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A Cut Above

A Cut Above


Winning Bravo's Shear Genius competition was just one more win for Anthony Morrison. The British hairstylist to the stars talks about coming out, falling for an older man, and how he inherited the Jeri Curl gene.

When Anthony Morrison triumphed in the Bravo reality competition Shear Genius, fans of the hairstylist competition weren't surprised. The 40-year-old single Morrison didn't get a lot of airtime compared to some of his competitors--frankly, professionalism doesn't make good TV the way arguing and cattiness do. Now the British-born, California-based stylist, entrepreneur, and budding TV star speaks exclusively with The Advocate about loving hair since he was a little boy, a teenage first romance with a schoolteacher, coming out, and mixed feelings about his father's homeland of Jamaica.

Congratulations on winning Shear Genius in May. What's been the fallout, other than the $100,000, which is always helpful?

That is always helpful. I just moved to a new location [Londoner Salon and Day Spa in Manhattan Beach, Calif.] about two years ago. Since the win, that whole process has been really easy. The phone's been really busy. I've got a whole new staff. I've increased my prices, and people are paying them. [Laughs]

You didn't get as much face time as the other contestants.

Everyone kept saying to me, "Why aren't you featured more?" It's because I wasn't acting up and I tried to treat everyone with the upmost respect. I was boring. I wasn't Tabitha; let's put it that way. I have a MySpace page, and I have a lot of people that sent me messages and said thanks for being professional and thanks for not acting like a mad hairdresser and all you did to make our profession look legitimate. That made me feel really good.

But were you nervous as you watched the episodes and saw you weren't getting on the air much?

Oh, yeah. The first episode I threw a party for all my friends and a few clients, and there were maybe 70 people. And I wasn't featured at all. [Laughs] It was embarrassing. I had it in my salon. I had more airtime on the commercials leading up to the show than in the show itself.

Now you were into hair from a really early age, right? How did that happen?

I don't know. At about the age of 8, I was just fascinated with hair. I have a picture of myself at the local grocery store holding up a box of what would be like Jheri Curl and smiling from ear to ear holding this box and my family were like, 'We don't know what's wrong with that boy."

So it's genetic, your love of hair. You were born this way.

I was born with the hair gene, if that's possible. This may sound a little cheesy and a little corny, but I love it. I love it every bit as much today as I did when I started my profession properly at 15. I left school and went into an apprenticeship and was a fully licensed hair dresser and working at a great salon in the heart of London at 20 years old.

When you were 8 years old and loving hair, what was the next step?

The next step was to do my sisters' hair and all of their friends at about 10. [Morrison has an older and a younger sister.]

Did you cut it?

No, I was just braiding. I'd braid the hair and put it in ponytails and try to put it in little twists. I'd get those elastic bands with the bubbles on them and try to put those in all over. They'd say, "Look, I've got, like, 60 bubble pins all over; what are you doing?" I'd say, "It's going to look good. Just sit there. We're just practicing right now." There are a lot of women in my family -- a lot of aunts and cousins. So as I was coming up, I got to practice a lot.

What would your dad say?

My dad actually was not entirely for my decision to become a hairdresser. But at 14 I announced, "OK, I am definitely going to be a hairstylist."

What did he say when you were 10 and braiding hair?

He tried to stop me a few times and said, "Why don't you go outside and play with your friends?" I said, "I don't want to go outside and play with them; I want to stay here and play with their Barbie dolls. My dad was an electrical engineer, and he moved from Jamaica to England in the early '60s.

How old were you when your mom died giving birth to your younger sister?

I was about 2 1/2.

Oh, so she must be very hard to remember.

Yeah, my mother died at 24. My grandmother is still alive, and she played a key role.

So who supported you when you announced you wanted to leave school?

That was not easy. I kept badgering my father, and he said, "You're not leaving school; you're going to take your A levels." I said, "Dad, you've got to let me do this. I'm going to be great at this profession." He said, "I don't think I can stop you." Years later, I had a small salon I opened in England with my cousin, and I was about 22, and my dad said, "You know what, I think you are actually doing something you're going to be amazing at."

That must have been a big moment.

That was a huge moment. My dad was a man of few words, so when he said that--wow.

