And it doesn’t matter whether your question is big or small or thrilling or average. (And there are no dumb questions. As Mr. Garrison of “South Park” — the animation world’s second-most famous transgendered character, after Bugs Bunny — once said, there are no stupid questions, just stupid people.) If you want to know something about the trans trip, kindly contact me at email@example.com, or at my personal address if you know it.
All questions will be answered anonymously, unless you want the credit. And I really could use the questions — hint hint; don’t be shy … Just be advised that I’m not a doctor or a therapist, and my answers are based on my own experiences, which may differ from other transfolks.
Now that that’s out of the way, onto the question — sometimes a painful one to address:
“So do you shave or are you doing hair removal?”
Told you it was painful. Not agonizing, but painful …
These days, you can’t tell I have facial hair — unless, perhaps, you’re trans yourself, like my doctor, and just know. But there was a time I was comfortable with it. For one, my teenage years were the mid to late ’70s, when many musicians and ballplayers had mustaches (which, because we’ve been in such a relatively hairless trend for so long, are now all seemingly lumped into the porn stache camp these days).
For another, I went to a Catholic high school, and even though we were taught the teachings of a guy with long hair and a beard, we weren’t allowed to grow facial hair. (Long hair was okay, though …) So you can guess one of the first things I did when I graduated in ’79 …
I had a mustache for my first year and a half of college. (And I wish my crap wasn’t in storage, so I could find my old college cafeteria card from the middle of freshman year with my equivalent of a full porn stache.)
But two things were happening. For one, my musical tastes were changing, much more punk/new wave, and so was my sense of style, and there were very few, if any, punk/alt guys in the ’80s who rocked ‘staches. (The big exception was Greg Norton, the bassist for Husker Du, who rocked a pretty good handlebar. And for beards, there were D. Boon of The Minutemen, rest his soul and his beard, and Mike Watt, who sprouted a good Fidel beard after D.’s death, as he went on to fIREHOSE and then his solo career.)
Also, by the start of my sophomore year in 1980, I was starting to dip my toe in the water of self-expression — meaning my first overt encounter with gender expression. I bought my first pair of Chinese slippers just before going back to school — and they were all the rage for alt-rock chicks, thanks to Patti Smith (or was it Gilda Radner’s Candy Slice?) and Tina Weymouth — and I realized Mary Janes just didn’t look very cute with a mustache. And as an added bonus, not having facial hair made me look younger, and I realized early on that as I got older, looking younger would be a good thing. (And these days I get pegged for 35 a lot.)
So one Saturday night in the dead of winter in early 1981, I shaved it off. Actually, I shaved half of it off at first, and somewhere, I’m guessing an old dormmate has a print of my headshot, in my robe, with half a mustache, that he shot for photo class.
I didn’t miss it. It was a phase and I got it out of my system. And it made my initial forays into gender play — i.e. ballet classes my last two semesters as electives, dressing up with my first girlfriend in New Haven — a hell of a lot easier.
I made one full plunge into the world of facial hair after that — my only beard. I went into a pretty deep depression at the start of fall 1987. Depression has certainly been no stranger to me, but I truly felt unwanted and useless, and I realized how few friends I had, since no one ever called to ask me to do anything. I figured I’d disappear for a while and no one would care, let alone notice. So, save for going to work, I stayed home the last three months of the year, and on top of that, I let my face grow out. I must have had some Viking blood in me somewhere; the hair on my head was long and very blonde, but my beard was a full, raging red. I thought it was pretty cool, actually.
But cool has its limits. There are photos of me that Christmas at my folks’ house, and I looked like some cross between Bob Goldthwait and Aqualung. And if that wasn’t enough, the damn thing started itching. By the beginning of the new year, it had gotten uncomfortable. So the second week of 1988, I took a shabby pair of scissors and started hacking away at my masterpiece, getting it close enough where I could shave the rest off. And when I looked in the mirror after nearly four months of facial hair disappeared, I almost didn’t recognize what I saw — I had a chicken neck and I looked like I had lost 40 pounds (and I was still skinny at the time). So boys, if you ever want to lose weight, or at least look like it, that was your beauty tip.
I never really had a hankering to grow it all out again. The only time I came close to growing the beard again was two years ago around this time, also during a depression, and only for about two weeks. The differences between 2008 and back when: I was fat, my hair had thinned on top and turned dirty blonde, and the few whiskers that hadn’t turned gray aleady were now dark and ugly. It was enough to eventually scare me back to the razor and to dolling up again.
