When people ask me why I shave my head bald at 22, I usually offer a variety of witty reasons like “I lost my comb!” or “A handsome face needs more space!” just to deflect the conversation back to something of substance and to take your gaze away from my alluring shiny dome. I never get into the real reasons because it requires a response much more than what people can typically expect from such a common question.
Sure, much of it is admittedly for aesthetics: I like the way it looks on me, and bald with a beard is something I find attractive in other men as well. But beyond that, it’s a conscious choice I make and is very much linked to my self identity and commitment to collective liberation. Each time I shave I recommit to a rejection of society’s pressure for men to fit into the tiny box that is “Male.” Shaving is a relief from the pressure I’ve felt for much of my life since I became conscious that I did not fit into that box as easily as my peers. Each time I shave my head I claim my own gay masculinity, one that works for me. It’s one that is not reflected in any role models or television shows but instead drawn from within. It’s a masculinity drawn from a knowing that my body has irrefutable value, but whether I like it or not, has consequences in society. Consequences that I can choose to challenge or remain complicit in. My body is as much a reflection of me as are my actions.
What is a body without the meaning we give it? What are my physical characteristics — my white (olive? Mediterranean? tanned-4-months-a-year?) skin, my body hair, my broad shoulders, my arms and legs, and yes, my shiny bald head — without the connotations and consequences of racism and sexism and heterosexism and ableism and sizeism? What are we left with when all these social labels are stripped away, but a manifestation of nature? A manifestation of beauty?
The body is inherently beautiful and sacred. This body lets me experience life, give and receive love, to feel and to see and to be. There is no me without my body — I am just as much this body as I am the name I was given, as the feelings in my heart and the ideas in my head. This body is human, has value, has purpose.
So how dare we decide that one body is better than another? How dare we structure society and create massive systems of oppression predicated on notions that all bodies are not beautiful and valued and equal?
In shaving my head I reject not just the oppression of gender but recommit to a rejection of all the oppression I am complicit in as a result of the meaning society has given this body.
I reject the notion that my masculine physical characteristics mean I have to be strong and muscular, aggressive, unemotional, and a leader of others, or of women.
I reject the notion that because I have a penis it means I need to put it in a vagina, or that it needs to be big, or I have to constantly want to fuck things with it.
I reject the notion that my white skin means I never have to think about the fact that I have white skin and it makes my life considerably easier and that I can ignore the history of white supremacy in favor of feeling comfortable.
I reject the notion that in order to be loved I need to look like Darren Criss or Zachary Quinto or Anderson Cooper because gay men are never bald or always have a six pack or always want “masc only, no fems!” and never just want to read a book on a Friday night.
I reject that my body is burdened with the histories of those who shared similar bodies as mine, who chose to enslave and beat and rape and steal and kill in the name of God or profit or destiny.
I shave my head because I believe we can create a society where our conversations don’t inevitably include a question about baldness or a compliment about weight loss or an outfit but instead a recognition and celebration of the oneness — and beauty — that is humanity. I shave because my body is as much a vehicle for experiencing this life as it is a canvas for social change.
So next time you ask me why I shave my head, I’ll probably still say, “I lost my comb!” but what I really mean is that you should open your mind and wake up. And maybe shave your head too, you’ll save so much money on shampoo.