Trans-inclusivity takes root in salons across Iowa City

Iowa City is home to many salons offering types of styling for everyone, with an emphasis on gender inclusivity.


Emily Nyberg

Iowa city hair stylist Nathan Stanley washes new hire Katie Boeckenstedt’s hair during a training session at Zen Salon & Spa in Iowa City on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter

Hair stylists in Iowa City are making strides toward offering more inclusive haircut options.

Gender-affirming hairstyling is becoming more common across the city. Hair stylists cut hair to match an individual’s outer gender expression and their true inner identity.

“Regardless of what you identify as, you can come here, and you will be charged appropriately,” said Nathan Stanley, a stylist who manages the Zen Salon & Spa on South Linn Street in Iowa City.

As part of the LGBTQ+ community, Stanley said his own openness about his identity makes LGBTQ+ clients more comfortable going to him for a style.

Stanley trains all the employees at Zen Salon & Spa and said that being respectful of an individual’s pronouns is a top priority. The salon’s ultimate goal is to see all its customers happy, comfortable, and walking out the door with the haircut they were looking for.

Zen Salon & Spa has recently changed from gendered to non-gendered pricing. Clients pay for their hair length and the time it takes to style instead of their gender. Currently, the options on Zen’s booking website include “male,” “female,” or “non-binary.”

“So, if they choose not to divulge that information, usually they click non-binary, and I have a ton of clients myself that identify as non-binary,” Stanley said.

Latisha Knight, a hairstylist at HABA Salon on East Market Street, is a barber practitioner and graduate of the American College of Hairstyling.

 “To be inclusive, to me, means helping someone execute their vision for their hairstyle regardless of gender. It’s how we choose to express ourselves,” Knight wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “We look at lifestyle, goals, upkeep, how much time and money they want to put into the style, and what looks best on them. It’s pretty simple, actually.”

Knight added it is important to educate people on their hair type and texture, how it grows, how to keep their scalp healthy, and how to maximize their personal style while keeping expectations realistic.

 “It’s important to feel comfortable in your own skin,” Knight wrote. “I hope I can help folks with that. I feel happy when I can help someone execute their vision. “

Knight wrote she has given many gender-neutral cuts over the years. She doesn’t charge by gender, only by length.

“Hair grows! You can create shapes. You can create a multitude of colors and patterns. It can be bright. It can be natural,” Knight wrote. “It’s all beautiful to me no matter who wears it. I never wake up and think, ‘I don’t want to go to work today.’ Not in 14 years.”

Paul Clark, owner of Hare Parlor on North Gilbert Street, is also in the LGBTQ+ community. Clark doesn’t charge by the client’s gender, either. However, when he first introduced the language on the salon’s website, it wasn’t as smooth as he thought it would be.

“When you go to look at the options of hair cutting on the website, I have ‘non-binary.’ I tried to do ‘non-gender-specific’ pricing, but people got confused on that,” Clark said. “So, I had to change the verbiage in there with ‘non-binary,’ and that made it easier for people.”

Clark spoke about inclusivity being a priority at Hare Parlor.

“There’s a trans symbol on our door. And there’s a little sticker that has the trans colors on it. We wanted to create a safe space. And we style a lot of different people,” Clark said.

Mad Jac Salon on Kirkwood Avenue is co-owned by Jacqueline Nelson, a seasoned stylist downtown. Nelson spoke about her experience with gender-affirming styling.

“It’s amazing when you give trans people a haircut,” Nelson said. “That is who they are. You notice it as a stylist, and they know it as a person: that’s who they’re meant to be.”

Mad Jac Salon has been in business for over 10 years and has always made inclusivity a priority.

“I’m going to tell you that I have gay people, trans people — I have everybody — that’s what I’ve been doing those 30-some years. We’ve always been an ‘all are welcome’ space,” Nelson said.

Even though almost everyone has hair, styling is a quintessential art form that allows individuals to express themselves. Nelson spoke about how it felt the first time she gave a gender-affirming style to a trans person who had recently come out about their identity. She said those feelings still touch her to this day.

“I mean, we both cried because it was just their true self coming out,” Nelson said. “People need to be allowed to be the person that’s inside them.”