The wrong trousers
David Thomas’s transgender diary
Chris Hinchliffe, director of Lucinda Ellery, female hair-loss specialist, examines a picture of me taken two years ago. He notes the sparse, greasy tufts scattered along my hairline and the bare, shiny scalp at my crown. Then he looks up at the luxuriant thatch that now sprouts there, like a glorious wheatfield on what was a barren dust bowl.
‘You’ve got the best hair transplant I’ve ever seen,’ he says.
I bask contentedly in the compliment. The £11,000 I’ve spent on two procedures, the pain and discomfort – it was all worthwhile. And yet I detect a ‘but’ hanging in the air.
‘But it was a waste of time?’
Hinchliffe shrugs. ‘Well, what I am going to suggest next, would be just as easy for us if you hadn’t.’
It’s quite a blow. I could devote many thousands of words to the gruelling busifemininity ness of hair transplantation. But for now, let me just say this.
Hair transplants essentially consist of the removal of a strip of hair-bearing skin, about an inch wide and eight across from the back of your scalp. This is divided up into thousands of ‘follicular units’, each containing two or three hairs, which are then redistributed across the empty patches on your head.
You’re awake, though heavily tranquillised, throughout. And as the hairy strip of skin is ripped from your skull, the thought that comes to mind is, ‘That’s just like Velcro.’ The sound, the feel – they’re exactly the same. Essentially, then, you’re scalped. And I’ve had it done twice.
Yet here I am in an agreeable office in Chiswick, west London, coming to terms with the very real possibility that Chris Hinchliffe is right. Because here’s the thing: if all I wanted was a man’s transplant, mine could indeed be counted a triumphant success. After 25 years of everincreasing baldness, I look in the mirror and see my old, youthful, hirsute self.
But even the finest transplant can’t beat the maths. If you start out with 100,000 hairs, and you lose a third of them, then even if you redistribute them with the utmost skill, you’re still trying to cover the same amount of head with a much smaller number of hairs. Thus the density of hair is always bound to be less than it once was. And, Hinchliffe says, ‘For true you need a good thatch of hair, with nothing obvious in terms of thinning.’
And this is why I’ve come to Lucinda Ellery. Acting on the paradoxical principle that ‘the only way to get a natural look is with a prosthetic’, they specialise in ‘intralace’ hairpieces, comprised of real hair, attached to a fine mesh. The mesh is placed on your head. Your own hair is pulled through it and combined with the hairpiece to create the effect of a thick head of hair that looks entirely natural.
‘We’ve got a whole colour range,’ Hinchliffe says. ‘That’s an entire meeting in itself. For example, should we have some grey in there? We could have something specially made that would be 10 per cent grey for a totally accurate match with your hair.’
‘But,’ he flatters me, ‘you look young enough not to need any grey at all.’
According to Hinchliffe, a Lucinda Ellery hairpiece typically costs ‘a couple of thousand a year’. This includes regular appointments to adjust for loosening caused by the growth of one’s own hair. If it extends right to the hairline, as mine would, the intralace has to be re-taped every couple of days.
‘It sounds like a faff, but once you see how easy it is, it’s not a big deal,’ Hinchliffe assures me. ‘You just work it into your grooming routine. When you see the effect, it’s totally worth it.’
To prove the point, he sits me down in front of a mirror, picks up a hairpiece and says, ‘I want to show you how you look with a complete, softer hairline and, most importantly, denser hair.’
He sticks it on my forehead, in a rough approximation of the final effect. I certainly look more female. But I still need a ton of work on my face to match the hair.
There are two other catches to consider. I don’t currently have thousands of pounds a year to spare for hairpieces. And I always swore that I would try to be as natural as possible: no implants, no wigs.
But, Hinchliffe is right. To look as good as I would like to, I am going to need a little help. So there can’t be any half-measures. Either I go all-in, or I don’t go in at all.
As the hairy strip of skin is ripped from my skull, I think, ‘That’s just like Velcro.’ Essentially, I’ve been scalped. And I’ve had it done twice