Speaking to Jessie Anderson I’m immediately struck by his warm demeanour and his unrestrained laugh. Even over the phone, I feel like a tea and a chat with him would be an afternoon well spent. This warmth is the heart of the Big Bro’s Barber Shop, that owner Jessie Anderson founded in September 2015. Starting off in a very modest art studio in an industrial warehouse, Jessie wanted to create a physical space dedicated to enhancing the lives of Vancouver’s trans community beyond the context of medical transition but notes that everyone is welcome.
“We get, not only queer and trans people but also allies. But we’re also just the local barbershop, so we get like, neighbourhood dads wander in and those are really cool interactions too,” Jessie adds with a laugh.
After a successful crowd funding campaign, Jessie gained the courage and motivation to move Big Bro’s to its larger current location in May 2016, at 1685 Nanaimo Street in East Vancouver. Cozily situated in the middle spot on the block, Big Bro’s shop window proudly displays the trans flag in the shape of the traditional barber pole.
The store is full of inviting and community-focused elements, like the bulletin board which keeps the trans community posted on local resources, books from Little Sister’s Bookstore where Jessie worked for some years, a foosball table which is popular amongst the smaller customers of Big Bro’s, and the client photo-wall which represents the variety of clients from all walks of life that have found a sense of belonging and a great hairstyle at the store.
Big Bro’s is one of the few brick-and-mortar spaces dedicated to trans wellness. Jessie wanted to create a space for the LGBTQ community with a trans focus. Although there has been a positive shift in acknowledging trans rights within the past three years or so, Jessie says one of the many sorts of feedback they get is that most people haven’t seen successful trans people. He wanted to break that mold and create a space where parents of trans youth could come and see successful trans people not only living happily but owning a flourishing business.
“We’re here to provide a really positive example of what trans success and joy can even look like,” said Jessie.
Big Bro’s pricing system is unique and was tailored with the trans community in mind. It is a three-point system regardless of gender identity; Default (middle), Accessible (lower), and Generous (higher) prices. For even greater accessibility, Big Bro’s offers Compassion Cuts on Wednesdays which is their Accessible rate divided in half.
Previously an event coordinator, Jessie attended many queer parties which had similar sliding scale pricing on tickets with a “pay what you can” option for accessibility. He tailored his own pricing system to be inclusive to all.
“So, we get cis allies who are generous in their support and we get trans people who are down on their luck who get to, not only get their hair cut, but also access this space,” explained Jessie.
Big Bro’s is also one of the few youth-friendly spaces where people can get gender-affirming products, which are often associated with and sold in adult-only stores. Jessie wanted to create a space where youth could come and find gender-affirming products without being sexualized.
“Our space is considerably more welcoming to trans youth and their families!” said Jessie.
Big Bro’s is more than a place for a great hair style, it’s a community and safe space for trans people and anyone who is lucky enough to wonder in.