Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hair Obsession

I may have a hair fascination, but Dennis Milam Bensie has a hair obsession, which he owns up to in his memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men. Bensie's hair fetish began in childhood when he stole Barbie dolls and secretly cut off all their hair. While it may be a myth that smoking marijuana leads to harder drugs, it seems cutting off Barbie's hair might lead to an irrepressible need to sheer the hair off men's heads. Bensie writes:

"I became fascinated by the effect a haircut could have on real people. For someone to look a certain way because of their hair and then be transformed simply by the reduction or removal of that hair seemed like magic to me. The person cutting the hair was the magician."

Naturally, Bensie's "hair magic" is symptomatic of much deeper emotional, sexual, and psychological distress. In his well-written memoir, the author shies away from none of the above. I was especially gripped by his recounting of an ever deeper downward spiral in the 1990s. While Bensie worked as a costume and wig-maker for Intiman Theatre, he began to solicit male street hustlers, not for sex, but to shave their heads.

Am I making this up, my vague memory of Seattle in those years, of seeing an inordinate number of skinheads on the downtown streets? Where once I attributed the style to a local grunge vibe, I now have to wonder: Was I seeing some of Bensie's victims?

As the author makes plain in his memoir, his need to sheer hair is a full-flung addiction. And even such a kinky addiction has its victims. While psychotherapists are in a position to be circumspect about addiction as illness, the victims can not take the high ground. At the mercy of the addict, a victim suffers the full gamut of emotions: fear, anger, loathing, despair, and more.

Fortunately, Bensie sought help and climbed out of his vortex. I am so glad: The bald (sorry) honesty of his memoir has helped me climb out of my personal pain as a victim of another who had similar addiction issues. Finally, I feel I have a glimmer of understanding of the dynamic at play, and how it turns out to be the illness, not the man, that preyed on us all.