Thursday, April 24, 2008

facial hair disast...I mean, adventure

An encounter with a Bad Barber (seriously, who thinks creating a separation between head hair and facial hair is a good idea?) yesterday meant I had to shave off my lovely beard this morning. Naturally, I took the opportunity to have a little fun.

As you can see, I'd been getting rather shaggy!But alas, I let my friend give me a home haircut, and then had to go to the barber to fix the damage. He did okay in terms of damage control on the front and back, but I ask you- who walks out of a barber expecting to look like this??
Since I was shaving anyway, I tried out the goatee look first. I don't think it quite works when the moustache doesn't connect to the goatee part. I'm a ways off from Edward Norton yet. I am in general very pleased with my facial hair growth, but it's hard not to get impatient and desire More, Denser, Now! I realize my facial hair is only 2 years old, so it's got a ways to go...I just wish I had some pictures of other guys (trans and non-trans) and their respective facial hair at the ages of, say, 17, 21, 24 and 27. Just to give me a sense of how the natural progression works in other people, y'know?
So naturally, my next step was to get rid of everything but the 'stache. I had a brief (somewhat horrifying, I know) moment of "Hey, this is sort of cute/fun!" until Rochelle brought me back to earth with a pointed "Well, you're no Burt Reynolds." ha. Also, since I don't actually live in Williamsburg, I should probably avoid the hipster facial hair if at all possible.


It was kind of fun experimenting with facial hair this morning, but I was pretty unhappy last night for a while. I'm probably more sensitive about my facial hair than most guys, since it took me a lot more hassle to get to a point where I can grow it. I couldn't believe how cavalierly the barber just buzzed that weird strip into my sideburns. Doesn't he realize what these suckers MEAN to me?

Which got me thinking about what my facial hair does mean to me. I love it for the texture and color, and how (in my opinion, anyway) it balances out my face and keeps me from looking so pubescent.

But it is also, of course, a very tangible symbol of my hard won and dearly valued masculinity, one which I rely upon for no small amount of male credibility. I realized that part of why I was so upset about the timing of this shaving necessity is that I'm scheduled to give a little talk next week about Being Trans, and I wanted the comfort and validity that my beard lends me.

I feel like having a beard gives me (as a trans person) credibility with non-trans gives me cissexual privilege when it renders me immediately and intelligibly male, and I rely on that, consciously and not.

Plus, I'm giving this talk for a class at my old school, and I always want to look as different as possible when I return to such old stomping grounds, to lend emphasis to the fact that I've changed, and may no longer be addressed in old familiar ways.

Anyway. I'll be growing my stubble out again right quick, I imagine.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

you must be your brother!

Last night I went to an alumni event organized by my college, and mingled and schmoozed with everyone. For the most part, there aren't any hiccups about me or my new gender presentation. Everyone I was remotely close with knows the score, and most of the next concentric ring has been filled in via the grapevine or facebook. All of the staff from the college who were working the event were new enough to have only known me as Eli, with one exception. And, of course, anyone that I meet for the first time has no reason to look at me funny at all. (Except for the alum from '81 who was being a little strange until I remembered my manners and introduced my sister, who, as my date, was standing next to me wearing a name tag as well- he gave a sigh of relief and said "Thank goodness! I thought she was your wife, and you're much too young.")

But then there was one gentleman at this event last night whom I haven't seen in a few years. He was a year ahead of me at school, which means we were passing acquaintances- in a school of 375 students, we all knew each other by name or sight at least, and I wasn't exactly an inconspicuous figure on campus, between my penchant for mohawks and being the chairperson of every committee I could join.

At any rate, I had no particular reason to talk to him, but he was standing by the door and when one of my best friends arrived, whom I hadn't seen in a few months, I accidentally stepped on his foot in my rush to get over to give her a hug. So I turned and said "Sorry...Cody, right?" and then mentally smacked myself because I knew he wouldn't really recognize me and I should've just apologized generically.

But y'know, I'm not really sorry in retrospect, because awkwardness is a small price to pay for not having to curtail my instincts to cater to my unusual experiences.

At any rate, he squinted at me for a second, looking back and forth between my face and my nametag.

"It's Eli," I said, just as his face cleared.

"Oh! You must be Emma's brother!" and he put out his hand to introduce himself.

Well, that's a new one on me! Though not unreasonable, I guess. Anyway, I was startled, so I blinked and said "Uh, something like that."

He blinked back at me, and then comprehension dawned and he (rather charmingly) flushed and said "Oh...oh! I'm sorry! So, how are you doing?"

A smooth recovery if ever I've seen one, and we made a minute or two of small talk that was only slightly above average in its awkwardness level. All in all, the best story of the evening!

Later, catching a ride home with the stampede-inducing long lost best friend, I had a chance to have a nice chat with her about the distinctions between the different kinds of compliments I get related to my transition.

I was telling her the story of being mistaken for my own brother, and she said something like "Well, you do look so good! Very manly!"

