My name is Tejai Oakes. I am 22 years old and was born and raised in Gloucester. I have a Jamaican father and a Welsh English mother.  At the age of 7, I discovered I had alopecia areata after seeing that half of my eyebrows were disappearing. My sister had not noticed the back of my afro fading until a few days later. We soon became aware of a tiny bald spot on the back of my head. It was at this point I was taken to the doctors. I remember sitting in that room at my doctor's, being told I had alopecia. I was so young and did not understand the effects of this. I just understood that I was different from everyone else. We started off trying to hide it by shaving my hair which I had been growing since I was a baby. This was the first tremendous change in my appearance. 

At 10, I joined an all-boys grammar school where the bullying started. It used to just be the questions at first. “Why are you bald?“What happened to your hair?” “Your hair looks funny!” All I wanted was to be accepted, so I allowed the comments. Months passed and although I was excelling in my learning, mt alopecia had dramatically gotten worse. 

In June 2012, I lost my absolute best friend and rock. This was a turning point for me. The stress of dealing with the loss caused 90% of my hair to fall out. I felt lost and confused, and it was from this moment that I started covering my head. Whether it be a hood, a hat or a durag, my head was always covered. From age 16 to 18, I never showed my head to anyone. This was my way of coping with something I did not understand.

While battling the struggle of living with alopecia, I was also struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. It was like a warzone inside of my head trying to break out. I spent these 2 years trying to find a way to love myself until March 2019, when after 2 years trying to hide who I was, I decided I was tired of running from myself. Behind closed doors, I finally accepted the fact I was gay and bald.  

Previously, I had never posted a photo on social media with my head visible, but one day I took off the headcovers and revealed the real me. I feared a negative reaction but it was the total reverse. Everyone adored and supported me. 

I feel when it comes to alopecia, it is not taken as seriously as females in regards to the effects on males. This is because as a man it is seen as normal to go bald and so it’s assumed it doesn’t affect men. The main thing I was told when growing up with alopecia was ‘At least you are a man so it is normal for you to be bald’. Looking back, I think this is the worst thing you could say to a boy with alopecia. No matter your gender, alopecia is alopecia. It can affect us all. 

Having alopecia, although it first tore me apart, it allowed me to rebuild myself in the best way possible. Not only do I love me I am, I now love the condition that makes me who I am today. The new normal is now being different and it something I want to embrace.

Thank you to Tejai for sharing his story with us. It was originally told to photographer Taiye Omokore as part of their series of photos, 'Strength Amidst Alopecia', which you can view here. Thank you to Taiye for allowing us to share these powerful images.