Hair and There

Commentary: In Exile

Everyone is looking for something different, but one thing that we’re all looking for is good hair. On ourselves or, barring that, on someone else. People with bad hair want to date someone with good hair, the next best thing.

About a year ago, Matt Lauer, dashing co-host of Today, began shaving his head to a crew cut. He had to. His hairline was receding and, whether you’re on TV or not, that’s what you do. I guarantee you that his contract contains some hairstyle clause that allows NBC’s top executives to micromanage Matt Lauer’s hair. Still, to me, this was a milestone. Bald guys do exist on TV — they play fat cops or serial killers. But Matt Lauer is not only a news anchor (or whatever), he’s the show’s sexyhot boy-next-door smiling face. And he’s balding.

Aesthetically speaking, your mid-twenties are sort of like a second puberty, a phase of life where new signs of aging suddenly start to wax apparent. Little things. Smoker’s cough and, occasionally, shoulder fuzz. I started going bald at around 21. At that time, the evidence was still easily concealable with a little maneuvering gel, smart lighting and strategically arranged bangs. But I remember a moment about a year ago, sitting in a chair at a hair salon and watching a look of indecision envelop the stylist’s face as she evaluated my hairline, trying to decide how far it had retreated, whether an attempt at concealment would be either effective and desirable, or ineffective and pathetic.

“Don’t bother,” I remember saying, prompting a barely audible sigh of relief from the stylist.

There are cures for baldness, none of them good. Hair plugs look like a forest that’s been clear-cut and then replanted with all of the trees in standard-space, parallel rows. My uncle has hair plugs like longitudes. Apparently the procedure is like a follicle root canal. Toupees are pretty much a cruel cliché, and Propecia is expensive and, once you’ve started, must be taken every day for the rest of your life. You’re basically having a kid named Propecia who will demand your money and daily attention until you’re dead.

Speaking of Propecia, has anyone noticed that the latest downpour of life-improving drugs all seem to have the added effect of pureeing your sex drive into a cold, mushy paste? The makers of Propecia warn that their pill may trigger a decline in libido. It may also cause rashes, hives, a swelling of your face, breast tenderness and enlargement, nipple discharge, less or no semen, testicular pain and, naturally, Bob Dole-approved erectile dysfunction.

Breast tenderness? Such side-effects resulting from hair restoration is like Just the Ten of Us spinning off from Growing Pains — the connection is vague and unsettling and reeks of desperation. I think it’s clear that we’ve reached a new strata of vanity when we stimulate hair-growth at the risk of alienating our genitals. Luckily, for a man, an absent libido goes quite well with breasts and a swollen face.

And when it comes to libido, as gay men, we’re all about it. We’ve become desensitized to it. How many of us were baffled by the nuclear fallout generated by one-eighth of a second of halftime breast? How many photography books by gay artists feature black-and-white prints of ropey, naked men engaged in some form of strenuous activity, pushing covered wagons up hills or tightening bolts in some Industrial Revolution-era factory?

Those black-and-white gay photos are always billed as “celebrating the male form,” but all of this celebrating is starting to feel like the obligatory office birthday party for the boss who everyone hates. Because there’s something depressing about those photos, and it’s not just that they represent the unattainable (if that were true, porn would be depressing too, though I suppose I have seen some Cold War-era Soviet Bloc porn that was pretty bleak).

I think those photos depressing for the same reason that I think Propecia is depressing. People who work all day in a factory don’t look like models. And now, bald people don’t look bald.

I harbor an instinctual distrust of the extremely attractive. As with sea creatures, I assume that the ones with the most captivatingly beautiful markings often extend a hidden venomous tentacle when approached. I also assume they are shallow, duplicitous, and have poor grammatical skills and too many shoes. If they’re wearing stylish glasses, I assume they’re the fake kind, or if they’re not wearing glasses, I assume they’re wearing contacts or just seeing everything all blurry.

The reason that all this is on my mind is because it’s spring. Or more precisely, the beginning of spring, the very best part, when you’re still sort of shocked to be walking around without a scarf the size of a tarmac. Everyone’s suddenly showing a lot skin. Chelsea boys on patios with their feet up on the chair across from them, their canvas cargo shorts just to their knees, their calves like California eggplants. Lesbians in Ani DiFranco tanktops. Everyone looks fresh, like they just showered and toweled.

Everyone, in fact, looks great. The rough-skinned, the love handled, the too-many-moles, the emaciated, and yes, the balding — everyone looks strangely fantastic in the first couple weeks of spring. It’s like each of us just sent our first-born, Propecia, off to college once and for all, finally washing our hands of him. The weight of winter is finally off our shoulders. Even those pasty shoulders sprouting one or two hairs.

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