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From Commercial Drive to the House of La Douche, Zoe Broomsgrove shapes hair... and queer culture
So you’re new in town and want to find out what’s hip and cool in the queer scene in Vancouver? Start by checking out Zoho Salon & Lock Shop (1708 East 4th Avenue, just off Commercial Drive). I’d heard through the grapevine that this hair salon was a gathering place for “out and about” lesbians, and since my tresses were getting a wee bit unruly, I made an appointment for a cut (and interview) with the shop’s proprietor, Zoe Broomsgrove.
On sunny days in Vancouver, the salon extends beyond its four walls as a gathering place. I arrived early for my appointment on a bright autumn afternoon to find my soon-to-be stylist outside the shop with a couple of her "hip and cool" friends/clients. They were relaxing on a bench that had been relocated from its standard location in front of the salon and plopped into the middle of the street to maximize their exposure to the sun.
When I asked these gals what’s hip and cool and groovy in this town, they all mentioned Madame Hussy’s House of Style, a new weekly club at Joseph Richards Nightclub on Granville. Described on its blog as a “celebration of life, music, art, culture, people and theatre… and creative inspiration,” Madame Hussy’s is a new spin on an old model, harkening back to the disco days of Studio 54 and avant garde pop culture à la Andy Warhol, featuring a mashup of fashion (hair by Zoe!), drag, dance shows by The House of La Douche, DJs, singers and so on. The crowd is “Gay-Straight-Bi-Just Curious-Asexual-Whatever you call yourself” – there’s something for everyone who’s open.
Well, not quite everyone. “There’s not a lot of mixing of the ages, which I find kind of disturbing,” Zoe admits. “It would be nice to have all the age groups come together, because that’s how wisdom’s passed on.”
Happily (for some of us, at least!), some of Zoe’s friends are making an effort to bridge the age gap in the queer social scene, while making the world a better place at the same time. Four friends have joined together to create [Open HeArt], a group that produces fun social events to raise funds and awareness for grassroots and community-based organizations they’re passionate about. Beyond making a difference for those in need, they’re strengthening their own community by having different kinds of events appealing to people of different ages, ranging from art shows to backyard barbeques. (You can find them on Facebook)
The interview paused for a shampoo and yummy head massage, and resumed once Zoe took her scissors to my unruly mop. How, I wondered, had her salon come to be known as a “homo hub”? All it took, she said, was one high-profile lesbian client to spread the word, and suddenly a huge percentage of Zoe's clients were gay. “A lot of my clients are lesbians and gay men because it’s a really comfortable environment. Most of the stylists I have are gay, so it’s comfortable for clients to come in and just talk about their sexuality and their partners.”
Before she opened her own storefront four years ago, Zoe managed a salon owned by Seventh Day Adventists – decidedly not a homo-friendly scene. “I know it sounds strange,” she said, “but [being gay] is still not totally acceptable and a lot of people just refrain from talking about that in more heterosexual environments because they realize it might make someone feel uncomfortable and they don’t want to get a barrage of questions. So I think [Zoho’s] is a good environment for people to just feel good and express their feelings about their relationships.”
For the most part, the conversations Zoe and her friends were having while I was there were similar to those that have taken place in beauty parlors and barber shops for eons… who’s up to what, where’s everyone going tonight, and so on. Throughout time, the hair salon has remained a gathering spot for every kind of community, and Zoho’s is definitely a part of the community where it lives.