Unlike others in the shop, Greg Greer isn’t much for workstation flair. There’s a picture of his dog, the scattered implements of his trade, and not much else. Greer is a lunch pail kind of guy. A man’s man. He rides Harleys.
He’s also a hairdresser.
“It’s all about the work,” the single father and former construction worker says unsentimentally, between appointments at Rumors Hair Salon in Scottsdale. “I don’t try to make the salon my home.”
To some people — specifically, to people who rank “hairsylist” somewhere between “kindergarten teacher” and “Marilyn Monroe impersonator” on the pecking order of masculine professions — Greer and nonflamboyant stylists like him are deviations from the mean. It’s a near-universal form of gender prejudice — so widespread, in fact, that it provides the essential comic ingredient in “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” starring Adam Sandler as a virile, effortlessly hetero Israeli assassin who moves to New York and reinvents himself as a purveyor of “silky smooth” hairdos. The movie opens today.
Facts are facts: Hairstyling is a female and gay male-dominated profession. So, like the female fighter pilot or the gay fireman, straight-guy hairstylists in the Valley have learned to coexist with the paradox. Even revel in it.
Unlike Sandler’s Zohan, veteran stylist Carlo Bonsignore has never wasted a terrorist — not knowingly, anyway — but he does excel in motocross and rugged outdoor sports. He admits that, outside of the salon, his interest spectrum and those of his colleagues rarely overlap.
“If I put together, like, a camping trip, only one in 20 will want to join me,” Bonsignore laments. “We have fashion and style in common, but aside from that, the only thing we can really do is hang out by the pool.”
Though Bonsignore is routinely teased by friends and ex-classmates (“All the time, dude!”) for his unusual line of work, his family was always supportive. His uncle was a career hairstylist, and so is his kid brother, Salvatore. Later this year, the siblings plan to open their own Aveda salon.
Greer agrees that most ribbing is good-natured. But occasionally he feels provoked.
“I’ve been to Christmas parties where husbands look me up and down and are like, 'Oh, so yooooou’re Greg.’ And they get patronizing,” he says. “You can diffuse a lot of that stuff if you want to. If you don’t, you put your dukes up.”
Reverse discrimination is also a problem. Both Greer and Bonsignore suspect that some customers are secretly biased against straight stylists. Like the football coach who unconsciously favors white quarterbacks and black tailbacks, some clients have entrenched cosmetic biases about who should be styling their hair. Sometimes, they want a show of flamboyance. Or at least a conspicuous absence of masculine swagger.
“Honestly, you don’t want to act too manly around clients,” Bonsignore says. “They want confidence, but they don’t want overcompensation. And, hopefully, in the end, the cut will win them over.”
Greer — who grew up poor in Winslow and credits hairstyling with steering him away from a life of crime — also cautions up-and-coming male stylists against overconfidence.
“If you try to bust into a salon like the new rooster in the henhouse, they’ll chew you up and spit you out,” he laughs. “There are some girls who you don’t want to mess with.”
Bonsignore, who currently teaches hair stylingat Kohler Academy in Scottsdale, says that one stereotype about working in the hair-care industry is true: It has obliged him to explore his “feminine” side. The majority of his students are female and between ages 18 and 21. A lot of them are sensitive.
“You have to be more compassionate and diplomatic while judging their work, and that’s hard for me,” the scissor-wielding Renaissance man admits. “But I’m working on it.”