It’s not as though anyone hands you an instruction manual when you and your partner start out on the TransGender Pathway. Oh, sure, there are a zillion websites, organizations, community groups, medical sites, books, TV documentaries, tweets, and blogs out there, all of them trying to help sort through the crazypants journey that is the transgender life.
If you read/participate/listen to enough of the above, you very quickly realize that Everyone Has An Opinion About Hair Removal. This is an extremely hot topic in the trans community, as you might imagine. In particular, females born into a male body who wish to have their outsides match their insides are passionate about hair removal, as the presence/absence of facial hair is perhaps primary amongst the gender cues we humans respond to. In our society, if you have facial hair, you’re a dude and you get called “Sir.” (Notice that the opposite is not true. The LACK of facial hair does not automatically signal gender. Only the presence of facial hair. Interesting.)
It doesn’t matter that in Real Life, gender cues are not as tidy as Beard=Male and No Beard=Not Male. I know many self-identified females in otherwise female bodies who also have prominent beards or mustaches or both; I know many self-identified males who have male bodies, yet have little or no facial hair. The former tend to make many people uncomfortable; indeed, in the past, bearded ladies could make good money as circus freaks. (I hate that word, freak. But these days, some of the college-age crowd are trying to reclaim it, to say, yep, I’m a freak, as a badge of pride in their individuality. To them, I wave and say: Freak Power!) The latter, males without facial hair, go unnoticed, for the most part; at the very least they are called “baby faced” or “boyish.”
But if you are a transwoman, in general: The beard has got to go.
Melody has always been the sort to shave frequently. Even when living as Nicholas, he hated five o’clock shadow. She was delighted at the prospect of not having to shave, of having smooth, soft, womanly skin.
Trouble is, it’s a long road from Beard to No Beard.
Melody is a research scientist; meticulous, thorough research is what she does for a living. So naturally, she spent months and months researching all sorts of hair removal methods, and based on her skin type, her hair type, and consultations, she decided on electrolysis for removing her beard and mustache. (We know that many folks are advising her to try a newish laser treatment; we’re looking into it. Trust me, Melody has Done And Is Doing The Research.)
Electrolysis, for those who don’t know, is where you literally burn out the hair follicles, one at a time, with a tiny electric probe. In order to know where the follicle is, you have to be able to see the hair above the skin. This means that before you can start an electrolysis treatment, you have to grow out your facial hair. So, for the first time in her life, Melody has had to actually grow a beard.
Before the beard, people tended to call her “Ma’am” if they called her anything at all. Now, it’s “Sir” and “Mr.” and it doesn’t matter what frilly blouse she is wearing, the beard (which is really just five o’clock shadow, not actual beard-length at all) says I Am A Dude.
This makes us laugh: Here she’s finally decided to come out and live her life as a woman, she wears frilly, lacy blouses, and NOW they’re calling her “Sir,” when they never did so pre-transition.
She says it doesn’t bother her. She says she is resigned to looking weird, and to having people stare at her, and to having her face “look awful” (her words). But, c’mon. She’s a human being. All of us humans care what our faces look like. ALL OF US CARE. In order to not care, she has to erect a shell, to dissociate her self from what she looks like.
Wait. Isn’t this what she’s had to do all her life, living as a woman in a male body? I thought that’s what we were moving away from, that horrible disconnect between body and soul, that sense of cognitive dissonance that she has suffered from every day, all the days of her life.
She doesn’t believe me when I say she’s cute, beautiful, or pretty. She is all these to me…and yes, I admit that I am slightly prejudiced. But I have friends with terrible facial scars…and I don’t think they “look awful.” Their faces are beloved to me. I have women friends with beards. I love their faces, how they look. In fact, I don’t know that I have any friends who might be considered beauty queens (or kings); they are all just regular folks. But each and every one of them shines, each and every one of them has a face that I find pleasing to look at, that I find lovable and beautiful.
Does a face have to be perfectly formed (what does “perfect” mean?), symmetrical, and totally in line with all the fantasies and prejudices and stereotypes that the world can throw at us to be beautiful?
I think not. And yet, I know that if I were to suffer some sort of facial scarring, I would struggle to feel beautiful. Heck, I struggle to feel beautiful even without any scars or beard hairs.
As usual, I started out intending this blog post to go in one direction, and it has ended up somewhere else. Like I say, no one hands you an instruction booklet.
This part of her struggle to feel beautiful, to accept her outer self, is temporary, we both know that. She’s had months of electrolysis and already, the shadow is lighter, the hair more sparse, the hairs that grow back more pale in colour.
Still. In all our research, all we heard about was the pain, the potential for scarring, the physical stuff. No one told us that, on her journey to become a woman, she’d have to take a step or two backwards for a while and wear a beard.
Life is so very much more odd than one can ever imagine.