Letters on teen suicide, male balding and women's rehab

Readers respond to "Suicide at 16," "Without Hair, I Am Nothing" and "A Rehab of One's Own."

Published August 31, 2001 7:30PM (EDT)

"Suicide at 16", by Amy Halloran, brought these responses:

I thought of suicide once. I nearly committed it. I wanted it to look like an accident. The idea was to drink a few beers, dump a few more down the pool's filter, and dive into the pool. I would hit my head and drown.

On the surface I had quite a bit. I was a senior in college. I had a good grade point average at a good school in a difficult major. I had friends, was into politics, and enjoyed my life. I was also gay. I couldn't face the idea or the fact of telling anyone -- most of all my parents. Suicide, it seemed, was the best way out for all of us.

Why didn't I do it? The feel-good answer would be that I realized how stupid I was. That I woke up and realized that no amount of fear and prejudice justifies ending your life. Unfortunately the answer is less noble than that. It was in the age before instant communication by fax or e-mail. I was on spring break and my dorm was deserted. I had evidence I was gay in my room and I had no way to contact my roommate to get rid of it. Like I said, not a very noble reason.

I can't say why that teen did what he did. All I can say is, there but for the grace of God go I, and so many others. Now I am in recovery from alcohol, which I turned to to bury the pain of my life as I saw it. I can only hope that your friend can get through her grief. She is not at fault. He forgot for a terrible instant that life is worth living. That happens to a lot of us; sadly, he was around a rifle when he forgot. Good luck and God bless.

-- Dave C.

Amy Halloran's friend may have contributed little or nothing to her son's despair. What disturbs me is that her article seems to imply that no parent does.

Since "mothers do not create homophobia, racism, or sexism," Halloran writes, it follows, in her view, that if a child takes his own life, any guilt the mother feels is understandable, but misplaced. Ultimately, in such a case, the parent is merely "guilty of feeling guilty."

This sounds like something David Horowitz might have written as a satire on liberal cluelessness. I know of a teen who admitted to several suicide attempts last fall, and I'm pretty sure I know why. Her mother and late grandmother created a climate, in the child's home, of emotional violation, shame, and mutual recrimination, and used the child as a prop in their sick drama. No, the mother did not create racism or homophobia or Third World debt. So what? Kids don't kill themselves because the world fails to conform to the Democratic Party platform. They kill themselves because they feel real pain about real things. And sometimes, parents largely create this.

-- Michael Huggins

In response to "A Rehab of One's Own," by Annie Murphy Paul:

As a recovering addict myself, I can only attest to my own experience. But I find the premise that we need to break men down and build women up flawed and dangerously paternalistic. One of the first things a person is forced to confront about addiction, if they are to overcome it, is their own responsibility for their actions, regardless of whatever trauma they experience. I could blame the fact that I was molested by a female teacher for my addiction, couldn't I, but in the end it is my own choices that led me to the dark and deadly spiral of addiction that nearly destroyed me.

Blaming our bad judgment on the transgressions of others is a certain path to denying our own basic responsibilities. Telling a woman whose alcoholism causes her to mow down a pedestrian while driving drunk that her actions are the responsibility of some abusive partner is an awfully dangerous method of therapy. Ensuring that an addict is convinced that he or she is the victim of their circumstances is always a sure-fire method for convincing them that it's OK to abuse drugs, just so long as someone else can be blamed for it. The sexism here is nauseating.

-- Sage M. McLaughlin

The response to "Without Hair, I Am Nothing," by Ray Smith:

If it makes Ray feel better, here is one gay man who thinks baldness is >sexy. Men who are going bald and shave their heads or cut it very short look 10 years younger and much more confident than those who try the old comb-over or expensive transplants.

Not to mention how practical it is.

-- Lars W.

As a 35-year-old man who has been noticeably gray since about the seventh grade, I would be amused by this article if the author didn't seem to be in such genuine pain.

Recently, my hair has begun to thin, and I just couldn't possibly care less.

I have always been puzzled by the treatment of baldness as a medical complaint. I take medicine when I get sick. Losing hair is not a sickness, so why would I want to take medicine for it?

I suspect that the author is unhappy in other ways: Maybe he's not in a relationship, or maybe his job isn't going as he'd like. But to blame that on being 'follicularly challenged' is too much of a stretch for me.

-- Gary Sulls

I had thought the article would be a portrait of someone who realises how their superficiality and lack of self-esteem drives them to ludicrous measures. Unfortunately, it instead seems to treat the author's insecurity as reality -- that being bald really, truly is terrible.

I too began to experience male-pattern baldness in late high school. Unlike the mysterious author, however, most people don't loose their entire self-worth along with their hair. However, the article instead suggests millions of people are desperately suffering in silence, when they are in fact blissfully unaware of how miserable they should be.

If the article's tone wasn't so factual, I'd laugh at the ludicrous use of a pseudonym, his parent's bizarre "frantic search for an explanation," to the closing statement that he can't "look good" if he's bald. It's too bad that readers may not realise that most balding people aren't dysfunctional. It's clear that author doesn't.

-- Mike Stewart (not a pseudonym!)

Get over it!

What I find tragic is that your self-esteem is thin and receding, not that your hairline is thin and receding. What's even worse is that your mom fed this sad obsession.

Before you write me off, I am not some well-coifed pundit speaking from an ivory tower. I'm 30, male and have a hairline that beat as hasty a retreat as the French in WWII. My hair was noticeably receding by my junior year of college (if not earlier) and I shaved my noggin bare by 25.

No, I wasn't happy about my hair loss, but it wasn't a devastating blow either. I accepted the fact that what was hair today, would be gone tomorrow. Since I accepted that fact and moved on with my life I've realized that women react positively to self-confidence and generally don't give a damn about your hair or the lack of it.

Ray, I'd suggest you might find something more permanent than your hair (or any other aspect of your appearance) to hold your self-esteem together. And in the meantime, if you need a "hair-replacement system," buy a hat!

-- Tim Fowler

By Salon Staff

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