Perry Meeks, 39, master barber and owner of The Grain Grooming Studio in Buckhead is affectionately called Blanca by many of his clients—a reference to the character and mother of The House of Evangelista played by trans actress MJ Rodriguez on the hit show “POSE.” The Grain is nestled on the corner of North Fulton Drive before a row of beautiful homes in Buckhead, and if you drive too fast you’ll most likely miss it. But the same can’t be said for the Black gay men and other members of the community who regularly flock to Meeks’ shop for his cutting expertise and the de facto community center environment he’s created in the absence of an actual LGBTQ center in Atlanta. At The Grain, Meeks and his staff are providing more than just haircuts, they’re changing the narrative about how Black gay men should expect to be treated once they enter a Black barbershop by expanding on the model that has historically been unwelcoming to gay men by making the experience more inclusive.
It may not come as a surprise that a barbershop that is owned, staffed, and serving a majority LGBTQ+ clientele in Atlanta—a city often referred to as the Black gay mecca—but for Meeks, who holds a marketing degree, worked in corporate America, and taught as an adjunct professor at Westwood College in his hometown of Memphis, TN, before opening The Grain over a decade ago, it has all come as a beautiful surprise.
“I had never been to Atlanta before. I didn’t know anything about it,” said Meeks. “I didn’t know it was the gay capital. I was a little country naïve boy who hadn’t been anywhere. I wasn’t well-traveled. Atlanta is probably the first place that I can say I actually traveled to because I wanted more,” he said.
Meeks tells The Reckoning that he initially began honing his skills as a barber by cutting the hair of friends in his neighborhood, but he didn’t take the craft seriously or start training until his parents, specifically his father, urged him to do so.
“My dad told me, ‘You never know what corporate America is gonna do, you need a backup plan.” “They encouraged me to get a trade just in case…to have something to fall back on, and I’m glad they did cause look at what I’m doing,” he said.
While there are documented stories of the homophobia many Black gay men have experienced inside black barbershops, Meeks, who is masculine-presenting and identifies as fluid, says his experience has been the exact opposite and does not disagree that how he presents has played a role in how he’s perceived in this space.
“It was never uncomfortable for me in the barbershop. Honestly, I never thought about it until I got here and I started cutting hair, and I started becoming a popular barber within the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “They started to give testimonies: ‘Man it’s so cool here. I’ve always been so tense in barbershops because they talk about pu***, they talk about basketball and sports and I’m not into any of that shit. So I would be like, Oh my God, are we done yet? I wanna get out of here,” Meeks recalls his clients sharing with him.
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