Jedi opened Barbierro Barbershop in Southwoods in Biñan. It was Jedi who created their business logo. They purposely steered clear of the familiar “Barbie” font and logo because the name is now considered a derogatory term. They splashed a merman image on the design instead.
Like many barbershops, Barbierro offers traditional and contemporary haircuts, shampoo, blow-dry, shaving, and dye and color services, shoulder and scalp massages, and rebond and hair spa services at affordable rates—from P170 (haircut) to P1,100 (hair coloring).
Paul says they have a wide clientele. Majority are Gen Z, queer, effeminate guys who prefer the traditionally masculine hairstyles. About 30 percent who visit are moms who bring their young sons for a haircut. “The moms like the ambiance kasi it's roomy enough for the kids to run around. And they kind of like the vibe na it’s not as macho as a regular barbershop,” he observes.
Twenty percent of the Barbierro customers are senior citizens, and a good percentage are transmasculine or lesbians who prefer the traditional men’s haircuts. They also have heterosexual guys coming over, enjoying the easy banter with the friendly barbers.
Right now, their three barbers are “cisgender, hetero, straight men.” But Paul and Jedi made it a requirement for them to undergo a Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) training so they know how to properly address clients. “Usually at the beginning pa lang, when clients are inquiring, we would normally ask their preferred pronouns—is it he/him, she/her; or they/them? In the SOGIE briefing, we were told it’s okay to address our client ‘boss’ or ‘chief.’ Wag lang diretsong ‘Mam’ or ‘Sir.’”
Having brought up SOGIE in the conversation, Paul wishes to send a message to everyone. “Everybody deserves a safe space. Importante ang safe space because that's when we start becoming ourselves and fully realizing our potentials,” he says. “And the more that we have conversations about the need for safe spaces, the more na nagiging conscious tayo about it. I think the government institutions, the academe should start talking about, implementing or requiring safe spaces for the marginalized.”
Barbierro Barbershop is located at RJ Titus Bldg, Brgy. San Francisco Biñan (Flying V Gas Station, Southwoods Exit), Southwoods, Biñan, Laguna.