To which I said my usual "uh, thanks" and she, with typical forthright perception and sensitivity, asked "Is it okay that I say that?"

So I had a chance to expound a bit about the different kind of compliments I receive. The ones that are subtly or not so subtly judging my transition in order to pass judgement on my maleness are generally not my favorite. They typically come from a place of conscious or unconscious prejudice against transfolks, what Julia Serrano calls cissexism in her excellent book Whipping Girl. When someone says "Wow, you look just like a guy!" what they mean, whether they realize it or not, is "You, as a transperson, do not count as a 'real' guy, but I'm going to patronizingly tell you that you come awfully close."

The compliments or comments that are observations free of judgement ("Wow, your facial hair has really come in...I think you've got the same pattern as my boyfriend's!") are great- providing, of course, they come from a friend, or someone close enough to me that it's appropriate that they be commenting on my body. On a note there, it's astonishing how, as a transperson, my body is up for public discussion in a way that would be completely and obviously inappropriate for any other person, in any other context.

I guess because my body (and my awkward relationship to it through my life, and the way in which it influenced how I was perceived and thus how I was raised, etc, etc) is what sets me apart from non-trans men, it's considered fair ground for anyone trying to wrap their head around what it means to be trans. Still, I'd like to brainstorm more ways in which trans issues could be understood- ways in which The Masses could be educated about trans issues- while still respecting our (that is to say, trans people's) privacy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


My father came to visit for a hot minute last weekend, which was a nice time- our visits to each other are pretty infrequent, so it's always good to see him. As he has done every time I've seen him since I started transition, he specifically took a moment to tell me "Son, you look terrific. You look really great."

It's always a pleasure to hear, and every time I'm touched at his efforts to be proactively supportive. I think ideally, someday, he'll stop mentioning it because my looking "great" (as in "happily and healthily male", which is what I assume he means) will no longer be a novelty, and will be so commonplace as to not merit mention any more. But for now, given that it's only been a year or two, I'm still happy to get the validation.

Another fun moment during his visit: he offered to give me my shot. He used to be a nurse, so I loaded up the syringe and handed it over- bingo! It was a nice, if slightly odd, bonding moment. How many guys get to give their sons shots of testosterone in the butt? That's what I thought! He was surprised at how large the needle was- I draw up with a 20 gauge, and the 22 gauge I inject with is pretty darn big- but I pointed out how viscous the oil is...I imagine it'd take a real long time to inject with anything much smaller.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Picture update!

Here are a few shots from last Monday, when I needed a break from unpacking (my partner moved in with me over the weekend- hurrah!) and decided to indulge my fashion shoot instincts for a moment or two.

In this first one, I like that the first thing I notice is probably completely invisible to everyone else; it was "cool, you can see my scar!" But of course I don't mean the scar that y'all are probably looking at first, but rather the tiny pinprick scar on the right side of my neck, that looks like a mosquito bite just over my right carotid artery. It's the scar from my laser catheter heart surgery I had in 7th grade- my first surgical scar! Not quite as impressive as the next two I have, somewhat farther down, eh?
You can see, though, that my scars are continuing to fade, soften and smooth out. Their visibility still strongly depends on lighting and also my posture. There are some angles/lighting conditions in which they're practically invisible, and some in which they continue to stand out in stark pinkish contrast. This picture is a bit of both, I think- the left scar isn't much visible in the direct light, but the scar on the right is definitely darker. Also, you can see how I still have residual...not puckering exactly, but slightly funky texture along the center insides of the scars. That's where all of the stretch marks that used to be on the sides of my breast went, when my skin got re-arranged. I guess it's true what they say, that stretch marks are forever! Those stretch marks were part of what tipped my decision in favor of Double Incision surgery instead of Peri, because I thought they indicated a certain lack of stretchiness in my skin that would make bouncing back to total flatness tricky for my chest.

A couple more angles. On the last one you can see, besides the stretch mark issue, that I've got just the tiniest hint of what's called a dog ear on the center ends of my scars, particularly on the right. It's where there's a little extra skin so if I bend over at an odd angle, it pooches out a bit. I could have a revision and get that snipped off (Dr. Brownstein, who did my surgery, performs revisions for free...which really means that HE doesn't charge a fee- I'd still have to cover the cost of any anesthesia or surgical facilities needed). I'm not that nervous about it, though. It's not dramatic, and it hasn't even been two years since my surgery- my chest is probably mostly 'settled' but if I lose or gain any weight, or put on some muscle, things could still shift around.

Dr. Brownstein is going to be at the Trans Health Conference in Philly in May, so I'll probably ask him then if he's got an opinion about whether I need a revision. Although I'm sure I already know how he'll respond- he's so laconic, I'll probably get the verbal equivalent of a shrug and "whatever floats your boat, man." I really respect and admire him, and I have great faith and trust in his skill and his good intentions, but the man really isn't very cuddly.

Anyway. Pictures!