Back in the day when Vox was still alive and… surviving, I suppose, if not exactly kicking, I had a public blog there that I initially set up to talk about my impending chest reconstruction surgery and later about trans stuff in general. I didn’t post there as often as I had originally hoped, but there were a few posts I was particularly proud of, and when Vox closed down earlier this year I was bummed that I’d lost my place to store anything I wrote that I wanted to share with a wider audience and not just readers of my private journal (don’t judge me for keeping a livejournal… I started in 2001 when it was the Next Big Thing). I’m hoping to edit and re-post some of those entries, or at least the one dealing with surgeries and the horrible terms “pre-op” and “post-op,” and I have a long list of mostly-gender-related topics scribbled down in a notebook that I’d love to address here.
I’ll begin by explaining the title of this blog, because I think it encapsulates a lot of what I’m thinking about in terms of my gender and presentation lately. We’re going to take a trip into the past, but I promise it all comes around and becomes relevant to beardiness in the end.
When I started my transition, it was 2005 and I was six months into a retail job I would wind up holding for five and a half years. My boss and co-workers, while mostly clueless about trans issues, were supportive enough; aside from some too-personal questions and the occasional pronoun slip-up early on, I didn’t have any real problems with them. I know that many trans folks who transition on the job, especially in fields that involve a lot of customer contact, have a much harder time dealing with co-workers and red tape from HR, and I am still so glad I had it as easy as I did despite some minor frustrations.
The largest challenge I faced at work was in dealing with our large customer base, which was mostly made up of regulars – everyone knew what I looked and sounded like, and even though testosterone was working its way through my body, changing the shape of my face and the range of my voice, those changes were gradual enough that most of the people I encountered in my day-to-day life didn’t notice anything drastic enough to challenge the assumptions they’d initially made about my gender. And, to be honest, it wasn’t until a few months after I had chest reconstruction surgery in early 2007 that I really felt like I got my shit together, presentation-wise. I couldn’t find an option for binding that wasn’t inconvenient and uncomfortable, so for a few years my “binding” consisted of old sports bras and undershirts layered under t-shirts. As you might imagine, this didn’t do much to hide my c/d cup breasts. And while I did try to be conscious of the gendered cues I was displaying to the world, I didn’t want to lose myself in hypermasculine behaviors that weren’t appealing to me just so customers would use the right language for me. I didn’t want to flee one set of unreasonable gender expectations only to feel trapped by another.
I had a lot of things working against me – a T dose that was working slowly, a customer base and wider world that were slow to catch on to the gendered signals I felt comfortable sending, and my reluctance to compromise my comfort by manufacturing a more obviously masculine persona. When I stopped shaving my facial hair off, it was out of desperation more than anything else. I figured the vague scruffiness I’d finally managed to produce might be a strong enough visual cue to cut down on the number of people who would mis-pronoun and “ladies” me in my daily life.
I never meant to have a beard. I honestly didn’t even like them – I was rarely attracted to anyone with a beard, and in my mind they were usually a symbol of the lumberjack-y masculinity I was trying to avoid being a part of. But hey, in my daily life that little bit of scruff on my face did wind up helping me, and in the end that was more important. I decided I was “scruffy,” and that was far enough from “beardy” to get past my anti-beard defenses.
After a while, though, something happened. My facial hair started to get thicker and longer. I was having to pay more attention to it, lest it creep down and become the dreaded neckbeard. My partner suggested I buy a beard trimmer, and while I initially resisted the idea, I found a cheap one and fell in love with it because it meant I could always have some scruffiness (my previous strategy was to shave about once a month and let the stubble slowly creep back). The moment of truth came when I looked in the mirror one day and realized I could no longer hide the fact that I was a Dude With a Beard. How did this happen? How did I, a person who didn’t even like beards, manage to grow one without really noticing?
It was a strange moment for me.
I suppose that now, when my gender presentation is more or less the way I like it and the people I encounter in my day-to-day life rarely misgender me, I could try shaving off my beard and return to the naked-faced life, but despite myself I’ve really come to enjoy it. I say sometimes that I don’t identify as a beard-having person, and in a lot of ways that’s true, but it’s become something like a particularly funny article of male drag that I’m choosing to wear long-term. A lot of how I’m thinking about gender right now has to do with humor and things that I find ridiculous, so it seems fitting that the beard I never meant to have continues to amuse me. I came by it mostly by accident, and I’m keeping it because it works for me for now. I could probably apply that sentence to the current state of my gender identity as well.
As an origin story, that’s not as exciting as, say, Batman’s, but then I never saw the appeal of Batman anyway.