Shorn: Toys to Men, A Memoir by Dennis Milam Bensie

Shorn: Toys to Men (268 pp, $17.95/paper ISBN: 978-1-60381-092-0), is a memoir by Theatrical Hair Designer and Wigmaker Dennis Milam Bensie about his traumatic childhood and subsequent struggles with the compulsion to cut hair.

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Read more about the author and the book at Shorn.coffeetownpress.com.

“A poignant read about a little-known issue,” writes Julie Kane in the Library Journal. “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.”

5 Jags: “I strongly recommend this book. Read this memoir to not only witness the struggles of a man continuously dealing with the pain of his childhood, but as a figurative mirror to reflect how what day to day actions in our lives can and will do to ourselves, and those around us.”

The Jag Review

“Honest and triumphant! A must read for anyone battling darkness, seeking light,” says Justin Reed Early, Author of StreetChild: An Unpaved Passage. Other renowned memoirists who have endorsed Bensie’s book include Jeff Mann, Walter de Milly, Martin Moran, Jennifer Niven, and Joshua Daniel Phillips.

The Advocate voted Shorn: Toys to Men, “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011.” The New York Journal of Books called Shorn: “Bracingly honest.” Shorn was a finalist in the 2013 Indie Excellence Awards, along with Bensie’s other memoir, One Gay American.

5 Stars: “This is one of the most honest memoirs that I have ever read. It kept me at the edge of my seat and propelled me to read the whole book, from start to finish…. It is a book about a uniquely tangled love story, a triumphant quest for love, forgiveness and self-acceptance. And I am glad to report that Bensie achieves all of these things and he finally finds himself.”  Read more ….

–Author Irene Roth

The release of the book coincided with the theatrical version, entitled The Cut, which premiered at the Open Circle Theater in Seattle’s Belltown area on January 14, 2011.

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 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.

“In 1998,” Bensie says, “I was diagnosed with OCD and paraphilia: being sexually aroused by something atypical or extreme. It was a relief for my relentless need to cut men’s hair to finally have a name and a treatment. I opened up to my closest, trusted friends. I shared the unusual story of my spiral out of control. I was a haircutting addict. I met my friend Jeff in Ashland, Oregon in 1999 while doing wigs for a few shows at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Jeff worked in media and knew a good story when he heard it. He was both amused and stunned by my tales. I had lived my whole life obsessed in one way or another about hair. He pointed out the irony of me being a talented wig person. He encouraged me to share my story with the world …. Seeing the book take shape on paper made me realize I had a very unusual book … a story I had never heard.”

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. He holds a degree in Theatre Costume Design from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and completed an apprenticeship in theatrical wig construction at Los Angeles Opera. He has costumed and wigged shows all over the country, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC, Alliance Theatre of Atlanta, Arizona Theatre Company, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego to name a few. His costume and wig design for Valley of the Dolls at Empty Space Theatre in Seattle garnered him a feature article in Entertainment Design Magazine and a Seattle Times Footlight Award for Best Design. Dennis also teaches master classes in wigmaking and wig maintenance around the country. He has been on staff at Intiman Theatre in Seattle since 1992 and is proud to have been involved with such productions as Angels in America, Nickel and Dimed and the world premiere of the Tony Award winning musical, Light in the Piazza. Shorn: Toys to Men is his first book. Dennis lives in Seattle with his partner and three dogs. For more information, see Bensie’s blog: Shorn.Coffeetownpress.com.

 

Shorn is available in Kindle ($6.95), paperback, and cloth ($25.95) editions on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, and Amazon Japan. Other ebook versions are sold on Smashwords and through most major retailers. Bookstores and libraries can order through info@coffeetownpress.com, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor.

Here is the chapter, “Doll Withdrawal.” You can upload this and two other chapters for free on Scribd.com.

I can’t sleep or care about school anymore.
My cravings to cut hair keep getting stronger, much stronger than cutting yarn.
As soon as I get my hands on a doll, I just have to cut its hair.
My thoughts go so fast when there is hair to cut, I cannot keep up.
Next thing I know I have done it.
I am not sure if Stefeny is a good thing or if she makes me want to cut more.
I can’t eliminate Stefeny any more than I can eliminate the need to cut.

I went back to The Index. I lurked around all of the toy aisles and finally got up the courage to walk down the Barbie aisle again. The store was particularly quiet that day, so I felt a bit more at ease as I glared at the shelves of Barbies and Barbie accessories. I stood there amazed and depressed. I couldn’t imagine what I had done to deserve such anxiety. I was being tortured at school and now I was torturing myself over a toy I was convinced I needed but wasn’t supposed to have.

I wish I could hide in the dressing room until the store closes at night.
I would come out after everyone has left and play with all of the dolls.
I would love to cut and style their hair.
Stefeny could be beautiful over and over.
There would be no reason to fantasize about this if my dad and the kids who make fun of me understood.
THEY have made me what I am, and I don’t know how to change.

