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"Whatever you do, always give 100%. Unless you're donating blood." – Bill Murray

The Gender-Affirming Oasis of Identity Salon

Owner Roslyn Redman offers a safe haven to those in need of a haircut.

Originally posted on Urban Plains (April 3, 2024).

Roslyn Redman is telling a story about one of their clients, a boy who had spent his entire life with a buzzcut. It wasn’t even because he liked his hair that way. It was just the easiest thing to do—and easy was his utmost priority because, as an autistic person, getting your haircut is anything but. He had shared this fact to a previous hairdresser once. All she could offer was an, “I’m sorry.”

That was until he found Identity Salon.

It was different when he met Redman, Identity Salon’s owner and stylist, because their strength lies in what didn’t need to be said. He simply put his earplugs in, and let them work their magic. He witnessed the way they took extra care to tend to his heightened sensitivities, and for the first time in his life, he felt okay with choosing a brand new hairstyle. With the respect Redman offered, he didn’t need to opt for the quickest option.

“I didn’t really want to be a salon owner,” Redman says. “I didn’t want to, but I was like, ‘Okay, well clearly I needed to be.’”

It’s easy to not see Identity Salon. It’s tucked underneath Ames, Iowa’s, Main St., down a set of rainbow colored stairs and hidden behind tinted windows. Shoppers in Downtown Ames could easily look past it, instead drawn in by the plethora of coffee shops, lively college students, and independent clothing boutiques at road-level.

But if you look again, you can see the larger difference Identity Salon is making. You can hear the easy-going laughter that floats through the air behind the doors while Redman gives an undercut trim.

Redman has been a hairstylist for five years, graduating from cosmetology school, PCI Academy. Having worked at a bunch of different salons in Ames, they realized there was a gap in the industry for services tailored to the queer community. So when working at a previous salon, that’s when they started to do just that. But even then, they never quite felt like they fit in.

So in January of 2022, the decision came to start up their own hair salon. In April that year, Redman drove past 307 Kellogg Avenue, and by chance found a basement location that was vacant. By November, the space was fully renovated—walls painted in a vibrant array of pink, orange, blue and yellow—and Identity Salon had begun taking clients.

“There’s a lot of people in the Ames community that have had a hard time getting a haircut in the past, and finding somewhere that is easy to get your haircut without being super stressed,” Redman says.

For the LGBTQ+ community, the nonconforming folks, the anxiety ridden, neurodivergent, and those who deal with ADHD, Identity Salon is the only place in Ames where they feel truly comfortable getting their hair done. It’s the first gender-affirming salon in Iowa, a place where haircuts are not defined by man or woman, but by style, creativity and pure beauty.

“There’s a huge difference between being an advocate, an ally, and being LGBTQ+ friendly and being gender-affirming,” Redman says. “So, I try to do my best to do the most amount of research that I can to actually help the trans and non-binary community with different things.”

Where the gap lies

With anyone who walks into Identity, Redman adopts a neutral use of language, allowing their clients to say as much or as little as they want to about who they are and how they identify.

“There’s a lot of clients that really appreciate not having to explain that they’re trans, because that’s always the thing—you have to sit down and be like, ‘Hi, I’m trans.’ People don’t do that with me,” Redman says.

Musician June Walker, a friend and client of Redman’s, was one of the people anxiously waiting for the opening of Identity Salon during the six months it was under construction. Walker had always cut and styled her own hair because there was no place in Ames that offered her a positive, affirming styling experience—until Identity.

“They’ve really done a lot of work, understanding the meaning of the queer community—just simple things like using the right pronouns, having an awareness of what I’m looking for with my personal style…just having a ton of natural instinct because they are a part of the community,” Walker says.

When Walker experienced thinning hair, a result of male pattern baldness, she didn’t have to educate her stylist on what was going on. Redman was already equipped with that knowledge. She didn’t have to explain the facts—that it often occurs due to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and it’s a secondary male characteristic that’s often treated during hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for trans women. And while hair loss can be reversed for those with it before starting their treatment, male pattern baldness will progress again once the process comes to a halt. 

“That whole situation didn’t really have to be talked about or explained,” Walker says. “There’s an understanding of what happens…you don’t have to push that conversation, which is really nice.”

When clients trust the process

The steps for a personalized hairdo at Identity starts with the online booking process. Clients input their hair length, type of hair coloring, and the final hairstyle; each service is priced by the duration an entire session will take, whether that’s 35 minutes to four hours. Before someone takes a leap into a daring makeover, they’re offered free consultations to discuss exactly what they’re looking for. There’s even the option of having a quiet appointment, a haircut session free of conversation. The freedom of choice they give their clients is something Redman has fine-tuned.

It’s key for working with clients who are more sensitive to the vibrations of a clipper, or the sound of snipping scissors, as it moves close towards their ears—––this includes those who are neurodivergent, prone to anxiety and especially, little kids.

When cutting hair for a child, Redman would start by asking them to choose between a pair of clippers, one that is quieter and one that is much louder. More often than not, the child will choose the quieter pair. Then they move on to asking what color of a hair comb they would like to be used. Giving those little options allows  kids to relax more in the chair, because it evokes a sense of camaraderie and trust.

A part of that trust is eliminating surprise. Redman does this by walking their client through each step so they aren’t surprised by what is going to happen next. For example, if they are about to swipe a clipper by a kid’s ear, they will tell them how many times exactly they will repeat that action before that area is done. If someone is antsy, the salon provides a box of fidget toys to keep their hands busy. It’s a people-first approach always, for Redman.

“Just having things for people to look at,” Redman says. “I always room scan with my eyes. It helps me relieve anxiety. So just having multiple things around that I can look at always helps. And not having stark lighting–everyone appreciates my light here.”

Client Ella Voloshen, musician and co-owner of the Morning Bell Coffee Roasters cafe on Main Street in Ames, found Redman through a mutual friend who was modeling for them. She sought Redman’s help to remove the color she had dyed her hair the night before, as Voloshen was modeling wedding dresses for a photoshoot the next day. Four years later, the two have maintained a close client-stylist relationship ever since. The reason is simple. Before meeting Redman, Voloshen would walk out of hair salons feeling disappointed. 

“With [Redman], they let me be super particular and they don’t feel bothered by that at all,” Voloshen says.

Voloshen has been able to experiment with a red shag mullet, and is now wearing a platinum blonde do with bangs. It’s a fun and collaborative process in which Redman and Voloshen are able to bounce around ideas on style, cut, and color.

Redman’s next vision is to accept donations to put towards those who cannot afford gender-affirming haircuts. They will price them on a sliding scale based on what the client can afford. They’re looking to do more community events, like having free haircut days. And it’s because above all else, Identity Salon aims to serve the people and extend their arms to welcome just anyone that needs a hair makeover.

But for now, it will continue to be a salon with a penchant for creativity, and a sanctuary for anyone who has been treated less than.

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