What shapes a man’s life more? Being molested at age seven, having a gruff father ashamed of him for being effeminate, or being humiliated by school bullies for being a sissy? In the memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, author Dennis Milam Bensie chronicles his journey from damaged boy, self-medicating by cutting the hair of shoplifted Barbie dolls, to confused young man, paying hundreds of gay street hustlers to let him shave their heads. Bensie demonstrates how hair can be currency—a moral gauge for good and bad, male and female, lawful and unlawful. The world of theater is his backdrop, a sanctuary where he gradually spins fantasy into reality. After getting his start in community theater, Bensie moves up to professional houses throughout the United States, turning his private sexual conflict over haircutting into a successful career as a skilled theatrical wig designer. Humorous and honest, this book is a uniquely tangled love story, a triumphant quest for love, forgiveness and self-acceptance.
On one of my weekly bathhouse trips to Club Seattle, I encountered a young man who was lurking around Summit Street near the club. He was nervous and obviously checking me out as much as I was studying him. I knew he wanted something, and he didn’t seem like a typical panhandler. He was in his early twenties and average looking… except for a beautiful head of shoulder length curly hair. He approached me as I got closer to the entrance to the baths. I braced myself as he began his pitch.
“Hey, man, are you going in there to have sex?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I replied cautiously.
“Well, I’ll suck your cock for you for twenty dollars.”
I pointed out the fact that it only cost thirteen dollars to get into the baths, to which he replied that he would give me a better blow job than anyone in the club could. I took a close look at this guy’s shoulder length hair and saw a fantastic opportunity staring me in the face.
I countered his offer, “If all you can offer me is a blow job, I’d rather get that in the club. Maybe, you can help me out with something else.”
“I’ll do anything. What do you need?” he said. I got very excited because I could tell he had no idea what I was about to suggest.
“Can I cut your hair?”
“Oh, man! Not my hair. No way!” he snapped.
“That’s cool. Whatever,” I said and continued toward the door of the club.
“Wait. How short do you want to cut my hair?” he asked.
“A military cut; very short. Basically, I want to mow all of your hair off,” I replied.
“Why do you want to do that?” he said with a puzzled look on his face.
“It turns me on. It’s a fetish.”
“Well, that’s going to cost you more than twenty dollars,”
“Sure. That’s reasonable. How much do you want?” I asked.
“A hundred bucks; and that doesn’t include any sex.” I could tell from his tone that he thought I wouldn’t be interested at that price without sex.
“Great! I’m not all that worried about the sex. All you have to do is sit there. I just want to cut your hair. Let’s go,” I quickly snapped. He was stunned that I agreed. It was almost like he wanted to change his mind.
“Wait a second. Are you sure? I want to see the money first.”
“Okay. We’ll go to the cash machine first and I’ll get the money.”
He paused and looked at me like I was crazy, but agreed to the terms. I took the money out of the cash machine and counted the five twenty dollar bills out in front of him, then tucked them deep inside of my jeans pocket. Once he saw the money, he seemed relaxed about the haircut.
We made small talk while we walked to my home. He talked a lot about basketball, about which I knew nothing. He seemed to be a rather ordinary guy. I wasn’t intimidated or afraid of him. If anything he seemed more afraid of me. I kept reassuring him that he didn’t have to take his clothes off or even touch me. I just wanted to buzz his hair off.
I didn’t find him all that attractive. I would never have been interested in having sex with him outside of our agreement. However, I was really turned on by his hair. It was a dirty blond color and hung in little ringlets that you could easily wrap around your fingers. If the hair had been straightened out, it would probably have fallen well past his shoulders. He didn’t seem to be the kind of guy to fuss with it much. It was a little disappointing that he wasn’t more sentimentally attached to it. I knew I wasn’t going to gain much in the way of power out of the situation. Nonetheless, I couldn’t wait to start hacking away at those curls.
We got to my home, and we walked right into my bedroom without hesitation. I put a haircut cape around him as he slouched down in a chair in the middle of the bedroom.
