Beard as Disguise
Three months ago, I stopped shaving. I seem to have grown a beard.
I had been back to Adelaide for my beautiful great Aunty’s 77th birthday, a rare gathering of old and young extended family. I neglected to pack my electric clippers and had to scrape my face with a blade, which resulted in redness and an itchy rash of tiny pimples. When I returned to Melbourne work got crazy again and I decided to leave my face be for a while.
Working from home on and off screens for Transgender Victoria, the sprouting of fluff and thickening of hair under my chin caused no comment. Nobody cared at the supermarket either, although I started wearing masks again around this time (because I really wanted to go to 'First and Forever' and I still haven’t had COVID).
My child and dog witnessed the relatively rapid development of my beard but on a minute-by-minute day-by-day basis.
The first time I was out in public at a trans event I noticed a flickering of recognition in some people’s eyes, a fractional pause before an enthusiastic ‘you look well!’. I saw an old friend who is also bearded and trans-masc and this time I jumped in head first with ‘I grew a beard!’. They responded with ‘It looks great! I didn’t know whether to say anything!’
Even among trans people the politics of speaking about slow or rapid bodily transformation is uncertain and wrought with politeness protocols.
Weeks later, I'm in Adelaide again, in a busy pre-Christmas caravan park, in self-isolation with kiddo who has COVID.
In contrast to last time, this time it’s all ‘Here you go mate!’ and ‘How can I help sir?’ or ‘He’s next in line’. This is at first affirming and then surprising. I’d gotten used to maybe 50/40/10 he/she/they pronouns and still, it’s ‘they’ that gives me a little thrill of euphoria.
But with a beard, it’s 100% man, all the time.
Because a person with a beard is a man, correct? This may seem obvious to you, but for me, it’s surprising. It seems as arbitrary and dumb as gendering my child ‘she’ because he has a long curly ponytail. We have laughed together at the ways we are persistently misgendered for years.
Don’t get me wrong, I like ‘he’, but sometimes it feels odd. In particular, it feels odd when I smile at a woman walking her dog on the beach, and she looks away, avoiding conversation. It feels odd when I am mindful to avoid eye contact in the men’s bathrooms – because I’ve learnt that men don’t speak to, or look at one another in these spaces. Ages ago I discovered that being gruff and avoidant is a component of getting read male, and now being friendly or chatty can be interpreted as flirtatious and therefore suspect. What the actual f*%#!?
Meanwhile, when I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, I look more like me than I’ve ever looked before. My face is completely unsurprising, and the beard is actually quite thick and curly around my chin, though a bit sparse across patches of my cheeks. Feeling whiskers curl into the corners of my lips is odd. Learning a new skill, the art of beard maintenance is just as full-on as any other self-care (if you’re male) and/or beauty routine (if you’re female).
An aside: the 2-in-1 shampoo that I bought us is a joke. This is the copy from the steel grey phallic bottle:
Smokey BBQs. Muddy pitches. A hot day. Men relax their way. Fresh & Clean helps hair recover from all that action. It has menthol to refresh, while it washes away dirt and grease. Get your hair ready for more chilling out. Man-Proof your hair.
What the actual f*%^!?
Yesterday we glimpsed some old friends on the street. I was tired, sweaty and hungry so not in the best mood for a catch-up chat. Especially when I thought about the awkwardness of the beard. I didn't want to explain OR avoid the topic. I felt shame as we drove away. I wanted to model 'seize connection' for my kid, especially in maintaining his friendship with old school buddies. This is not who I want to be. But, as kiddo says, 'if you like you're beard you shouldn't shave it off to keep other people happy.'
So now I think about posting a picture online with some kind of pre-emptive advice, 'If you see me on the street say hi... and don't make a big deal. I'm still Son, still 'they', still the sum of all of my parts.
Seven summers ago I posted a blog about learning how to be my best non-binary being and buying my first men’s shaving kit. Last summer I had chest surgery and made art out of the plaster model of my pregnant belly.
Gender continues to amuse and confuse me, just as it did then, With surprising foresight, I pondered what it might be like to one day have a beard and I predicted awkward conversations.
My gender continues to feel odd and surprising. Sometimes good, sometimes weird. Still me.