Part 3: “I Am a Gay Man, and I Am Losing My Hair”

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A PROVOCATIVE LOOK AT TRUE GAY MEN’S HAIR LOSS STORIES, UP CLOSE AND OH SO PERSONAL.

“It starts with a bad angle in a candid photo,” says Blair Lawhead, proprietor of Blair Hair, a Chelsea (Manhattan/New York City) hair studio that has a large gay clientele. Such a moment often provides the guy a glimpse of the fact that his hair is thinning, something he hadn’t noticed before. “With hair loss, you become your father in a rapid period of time.”

Harsh words from someone who has worked with New York’s sometimes famous and frequently fabulous for more than two decades. And in the city that never sleeps, he absolutely sees hair loss as a factor in how one might sleep around.

“All of a sudden you’re an old guy,” says Lawhead. “You might be the cute boy who turns into the sugar daddy you didn’t want to be.” While that may work for some, the transition might be difficult. “You suddenly don’t know your market. You may not be as successful with the type of guy you succeeded with in the past.” And, there’s a matter of economics when you become the daddy: You’re expected to have some sugar, too. “No one is really wealthy anymore. And age has connotations on who foots the bill.”

But if that candid photo is somehow withheld from you, there are plenty of other ways gay men realize they are losing their hair. Once they do, they deal with it in ways that work for them.

No, you won’t be able to style it that way

Andrew Brown, who runs a graphic design firm in Chicago, said he came to realizing his hair was irretrievably leaving him at about the time of his 40th birthday.

A businessperson whose calling card with major household name clients was his creativity, Brown was always willing to have that sartorial edge, a look that extended to his hair as well. In Chicago that’s not always as “out there” as on the coasts. But in a town where bread-and-butter consumer brands are made, managed and marketed (think McDonald’s, Quaker Oats, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, Sears, Walgreen’s and Wrigley’s gum), he would push the envelope.

“I would go in for a haircut and ask to try new things,” says Brown. “The problem was my hairstylist kept telling me, ‘Your hair isn’t going to do that.’ It was painful to hear.”

But then he saw Bruce Willis one night on the The Late Show with David Letterman. Prior to shaving his head, Willis dyed his remaining follicles a white blonde — and the macho star got a huge reaction, mostly positive, from Letterman’s audience when he walked onto the show.

“I said, ‘I can do that,’” says Brown. Which he did, with varying degrees of satisfaction, for about a year. But it was time for a change and he followed Willis’ next move — he clipped it off. “I felt then that I had found my look,” he says. “And I received not one negative reaction.” And contrary to his previous style adventures, he has stuck with it for the more than 15 years since that decision. “Now I spend about 20 minutes every three or four days clipping it very close to the head but not actually shaving it.” He also cultivates what he calls “gay designer,” a facial scruff look that takes elaborate planning and timing for meetings and events on his busy calendar.

A hair/hair-not relationship

Interestingly, Brown’s partner of more than 20 years, Michael Zudonyi, is himself a hairstylist. And he has a full head of hair that is often shoulder length. He wisely took a passive role in Brown’s journey but sees hair loss in his own clients every day. “We get high school kids who are losing their hair, fighting it with Propecia and Rogaine. But confidence defines the look. I never want Andrew to grow his hair back.”

The fifty-something couple have observed that gay men have learned to deal with hair loss better, and in a greater variety of ways, over the past few decades. For Brown, it was an evolution of his own sense of what hair meant to him (and what was possible). Zudonyi sees a big difference in the shift from the world of bars to the online dating scene. “In bars, people are in their own circles, their cliques,” he says, noting that most guys’ entire presentation of themselves is defined by those groups. But online, you’re a whole new you to the people you meet, he notes, suggesting that in such places an enhancement is more likely (and it doesn’t stop with just hair).

With matters of the head largely settled, the couple has a little more fun sparring back and forth on the subject of body hair. From Zudonyi’s perspective as a stylist, he believes that men with early hair loss tend to have excessive body hair. Neither thinks a forced hairlessness on the body is a good thing, but some trimming here and there, as well as bleaching, is a good idea.

To Blair Lawhead, it’s a matter of which costume one chooses. “It’s all drag; it’s all theater,” says the man who once worked in theater himself. “Whether your look is leather or gym bunny, you tend to go with it. But you have to accept time and aging. If you’re toward the end of your 30s, you can’t be the guy out dancing all night without seeing bags under your eyes the next day.” Lawhead’s business is largely in providing hair replacement systems, which is a very customized, high-end toupee that defies stereotype (crafted to convincingly fit the remaining hair and the age of the wearer). “Why complicate the process [of getting laid] without figuring out what is helping you to look better — or worse.”

Why indeed?

Hair loss appears to be a journey for most guys experiencing it. And when the answers come, they might be in phases. It certainly helps to learn from those who have been down that road already — even if your ultimate destination is somewhere altogether different.