This was originally published ten years ago, but I didn’t encounter Bensie’s work until his next two books, One Gay American and Thirty Years a Dresser, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. As my TBR stack nearly reaches the ceiling now—and that’s not including ebooks—I had no hope of reading this until he reissued it with a new epilogue and provided me with an excuse. And I’m very glad he did.
Approaching sixty-five years old, I’ve seen just about every sexual kink imaginable, including the guy who only got turned on by the way my armpit skin wrinkled when my arms were at my side, so a haircutting fetish doesn’t seem too odd to me. But if Shorn was just about that, it wouldn’t be as interesting as it is. The actual fetish is less important than its origin, its practice, and its aftermath.
And, as always, its roots are in Bensie’s childhood, which he describes with alarming honesty, including his rape at the hands of a neighbor. Bensie details his experiences with cutting Barbie hair and fashioning his own “head” out of a wire hanger and yarn, all against the disapproval of his parents–especially his father. But there’s usually that one family member who gets it, and in Bensie’s case, his grandmother encourages his rich fantasy life. As Bensie graduates and gets married, however, his obsession grows. The marriage forces him to make choices, and ultimately he divorces and begins a backstage career in the theatre, freeing him to indulge as he never has before.
His worst impulses now given free rein, he obsesses over friends, acquaintances, and people he works with at the theatre. This works for a while, but eventually that circle grows smaller until he finds himself picking up strangers and hustlers, paying to give them haircuts. This part of the memoir is sheer Degradation Porn, relating how much time and money and bother he invests in feeding his addiction. He’s even included before, during, and after pictures of the trade he shears. Those snapshots are absolutely fascinating and provide an unsettling look at the dangerous reality of the situation.
Of course, this can’t last. As those of us who have followed our sexual obsessions know, and I know many, there comes a point of diminishing returns. You either stop, get help, or fall beyond reach into the abyss. Thankfully, Bensie got the help he needed through therapy and chemical balancing and managed to rid himself of many demons–or at least safely shut them away.
I’d be untruthful if I said I hadn’t read books like this before. But Bensie is so honest and unpretentious about his failings, never making excuses or blaming others, the matter-of-factness lifts this far above other books about personal downward spirals I’ve read. And his prose is entertaining. Bensie has a way with a story, as evidenced by his other two books. Shorn is all of a piece with those works, yet stands alone. If you have the others, you need this. If you haven’t, this is a perfect place to start.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler