How a nonbinary barber & a self-proclaimed bigot became unlikely friends

Jeff Comerchero gets a trim from E.J. Radford
Jeff Comerchero gets a trim from E.J. Radford Photo: Screenshot

When Jeff Comerchero, the former mayor of Temecula, CA and a longtime city council member, walked into E.J. Radford’s shop in 2021, he almost left. He couldn’t imagine allowing the tattooed nonbinary barber to touch him.

“I was appalled at myself by what I was thinking,” Comerchero said. “Because I knew that wasn’t me.” What he was, he realized, was a bigot.

“I never considered myself to have biases, so it caught me off guard,” he said. “I didn’t like it and wanted to confront what I was thinking and feeling.”

Comerchero and Radford, who uses he/they pronouns, have written a book about how their unlikely friendship blossomed in a barber’s chair. The book, The Old Man And The Queer: The transformative story of a former mayor and the barber who freed him from bigotry, highlights the former politician’s evolution one haircut at a time.

While put off and a little shaken, Comerchero got a shave and haircut despite what they both described as an awkward appointment. Radford’s skill and Comerchero’s reflection brought him back. As the two got to know each other, they both opened up.

“I don’t expect people that look like him to be even remotely interested in caring about my identities and asking questions because most people are just like, ‘Don’t tell me more, I don’t want to know,’” Radford said.

“I just came to the realization, once I really got to know [E.J.], that there’s a beautiful person in there and that’s really what life’s about,” Comerchero said.

“Jeff and I were willing to admit that maybe we were wrong about each other’s first assumptions,” Radford said. Jeff was willing to be open-minded and learn; he was very nonjudgmental. I’m thankful that we were both willing to learn.”

Temecula politicians have been at the forefront of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in recent years. The school district passed a policy that forces teachers to out queer students to their families. They also refused to implement a new state curriculum that includes history lessons about LGBTQ+ people until forced to do so by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). One board member decried the lessons by describing gay icons in derogatory terms. The board’s actions led to a mass walkout by students.

“It’s definitely difficult to know that in this city that I live in and spend all of my time in, there’s almost a target on my back,” Radford told The Press-Enterprise. “The safety of trans people, and queer people in general, is important.”

“I’m not normally too out and loud about being trans or my pronouns right when I meet clients, especially with my clients being in Temecula,” Radford said. “I really don’t know how people are gonna react so I’m not very forward about it for safety.”

“In today’s political climate, trans people are a major target for hate,” they wrote in the book. “We have existed long before we became political propaganda, and we will continue to be around no matter how hard people try to eradicate us.”

“I realized if I want to be honest with someone who doesn’t know anything, I have to be willing to educate them to some degree, because otherwise, they’re never going to know the information that I want them to know. As a queer person, you do get sick and tired of being the educator, but you have to tell people how you feel for others to know and maybe do better.”

“In all the realities of this world, our friendship should not exist, yet it does,” Comerchero wrote. “And if we’ve created a beautiful friendship in a world where people like us have been pitted against each other as enemies, I have hope… If we, who started so far apart, can come together with friendship, love, and understanding, there can be no excuse for intolerance and hate in the world.”

Last year, the former mayor was asked if he would support a Pride resolution other GOP politicians opposed. He did and credited his friendship with Radford for his choice.

“He said to me, ‘Before I got to know you, I would not have supported this proclamation; lesson learned,’” Radford said. “When he told me this, it brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes, I lose hope that people can learn and change and possibly make a difference, but Jeff reminded me that it can happen if people are willing.”

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