And now it’s a foregone conclusion that I’m not going to grow a mustache or beard again. And thankfully, the hormone therapy has slowed my facial hair growth to less than half of what it was. If I stretch it past a day’s growth — say, a day and a half — I can just barely get away without anyone noticing the micro layer of stubble just poking that much above the surface of my skin. (But I can feel it running my fingers over it.)
At some point or another, the facial hair will go bye-bye for good. Just one tricky little problem that they don’t tell you about in transformation school: lingering unemployment. Meaning that there are more important things to waste my meager money on at the moment. And it does cost money. Lots of it. I can’t tell you quotes off the top of my head, but the two major methods of hair removal are time-consuming and money-consuming.
The only two proven methods are electrolysis and laser removal. I’ve included a link to an about.com piece about the pros and cons of both. Essentially, laser hair removal is the cheaper, less painful option — five or six sessions, four weeks apart, at maybe $100-$200 a session. But two drawbacks: 1) Lasers don’t work well unless you have dark hair and light skin, since the lasers target the melanin in the hair. And if you have dark skin, they also target that, so you might end up with pigmentation problems. 2) There’s a chance it’ll grow back.
Anyway, since many of my facial hairs have turned gray already (why the hell didn’t I do this 30 years ago?), all I have is the second option: electrolysis. It’s supposed to be much more painful, but it will definitely get rid of the hair for good, as the follicles are zapped with an electrical charge. The problems? 1) It’s a long and tedious, since the electrologist has to zap every individual follicle; 2) Time is money: It costs around $60 for a 30-minute session, and you’ll need about 15 to 30 visits. That’s a lot of pain, in more ways than one.
And to those of you who asked me, “Can you just get it waxed?” I wish I could. The problem is that I still have boy facial hair, and it’s thicker and coarser and much more plentiful than girl facial hair, so it’s not gonna come out with traditional waxing. Plus, if I were able to go the waxing route, I would have to let enough hair grow out on my face so the beautician could have some follicles to latch onto. That would be pretty unsightly.
So in the meantime, as I look for a job that will pay for this, I get to practice my combination hair removal/exfoliation process.
It’s called shaving.
Have Gillette Trac 3 Turbo, will travel. At $13 for a 5-pack of blades that will last me just over two weeks, and a $2.50 can of Edge gel or equivalent, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than permanent removal. But it’s very painful if I’m not careful, and of course, it grows back. And now, since I’m over 90 percent of the way to full time (I’m only in boy drag when I wake up and when I’m out on the bicycle), I pretty much rip my face apart every day. Meaning I’ve really had to perfect my shaving technique.
I now shave in the shower, since hot water opens up the pores so you can get a lot closer to the surface. Of course, you can’t see what you’re doing, but you do have fingertips to feel. But you have to be careful, especially going closely over crucial areas that need to be constantly shaved in order to pass, such as the upper lip, the chin and, at least in my case, the neck. Since you absolutely must shave these areas constantly, and really have to avoid those painful and unsightly nicks, you have to be a real girly girl here and be as gentle as your inner woman can be.
The best visual is to imagine you have to shave a balloon or a grape, where you absolutely cannot puncture the thin skin. And don’t think about rushing through this — at the risk of sounding all erotic on you, the slower and gentler, the better.
Between shaving my face, my chest, my legs (about twice a week) and occasionally my torso and armpits, each blade will last me about three uses. And if my blade is on its last legs, I start with the chest and the rest of my body first, then pop in a new blade to do the face.
After I get out of the shower, I rinse my face with cold water, pat my face with a towel very gently, then slather on a dab of aloe vera gel (which, for a $4 bottle, lasts a long time). It heals and soothes the skin while keeping it supple. As the skin contracts from the cold, I run my fingers over my face to feel where I’ve missed and gently run the razor over the spots again until they’re smooth. Then I’m ready for my makeup. And at night, after taking the makeup off, I splash my face in cold water and apply some more aloe.
So that’s my beauty secret — how I manage to look like I have no facial hair until the day comes when I actually can afford not to have any for good. But you need to be patient and gentle with yourself — two qualities I’ve often had a hard time with in my life. And the results, though temporary, can be fabulous when you do it right.