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Gay barber reveals most shocking encounters with straight guys

Gay barber reveals most shocking encounters with straight guys

Openly gay, Southampton-based barber Berken Fuat is understandably proud of his LGBTI client base.

As a salon manager (who also freelances in his spare time) he regularly cuts the hair and beards of everyone from trans men to gay teens.

But, inevitably, the London-born 23-year-old also has a lot of straight guys as clients. And while most such encounters are completely unremarkable – ‘people fall asleep in my chair all the time!’ he says of the relaxing barbering process – some stick out in his memory for one of two reasons.

Firstly, if they’re homophobic. More on which later.

Secondly – and it seems this is more common – if they’re utterly, utterly thirsty.

‘Straight clients say “After a few drinks I wouldn’t mind playing with you…”‘

‘I do get hit on,’ Berken admits with a laugh. ‘I’ve had straight clients say: “After a few drinks I wouldn’t mind playing with you…” I’m like: “I’m not really up for that!”‘

‘I’ve had gay clients do that as well, but I don’t go there,’ adds the consummate professional. ‘As a manager, I have to set an example for my team.’

Here, Berken reveals all about life and work, from navigating the hyper-masculine barbering scene, to his dream of opening an LGBTI-inclusive salon in the future…

What was your route into barbering?

My sister’s a hairdresser and I grew up being inspired by her. I later got a job as an apprentice in Knightsbridge in a salon called Errol Douglas. I worked there for four years.

I’m currently working with men only, being a barber. However, I do miss the women’s stuff, because you can be a lot more creative.

What’s your barbershop like? Is it very straight male?

I’m the only gay male there. It is quite male-dominated. We have a couple of females in there, but one of them’s on maternity, so it’s down to one. These males are very laddish.

How do you find that?

For me, it’s not a problem. I’m their manager, so they respect me and I’m not affected by them in that way.

And I guess if you heard a homophobic comment, they’d be out the door!

Exactly! I’ve never experienced any homophobia or prejudice with these guys. They don’t have a problem with it at all. I don’t get it from people I work with. It’s more from clients.

‘A client sat in my chair and asked if I was gay’

What’s happened?

My hair’s always a different color – last week it was a pink. A client sat in my chair and asked if I was gay, and I said ‘Yeah.’ He kind of went ‘Oh…’ and his face dropped. I said ‘If it’s a problem, we can arrange for someone else to cut your hair.’ He sat there silently.

Were the other guys supportive?

They all turned around, jumped in and tried to back me up. They were like ’We have a friendly environment here. We don’t want a bad atmosphere. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t make any comments.’

As a freelancer, do you have a lot of gay male clients?

Quite a few. I know a lot of gay men in Southampton. Most are my clients. I enjoy it, because you can be free and open. You can be yourself.

‘All the shade, all the tea, and everything in between!’

And they come to you for the same reason, I guess?

Exactly. They know they can talk to me properly without being judged. It’s an intimate process anyway. You’re in my chair for a minimum of half an hour!

Do you have any clients who are trans?

I have one, yes. We’re good friends. He’s been through a lot; he’s been homeless. He can talk to me. He’s been turned away by some barbershops. He’d rather go to someone like me, who’s not going to judge him.

Do the gay clients open up about their lives?

Everything – all the shade, all the tea, and everything in between! I had a client who’s gay who was in what he said was a happy relationship. But every time his partner’s away, he downloads Grindr and discreetly tries to meet other men. I’ve had straight married men tell me exactly the same thing, that they download Grindr.

How does that even come up?!

After a certain point, when I’ve been cutting their hair for so long, they know I won’t say anything.

Have you given counsel to any closeted gay men?

I’ve had quite a few closeted gay teenagers. You can just tell. They’re very quiet about it. They want a particular hairstyle, but they’re worried they’ll be judged. So I give them advice. I’ve went through a bad coming out process myself, so I tell them about that.

‘You build up trust over time’

You’re practically a trained therapist!

Exactly! It’s cheaper, shorter therapy session! You build up trust over time, and they’ll tell you anything.

Have you seen tears?

I have. One of the teenagers who was being bullied in school. So I shared my story. I was bullied through school – it made him feel better that he’s not the only one.

Have you ever had any strange requests?

I’ve been asked for a happy ending…

That’s not even what I meant! Who asked for that?

He was also a straight client! And he was married.

That’s tradition in some parts of the world…

It is. He definitely wasn’t getting one!

You work with the grooming brand MINT – does it allow you to disclose your sexuality on the app?

It does, yeah. You can write messages on your profile. If someone requests a haircut, they know who I am from the get go. It’s a great tool for me. The app launches on 10 December, but I’ve been with the company since May – we do pop-ups, corporate and private events and group bookings, birthdays, stag dos and so on.

‘I do have a boyfriend, but he’s bald! I have to shave his head every two days’

Do you have a boyfriend? Do you practise on him?

I do have a boyfriend, but he’s bald! I have to shave his head every two days. It’s quite annoying. But luckily he’s got a beard, so I can give that some shape!

What are your top beard and haircare tips?

If you have a beard, use a balm every morning. American Crew do a really good one. On top of that, use an oil or a serum. That adds a lot of shine.

Use coconut oil on your hair as a treatment. Also, try not to wash your hair every day. You should average once or twice a week. If you have thin hair, but don’t wash it every day, you’ll notice it thicken. It’ll be slightly greasy for a couple of weeks, but that’ll stop.

What do you specialise in as a barber?

Cutting, styling, coloring, treatments like perms and chemically straightening, facial hair, eyebrows.

Can you do threading?

I can. I’m the only one who can do it in my salon. I have it done myself. I 100% rate it. It’s a lot cleaner. You get a really straight line, and your hair doesn’t grow back for three to four weeks.

Finally, where do you see your career going? Would you like to work exclusively with LGBTI clients?

One day I’d like to have my own salon. LGBT is a priority for me, as I’m in there myself. But I’d be open to everybody, because my clients are a big range of people. But obviously judgemental people can stay at the door!

For more information or book Berken or another LGBTI or LGBTI-friendly MINT barber (cum-therapist!) email minted[@]mintedondemand.co or

To follow Berken on Instagram, head here. To follow MINT on Instagram head here.