Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Activist, artist, and barber Miyuki Baker ’12 is a queer presence on campus worth taking note of.
Just this past year, she founded a website – drawing contributors from around the country and readers from around the world – to support the Asian LGBT community. Feeling enraged after finding mainly just porn when googling “Gay and Asian” Baker said she felt called to create a positive space for the Asian LGBT community on the Internet. Asian Gay & Proud collects coming out stories from queer Asian people (or “folks” as Baker calls them), links users to resources, and provides a directory of Asian LGBT support groups around the country.
Besides her online activism endeavors, Baker also gets up, close, and intimate with other students as the self-titled Queer Barber on campus – and cutting hair is intimate because, as Baker will tell you, “what other time would a complete stranger be this close to you?!”
Baker runs her barbershop out of her art studio space on the third floor of Beardsley. Amid textiles, sculptures, paintings, and a collection of salvaged items waiting to be artfully attached to other salvaged items, Baker clips and cuts while shooting the proverbial queer shit with her clients.
I took up the hot seat with Baker for a trim and to discuss her barbershop, her art, and her activism.
So how long have you been cutting hair?
I started charging people at the beginning of last semester, but I’ve been cutting my own hair since high school and then cutting friends’ hair since freshman year.
What kind of haircuts do you normally do?
Any kind really. I’ve done really long haircuts that just need trim ups, and I’ve done a lot of design work with clippers, which is always really fun because then it’s like getting to use my artistic eye.
Yeah, you can clipper mine.
No. Unfortunately, I’m not the best model for buzzed hair designs, but I like them. Where did you learn to cut hair?
At the beginning it was trial and error, and also my mom giving me tips because she used to cut hair and she still cuts my dad’s hair and her own hair. She would give me tips on how to get the backs and stuff like that, and then now, these days if I want to find a specific tip, I just go on YouTube. It’s kind of surprising that all of these hairdressers are willing to share so much. It’s like, I’m not going to go to the salon anymore, now that you’ve given me the professional skills.
So, what’s all this art stuff?
This isn’t representative really of what I’m doing now. I dabble in lots of different things, like this is made out of security envelopes. I’m really interested in piecing different things together. I’m going to fill this up with rhinestones and shinny things.
Oh and I really like this!
This is a target bag, can you tell? I fused the plastic. You take 8 layers of plastic bag and you put it between parchment paper or wax paper and then you use an iron and it fuses it together. So, like I’m interested in quilting but also more like sculptural stuff that uses found objects and I’m really interested in textiles and how it relates to gender. It always comes back to gender. I still have a few months until my senior show so I’m still dabbling a bit in various things.
So how does sculpture help train you for hair cutting?
Well, it’s like a 3D object, you’re kind of shaping it. The actual haircutting techniques will help enhance that but altogether I think but when I view it as this object I’m sculpting down it helps.
Are most of your clients queer?
I would say yeah, but it’s changing a little bit because I’m getting a lot of word of mouth, like friends of friends who’ve heard about what I do. For example, men’s cuts, they didn’t know I offered that in the beginning but there are people who are like, wait, do you cut hair for people who aren’t queer? I’m like, yes! It used to be 90 percent queer and now it’s more like 60 percent.
You say you usually end up talking about queer things during your appointments. What do you talk about? What’s a big queer issue for you right now?
Well, immigration is big. I thought about that a lot when I had a international partner. I was like, wow, we could never live here because she didn’t have a job where she could get sponsored here. My mom was sponsored by my dad. She came over from Japan, and that only works in heterosexual relationships and I think that’s really unfair. I think we should spend more time figuring out how to do that than marriage on our home turf.
In terms of, for the Queer and Trans Conference [Baker also works with the Queer and Trans Conference Steering Committee] what we’re thinking of doing is, and this is kind of, not top secret information but we haven’t posted our mission statement anywhere yet, but we were thinking about doing it just about sex in general. Not just the act of sex but sex workers and sex education and the different realms that sex can be apart of. Queer sex always has a certain connotation I think in heterosexual communities but also in queer communities, when someone is newly out or newly coming to terms with their sexual identity they’re like, okay, gay sex is like this, you know I have to do this to be queer, but it’s necessarily like that. I think we need to kind of work on the ways we talk about sex in our communities. I think that a lot of queer people who might not enjoy, say, anal sex or might not enjoy kinky stuff might think well, lesbians do that, it what I have to do. Or I have to enjoy this kind of sexual act in order to claim this identity as queer. I think that can be really damaging to someone’s formation and to the community too.
P.S. do you want like a straight line in the back?
Whatever you think.
You were asking me how long it takes to do a haircut, well it also depends on how much I’m talking. Sometimes it takes longer than it should because I’m interested in talking about certain things.
Have you ever experimented with the left over hair?
Well you can actually felt it, but no. But wouldn’t that be funny if that was like an extra souvenir. You could make a necklace depending on how much hair I cut off. So, I’m being a little conservative but I could take more off the sides.
Maybe just a little bit more.
You can make an appointment with the Queer Barber by visiting her website.
(Below, Baker cuts Perry Nguyen’s ’15 hair in her studio work space. Photos by Allison Ranshous ’13.)