So you're 14, 15 years old and you're interning at this salon in London. You're obviously seeing gay people, if you hadn't before.

This was definitely the first experience of meeting gay people. One of the guys I worked with, I had the hugest crush on him.

Was this your first crush?

Oh, no, no, no. I had many crushes in school. So many. But obviously you didn't do anything about it.

So when did you first realize you were gay?

I think I always knew. I was maybe 10 or 11, something like that. Why do I have a crush on half of my friends? That's not normal. Then I dated this girl for a while. I'll never forget it. I dated her for probably a year, and we never really did anything. We'd kind of fool around and stuff. One day she said to me, "I have a question for you."

How old were you?

I was like, 11. She said, "Do you like boys?" I said, "Yeah, I like everybody." She said, "No. Do you like boys. One of my friends said you might like boys." I thought, Oh, my God, is it that obvious? People can actually tell. I said, "No! Why are you saying that?" I don't know why--maybe because I was ogling boys in the shower and somebody caught me?

So when did you come out to yourself?

I was 17, and I had my first experience. I put an ad in one of the papers, a national paper. It wasn't even a gay magazine.

What did the ad say?

I think it said something like, "Handsome black male looking for friends to socialize." It said nothing about a relationship. Actually, it was an international paper too, because I was getting responses from overseas.

If you said you were 17 in the ad, I bet you would have gotten even more responses.

Oh, no, I didn't put my age down. I ended up corresponding with this guy from Norwich [England]. We spoke and spoke and spoke, and he sent me a photograph in the mail, and I sent him one back of me.

So this was about 1982, '83.

Yes. He looked great. He was 28 and a teacher and...I was 22. I told him I was 22 because I knew if I said I was 17, he wouldn't have been interested. I ended up going to Norwich to visit him.

For a stay-over?

I stayed over. I told my sisters I was going to London to visit a friend of mine and I'd be back. My dad said, "Where are you going?" I said, [voice gets higher and nervous] "I'm going to London to visit a friend, and I'll be back!"

Had you ever kissed a boy?

No, and I must say, he was lovely. He was absolutely a gentleman and a scholar. He was just wonderful. He picked me up at the train station and took me home and made me dinner, and we watched TV and talked and talked and talked. He said, "Can I give you a kiss?" I said sure. Then I told him I'd never really done anything. He said, "Oh,really? At your age?" [Laughs] And it was great. He came down to where I was to visit, and we hung out there.

He stayed in a hotel.

Yep, he drove down. He'd come on a Saturday night and stay all day Sunday.

You said, "I am so gay."

Oh, yeah. It was fantastic. We dated for about three or four months, and then I knew I had to come clean.

He must have dropped his beer.

He did. I said, "I've got something to tell you. You know when I told you I was 22? I'm not exactly...that old." He said, "OK, how old are you?" I said, "Well, I don't want you to get mad." He said, "I won't get mad." I said, "I don't want you to get mad--please." He said, "I won't get mad, Anthony." I said, "I'm going to be 18 on my next birthday." It's coming up. It's coming up!

I'm 17 and a half!

I thought I might go for the higher number. He said, "So you're 17?" I said, "Well, I'm in my 18th year." Oh, he wasn't happy. He wasn't happy. That was my first experience. The first time I was with him and I came back to my family home, my sister was there--who is now a lesbian [she came out to Morrison about ten years ago]--and she kind of pulled her head back, and I was, like, "What?" All of a sudden, now that I'm no longer a virgin, I'm thinking I smell of sex. I said, "What?" She said, "Nothing." I said, "What? What? What? What are you looking at?" I got all paranoid.

Did you stay in touch with the teacher?

We did. I was going through an old diary about 11 years ago, and I came across his number, and I called him. Still working. He's married. With kids.

Oh, to a woman.

Yes. With kids.

Was he freaked out that you called or was he pleased?

He was pleased.

Is he bisexual?

No, he's straight. He said, "You'll be surprised to know I'm actually married." I said, "Oh, God, what's his name? I'm so happy for you." He said, "No...." [Laughs]

So whom did you come out to next?

