Salon owner Eric Vaughn vies for Mr. United States of Beauty with story of anti-gay bullying.
By Donalevan Maines
Out stylist Eric Vaughn, the official hair sponsor for Miss Texas USA, has a better appreciation of what it’s like for his clients to compete in beauty pageants, now that he’s campaigned for Mr. USB 2017.
For the uninitiated, USB stands for “United States of Beauty,” an oh-so-gay online message board in which fans of “skin show” pageants like Miss USA and Miss Universe sound off with cheers and jeers about the industry.
For example, some fans squawk how much they hate the trend in pageantry away from crowning the prettiest contestants and toward picking people with “stories,” such as how they overcame adversity.
This spring, for the 10th year, USB posters took a few weeks off from obsessing about the female, state contestants—who will vie Sunday, May 14 at Miss USA—to shine a spotlight on male posters, and crown one of them Mr. USB via online voting. Miss USA will be broadcast live from 7 to 9 p.m. on FOX.
Vaughn isn’t sure whether he’ll be ringside that evening when his client, Miss Texas USA Nancy Gonzalez of Houston, competes in the finals—along with contestants Vaughn has styled from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri.
Once “the girls” arrive in Las Vegas, the national pageant’s own hair sponsor takes over, he explains.
Vaughn might be watching from the front row of Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, or he might be home in Houston tending to appointments at REV, the salon he opened in late April.
“I am lucky to say I was REV’s first client ever,” says Miss Houston USA 2016, Logan Lester. REV is at 210 Westcott St. in Houston.
Last summer, Vaughn sat in the lounge of an airport, watching on his phone as his client, Karlie Hay of Tomball, won Miss Teen USA.
Tossing his hat into the ring for Mr. USB, Vaughn hoped to become the ninth openly gay winner in the 10th annual sweepstakes. That meant sharing his photographs, videos and client testimonials to the masses, along with a “story”—how he was outed by a classmate the summer before Vaughn entered the sixth grade.
Vaughn elaborated on his “story” to OutSmart, explaining that he was the new kid in Kingwood when some local boys “made it a game to torture me.”
Vaughn was born in West Point, New York, to a drill sergeant and a stay-at-home mom. Shortly after his father retired from the U.S. Army, Vaughn’s family moved to the Houston area, where he joined the Amateur Athletic Union and competed at the Junior Olympics in the pentathlon.
However, he experienced “thoughts” about the other boys that disturbed him.
“Why wasn’t I normal? What is normal?” he asked himself. “Why wasn’t I like all the other boys?”
“I was on AOL instant messaging and scoping out [gay] chat lines when a guy messaged me online,” Vaughn recalls. “He was from my middle school, supposedly, and pretended to be gay. What I didn’t know was that it was a bunch of boys at a party, playing a trick on me.”
When Vaughn conversed with the imposter, “All hell broke loose,” he says.
“I was bullied, called names, kicked, punched, doors were slammed on my face, and I received death threats,” he says. “I contemplated suicide because I thought, ‘It will never get better.’”
However, the “torture” subsided the day Vaughn hit his “breaking point.”
“I finally fought back,” he says. “I saw (the imposter) at school, and I slammed him into the ground. He became the guy the gay boy slammed into the ground.”
Vaughn says he was never interested in pageantry until 2012, when he met Brittany Booker of Friendswood, who won Miss Texas USA as Miss Houston USA, then placed in the Top 10 at Miss USA.
By then, Vaughn had performed for a year at Oklahoma City Ballet, his dance career cut short by a knee injury.
Returning to Houston, Vaughn found work as a receptionist at a hair salon, which led to cosmetology school and his new career.
“Hair is very movement-based,” says the former dancer. “If you cut hair a certain way, it moves. That became my connection.”
In Mr. USB 2017 voting, Vaughn placed as second runner-up to Jason Smith, a Canadian who posts as “gaj” on the message board. Smith was last year’s second runner-up, but perhaps benefitted this go-round from a videotaped testimonial by Gretchen Polhemus. In 1988, Polhemus became the fifth Miss Texas USA in a row to win Miss USA, at the height of success for out couple Richard Guy and the late Rex Holt, whose Guyrex Productions in El Paso owned the Texas USA franchise.
This month, the daughter of Polhemus, Baylee Jensen, will represent Utah at Miss USA.