Oftentimes I get suggestions for my column from friends or people who I’ve interviewed previously, and sometimes I’ll contact an establishment out of the blue. That was the case with this week’s Portrait, Jacque’ Scott aka “Sci-Fi”. I’d seen a story about Sci-Fi’s Barber Shop, “Another Planet,” on South Street and decided to give her a call. I introduced myself and explained that I wanted to do a profile. I had to move the phone away from my ear as I heard the shouts, “Yes! Yes! I’ve been waiting for this!!” Followed by, “You want to do it now? Have you eaten? Do you want to come here? I’ll order us some food. Yes? Let’s do this!” I was indeed hungry and not adverse to being plied with food so I hopped on the next bus and headed over to her shop on South Street.
Scott’s enthusiasm didn’t diminish as she showed me around her eclectic shop. The place was decorated in a Jetson’s meets Buck Rogers meets Toy Story array of toys, candy, and amuse-bouche for the eyes. As we were in the middle of the interview a father and son were peering in the window, “Aww, is that a little man looking at my aliens? Kids love this place” Scott stated. The walls were painted with custom murals and hung with countless framed copies of interviews from the past. The reception desk-slash-DJ booth was a steel looking spaceship, also custom built and in addition to the traditional barber chairs (Space stations named after different planets) and sinks in the back, there was a set of cushioned risers built to hold a small crowd with a projector suspended above to show movies on the white wall opposite the seating. The bathroom is a night vision of glow-in-the-dark stars and planets and cheekily named Ur-anus.
We started our interview as Sci-Fi pulled around a large free standing light ring and asked, “Is it okay if I tape this to broadcast while we speak?”
Absolutely. So tell me…
Wait! Wait! Let’s adjust the camera angle. Should I put my rainbow balloon in the shot?
But of course.
Yes! I love it!
Me too. So tell me a little about yourself.
I am Jacque’ (pronounced Jock-kwe) Scott, she/her.
Are you Philly folk?
No, I’m actually from Sicklerville, NJ. It’s about 20 minutes from Philly, going towards Atlantic City.
What was life like in Sicklerville?
At the time? It was cool. It was a mini adventure for the capacity of what you could do as a kid. I was just talking about it with someone this morning. We were always out. [Laughing] I’ll probably sound old, but I don’t know what this generation of kids are doing. When I was young, we were out every day, yo! You know, the streetlight rule. There was interaction, it was social and I loved that about coming up at that time. Sicklerville is where I learned to ride a bike, and then crash it into a truck. Milestones, you know? Nature and friends, and… [we pause as someone waves from the door] “What up Telly!” That’s Telly, he’s cool, he hangs out on South Street.
Did you have siblings to play with?
Oh yeah, I’m the oldest of six. I would love to have my one family like that. I wouldn’t mind a starting 5 and a sub. Why not?
I know what you mean about that autonomy. Our parents never knew where we were. We’d race out of the house Saturday mornings and be like, “See ya!” and then come home around dinner time.
Yeah, I remember my first Pride. I was 15 and I went by myself to New York, on buses and 3 different subways. I was trusted to go, have fun and come back. I think that trust and freedom gave me enough living and experience to carry me through any trials and tribulations to being recognized as Pennsylvania’s Top Rated Local Barber Shop Award Winner. I’ve cut over 6,000 people.
What was an early sign that you were gay?
I was part of the Head Start program and — I was a business woman from the start — I ran a kissing booth! I’m so serious! I really did.
Yeah! I would charge the girls .10 cents for a kiss and I’d charge the guys .25 cents. I’d come home with a bag full of change and everyone was like, ‘Where are you getting all this money from?’ But they never shut me down; the teachers let me do it. I guess I was trying to figure out what I felt, but also, even then it was about spreading love.
What did you do when you left Sicklerville?
I moved around to various places on the East Coast. I was in two different high schools my senior year. One was in Florida, it was in a little town called Mulberry, but I didn’t realize that they didn’t have a basketball team! No girl’s team! How does that happen? So I only stayed there half a year and then transferred to a school in Lakeland and graduated from there. When I graduated I moved back to Philly.
So you played sports?
Yeah, basketball, since the age of six. I had dreams of playing in the WNBA but that never happened. 2013 my basketball career ended and truly came to a crashing end in 2014 when I was in a pretty traumatic car accident. I was thrown 20 feet out of my car and was in a coma for 4 days.
Yeah, it was crazy. You’re talking to a miracle.
Are you comfortable talking about it?
Sure, it was an example of pure exhaustion and pushing yourself too hard. I’d decided to push myself and go for a record. I started at 9am and went to about 2am cutting heads. I did 42 in one day which was a record and one that I will never attempt again. I’m a fire sign, Sagittarius, I’m flamey and proud of myself, but back then I was cocky too. I thought, I’m all that, I can cut 42 heads and still go out and party at 2am. No, I should have gone home to sleep, but I went out and partied, dropped all my friends off safely and then fell asleep at the wheel going home. I had a Camaro convertible and was thrown 20 feet in the air. I suffered a severe brain injury and was in a coma for 4 days. Lesson is, it’s good to have goals and break records, but you have to remember to take care of yourself too. Work is cool, making goals is cool, but sometimes you need to just sit down and rest.
Who found you?
