Do you ever just stare at yourself in the mirror until your eyes start to glaze over, like you’re trying to see past yourself? Or the hopes that something in your complexion might suddenly make itself clear — not a nascent blackhead, but some deeper truth about desirability? I do this sometimes, trying to bring into focus this newly blunted object in front of me — my balding head. I imagine some brighter future that doesn’t involve the reverse-Pangea effect that’s been happening there for the better part of a decade, the front and back of my scalp finally meeting as one expansive tundra.
I have tried in vain to stave off male pattern baldness in the same way I might try to avoid a plane crash: by imagining it happening. I have never been in a plane crash, but reader, my hair has been proverbially sucked out the window. I’ve used Rogaine off and on, never committing enough to stave off the worst effects of my hair’s genetic predisposition. I’ve tried vitamins and supplements, shampoos, scalp scrubs, and oils. I used to make resigned visits to a barber, but now I just cut my own hair because I like the sense of control it gives me.
Part of the problem in admitting I am balding is, in some sense, admitting that I am a man. A man in the way that a construction worker might say, “Sorry, man,” if he were to drop something on my foot, or a cab driver would say, “Here you go, bud,” when I ask for a receipt. My baldness makes my man-ness feel irrevocable. It leaves me struggling to articulate what beauty means for me and how to lay claim to femininity, if it could even be called that and not just framed in some forgiving way by woke lingua franca: “This ugly person thinks they’re beautiful and it’s actually really sweet!”
It doesn’t help that there aren’t a ton of bald femmes in popular culture with whom I might identify. Poot Lovato? Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort? Character actor Denis O’Hare’s rendition of Liz Taylor on American Horror Story: Hotel comes to mind. I caught maybe one episode of the show, but O’Hare’s Taylor has stuck with me since, especially as I think about getting older, getting balder, and wearing lots of lipstick.
With my hairline receding, makeup has become one way to orient myself around my face. An ever-expanding collection of palettes, pencils, and polishes gives me greater access to seeing myself the way I want to be seen while the Instagram echo chamber provides a platform to preen and pout and feel recognized for my idiosyncratic brand of beautiful — no ifs, ands, or “buds” about it.
Yes, I’m still scared of how people will see me. What they’ll think of me. I’m afraid of having to be beautiful for myself, and losing sight of who I am just when I thought I was figuring that out. The social stigma surrounding baldness and beauty is not my burden to uphold, but cishet culture has an insidious way of reallocating emotional labor back onto the queers who’ve been trying to dismantle these ways of viewing and moving through the world. Grappling with this can sometimes feel like a full-time job.
I know that who I am has never been, and can’t be, dependent on my hair (or lack thereof), but it sure feels that way. Who knows, though — maybe tundra season is upon us.