Dennis Milam Bensie-Paraphiliac

In 1998, I was diagnosed with OCD and Paraphilia: being sexually aroused by something atypical or extreme. It was a relief for my relentless compulsion 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 Brady 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 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 also saw some humor. He encouraged me to share my story with the world.
I have been a writer most of my life, just not formally. It was an assignment at the end of my therapy that got my book started. My therapist zeroed in on the conflicts with my father and told me to do a stream of conscientiousness writing exercise inspired by the disdain of my father. I had a conclusion to the book, I just had to remember the rest of my life.
I wrote like crazy for most of 2000. By years end, I had lots of fragments and pieces of my story. I literally assembled the book from cut pieces of paper, one paragraph per piece, strewn all over my bedroom floor. Seeing the book take shape on paper made me realize I had an very unusual book…a story I had never heard. I knew I wanted to publish it.
I researched publishing. I knew no one who had ever actually published a book. I spent most of 2001 and into 2002 trying to get someone in the business to merely read my book. Nothing. I got frustrated and put it away.
It wasn’t until I lost both of my parents in 2006 that I dug the book out again. So much had happened since the original drafts. I was ready to continue my catharsis. Still a little wounded from my failed attempts to penetrate the literary world, I decided to tell my story on my home turf: the stage.
I set out in December 2008 to adapt my book into a play. Despite working in professional theater for almost 2o years, I quickly learned I am NOT a playwright. The hunt for one began on Craigslist. Over 50 aspiring writers answered my ad for someone to adapt my book into a play. Most who read the sample synopsis of the book I provided freaked out: it was too complicated and daring for the Craigslist writing community.
My next move was to contact my friend and colleague Craig Lucas. I was actually ashamed I hadn’t started my hunt with him. He is the acclaimed writer of such projects as Prelude to a Kiss and the film Longtime Companion. Intiman Theater (my place of employment since 1992) had premiered several of Craig’s plays and I found Craig’s work to be abstract, dark, and often shocking.
Craig hooked my up with budding playwright, Dustin Engstrom. Dustin had taken Craig’s playwrighting workshop and he was impressed with Dustin’s candor and style. Dustin had received acclaim for tackling the dense writings of Franz Kafka for his first play, In the Kafka Colony (brave soul). Dustin and I met and I knew he was the right writer for my adaptation instantly. I handed my book to him, then titled Can I Cut Your Hair? Memoirs of a Paraphiliac, and told him to “go for it.”
I realized to do the best play possible, I had to update and freshen the book. Rereading my memoir years later, I realized I had to take my story farther; deeper. I left things out in 2000 that were still to painful to document. If I was to tell my story, I had to be brave and tell the WHOLE story. I now realize those early drafts of the book were merely a term paper of my life. I had to get to the bottom of what I felt and needed during all the tough times. I had to take my readers on the journey, not just tell them about it.
Two things happened that turned me inside out: I located a picture of my childhood molester, and my cousin who was molested along side me found me on Facebook. Those two things took me back to the summer of 1972 and I wrote it all down. From there, everything seemed to connect and fall into place. It was wild to be rewriting my memoir at the same time Dustin was adapting it into a play. I bounced everything off of him and we shared pages of each other’s work back and forth. It took almost a year, but we both finished our projects.
Shorn: Toys to Men has balanced my life. I had to slowly come to terms with my raw experiences and who I am by peeling away each layer only as I was ready. I am thankful I didn’t get published in 2001. It was too soon for me. The extra years give the reader a much richer story. A story I am now proud to call completely my own.
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