The Queer Issue
EDDIE PLAYED FOLK guitar at the Saturday evening Mass in the church I attended growing up. "One bread, one body," he sang, "one Lord of all." But at the time I wasn't thinking of the Lord's transubstantiated body, I was thinking of the Miracle of Eddie's beautiful, layered, wavy, blond-streaked hair. I signed up for guitar choir, briefly, struggling to strum E to G-7th, just to get closer to that godly hair. If I describe his hair BY INVOKING Shaun Cassidy or Jimmy McNichol or Brawny paper towel guy or truck-drivin' B. J. McKay, all I'm doing is reducing his beauty to a VH1 artifact. But EDDIE was both my Duke of Hazzard and my Jesus Christ Superstar, although he never knew it.
I still want to run my fingers through hair like that, but nobody has hair like that. Nobody gay. A lot of the men I date don't have much hair on their head at all, and what hair they have IS NO MORE THAN an inch long, conforming to gay code. Sometimes the MEN I DATE have pictures of themselves FROM other eras, and I beg them to get out their yearbooks, and when they do, it breaks my heart: such hair. I've SUNK TO fetishizing my Star Wars ACTION figures (which I keep in the shower): Oh Han, you scruffy-looking scoundrel. Put down that blaster and let me feather your hair. The national retro sickness leaves all of us wishing we'd lived in another time. But I don't want to time-travel back to have all that crazy bathhouse sex; I just want to touch a good head of hair.
On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, I decided to walk down and watch them give and get standard-issue haircuts at Big Gay Haircut Hut, or whatever it's called, IN THE GAY GHETTO. About 10 years ago, when there was a culture war for gay rights going on, the men of my generation went down and enlisted. We signed up for the Caesar 'do and Navy recruit buzz, which drifted into the George Clooney and Gap Zombie looks. Some MEN went shorter, then shorter, then just shaved their heads. We bought expensive Aveda GELS and plastered our short hair to our heads, making it stick up just a tad in front. The next generation will look at pictures of us waving protest signs at Christian Coalition conventions and wonder which ones were the rabid conservatives and which ones were the radical activists.
Big Gay Haircut Hut is next to a Wrapworks and a store that still (still!) sells early-'90s freedom rings and "Jesus Is Coming--Look Busy" T-shirts. I have never seen Big Gay Haircut Hut when it wasn't packed. What the hell, I decide, might as well get a little trim. There's a narrow bench where you sit and wait and read Genre or Men's Health or InStyle. When your name is called, you're swept into a frenzy of near-automated washing, toweling, and prodding. You're plopped into a chair in the front window, where passing gay pedestrians watch you get your hair cut exactly like they've got their hair cut, by one of 20 haircutters on duty.
"What are we doing today?" asks an exhausted queen, and it doesn't matter what you tell him, how many ways you describe a dozen different possible notions about growing your hair in layers: No one gets out of Big Gay Haircut Hut without sitcom hair. I should just say "Gimme a Ross from Friends," or "Just like Jack from Will & Grace, please," because that's all the stylists are permitted to do. I stumble out $20 later, dazed, shorn, completely gay-identified, depressed.
The war for gay rights is more or less over, and so too should the hair tyranny dissolve. I keep thinking our Corvette Summer should be just around the corner, that I'LL find my own Eddie and take him for a spin, but it never happens. I watched hopefully in 1997 as a few hip gay boys tried to do a Beck thing, but it didn't catch on. WE ARE the only human beings left--besides car salesmen and minor-league ballplayers--who still HAVE goatees and crewcuts. We cling to our short cuts and shaved heads for one reason: We're secretly terrified of not recognizing one another. Having fine-tuned the gay haircut to further eliminate the social guesswork, we're paying dearly for it in an age of assimilation: Everyone gay looks so gay.
But there is hope, and I am sorry to report that hope's name is Tom Cruise. There he is, dangling from that rock in this summer's Mission: Impossible 2, with his long, layered hair blowing in the wind; The New Yorker's film critic, Anthony Lane, has noted that this is a very expensive movie about Tom Cruise's hair. It makes sense: The man who gave gay men the Top Gun look 15 years ago may now lead us out of the desert by going long and feathered. For his hair only, God bless Tom Cruise.
Hank Stuever is a staff writer for The Washington Post's Style section.