I decided I wasn’t leaving that store without a doll. I opened up a Barbie box, released the doll from her packaging, and quickly tucked her into my coat. I walked to the front of the store and left without paying for the doll. I was twice as scared stealing this doll as I had been buying the one the week before. I was trembling as I rode my bike to my grandma’s house.

When I got home to my bedroom, the fear died down and I was relaxed enough to play with my doll. I was delighted that this doll came with a different outfit. Now I had three.

Despite having the brand new stolen doll, I went back to the store the following day after school. It seemed so easy to steal the day before. I was so miserable it didn’t even seem relevant that stealing was wrong. I certainly didn’t feel as guilty as I did after I stole from my cousin. I wanted to steal again. I knew that I would be cutting the new doll’s hair, so it made sense to prepare for the future. When I got to the store, the open package from yesterday was gone. The store was the same as it always had been.

I opened up another Barbie package and stopped. I realized I didn’t really need another whole doll … just the head. I had two doll bodies that were perfectly good. I swiftly popped the head off of the doll and put it in my pocket. Stealing felt even easier this time. I wasn’t nearly as nervous as on the day before. I was careful; no one had seen me. I was also glad to not have to hide an entire doll under my coat. I felt almost relieved. I opened up another package and tore another doll head off. I then swiftly proceeded to the store exit and biked to my grandma’s house.

I really did it.Today something went right for me.
I was strong and brave and TOOK what I wanted.
The world wasn’t against me and I was rewarded with the stuff I need.

I replaced the bald doll heads with the new long-haired stolen ones. I now had a reserve. I knew that my new skill at theft was going to make things go a lot smoother in my private fantasy world. The possibilities seemed endless.

I was content for a few days, but suffered an expected loss as I cut one doll’s hair. It felt like I had waited enough time for things to settle down in the store, so I planned a trip back. This time, however, I took along a seam ripper, which had a sharp point on the end. This would allow me a little bit of speed when opening up the packages. I could simply stab the clear plastic window of the box and reach in and yank the doll’s head off. I was cocky as I strolled into the store, and I made my selections like I had all the money in the world. I decided to not waste the trip, so I got a few Barbie outfits to go along with the four doll heads I was stealing that day.

I became paranoid that the store clerks knew that I was the Barbie thief and were preparing a sting operation to catch me. I branched out and started stealing dolls from other stores. I even became brave enough to steal stuff while my mom was shopping in other parts of a store. Yet no one, including my mom, seemed to catch on to what I was doing. I felt like I was winning a prize every time I came home and emptied my pockets. I had to find a box and a special hiding place for my stash. I found that there was some dead space between the bottom drawer of my dresser and the floor. One would have to take the drawer out or actually move the dresser to find my hiding place. That seemed very safe. It wasn’t long before I had quite the collection of dolls,
clothes … and bald doll heads.

My determination got the best of me one summer while on a Barbie stealing binge. Having taken a break from The Index, I found a fantastic supply of Barbie dolls and Barbie clothes to steal from another neighborhood store called Town and Country. I rode my bike there with my trusty seam ripper in my pocket. Their toy aisle was in the back corner of the store, which I thought would afford me some privacy. I was wildly cutting packages open and pulling out the contents out when I noticed a store clerk watching me from around the corner. I quickly dropped all the merchandise and exited the store empty handed.

Angry with myself, I decided I needed to go back to the store and get the pile of stuff I left behind. I knew I could not go back as myself, so I decided I would try and disguise myself to elude the store clerk who had spotted me.

I rode my bike to the Goodwill store downtown and bought a cheap women’s wig for one dollar. My next stop was my grandma’s house, where I secretly borrowed a blouse from my cousin Donna who was staying there. I bicycled back to Town and Country, where I put on my disguise in the parking lot before re-entering the store.

The disguise was not successful, because the minute I made my way into the store the same clerk spotted me and made no attempt to hide the fact the she was following me from aisle to aisle.

“Can I help you?” she asked, holding back her giggles at my disguise.

“No … I’m just doing a little early Christmas shopping.” I answered in a falsetto voice I hoped approximated that of a mature lady.

I sheepishly realized that my plan was an embarrassing failure. The clerk wasn’t going to let me get near the Barbie aisle, so I turned around and exited the store, empty handed and feeling like a fool.

My afternoon at Town and Country had not discouraged me one bit. I rotated back to other stores with Barbies. I had become as engaged and obsessed with stealing as I had been with my fantasy world. The power of stealing began to rival the power of cutting hair. I was quick to steal every time something else in my life went wrong or I had a bad day. I was in a downward spiral and had no idea where I was going or what was going to happen to me.

Returning to The Index one afternoon, I was faced with a chilling image: surprisingly, no one had removed the debris from my shoplifting spree the day before. On the shelf before me were six headless Barbie dolls still in their boxes. I was operating faster than the store could keep up. For just a moment I was breathless and couldn’t believe what I saw. I was responsible for the damage, yet still unaccountable, not only to the store, but to myself.

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