A random lady who found me at 4am in the street. An angel who pulled me out of the street before I was hit by a semi. I’ve never been able to thank her but I send her love right now.
Let’s go back a bit. What was your first job?
Friendly’s Car Wash. That was my spot! My uncle put me up for that. That’s where I learned to pay attention to details. We did a lot of luxury cars and were meticulous in getting everything perfect. I was also one of the first drivers when they launched Uber Eats. Like what? That was crazy. Drivers are you ready?!? First order go! That was pretty cool. I’ve always tried to take every opportunity to level up, advance one step until I am where I am now. Getting interviewed by you!
How did you get into cutting hair?
I took an interest in it when I was 17. I’m an artist; I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I still have books of my artwork drawing Dragon Ball Z and Sonic, but anyway, I would look at peoples heads and say, “Dude, your head is messed up.” And I’d go to barbers and they’d cut my hair, but I never felt like they took the time to really see me and what would suit me. I’d go home and try to fix it myself. I think of what I do like an art, and most of the ones I dealt with used to cut more like boxcutters than surgeons. It’s not just putting a clipper to a head, it’s looking at the eyes and the angle of the cheekbones. That’s how I see it.
Where did you start out?
I started working out of my home for 2 years and then in 2016 I opened up this place on South Street. I’ve been here for 5 years.
What started the planetary connection? Did you always love Sci-Fi?
No, that all came about after the accident. It was like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. The superhero who emerges from the wreckage.
I’ve heard that you feel that it has given you what you call your special powers.
Yes, after the accident, my brain was so swollen that all of the pressure on the nerves was making my eyes do crazy things. I was seeing four of everything. As the swelling went down, I finally got my vision crystal-clear from the front, but if I tilt my head or use the peripheral perspective, that’s when ‘Sci-Fi’ and my powers are revealed. I prayed and prayed for my vision to come back and it finally did. It slowed me down for sure but it’s also enhanced my abilities.
What are some of the accolades that you’ve received?
Oh, I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of acknowledgement for my work.
A fun one was when I got to be a judge for a hair competition. I was the youngest and the only female on the panel and one of the other judges was one of my mentors! A barber legend who told me that someday I would surpass him and now I have. Bang!
What customer moved you?
There was a transitioning female who came in and I could just feel her pain. I’m very empathic. She had long hair but was kind of butch and seemed trapped by her hair. It was like she was hiding her personality. I could tell she wanted it gone, but was afraid to take the step. She came in crying and shaky but I boosted her up. I let her cry on my shoulder and then said, “Let’s go. Are you ready to let go?” Once I started cutting, her whole face was illuminated. Then when I threw in the fade and the precision, a big smile broke out on her face and didn’t leave. The whole time I was chopping I was saying, “Let go of all that fear, that anxiety, it’s gone now.”
So you’re part barber, part therapist.
Oh yeah, that comes with the territory.
What was the hardest part of getting the business going?
As a female, queer, Black, masculine presenting person in a male dominant industry? Everything. I try to make it look easy, but it is not, at all.
Have you had to deal with anything explicit done or said?
No, just those times when you walk into a room and people are shady or cold. It doesn’t bother me; if people are rude to me it just makes me smile even brighter. I bring light with me everywhere I go.
Okay, rapid fire questions. What was a momentous achievement for you in basketball?
Man, just being able to hold and shoot a basketball again after the accident. When my vision came back after seeing double and quadruple. Being able to run again and knowing that I still had hand and eye coordination. Those were all achievements, and all after the doctors said I should be dead. And now I’m still playing basketball!
Favorite movie as a kid?
“Toy Story,” I have a lot of references to it here in the shop, especially (unheard) Planet.
Piece of Planet?
Pizza Planet! Where Buzz Lightyear comes from! Come on now Suzi! I love that movie, I just rewatched it and it still had me crying!
What are 3 of your favorite things in the shop?
I love the murals. They’re based on the tattoos that I have on my arm. I have a whole sleeve of tats. So we have the Sci-Fi Portrait, the spaceship and the satellite.
When did you get your first tattoo?
At the NY Pride festival when I was 15! I got 3 stars.
Other than basketball, what sport would you like to play?
All of them, any of them! I’m an athlete, so I’ll play AND WIN any of them. Tennis, I got it, pool, I’ll beat you. What did I just do recently… go karts! I won!
A favorite book?
The bible. No joke.
What was a favorite toy?
My Easy Bake Oven. And I liked Barbies too, you can see them in the shop. Everything in here is a piece of me. See the hoop up there? I got it when I was six. It has traveled with me everywhere I’ve lived from college to apartments to the barber shop.
First lesbian movie?
I don’t know about movies, for me it was all about “The L Word.” That was like the lesbian encyclopedia for anyone coming out. Shane!?! Like, yo, what’s up? And Butchie, she was a stylist, so yeah!
You’ve done a lot of cool events to give back to the community, such as “Stars vs. Planets,” a basketball tournament giving customers a chance to beat their barber; and “Weekend Li-Off,” which featured a live DJ; and the Shape up the Vote events, and more. Why is it so important to you to give back?
Don’t forget one of my favorite events, I did the South Street Pride Block party last year. We had over 5,000 people show up! My reason for giving back? I take it from Hebrews 13:16. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”