I started losing my hair in college. At the time it seemed like the worst thing in the world. I was too young to realize that a person’s worth is not measured by how much or how little hair they have.
Unlike today when a clean shaven head can be a fashion statement — for men and women — Telly Savalas of Kojak fame and Mr. Clean were among the few who rocked a chrome dome at that time. Just like having more gay role models might have helped me come out earlier and easier, seeing more people wear their baldness with confidence in those days might have saved me a lot of money and angst.
Instead, I bought into the belief that men with less hair are also less virile, less popular, less powerful and definitely less attractive. As a young adult, those things seemed so important. I didn’t want to be a victim of male pattern baldness. I didn’t think it was at all funny when one of my aunts jokingly called me “Garibaldi.”
When I was in my mid-twenties, I purchased my first hairpiece. It was a huge decision and also very expensive for someone earning an entry-level salary. The ads and commercials, however, promised such a new life that I was willing to sell the farm.
Ironically, my new hair coincided with coming out. As I took a monumental step in uncovering one very intimate area of my life and who I am, I did whatever I could to hide another.
For a while, all that new hair gave me the confidence I needed to put myself out there. I went to gay clubs and social events — something I had been terrified of doing for years. I met the man I am still with three decades later.
For so long I was afraid people would learn I was gay; now I was afraid of how my first gay boyfriend would react when he realized my full head of hair was not my own. I sometimes wonder if having secrets are one way we keep ourselves in prison, so that others don’t have to do it for us.
One night, not long after we met, I opened my eyes and was startled to see what I thought was someone else in bed with us. It took me a minute to realize that my hair had fallen off and was lying on the pillow between us!
Brian appeared to be sleeping and never said a word. He didn’t have to, though; he knew all along that my hair wasn’t real, and he could have cared less. Like I said, the prisons we create for ourselves are often so much more confining than the ones we suspect others of constructing around us.
Brian and my immediate family knew the truth — but most of the rest of the world was a wild card. Could they tell? Did they know? Why did I even care so damn much?
I have to admit, there were times I felt sexier and more attractive when my “rug” was styled just right and looking good. Most of the time, though, it stopped me from living life to its fullest. Secrets can be like that.
I was self-conscious swimming with it. I was afraid it might fly off if I drove with the top down in a convertible, or if I accepted an invitation to go on a speedboat. The clips dug into my scalp; the tape in the front didn’t cooperate with sweat. I often took it off and wrapped a bandana around my head to hide the mess underneath.
Secrets can also create irrational fears. When I took it off at night, I was never quite sure where to place — or hide — it to keep it safe. What if I was robbed and the burglar absconded with it — as if fake hair was such a prized commodity? What if a cat grabbed hold of it? Mind you, I didn’t even own a cat at the time!
I had to travel for hours — sometimes by car and sometimes by plane — to places where I could have my hairpiece repaired, conditioned and maintained. It wasn’t cheap or easy; I even arranged vacations around it.
One day I took a vacation to my beloved Key West — the one place at the time where I felt free and absolutely uninhibited. I have since found other similar places including precious moments in my own heart and soul.
Something deep inside said enough. I had shed the fear of people discovering that I was gay. Now it was time to shed something else I was afraid of them learning. I took the hairpiece, tossed it into a garbage pail on the corner of Duval and Truman, and showed up to work Monday in my high-profile position with a buzz cut.
It wasn’t easy — but it was liberating. As it turned out, some people never knew the hair wasn’t real. Some guessed that it might have been fake but didn’t really care — I suspect now they had their own secrets. Someone I wasn’t even sure really liked me reached out years later and told me how inspired he was by my courage and confidence to just show up at the office like that … to show up truly as myself.
Today, nearly 20 years later, I wouldn’t trade my chrome dome for all the hair in the world. I definitely wouldn’t sell the farm for it. I save money on barbers and haircare products. I dive in the pool without a second thought. I sleep without worrying there’s someone else in my bed. Most of all, I truly love how I look without it.
We all have secrets or things we would like to hide. For you it might be depression, or an addiction. It could be how much you really weigh, or how you truly feel about something or someone. We all need to do things in our own time and in our own way. However, I urge you to do whatever it takes to live your life to its fullest.
I lost my hair and found love. That’s my story. What’s yours?