by by Simon Sheppard

"Give me a head with hair - long, beautiful hair," says a decades-old song. Before the 1960s, longish hair on men had signified dubious masculinity. Though the Beatles and the hippies changed that, making extensive tresses stylish for straights, too, it's hard for younger gay men to understand the symbolic value long hair held for a whole generation of homos. In the late '60s and early '70s, when modern gay radicalism was born, long hair spoke of nonconformism, sensuality, and a challenge to rigid gender norms. "I remember," says one middle-aged man, now nearly bald, "how sexy and free I felt with all my long hair swirling around."

Time passes; fashions change. Among young gays, rebellious hippie hairdos gave way to butch short cuts. But some guys still love long locks, because, among other things, hair makes their cocks hard. Says forty-ish Paul, "I find it difficult to explain why I find long hair a turn-on. Like guys who are turned on by leather or buzz cuts, it just is. It could be called a fetish, but it seems broader than that."

After all, longer hair can be a sensual delight. Says one tough-looking top with a liking for long locks, "I love to see a naked guy lying in bed with his hair like a halo on the pillow. And hey, when a long-haired man gives me head, I have something to grab onto - I use his hair like a leash to guide his mouth."

But though we're a community that's supposed to celebrate diversity, it seems many queer guys wear the badge of the Fashion Police. Says Paul, "I sometimes run into men who have a negative attitude toward me and others with long locks. They make comments like, 'You should get a buzz cut; the '60s are over.' And all the advertisements in gay publications feature men with very short hair. Don't the people doing the ads realize that not all of us have the same taste in men?"

Perhaps part of the problem is that over the years, long hair has often been associated with groups that don't seem very queer: heavy-metal bands, professional wrestlers, mullet-wearing het bozos, the Grateful Dead. But maybe some of it has to do with the changing self-definition of many gays: less rebellious now, less gender-bending. And long hair on men is a marker of a generation that's gotten middle-aged and thus - supposedly - less sexy.

"I know this is not a major issue, more of a minor annoyance, " Paul continues, "but I've even had friends tell me that they prefer longer hair but have cut theirs to 'fit in.'" So one day, after watching a TV documentary on the early days of gay parades, noticing how diverse the crowds looked, Paul decided to take hair-roots... er... grass-roots action. He founded a group called "Queers Who Shun Shears." A dozen longhaired men got involved, planning to march in pride parades and start a Web site.

One thing's for certain, though. Trends may come and go, but fetishism marches on. At least one gay fetish Web site has pages of pictures of naked longhairs, right next to pics of foot fanciers and bound-up bottoms. And, as the tough top points out, hair can be a fetishistic sex toy: "There's so much more you can do with long hair than with a buzz-cut. I like to have my feet massaged with hair or to wrap it around my hard-on. Feels great."

Remember, many fashions get recycled; yesterday's castoffs are tomorrow's hot styles. So don't throw away that old hairbrush; like chinos and platform shoes, long, silken, below-the-shoulders hair and bushy Afros may make their reappearance sooner than you think. And in the meantime, Paul and his pals are getting stiff when they see long, beautiful hair.

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