“Sit up straight,” I said, pulling the curls out of the neck of the cape, and placing them on his shoulders. I took a spray bottle and wet his hair down and began to comb and untangle the curls. My cock was bouncing around in my jeans, so I undid the fly and released it. I spent a few minutes jacking myself off with one hand, and running the other hand through the thick, damp hair.
This is the closest I have felt to being in heaven.
I am floating before this head of beautiful hair.
My own hair has never really been all that interesting since I was a child, so not only do I admire a handsome head of hair, I feel jealous. He sat there quietly looking around the room, not speaking or paying any attention to me.
I don’t have to turn all of my feelings off.
This isn’t like cutting a friend’s hair.
I BOUGHT the opportunity to think whatever comes naturally.
I bought his attention.
I bought his respect.
I can do whatever I want with his hair.
I am not cutting hair for a show
We are the show.
We are the theater.
That permission is the sexiest feeling I can imagine.
I allowed myself to not worry about haircutting skills or what he would look like when I was done cutting his hair. In fact, for a few minutes, I felt free enough to not worry about anyone but myself. No one would dictate what I could and couldn’t do.
What did this punk do to deserve a head of hair like this?
He probably doesn’t appreciate what he’s got.
My dad would have never let me have hair like this.
I began to allow myself to be irrational as I picked up the scissors and chopped out the first chunk of hair. The young man flinched as the freshly cut hair wrapped around my hand. I tossed the wad of damp cut hair in his lap, forcing him to look at it. It made a loud snap against the cape. I grabbed another hunk and cut it off, then quickly sliced off another. I become more and more aroused as I watch his appearance change before my eyes. His hair began to look chopped up and ugly.
I wasn’t actually hurting him physically. I had enough control over the aggressive cutting not to accidentally cut his scalp or stab him, but the sensation I had while hacking the hair off was comparable to assaulting him. With the length of hair reduced to stubble, I took a moment to admire what a mess I had just made. I liked the fact that a part of him is severed and lying on the floor. However, he seemed barely interested. I would have delighted in his crying or trembling. Instead he just sat there in an apathetic daze. I hadn’t affected him as I much as I would have liked. I plugged in the clippers and evened the hair up hoping the buzzing would be intimidating to him.
When I finished, he walked to the mirror and rubbed his head.
“Oh, well. I guess it will grow back,” he said glumly.
We put our coats on and I walked him outside my apartment building where I gave him the money. Just before we parted company he said, “You realize there are a lot of guys’ downtown who would probably let you cut their hair just like I did?”
“Really? Where?” I asked. It hadn’t even occurred to me.
“First and Madison…sometimes Second Avenue, too. That is where all ofthe guys hang out looking for johns.”
“Are there long haired guys?” I pondered out loud.
“Some. I don’t know. You’ll have to take a look for yourself.” He playfully slugged my arm, smiled and said goodbye. He walked away with an attitude like he got the better end of our deal.
I hadn’t even ejaculated. I hurried inside to finish beating off. When I walked into my bedroom, it was like someone had thrown cold water on my face to wake me up. I had not taken the time to clean up before I walked the guy out. The sight of my normally tidy room was shocking: the chair, the cape, all of the haircutting equipment and long pieces of hair strewn everywhere. It was hard to take responsibility for what had just happened in my room, but more so for what had happened in my head.
I negotiated a deal to attack this man.
It was more of a psychological attack, and the hair was a trophy.
I am puzzled.
I am not sure that the haircut accomplished what I wanted,
But I have no regrets.
If I could do it again right this minute, I would.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I sat on the floor and masturbated while playing with the beautiful pieces of hair and remembering the evening’s events. I was careful not to ejaculate in the hair. I had essentially paid for the hair so I felt the need to save the curls. I found an empty saltine cracker box in the kitchen, and ceremoniously placed the hair inside. Closing the box was almost like sealing a tomb. I buried the box in the back of my closet. I wasn’t exactly sure why I was compelled to save the hair or when I would look at it again.
