She’s tough, she’s talented, and she might be taking over a salon — or a gay nightclub — near you. Winner of the “fan favorite” award on season 1 of Shear Genius, Tabatha Coffey now gives business makeovers to struggling salon owners as host of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover on Bravo, which airs the show’s second season finale on January 12. Preparing for a special appearance January 7 at New York’s Splash, the Australia-born Coffey called from her own salon, Industrie Hair Gurus in Ridgewood, N.J., to cut up with us about stereotypical gay stylists, unsolicited sperm donors, and the Boystown salon that brought out her militant lesbian claws.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: Congrats on another terrific season, Tabatha, but don’t you ever get tired of hearing people call you a bitch?
Tabatha Coffey: [Laughs] I guess I don’t get tired of it, but that doesn’t mean that I like it. I have my own definition for “bitch,” because I just think people don’t know what else to call a strong female. So when people call me a bitch, I think of my own definition: It doesn’t mean that I’m being catty and mean, it just means I’m being strong and honest.
You throw out the b word and much worse, which often gets you bleeped more than the salon staffers. Have you ever thought of getting one of those swear jars where you have to put a quarter in every time you curse?
No, but that’s a really good idea. I do swear in my everyday life. When I get frustrated with the people I’m dealing with, that’s when those words start to fly.
In my favorite episode this season you visited Chicago Male, a men-only salon in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, and called the staff “gay deer in headlights.”
Well, they were! [Laughs] But I feel I sucked the gay out of them when I went in there.
You obviously have to deal with a lot of gay male stylists. Are they all whiny divas like your show suggests?
No, I can’t say they all are, because I’ve worked with many that are not, but there are a lot of prima donnas out there for sure.
Why do you think gay men are so visible in the hair industry?
Because there is an artistic flair to it. If you have creativity, going into something like graphic design or interior design might not be for you if you don’t have that natural ability, but learning how to do hair is always great. Let’s face it: What gay man doesn’t love to dress up a woman or make her look pretty?
From what I’ve gathered from various lesbian websites, the ladies are happy you’re helping quash the stereotype that all lesbians wear flannel and rock mullets. Are you proud to show America that lesbians do have style?
I am, actually, so I embrace that support. I once had someone tell me that they didn’t know I was a lesbian because I was so fashionable.
While watching the Chicago Male episode with a large group of gay guys, I was surprised at how many of them didn’t know you were a lesbian either. At one point in the episode you talked about being a part of the gay community, which was the first time I could remember you addressing your sexuality on the show.
I have never, ever hidden my sexuality, because to me being a lesbian is like having blue eyes. I just don’t feel like talking about my personal life is appropriate on my show, because I’m there to help other people’s businesses. So it was probably the first time I addressed it only because the situation had come up where the owner, Scott, kept talking about his community and having a salon in Boystown. He was negating my community, which is the lesbian community, and he was also negating females in general, so it was a double whammy to me. I was really pissed off at him.
Your sexuality was never addressed on Shear Genius, yet you were out in the press while promoting the show. Were those conscious decisions on your part?
I always live truthfully. No, it didn’t come up on Shear Genius because it doesn’t pertain to the business or competitive situation. I didn’t need to walk around the competition every two seconds, going, “Look at me! I’m a lesbian!” And I never made a conscious decision to come out to the press because that’s just who I am. If people asked me a question, I’d just try to answer it honestly and to the best of my ability.
Another past Bravo reality series, Work Out, mainly focused on Jackie Warner’s gym, but viewers also met her girlfriend and got a glimpse into their crazy relationship. Has Bravo ever encouraged you to share more of your personal life on the show?
They haven’t really encouraged or discouraged me, because that’s just not what the show is about. My show is about helping the business owners of salons, so I’m not really the focus on the show.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you have a partner of more than 10 years. Would you consider a spin-off that delved into your personal life?
