KP Procido, left, works with client Max Wallace at Spa Isbell in New Orleans. (Photo by Irena Fischer-Hwang)

Kathryn (KP) Procido remembers the day she decided to become a cosmetologist. Inspired by Shane from the TV show “The L Word,” Procido had recently given herself a messy bob haircut, and was working at The Bean Gallery coffee shop, where she was a barista.

KP Procido (Photo by Irena Fischer-Hwang)

Her new ’do caught the eye of former “Grooming Guru” Kyan Douglas, who complimented Procido’s hair while picking up his daily caffeine fix. Procido had been cutting her own hair as a way of exploring her sexuality and gender identity, but hadn’t seriously thought of pursuing it as a career.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s basically a sign from God that I should go to cosmetology school,’ ” Procido said.

Today, Procido cuts hair at Spa Isbell in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, and helps her clients explore gender expression through their hairstyles. She identifies as genderqueer (and uses she/her/hers pronouns) and specializes in androgynous cuts like her own.

Procido’s cuts, catalogued on Instagram under her handle @scissorfag, are a dizzying carnival of fades, undercuts, colors, patterns and textures. They contrast sharply with the gender norms typically observed in Western styles, where men’s haircuts often feature hard edges and visible scalp, while women’s styles include longer lengths and varied textures. Under Procido’s clippers and shears, traditionally masculine and feminine style elements meld into an aesthetic that defies categorization.

By combining styling elements that have historically been reserved for one gender or the other, Procido is creating a space for nonbinary gender expression through hair.

“Gender is a spectrum of expression & so is your hair,” Procido states on her Instagram page, a philosophy that grew from her journey.

“When I came out it was very much ‘butch’ or ‘femme’ and I was like, ‘Cool, great, I guess I’m butch,’ ” Procido said. But after years of exploration, she realized that she didn’t identify with either term.

“So I started calling myself a ‘fagette.’ ”

These days, Procido sports hot pink eyeliner and glitter powder, coupled with a buzz cut dyed bright chartreuse.

It’s a look that caught the attention of Angela Isbell, cosmetologist and owner of Spa Isbell. Isbell said she had long wanted to hire a barber to diversify the spa’s services, and described Procido’s expertise in short styles as “groovier” and “funkier.” 

“She does want to cater to [the nonbinary community], and I think that’s wonderful,” Isbell said. “We need that in here, we need diversity.”

Isbell said she hadn’t known anyone from the transgender community until she met Procido.

“I never really knew what nonbinary was until she started,” Isbell said. “A lot of my friends are gay, just like me, and we’re all feminine, feminine women, so … I’m learning.”

In recent years, more nuanced media coverage of the transgender community has provided a platform for the nonbinary narrative. Yet hair salons and barber shops traditionally remain segregated by sex, and can be intimidating for nonbinary people.

“I’ve looked for a queer hair stylist my entire life,” said Max Wallace, 30, of New Orleans. Wallace was assigned female at birth and started taking testosterone as a teen, but decided to stop hormone injections a couple years ago. Today, she identifies as genderqueer and also uses she/her/hers pronouns, and prefers a more androgynous appearance.

KP Procido, left, shampoos Max Wallace’s hair before a cut. (Photo by Irena Fischer-Hwang)

“Physical expression of self, and identity … mean so much, especially for people who are other, or who feel like they are on the margins of society,” Wallace said. “My hair has transitioned with me through all those gender expressions.”

Logan Mumphrey, a registered nurse and coordinator for transgender health services at the CrescentCare health clinic, believes that Procido’s work is adding a much-needed facet to the transgender community in New Orleans.

“I think that there have been people that specialize in masculine haircuts, and people that specialize in feminine styles,” said Mumphrey, who identifies as transmasculine and uses he/him/his pronouns. But Procido “is unique in that she is specifically marketing herself as someone who is using hair…as a gender affirming method.”

Most of Procido’s clients find her through word-of-mouth. For Wallace, it was a bit easier — she and Procido are dating. Nevertheless, it still took a little convincing on Procido’s part.

“I can never seem to communicate to stylists,” Wallace said, but Procido’s cuts help her feel like her hair is finally “doing what I want, it’s growing out in the way I want, and it allows me to express myself in the way that feels most comfortable to me.”

KP Procido points out details in a client’s haircut. (Photo by Irena Fischer-Hwang)

Procido almost didn’t end up as The Scissor Fagette.

She started cutting her own hair out of desperation. After coming out in high school, Procido couldn’t seem to find a hairstyle that she felt reflected her identity.

“I would try to get my hair cut, and it never felt right,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was wrong, and I started hacking away at it by myself.”

After her encounter with Douglas at The Bean Gallery, Procido obtained her cosmetology license at the Aveda Institute New Orleans. 

But at her first job in an upscale mall salon, she felt creatively stifled with the “very heteronormative” client base.

“I just thought that I was bad at hair, and I gave it up,” she said.

Procido returned to working at coffee shops, but still cut hair as a favor for family and friends.

Without the pressure of the salon environment, Procido felt like she finally had the freedom to develop her own specialty. Earlier this month, she posted in the Queer New Orleans Facebook page about possibly getting back into hair full time.

“I thought maybe one or two people would be interested,” said Procido. Instead, her post got over 90 likes and led to over 10 new clients.

A chance conversation with Douglas got Procido into the hair industry over a decade ago, but the support she received from the New Orleans queer community is what’s bringing her back.

Procido is hopeful that she’ll be able to do hair full time again soon.

“Zora Neale Hurston has a quote I really love: ‘There are years that ask questions, and years that answer,’” said Procido, who still considers herself to be on a journey, both professionally and personally. “I feel like this is an ‘asking questions’ year for me.”

But amidst all the questions, one thing is clear to her.

“What my passion is with hair … is being able to really see people, and how they want to represent themselves.”

Irena Fischer-Hwang (she/they) is a features intern at The Dallas Morning News, where she writes local human interest stories and is co-producing a podcast on classical music. She received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in spring 2019.