Right now, beauty routines can feel like performance art of luxury from a past life we no longer live. What exactly is the point of putting on lipstick when you have to hide it behind a face mask just to go outside for groceries? What’s the point of doing a skin-care routine when practically no one will see your face without a filter, screen, and internet connection between you and them? Beauty has rarely felt so futile.
But of course, that also means that the pursuit of it is a refusal to give in to hopelessness, to a totalitarian sense of drowning in what’s going on. More than that, understanding the balm that beauty can be has also been a necessity. With this understanding, hundreds of thousands of products have been sent to frontline health care workers sorely in need of hand cream, soap, and moisturizer for the welts and bruises constant PPE wear causes while they’re on duty. But the problem is that everyone needs help; the problem is that not just frontline workers who need aid. The Trans Clippers Project, a project jumpstarted by volunteer collective Imagine Water Works in New Orleans, is stepping in to fill in part of that gap.
Hoping to help dysphoric queer folks in isolation deal with misgendering, they’re offering free deliveries of clippers across the U.S. through donations of new clippers. As Psychology Today reported in 2016, more than half of trans-identified people suffer from mental health issues, the gesture is not just a practical solution to a specific problem, it’s also an act of community care and kindness in a time when everyone — but particularly marginalized groups such as queer and transgender people of color — have less access to resources. Klie Klebert, co-founder of the project, spoke with Allure over the phone about the project and how people can help.
ALLURE: What does beauty mean to you?
KLIE KLEBERT: Beauty is such a complicated topic. What we’re trying to do here comes down to two things: help people feel more at home in themselves and let people know they deserve that feeling. And that other people out there care about them in this moment. We are trying to show care in a way that recognizes the whole universe's beauty and what it means to my community. That’s what moves me, and that’s what beauty looks like to me today.
ALLURE: This is not the first mutual aid network your team has established; it’s merely the newest one focusing on beauty care as mutual aid. Can you tell us how this idea came into fruition?
KLEBERT: We’re a community group that has done a lot of work around water access, climate change, and disaster preparedness and response. We started a Facebook group for the New Orleans area pretty early in the awareness of the pandemic. It was just a mutual aid group of people for finding housing, offering housing, food deliveries. Then, someone in the group asked for a haircut.
This crisis is going to increase dysphoria over time. If we know all these things, what can we do to plan for it?
We were really in the thick of it at that time, and this person was willing to risk their health for a haircut. I had a feeling I knew what that might be about. I’m a trans person, and as a trans person, my style and my gender expression are both very important to my mental health. I knew my hair was growing and this person's hair is growing and they’re worried about it, and I had a hunch. I watched that conversation in the group and the first couple comments were from people who didn’t understand, and I had to step in and say, “Hey everybody, hair means different things to different people. Depending on your culture, your gender expression, and other things I’m not thinking about – it can mean survival for some people. Can we take a step back and support this person even if we don’t understand what they need right now? That's how we move forward.”
People immediately understood. It turns out that person is trans and that got me thinking about how we could protect trans people in this crisis when we know this is a growing need. This crisis is going to increase dysphoria over time. If we know all these things, what can we do to plan for it?
ALLURE: That’s how the project started.
KLEBERT: I talked to a couple of local hairstylists and barbers who are also queer to get more information about how to keep people safe from ask to delivery. We were initially thinking of doing a swap, but the professionals I talked to told me it’s not the safest thing to share hair clippers right now. They’re hard to disinfect completely, especially if you have people who have never [used them before] and are trimming very close to the face. It was recommended we just [give] new clippers for each person. The guidance was incredibly important, and it changed what the project looked like for us.
It’s amazing how the community instantly started rallying behind this.
We also explained to people at launch that this was a specific need relating to gender identity. We didn’t just say, “Trans people need haircuts, please give us money.” We had a feeling people were going to be like, “Well, everyone needs haircuts.” We included facts about how trans and gender non-conforming people needed access to hair care for their safety and mental health. People we spoke to have become more hesitant to go outside to get food because they’re getting misgendered more and more.
It’s amazing how the community instantly started rallying behind this. It’s grown massively since. Ten states and several different countries [have gotten involved] in a matter of days.
ALLURE: Has the beauty community within NOLA been part of the donation drive and outreach service for this, or has it mostly been word-of-mouth through other sources of community?
KLEBERT: We’ve had donations from several barbers and gotten a few notes like, “Hey, I became a barber because I'm a trans man who felt unsafe or uncomfortable going to a salon and needed to create a space for others like me. Thanks for creating this project and letting me donate.” This has happened several times. At this point, it's been about 158 individual donors donating anywhere from $10 to $50 at an average of $35. We’ve gotten several $5 donations and that's great, too. It’s been a truly grassroots effort.
We've received two grants, one from the Urgent Action Fund and one from the Southern Campaign for Equality, but these have not yet been disbursed. We also received $500 from a podcast that's called the Gender Reveal podcast and that helped us get started in the beginning, and we also received $600 from the mutual aid disaster relief network.
ALLURE: How many clippers have you been able to send out so far?
KLEBERT: As of May 18, 115 clippers have been sent off. Thirty-four of those have gone to Louisiana, 20 of those to Pennsylvania, three to Mississippi, 21 to Massachusetts and New Hampshire, 20 have gone to California, 16 to Indiana, and one to Kentucky. These are going to help more people than the number of clippers sold, because some folks live in the same houses are quarantined together and sharing them. We also are using a reputable brand, WAHL, because our hope is that if we give them really good clippers, they’ll be able to use them over time.
We already knew there was an issue for trans people to find safe places to get their haircuts. We wanted to give them quality clippers so they can cut their own hair well beyond this if they need to, or cut their friends' hair. [We might see a revolution of trans, nonbinary, and Two-Spirit barbers now! Something could happen from that. So, it’s reaching more people than the numbers purchased [and donated], and it will help people far beyond this moment.
The situation we’re coming across now, unfortunately, is price-gouging. Every time I order clippers, they are more expensive than the last time, and it doesn’t matter who I get them from at this point. They’re either less and less available or the same source has doubled the price.
ALLURE: [How can people help make this project — and your team’s work overall — more sustainable? How can we help?]
KLEBERT: We could always use donations of clippers; we can use monetary donations. You can donate directly through our website or through Donorbox, and choose which state to allocate your donation to. Or you can give to our work at large, which is also trans-led and focuses on a larger universe of things. We’re also looking for organizers in every state, and so far, have organizers in 18 states. The more people that can deliver, the lighter the load for each group. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to be part of this at all. We have trans and cis organizers. It’s meant to be a place where everyone can plug in in some kind of way. That’s mutual aid. You don’t have to be just one kind of person to make a difference.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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Originally Appeared on Allure