I felt like I had just eaten too much of a very bland Thanksgiving dinner. I was full, yet unsatisfied. Within a few days, I wanted to go back for seconds. This guy didn’t get me all that excited, but the information he shared with me did.
It didn’t dawn on me for a few days that the guy was officially a prostitute and I was a john. When I hired the escort from the agency, the whole thing seemed so sanitized that I hadn’t given it much thought. It felt more like I answered a personal ad. Society is quick to point a finger and look down on the oldest profession. My views were no different. Not only did I have a fetish to be ashamed of, I was participating in illegal activities again. Despite the added guilt, I was overcome with curiosity about male prostitution.
This could be the most dangerous thing I’d ever faced. The area the guy spoke of wasn’t the safest part of town. I assumed the street people were quite possibly drug addicts or criminals. The whole situation seemed as desperate as I felt. I wanted to hire another young guy and cut his hair as short as I could. I had no idea what to expect, but I was determined I would find some sexual satisfaction. There would be no boundaries of an agency, and the fees would be lower. I also presumed a street hustler would be less concerned about his hair than a higher priced call boy. I naively convinced myself I could handle anything that happened.
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer, PhD, for Reader Views
Author Dennis Bensie has written on a personal topic that many of us know nothing about. Dennis Bensie came from a dysfunctional family where his father had one train of thought- boys will act like boys. His father was neither affectionate nor loving toward Dennis or his mother. His mother, on the other hand, loved her son but would not stand up against her husband. The only person that didn’t judge him for his behavior and interests was his grandmother.
When he was in his early school years, teachers would comment that he would rather play with the girls than participate in sports or be with boys. “He ran like a girl, talked like a girl and acted like a girl.” He was teased unmercifully at school and he hated gym class. His father always called him a sissy. So Dennis started doing things in secret- always hiding in his room and began his infatuation playing with dolls. He was fascinated with their hair and would style them for hours on end until he couldn’t stand it anymore and cut it.
Little did he know at the time that he had a fetish with hair and, as he grew, he would often pay gay hustlers to cut their hair. When he went to college, he thought things would be better because no one knew his secret and they wouldn’t call him names. He could be normal. However, in college he remembered being molested at a young age and tried to tell his parents he was gay. His father said “You can’t know that; you have never been on a date with a girl.” But in his heart he knew something wasn’t right. It was also during his time in college he learned secret places to have clandestine meetings with men who gave him what he wanted, but not the love and attention he so desperately needed.
After working at the Intiman Theater as a Wardrobe Manager, Dennis got the chance for an apprenticeship in theatrical wig making in Los Angeles. What Dennis realized is that his obsession was an addiction. He knew it was unhealthy, as most addicts do, but he just didn’t know if he could give it up. While in Los Angeles, Dennis found the need to go into therapy again. Would he succeed or be a failure all his life?
“Shorn: Toys to Men” isn’t about being a failure; it’s about not having emotional or psychological needs met when in childhood that has a dramatic impact on one’s personality and behavior. The author has done an excellent job in letting reader’s get inside his thought process and how he perceives the world. His soul was lost and yet in spite of everything he encountered and searched for, he found his way back.
Library Journal: Memoir Short Takes: Men on Top
Bensie, Dennis Milam. Shorn: Toys to Men. Coffeetown. Jan. 2011. 268p. illus. ISBN 9781603810920. pap. $17.95. MEMOIRThroughout his youth, Bensie grappled with an insatiable urge to play with and cut dolls' hair. With an overbearing father unable to understand his effeminate son, and battling school bullies, Bensie shoplifted to keep a supply of doll heads secreted in his room for haircutting and sexual release. Later becoming a theatrical wig-maker, he self-medicated by cruising street hustlers and paying them to cut their hair. After discovering through therapy that this sexual gratification is called paraphilia, Bensie learns how to put his life into perspective and address what he really wants. A poignant read about a little-known issue.
