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Part 1: Gay Men, Gay Hair … Gay Hair Loss?

Written by Russ Klettke

Gay men have always been thought to care more about their looks than straight men. Is it still true?

With the rise of male heterosexual grooming in the Western world, the gay man faces a moment of crisis. Straight men are now paying as much attention to hair – and hair loss – plus skin, nails and their bodies as we have all along. Do you take it up a notch higher, divert to something else or assimilate by simply standing still?

It largely depends on who you are and maybe your age. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

As it is, when we talk about grooming, so much seems to begin and end with hair. Hair consumes us because it is so dynamic. Because it grows, quits growing and often grows in the wrong places, it requires constant attention. It’s sometimes said that the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is a week or two. For the man who cultivates the perfect 5 o’clock shadow, it might require a day or two of advance planning.

gay man dealing with hair lossGay men and hair. We style it. We cut it frequently. Sometimes we color it. We are willing to pay a premium for a good stylist – and there’s a good chance our stylist is either a friend or a friend of a friend, or we are friends with other stylists. The fact that we even use the word “stylist” – not “barber,” not “hairdresser,” and only between buds do we use “hair-burner” – shows we live in a rarified world. We think about hair and experiment with products and designs years before they trickle down to the heterosexual world.

If and when hair starts to recede or thin out on top, we usually are aware of that as soon as it begins. And when that happens, we generally are willing to try different remedies to see what works. That process would be performed carefully, of course, and with a little bit of anxiety. For some, it may begin with an all-out mad raging panic.

While stress itself can be a cause of hair loss – unrelated to genetic hair thinning – the loss of hair causes its own stress. Almost no one welcomes it at first.

And we’re more likely than our heterosexual brethren to provide commentary about others’ hair choices, dooming ourselves to certain hair insecurity in the process. Because when you throw stones, your own head becomes a glass house.

Gays lead the way but don’t always get the credit

Thanks to the so-called “metrosexual” – the term is almost antique already; can we go back to calling them dandies and peacocks? – it has become harder to tune in the gaydar. Let’s say you’re 30 years old and just took a shower at the gym. Three guys are hogging the locker room mirror. They have an array of creams, lotions and potions they’re applying to their face, scalp and skin. And all three are straight. You might be in Nebraska, but it looks as if you’re close to the Jersey Shore.

Yes! The Jersey Shore! We watch it like we used to watch professional wrestling. It kind of ruins the experience to hear the audio, so we might adjust the television volume to Mute as The Situation situates. When Snooki and “the girls” enter the room, it might be worth a listen. But when they talk about liking their men tanned, juiced and gelled, you have to ask yourself: “Weren’t we here, like, ten years ago?”

Yes, we were. We invented the Jersey Shore look in such places as South Beach circa 1990s, West Hollywood, Chelsea, maybe Boystown and definitely The Castro. The swagger might date back to 19th-century Calabria, but the grooming was invented in Gay USA sometime during the Clinton administration.

It’s too obvious to say that gay men are largely in charge of America’s hair. Of course we are. That is a decades-old established bit of conventional wisdom and something that naturally plays to stereotype. But our contribution to style and fashion goes way beyond what the hair professionals do. We are gifted with an ability to create and push trends onto the heads of men of all stripes all across this great land.

What do gay men do when they start to lose their hair?

You might look extremely hot with a shaved head, regardless of whether you do or don’t have male pattern baldness (MPB, technically referred to as androgenic alopecia). Or you might be using Rogaine or minoxidil to hold on to your hair. Maybe you have a full mop like Justin Bieber or have asked a stylist to somehow magically transform your wispy locks into a similar forehead sweep (note: it almost certainly won’t work). Then again, maybe you have had a hair transplant or are thinking of getting one. Perhaps you wear a hair replacement system, one that is age appropriate and expertly styled to your head.

The facts are reflected in product marketing and pop culture: Gay men, like their straight brethren, have different approaches to dealing with hair loss. And what the numbers tell us is as simple as it is big. Hair and hair loss really, really matter to us.

This series of articles takes a look at what happens when your fabulous follicles fail, from a number of perspectives:

  • How does gay culture treat those of us who are losing our hair?
  • What are the stages and phases of acceptance for gay men encountering progressive hair loss?
  • What validates a man’s decision to fight hair loss?
  • How are marketers of hair loss solutions reaching out to the gay community?
  • What are the options gay men are choosing to resist hair loss?
  • When is a shaved head hot – and when is it not?
  • Aging well as a gay man – what are the markers of age and the smart ways to manage them?

If you or someone you know is experiencing a thinning in your hair, listen up. There are more options than ever before from which to choose. The responsibility on your shoulders is to choose wisely.