I don’t know. It’s something I’ve never thought of. Honestly, I don’t know who would want to watch a day in the life of Tabatha, but my personal life is my personal life, and I hold my friends, my family, and my loved ones very dear. They’re not hidden, but I also don’t feel they need to be exposed to everyone.
It was good to see you loosen up a bit on a recent episode of Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live.
Yeah, I can’t believe he hasn’t asked me back! I love Andy. I have a great relationship with him, and I think he’s hysterical.
You participated in a NOH8 campaign PSA last summer. As an out celebrity, do you feel a responsibility to be a vocal member of the community?
No, I’ve always been that way. NOH8 is such a great campaign, and we need to make people aware of what’s going on, so I was more than happy to do that when they approached me.
You’ve made yourself very accessible to fans on Twitter and Facebook. What kind of response have you received from the gay community?
I get a lot of questions from young people, predominantly gay women but some guys as well, who ask me about coming out and how to broach that subject with their family and friends. Or they’ll tell me about having these feelings toward someone and how they don’t know what to do. It’s always really moving to me. But I get a lot of responses from throughout the gay community just thanking me for being a positive role model and for not hiding who I am.
You’ll be meeting some of your fans at Splash in New York City. Are you looking forward to it?
I’ve been there enough times to just go and hang out, but I can’t believe they actually asked me to come. The reason why I’m doing it and why I’ll do other appearances like that is because I really am incredibly grateful for everyone’s support. People have been e-mailing me and tweeting me to tell me that they’re driving in from places like Washington and Philly and spending the night in New York, so if they like me enough to come and see me, I’m more than happy to come spend a couple hours with them. And it’s great for the New York economy!
Salons aside, are there any other businesses you’d like to take over?
I’m a hairdresser, so that’s what I know. A portion of my show is just good business common sense, so I do get a lot of letters from all kinds of different businesses asking if I’ll speak at their company or come take it over, but there’s nothing else I’d really love to take over — unless it was Alexander McQueen and I could raid the wardrobe.
When you walk into a fast-food joint, do you ever have the urge to jump over the counter?
Oh, hell yes, I do! Every time I walk in I’m critiquing something — “That’s filthy, that’s disgusting, I can’t believe that person just spoke to someone like that.” But would I want to do it for a TV show? No.
Your hairstyle has pretty much stayed the same for the past two seasons of your show. Do you ever consider doing something wild, like going black or adding extensions?
No. Look, I have awful hair. It’s baby-fine, so it works for me when it’s short. I’d look like Miss Piggy if I had extensions, and I’d be playing with my hair and flipping it all over the place, which is so not me.
Did you wear a wig on Halloween?
I so don’t dress for Halloween. But many drag queens did dress as me, so I was very flattered when I got the photographs. I take that as a compliment.
You have a reputation for being rather cold, but you seem much warmer in real life. Do you have any surprisingly sweet hobbies like adopting stray kittens?
No, because I don’t like cats. [Laughs] Of course I have a softer, cuddly side, and I sometimes get teary watching Hallmark commercials like everyone else. People perceive me to be cold because they see me in business mode, so they’re only seeing one side of my personality. I do a lot of charity work and I cut wigs for kids who are going through cancer treatments, which is something I care a lot about. I’ve been trying to start a foundation for that, actually, because when people don’t have great health insurance or don’t have the money, their children suffer and have to go without wigs — or else the wigs they’re given are just absolutely atrocious and embarrassing. That’s my way of giving back.
Viewers got to see you interact briefly with children this season. Would you like kids of your own some day?
Yeah, people thought it looked quite fabulous to see Tabatha walking around with a baby, so there are obviously people out there who want me barefoot and pregnant. Some men have even offered to donate sperm, which is lovely; however, it’s not my thing.
When will we find out if there will be a season 3?
Oh, not soon enough. I honestly don’t know. I’m waiting for the phone call as well.
Any New Year’s resolutions?
Yes, I have a lot, but I’m not telling you in case I don’t live up to them!
Advocate.com, January 2010.