Next, I came out to my coworkers. My family was later. My family is hard. There are still some in my [extended] family who don't know. The Jamaican upbringing is not very open to that thing. I never came out to my father until just a few years ago when I was in a relationship. I was going to bring him, and I told my father, and then I went back to America and we broke up. Even when I go home now, [my extended family] talks about everything else. Are you dating? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? Nothing. Obviously, my sisters are different.

You could have easily not told your dad. Why did you?

It was because my sister came out to him. She told dad before she told me. She said, "He took it pretty well." He said, "Are you happy? Are you good?" Wow. She said, "The next time you go back to England, you have to tell him. It's only fair." So when I went back to England on the last night before I was about to leave--chicken that I am--I said, "The London marathon is in April, and I'm going to run that, and when I come back, I'd like to bring someone for you to meet. I really think you're going to like him." He said, "Um, I kind of knew anyway. It's fine. Are you good? Are you happy? Are you content?" And I said I wouldn't want my life any other way. He said, "That's all that matters." I went to Denmark, flew back to America, and there was a message from my dad. He had left it the day after I left. He was sobbing on the phone. He said, "I don't know what happened. I don't know if failed you, or if you can totally be happy. I just want you to be happy, and I don't know if you will ever totally get to be happy. I'm sorry that I'm saying this on the phone. I just wanted to leave a message." So I'm tearing up, and I call him and say, "Dad, how could you have possibly failed? Mom died at 24. You raised us yourself. We've all got good morals. We're all upstanding citizens and doing great in our lives. You're my hero. You're the person I've always looked up to. You failing? That's not it. The way I am; I've always been this way. Don't blame yourself. In fact, you should be proud. I wouldn't want to live my life in any other way."

He comes from Jamaica. Have you been to Jamaica? Does it feel different from England?

Oh, very different. It's completely homophobic. I was 17 or 18 [when I visited]. It's a very macho society. My cousins are, like, "Let's go see the girls down the street and... [makes grunting manly noises]." The last trip I made was about eight years ago. My dad was visiting for two months. I said, "Well, maybe I'll stay with you." One of the things he said was, "Can you please not tell anybody or do anything? You know how they are here." I said, "Dad, trust me. I wouldn't want to do that for you or me or anybody."

It's just not worth it?

It's not.

After living in England and the U.S., does it feel like a weight?

It does.

Is it just your family or do you feel unsafe?

It makes me very uncomfortable. Even if you're walking down the street, the guys have this inherent radar for picking up somebody who might be gay. Even if you're trying to butch it up, which might be part of the problem. [Laughs] And they will call you out. It's not pretty.

Then at 24 you said you were just going to go on vacation to America.

I came here before that and loved it. Nobody worked. Everybody looked good. Everyone was on the beach, golden tan and beautiful. Everyone had an abundance of money. Every car was a luxury foreign import. After that vacation I got back to England, and it was raining, and Margaret Thatcher was running the country into the ground. Oh, my God. The more I thought about California, I knew I had to get out--the gloom of it all. I eventually came back here with the intention of staying a year. I got here, and one thing led to another.

You've had clients like Tiger Woods and Lil' Kim. What are you proudest of all as a hairstylist?

I'm proud that I do all types of hair. So many people specialize and I can do anything. Whomever sits in my chair I treat like a celebrity.

So what will you do to capitalize on your success with Shear Genius?

I would definitely love to get my own show. It would encompass everything about beauty: health, working out, hair -- obviously. I get up at 4:15 every day and run. I also want it to be for men because there's no one particular show that captures everything to do about guys: style, health, fashion -- just everything. Sometimes when there's a gay person on TV, the straight guys don't want to watch it. I think I can bridge that gap. I think I'm kind of universal. Caucasian people can watch me, and [so can ] African American people.

And you've got that accent. [He laughs] Are you talking with anyone?

I've met with networks like E! and production companies. My own product line down the road would be great. I want it to be organic -- products that can be used on every type of hair. I want it to be universal too.

And your personal life?

I've been focusing on work since the show to capitalize on everything. But if somebody amazing and fantastic and wonderful came into my life, I certainly wouldn't turn him away because of my career. I need the jeans-and-T-shirt guy whom you can put in a tux and [make him] look incredible. I need the guy that has his life together and has a direction and knows himself, someone that has their own thing going on. And can take me out!

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