Wednesday, June 9th, 2010
“I am fifth generation born in El Paso, Texas. I grew up with my Mom and three sisters, as my Dad was not around. My Mom owned a hair salon and I spent a lot of time there. Back in the day, I never knew if I wanted to do interior design or hair, but I never did either because I thought they were too gay. I always knew that I was gay, but I just thought that I was a freak and there was something wrong with me that could be fixed. Seriously.
“My Mom and I are very close, but she is a really simple woman. One time, she told me that if she found out that her only son was gay, she would kill herself. What do you say to that? I mean, how could I tell my Mom that I wanted to go to hair school? It was basically like coming out of the closet. You spend your time doing hair and carrying around a bag with rollers and flat irons. I loved it, but that is pretty gay. I only decided to enroll in hair school when I came to terms with myself. Now, I am 38 and finally came out to my Mom three Christmases ago. She turned out to be cool with it. I think that she always knew. She was just in denial.
“For most of my life in El Paso, I lived two lives. In high school, I was still in the closet, so I did the whole girlfriend thing and played sports. Right out of high school, I met these guys from Juarez, Mexico who played on a gay volleyball team in El Paso. I started practicing with them and hung out with them because they were the only gay guys that I knew. The whole time, I also had my straight friends and my straight life. I never mixed the two worlds. If it was not for volleyball and meeting those guys, I don’t know where I’d be. I’d probably still be straight and in El Paso.
“I ended up leaving El Paso and moving in with my boyfriend in Dallas. When that didn’t work out, I was talking with one of my volleyball friends who encouraged me to move to D.C. where he was. When I got here, I worked at a law firm and as a courthouse and jail clerk while I went to hair school at night. It was scary to leave my federal job to pursue hair, but I fucking hated it. My first job was in a really conservative salon in the World Bank, so I wasn’t getting a chance to be creative until I started working at Bang salon.
“D.C. is getting better, but it can still be pretty lame in terms of hair and design. Most people here are so afraid to do something different because they work in politics. I get tons of girls who come in and say, ‘Do something edgy.’ As soon as I give them ideas, they get scared and want to go back to their same haircut. What’s that term, freak in the sheets and a lady on the streets. It’s like that, I guess. Still, it is so much better than when I came here ten years ago.
“For the most part, I love my clients. I have had to divorce a few of them, but overall they are great. We talk about all kinds of stuff in the chair. Most of these people are sitting behind a desk all day and they want to gossip and hear my crazy stories. They tell me a lot of stuff, too. And I mean, a lot of stuff. I hear about women who cheat on their husbands or have had lesbian experiences. I’ve heard it all. I guess that girls love that whole Will and Grace thing and want to have a cool, gay best friend.”
You can find Roberto at Bang Salon at 601 F Street NW.