A new documentary seeks to explore the experiences of gay and queer men in black barbershops.
Filmmaker Derrick Middleton directed Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop, which looks at the importance of barbershops and the levels of acceptance of queer men that can be found in them.
Middleton, from New York City, spoke to TakePart about the role that barbershops play in the lives of queer black men, saying that some men “are out and proud in every aspect of their lives, but they go back into the closet whenever they enter a barbershop”.
In his personal experience, Middleton said he had to “perform masculinity” during his trips to the barbershop. “Black barbershops are some of the most hypermasculine spaces in the world; at times they can remind you of a locker room. This was terrifying for me as a young boy who already felt that I was different from other boys.”
“Barbershops are pillars in the black community that have historically been safe spaces for black men to gather and share ideas and information,” Middleton said. “I want to work toward ensuring that these sacred spaces are also safe for and inclusive of the LGBTQ community.”
For Middleton, being out and visible is important in making these spaces more accessible for queer men. “I truly believe that in order for us to effect change in these spaces, we must make ourselves visible as part of the LGBTQ community,
“I learned that a vast majority of men in barbershops naturally assume that every guy in the shop is heterosexual unless the person is extremely flamboyant. So what that tells us is that there are a lot of times when gay men are offended unintentionally by men who don’t even realize that there may be LGBTQ people in the room that they are offending.”
The film has already been garnering praise, winning the Jury Prize at March on Washington Film Festival in Washington, D.C last month.
Watch the trailer for Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop below: