Cortex Hair Studio hair stylist Lyons Parker-Shockley / Courtesy photo

Cutting Things Short with Lyons at Cortex Hair Studio

Editor’s note: Lyons uses he/they pronouns.

If you’re anything like me, you tend to take your impulsivity out on your hair. Whether you’re doing it yourself or going to the professionals, nothing feels better than a new hairstyle that looks as good as you thought it would.

Hair has the power to completely transform, and it can be vital to affirming one’s gender. For someone seeking gender affirmation, a barber shop or hair salon can be the first stop. At least, it was for one transgender stylist.

Lyons Parker-Shockley, a stylist at Cortex Hair Studio in Virginia-Highland, was inspired to go to cosmetology school after getting his first short haircut at a barber shop. He told Georgia Voice that the experience was scary, but said the environment ended up being “welcoming.”

“The reason that I went to cosmetology school was my experience of transitioning and my experience of that first haircut and how anxiety-provoking that can be,” Lyons said. “It’s my mission to have a chair that’s open and nonjudgmental.”

Cortex Hair Studio opened in 1989 in Virginia-Highland. Like Lyons, the stylists at Cortex are creatives, from writers to musicians to painters. For years, Cortex has been a go-to salon for the queer community.

Lyons said he’d like to see more LGBTQ people in his chair and the salon. Meeting and connecting with other trans people inspired Lyons to pursue his transition.

“Over time, I’ve gotten to know people who have made the transition. Those people made a huge difference in my life,” they said. “Just seeing them go through it and seeing myself in them … I think that was kind of what finally enabled me to say this is me, this is something that would solve a lot of things. For me, [it solved] a lot of dysphoria that I’ve lived with for a very long time.”

Before they began their hairstyling career, Lyons taught and created art in multiple media. Of the shift, Lyons laughed as he recalled his teachers at cosmetology school likening haircuts to sculpting.

“When I went to cosmetology school, they referred to a haircut as a hair sculpture, which I thought was hilarious,” Lyons said. “But it is an artistic medium. It’s more in the range of, say, textiles or something. I mean, you are making a sculpture with hair.”

When looking for your next hair sculptor, Lyons wants you to do your research and make the drive to a queer-friendly salon, if you can.

“Do your research, take pictures and be as specific as you can about what you want,” Lyons said.

Advocating for yourself in any situation can be difficult, especially as a trans person in the South. Legislation and religious doctrines have continually targeted trans and genderqueer people, but these attacks have increased enormously since 2020. Anti-trans legislation surged last year at 600 total bills. These bills limit access to gender-affirming health care, updating government documents, and education and sports opportunities. At the time of publishing, 544 bills have been introduced in 2024 alone. The Trans Legislation Tracker reports that 23 bills have already passed and 16 of those have been signed into law since January. Despite affirming same-sex attraction and rejecting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Vatican published a doctrine on April 8 “offer[ing] some points of reflection,” including restrictive thoughts on gender. The 20-page document titled “Infinite Dignity” declares that, “any sex-change intervention, as a rule, risks threatening the unique dignity the person has received from the moment of conception.”

While “transgender” is not used explicitly, the rhetoric of this document reflects the increasingly discriminatory attitudes toward genderqueer and transgender people.

“I know that transitioning can be a very isolating and lonely place and just want people to know they have a friend and someone who’s been through it,” Lyons said. “I would have felt less vulnerable, I think, going to a trans barber or somebody who’d been through it themselves. I think it’s because there’s this huge self-consciousness to overcome.”

Sculpting a new gender identity as a trans person can be scary, so Lyons wants to offer his services to his fellow trans and gender nonconforming Atlantans. Follow Lyons on Instagram (@LyonsMane1). Cortex Hair Studio is at 1177 Virginia Avenue NE. Schedule an appointment with a Cortex stylist at cortexsalon.com/appointments or call (404) 874-6913.