I’m Balding At 21

Mitchell Sunderland Rogaine

Google search my name and you’ll find photos of me fucking robotic sex toys and an essay I wrote about my mother breastfeeding me until I was in kindergarten or the first grade. My Internet presence lacks shame because I lost shame many years ago.

In elementary school I tried different personas to gain friends. Skater Boy Mitchell and Rich Boy Mitchell made me no friends, so when I transferred schools in the fifth grade I decided to stop giving a fuck. I would rather my peers hate me for who I am than dislike me for a persona I robbed from Nickelodeon.Once I bragged to my fellow morning daycare kids about my mother cheating on my father with America’s second richest dog breeder, nannies raising me, and my relatives’ drug problems, suddenly slumber party invitations came, skater boys cried to me about their problems, and my insecurities disappeared. My cons had become my pros; I finally felt love. When I first heard about livejournal, I immediately signed up. After learning about Gawker and Mary Karr I dreamed about becoming a non-fiction writer and became a personal essay addict. Reading Mary Karr and Emily Gould made me feel like it was okay to be fucked up; their essays broke social barriers, allowing other people to break the rules. Truth telling was more than about receiving attention. Karr wrote in her natural redneck voice; without a hint of shame or shock value, Gould discussed topics most people participate in but never discuss: sex and a desire for attention. Through oversharing, they broke stupid social mores. Since then I have spent the majority of my life revealing my biggest flaws and secrets to my friends and online—all my secrets except one.

I’m balding, and I’ve been balding since I was 18.

I forget when I noticed my first bald patch. (I keep my high school diaries in a storage space in Hollywood, Florida.) My memories just show my face in the mirror lifting my hair and staring at a thinning patch of mousy brown hair. I knew I would bald one day; like most boys, I come from a long line of bald men. But I thought I would bald after my thirty-year-old brother. My father told me to forget my worries; a pet store owner bought his son FDA approved medicine that prevents balding. (For those of you who are new to my messy life, my entire family works in the pet industry. We only trust industry people for advice.) After calling my dermatologist to ask for a prescription, I found out the medicine worked—it just also happened to cause premature prostate cancer. “Buy Rogaine,” the doctor said. “It sometimes works, but often it does not.”

I told my Dad. He handed me a hundred dollar bill. For the first time in my life, I gave him the money back. “There’s no way I’m buying Rogaine in public,” I told him. He laughed, bought me a three-month supply, and then told me to have a blast.


Mitchell Sunderland hair loss


Rogaine is simple to use and a lot like antibiotics. Twice a day I unscrew the bottle and then spray six blasts of magic juice on my receding hairline. Over time hair has grown back, but I always grow cocky (or overdraw my checking account) and stop using Rogaine for a month, losing more hair in the same way I grow sicker every time I stop taking antibiotics two days before the trial runs out. Last month, I ran out of Rogaine, and British customs held my new supply hostage until I paid fifty pounds. (Why? I don’t fucking know.) Within a month the sides of my hairline disappeared. I had become that nerdy guy I made fun of at a gay club when I was 17.

But lately, gay clubbing has become painful. Where I used to get dressed in 10 minutes, I now take 40—20 minutes devoted to gelling my hair and hiding my hairline. I used to hit on guys. Now I stand awkwardly worried that I look old. The only thing worse than looking fem is looking old.

My friends say they barely notice my balding, but I try to cover the receding hairline and up until now, with the exception of a Tumblr post I think I deleted, I have never blogged or tweeted about my balding. Fucking a sex toy gives me an edge; discussing the night a boy raped me makes me relatable. Talking about my receding hairline just makes me look…I don’t know. Ugly, I guess? My friends say I look “24 at most,” so maybe there’s no need for me to share these fears, but I think that’s me making excuses. I feel like I have betrayed the truth, and there’s nothing more important to me than the truth. Keeping my balding a secret allows gay men to continue to idealize a false ideal. But I also know that telling everyone I’m balding is going to prevent me from receiving romantic attention from boys my age. A few weeks ago, a cute boy made a joke about my “widow’s peak.” He meant I was balding.

I shouldn’t care this much. I should be happy. My dreams have started coming true. In the last few months, for the first time in my life, my writing has gained the attention I always craved. Several times a month I receive emails from gay boys I’ve never met. Typically, they’re readers between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three who related to an article I wrote; sometimes they want advice, which is funny because why the fuck would anyone want advice from the writer of “He Shoved His Dick Up My Ass (It Felt Like a Kiss)”? Fuck if I know. I do know the boys flatter me, because like most horny twentysomethings (and oversharers addicted to attention), I love attention from hot alternative gays who post sexy selfies on Tumblr. But as I read these emails before I spend twenty minutes fixing my hair before I go clubbing, the emails make me depressed. Yes, I always wanted to write and would rather be bald than not have had the professional success I earned last year, but I overshared to morning care before I overshared online. I wanted IRL attention. Boys might love me on the internet, where hot messes are rewarded in little cash and tons of attention, but in real life these guys would never love me for who I am. I’m balding.

More from Mitchell Sunderland:

He Shoved His Dick Up My Ass (It Felt Like a Kiss)

About Mitchell Sunderland

Mitchell Sunderland is freelance writer and social media manager in New York. His work has appeared in VICE Magazine, Thought Catalog, The Billfold, Rookie Mag, the Huffington Post, and Emily Books Quarterly. He has ghost tweeted as and managed social media publicity campaigns for authors at Simon & Schuster, Crown/Random House, and Plume/Penguin and various tech companies. He tweets and tumblrs regularly. Email him about your life and his work at mitchell.p.sunderland@gmail.com.

3 Responses to I’m Balding At 21

  1. Pingback: Boners on the Rugby Field: An Interview with Berlin’s Gay Rugby Team

  2. Pingback: It Took Me Two Years to Unfriend My Rapist on Facebook

  3. A Benevolent Force says:

    Take 0.25mg of propecia every three days (much less than often prescribed) which dramatically changes the side effect profile of this medication. Save your $30 per month until you save up around $5000 and get a hair transplant which is a permanent solution to hair loss. Any other course of action should be seen as buying ‘hope in a bottle’ and ultimately futile.

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