What I'm Telling My Friends: Particularly topical in these days of bullying stories and gay teens committing suicide, this brings to light just one man's tremendous struggle.
New York Journal of Books - Shorn: Toys to Men
“Mr. Bensie’s decision to focus his memoir nearly exclusively on his sexual demons makes Shorn, on the one hand, a frank discussion of behaviors that few have ever discussed so honestly, and, on the other, an uncomfortable read. Mr. Bensie bares all and dares the reader to deal with it.”
As children, we are all received numerous lectures about the virtue of honesty. But is there a line beyond which honesty becomes a problem? Can an overabundance of honesty cross that line and become lurid, or even creepy? With his darkly honest memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, Dennis Milam Bensie sets out to find that line and dance on it.
Mr. Bensie describes a very difficult life. He was born to an ill-prepared teen mother who didn’t have the means to raise him, so he was given to loving but stiff adoptive parents. As a little boy, he was sexually molested by a babysitter. Effeminate from childhood, he endured years of ostracism and terrible bullying from small-minded male peers. His parents and therapists tried to help but were hindered by similar small-mindedness.
As a young adult, Mr. Bensie broke free, went to college, and eventually made a career for himself in theater. Amid all of this, he gradually came to understand his gay identity, but was plagued by sexual tastes that ranged from harmlessly kinky to downright outré.
The majority of the memoir is devoted to Mr. Bensie fighting his psychosexual demons. He describes watching teen boys through Venetian blinds each morning to fuel daily masturbation, picking up strange men in bathrooms, masturbating to sex lines, and obsessing over with shaving mens’ heads as a form of sexual pleasure. He also describes a female alter ego named Stefney, an over-fondness for pretty dolls that extended well into adulthood, and dozens of encounters with male prostitutes.
These obsessions lead him into difficult circumstances in which he or others were frequently hurt: a failed marriage to a woman who deserved better, a rape by another man, an attempted suicide, physical altercations, financial problems, and years of therapy and unhappiness. A few scenes are too sexually explicit to mention in this review.
Shorn is not a balanced depiction of Mr. Bensie’s collective experiences or talents, and this is disappointing in some ways. He writes in an informed journalistic voice and proves him a subtle chronicler of modern Americana. His anthropologies of the places he’s lived—Robinson and Carbondale, Illinois, Chapel Hill, Daytona Beach, and Seattle—show an essayist’s sensibilities—but these observations are offered only in snippets.
Mr. Bensie’s theater career, no doubt, gives him abundant material for a memoir—but only a few of these anecdotes make it into Shorn. For better or worse, Mr. Bensie is primarily interested in documenting his psychosexual challenges.
At the end of Shorn, Mr. Bensie describes being helped by a therapist. She successfully identifies his condition—paraphelia—and helps him move toward more normal social interactions. He narrates the successes and challenges of taking antidepressants and a Freudian epiphany linking his haircutting obsession with painful childhood memories of his father.
Shorn concludes with cause for optimism as Mr. Bensie gets control over his fetishes. But because this comes so late in the book (the last 30 pages of a 270-page memoir), the hopeful outcome is little more than a footnote to the predominant reader experience.
Mr. Bensie’s decision to focus his memoir nearly exclusively on his sexual demons makes Shorn, on the one hand, a frank discussion of behaviors that few have ever discussed so honestly, and, on the other, an uncomfortable read. Mr. Bensie bares all and dares the reader to deal with it. But the ultimate audience for Shorn is probably Mr. Bensie himself—his memoir is his exorcism and hopefully the final step in purging his demons.
We all have demons of one kind or another, and Mr. Bensie’s bare-all discussion of his demons is bracingly honest and admirable. But at some point, the litany of sexually-explicit stories in Shorn became repetitive. The author’s honesty was trumped by the law of diminishing returns. Either Mr. Bensie or an experienced editor should have hacked 70 pages out of this book. Shorn could have been a well-conceived memoir—in addition to being an honest one.