Part 2: What Gay Men and the Community Think of Hair Loss

Gay_Male_Perceptions

IN THE GAY CULTURE, IT MATTERS NOT ONLY WHAT WE THINK OF OUR HAIR LOSS, BUT A LOT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK.

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What do gay men think of other men who are losing their hair or have gone with a full-out shaved head? And what do gay men think if they lose their own hair?

In some circles the answer to the first question might be … they’re unkind. But those same people will criticize anything and everything: clothes, decor, wheels, romantic liaisons and temperament. They’re people who will find your vulnerabilities wherever they perceive them to exist. Exactly why they are compelled to express such Mean Girls behavior we will leave to the psychologists (Freud might say they had bad toilet training). For your own mental health it is wise to ignore those guys.

Hair loss isn’t what it used to be. Note that the shaved or closely cropped hairstyle has enjoyed a pretty good run over the past 15 years or so. And given the nature of unopposed hair loss (i.e., once gone, gone for good — unless you later choose transplant surgery or a hair replacement system), long live the bald head. You can pretty quickly tick off a list of Hollywood (legitimate cinema) and West Hollywood (porn) stars who have steamed up the screen with nary a follicle on their heads. The nasty comments from the Mean Girls carry a lot less weight as a result.

Hair today, gone tomorrow: The realities of hair loss and dating

However, a 2009 Rogaine-sponsored survey of roughly 1,000 Americans (Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: The Myths & Truths Behind Thinning Hair and Hair Loss, conducted by Wakefield Research) finds that on the dating front, hair loss turns into something a little more meaningful. Not everyone wants to date a bald man. Some associate head hair, rather than the lack thereof, more strongly with masculinity. And many people will use old photos of themselves, when their hair was thicker, on their social networking profile pages, including and especially dating and hookup sites.

But the survey did not make distinctions between gay and straight respondents. The findings might skew differently, or they might not; we simply don’t have numbers to make a definitive assertion. Following are those survey findings, with a little bit of commentary from the queer-eye perspective, noted below as the “QEP.” These are observations from the gut, and we welcome anyone to provide an argument to the contrary.

Who expects to lose it: For example, the survey found that 24 percent of men said they think they are very likely to experience hair loss in their lives.

QEP: Denial is more than a river in Egypt. Owing to the fact that approximately 40 percent of all men will experience some degree of hereditary hair loss (male pattern baldness, aka androgenic alopecia), it appears that about 16 percent of men are due for a surprise when they see light reflecting from their scalps.

How it affects the marriage: Among married Americans, a large portion (43 percent) say they would rather their spouse be overweight than bald.

QEP: Two things are very important here. One, we don’t know the exact phrasing the research organization used in its question, but if “married partner” was part of it, gay people in the randomly selected cohort would not respond, respond with political indignation or tell the interviewer that they had a long-term partner whom they considered their married partner. So the extent to which this number accurately reflects how gay men feel about their partners is already on thin ice. And this is just a guess, but we tend to think a similar question of an all-gay audience would be far, far more likely to skew the percentages something like 80-20 in favor of a hairless-but-fit guy over the hairier, overweight partner. Again, just a guess.

We cannot dismiss the “bear” phenomenon relative to this question of hair and weight. But it is in its own category of attraction, to be sure. Bears and musclebears seem to broadly encompass generous amounts of weight and hair, in varying proportions, that leave only the thin and hairless excluded from the category. To determine if the bears, musclebears and bear chasers want more body hair, more body overall, more facial hair — and if head hair matters in the slightest — would require its own survey.

It’s an acquired taste: Among younger Americans, those aged 18-35, more than half (57 percent) say they are not physically attracted to people with thinning hair. This number climbs to 67 percent among the youngest segment of those surveyed, 18- to 24-year-old respondents.

QEP: OK, this finding might translate a bit more easily for the gay culture. But running counter to that is the “daddy” attraction many younger gay men feel toward older men. But there also exists a heterosexual “daddy” phenomenon as well, that of the younger woman (“trophy wife”) and her older (ideally, handsome and rich) husband. For both gay and straight men who find themselves single at midlife or later, the flip side of this survey provides encouraging news: 43 percent of those aged 18-35 find thinning hair attractive, as do 33 percent of those 18-24.

First-date veto?: More than a quarter (28 percent) of Americans feel that their thinning hair or hair loss negatively affected them when asking someone out or when on a first date.

QEP: This drives to the heart of the matter if it is an approximation of what a gay-only cohort would reflect, that men with hair loss are slightly more insecure about their hair loss than they need to be. But exactly what does the survey question mean by first “date?” Obviously, different people define this differently.

Hair makes the (younger) man: Among younger Americans aged 18-35, almost two-thirds (64 percent) say a man with a full head of hair looks more masculine than a man who is balding. That number climbs to 71 percent among the youngest portion of those interviewed, those aged 18-24.

QEP: It is so easy to cite exceptions to these notions that having hair or lacking it would define masculinity. But there simply is no accounting for other peoples’ tastes. And the fact that hair = masculinity declines as a perception with maturity suggests several things about the benefits of aging (and the shortcomings of youth): You begin to appreciate other qualities in a man (or your standards drop) or you have had personal experiences that redefined your tastes (you met a hairless hottie).

Well, that’s a woman talking: Nearly 30 percent of women say baldness is a worse trait to have than back hair.

QEP: What’s with this assumed dislike of back hair? Is it not possible to appreciate both hair loss and back hair? Along with the 70 percent of women who, we can deduce, aren’t so picky about hairy/not hairy real estate on a man, we think that any open-minded gay man will agree there are many more important considerations when evaluating potential partners. And nothing a good back waxing or laser treatment can’t fix in an afternoon.

Living with authenticity: Among younger Americans aged 18-35, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) would use an outdated photo of themselves with fuller hair for an online profile picture.

QEP: So? There is nothing wrong with a little bit of enhanced marketing when it comes to Internet dating. As with career resumes and loose talk in a saloon, the recipient of this information knows to discount everything (e.g., 8 inches really means 6 inches) the way he knows that purchasing an SUV is not going to turn him into the mountaineering camper he sees in television commercials. Everyone loves a little bit of delusional illusion.

Perception is reality, to be sure. But given the diversity of what we find aesthetically pleasing and attractive, we can come to only one conclusion: Whatever you do about your hair loss should be your decision, not anyone else’s.