“I've always been able to tell a story with my face,” says Dustin Bice, a Houston native who, within less than a month of living in New York, has become a sought-after model for dozens of local photographers. Apart from its expressiveness, the first things you notice when you look at the 23-year-old's face are his bracingly strong features: A heavy, protruding brow that's almost Neanderthal-esque. A vast, natural pout that many lipstick-loving queens would kill for. And big, brown eyes that are at once curious and sad. The next thing you see is that Bice (as he prefers to be called) doesn't have any eyelashes. Or eyebrows. Or any hair for that matter.
Bice was born with a full head of brown locks, but by the time he was 3, he'd lost it all. He has alopecia universalis, an autoimmune disorder and the advanced form of alopecia areata, the medical term for common baldness. According to Bice, his condition occurs in roughly one in 200,000 people. In his lifetime, he's met three of them, each dealing with their unique circumstances in different ways (women, for example, are more prone to wearing wigs).
Photography: Dusty St. Amand
“Many people with alopecia struggle,” Bice says, “but I don't. People ask how I deal with it. I just do. What about someone who has HIV, or diabetes, or is missing all their limbs? I'm sure that's all much harder than what I'm going through.” One thing Bice must do is moisturize constantly (up to four times a day on his face), and use steroid creams to keep eczema-affected areas in check. “Yeah, it's annoying,” he says. “But even my dermatologist is jealous of my skin, so I guess I'm doing something right. I'd rather not have to deal with contact lenses.”
When Bice was growing up, his family normalized his condition and barely acknowledged it—a major boost for his self-esteem. “They let me use shampoo and conditioner for years,” he says. Peers at school weren't so accommodating. “Naturally, I was picked on a lot,” he says. “I mean I look like Powder. Or that tall alien from Prometheus—if he were a twink.”
Bice came out as gay after high school, and aside from juggling the alternate views of conservative family members, his revelation was fairly drama-free. But when it comes to dating and sex, particularly on apps like Grindr, Bice has a very different story to tell. “I am fetishized all the time,” he says. “I know the signs, like when people keep talking about it: 'No hair anywhere? No pubes? No ass hair?' I understand people have their curiosities, but when they won't let that go and you see how excited they get about it, it's like, 'Ok, if you're really interested in me, that should not be a hyper-focused-on topic.' It's an everyday conversation. On Grindr, in person, everywhere. Some people just take it too far.”
On a professional level, things can get even trickier, as Bice is not just carefully vetting his collaborators (someone with an “alien-esque” pitch, for example, might get declined), he's also exploiting himself. And he knows it. “I've always known it was going to set me apart with what I wanted to do,” Bice says of his appearance. “But it wasn't until recent years that I realized I can use it as a launching point, and be like, 'Alright, cool. People like to photograph me. If I can get my face out there on social media and get some kind of a following, or fanbase, that's only going to help me further my career in terms of gaining a creative outlet in the world.'"
Photography: Dusty St. Amand
Bice's background is in fashion design, and his true ambition is to launch his own brand—a multifaceted item line tied to someone with multifaceted otherness. Generally and aesthetically speaking, a close cousin to Bice in the world of men's style might be Shaun Ross, a gay, black, albino model whose non-traditional beauty has yielded him personal success (including becoming his own brand), while spreading awareness. As Bice observes, “I think representation is great. If I happen to reach some social status, or go into acting or modeling or designing or whatever—if a kid who has what I have sees me, he's going to feel less alienated or less ugly. He's going to feel alleviated because he has that kind of representation. And as a gay person, I feel the same way. I'm very open about all of myself.”
Related | OUT100: Shaun Ross
In a very short amount of time, providing that kind of representation already seems possible for Bice. Unlike six-foot-one Ross, Bice is five-foot-nine, so odds are he won't be doing runway anytime soon (he says he's already been turned down by certain agencies, like Red Models, because of his height). But he seems to sport the tenacity to overcome that hurdle. Even in the months before he properly moved to the city, during visits when he'd hustle and make connections, Bice worked with Nicola Formichetti; secured a small role on the new NBC series Bull; and modeled for more than 20 photographers, including Ryan Pfluger (who photographed 2015's OUT100), Marcus Morris (a regular OUT contributor), and Dusty St. Amand, who shot the gallery for this story.
Currently, Bice is living a true dream-chasing New York lifestyle, jumping from job to job while sleeping on friends' couches, his entire life packed into three bags. Bice's eye for fashion is clear given the clothes he hauled from Texas, but the most stylish thing about him is that he knows to tone down the volume, as he's his own inherent statement.
“I grew up around so many people who were trying to look different,” Bice says. “Piercings, tattoos, the way they do their hair. I just was different. Whether I want it or not, I'm going to get attention. All I've known is this life.”
Follow Bice on Instagram @BiceOfficial