Duluth trans woman changes barbershop culture
Bee Golding, of Deep Cuts, was worried sharing her identity would hurt her business. It had the opposite effect.
DULUTH — Outside Bee Golding’s shop, the barber’s pole boasts blue, red and white.
Inside, Golding sports rainbow-colored hair and pauses at her pink-leopard-framed mirror before setting her puck lights to green, purple and orange.
The once-bare interior of the shop is now bursting with records, plants and products. Guitars, posters and art line the walls amid the barber chairs and memorabilia, and Golding’s gerbil, Jack Torrance, burrows in a tank on the counter.
Since Golding opened Deep Cuts, the barbershop and its barber have seen many changes.
“March 2021, I came out as trans. … I was very nervous about how it would affect business.
"I lost a couple of clients, but it brought in more folks who knew they'd be safe,” Golding said.
Bee Willie of Superior chopped their hair this winter, and when they asked for short cuts, they had been “forcibly feminized.”
Willie has shown pictures of men for reference and heard, “That won’t suit a young lady.”
“Well, I’m not a lady,” Willie said.
At Deep Cuts, they don’t experience that pressure. “It’s very open here and I feel respected as who I am,” they added.
Her services are a big deal for her clients.
“This is way more important than just a haircut. This is somebody being seen and you can’t put a price on that. I am rich for that alone,” Golding said.
Trans visibility in Duluth has been slow coming, said Robyn Isaacs, who first moved here 15 years ago, and returned last year.
“Bee is so important to the community,” Isaacs continued.
Golding has barbered at the Damiano Center; and Deep Cuts tabled at the Northland’s first Trans Joy Fest in June, and will be at the upcoming Duluth-Superior Pride festivities.
Golding also started the Friends of Evan fund — in honor of Evan Adams who died in 2021 — where 100% of the donations go toward hair services at Deep Cuts for trans, nonbinary and 2-spirit folks who may not be able to afford them. (Duluth has raised $1,700, so far.)
And, a good portion of Golding’s clientele either never had a conversation with a trans person before her, or it’s their first time experiencing the inclusive and affirming environment Golding has created, she said.
“The most rewarding thing to do is cut trans kids' hair. It’s really nice to be the person I wish I had when I was their age,” Golding added.
After barbering in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Golding relocated to Duluth as COVID prompted shutdowns in Minnesota.
She couldn’t work for three months, but she moved with significant savings, which she used to open her business and sign the lease on her Woodland shop.
Golding began cultivating the professional environment she needed.
“Barbershop culture, not great if you’re queer. I got to hear all the things people said when gay customers left. It’s usually racist, usually homophobic, usually very sexist,” she said.
Golding’s affirming intention carries onto her service list and pricing.
A clipper cut is not gendered, Golding said.
There’s no such thing as a men’s or women’s haircut — if I hand you a pile of hair, you can’t tell me who it came from, she posited — so, folks are charged on hair length.
During the News Tribune visit, Golding freshened up Isaacs’ hair with a straight-edge razor and clippers.
Of other shops, Isaacs said it’s uncomfortable to be someone who is obviously queer and walk into a place where there are mostly cisgender people asking for gendered haircuts.
“It was always like a novelty for them: ‘I never give girls these cuts,’ and I have to be like, ‘OK, is this the time I tell them I’m not a woman and I’m trans? Or do I want to suffer through this and get it over with,” they recalled.
Along with barbering and cosmetology services, the shop offers gender-affirming massages and hair removal — which can all be difficult to find.
“Waxing is a huge thing for trans folks, and hair removal,” said Isaacs.
“As a trans person with trauma, to know you're coming to a place where you're totally welcome and you don’t have to worry about who's touching your body ... it’s really instrumental in our lives to have this place that’s safe to come to.”
And, this secure environment reaches Golding’s employees, too.
Tate Guenard moved to Duluth seeking refuge in queer-friendly spaces, a departure from his hometown. “I want to be my own person and have a valid existence in my workspace and not be considered the butt of a joke,” he said.
Guenard found Deep Cuts through a Google search and started working at the shop. Now, his identity and input are cared for on the job, and Guenard has found true leadership in Golding.
“It’s the first ever boss I actually consider a mentor or somebody I really respect,” Guenard said.
Save for a few weird interactions, misgendering and some ignorant comments rather than malicious ones, Golding hasn’t experienced much pushback.
People have expressed concern over repercussions to her or the shop, and she refuses to live in fear of that.
“Duluth is one of the only places where I don’t feel like I have to worry where I am. Nowhere I walk and (think) ‘I might just get killed for being trans,’” said Golding.
She believes the reason her business is so successful is because the Northland is such a tight-knit, open-minded community.
“I couldn’t do this in half of Minnesota; I couldn’t do this in half of the country.”
- Find Deep Cuts: facebook.com/deepcutsduluth ; instagram.com/deepcutsduluth
- Find LGBTQIA2+ friendly businesses: EverywhereIsQueer.com