Monthly Archives: September 2012

Beard Stories: Teach your children well

I was sitting in a restaurant in Oakland this evening with some friends, waiting to be seated at the sushi-boat counter.

A woman was seated at the sushi counter between her two children. The boy might have been nine years old, the girl maybe ten or eleven. The girl’s  hair – in the process of fading from childhood blond to adult brown – fell in her face and hung in strings down her narrow back. The boy’s hair hadn’t yet started to dull, and it sprouted in sweaty tufts around his head. As we came in, the kids stared at me, whispered to each other, stared, looked away, whispered to their mom, stared some more. I caught the girl’s eye and smiled at her. She looked away and didn’t smile back, then looked back a moment later and whispered to her mom again. Her mom whispered back to her, and the girl kept staring.

I don’t really mind kids staring. I like curiosity in children, and I’m ok with it that they don’t know the rules of tact yet.

My friends mentioned that they’d enjoyed reading this blog, and I asked if they’d heard about the Sikh woman with a beard. They had, and we were in the middle of chatting about her when I saw the mom’s cell phone peeking over her thin shoulder, camera pointing in my direction. Her head was turned to the side just enough to keep her perky ponytail out of the photo but not enough to see me. Her daughter looked at the picture on the screen and whispered to her. I stared into the camera, eyebrows raised to say “really?” They didn’t flinch. The cell phone stayed where it was for another five seconds or so, with the daughter whispering to the mom.

“Speaking of which,” I said to my friends, nodding towards the woman. My friends looked. That didn’t make her put the camera down either.

“I usually mind people taking pictures,” I told my friends, “but I’m thinking of going and talking to her. Somehow it bugs me more that she’s doing this with kids.”

They nodded. “You’ll be a better parent than that.”

The woman finally pulled her cell phone back down out of sight, and her kids leaned in close, presumably to see the pictures. I continued the conversation with my friends, but I kept wanting to go say something. And I kept not actually getting up out of my chair.

When I was a kid, I got teased. Endlessly. My parents taught me that bullies are looking for a reaction and that’s part of what makes it fun for them. So if I didn’t react, eventually they’d get bored and go away. So I learned not to react. Not to get upset in front of them, not to argue back, to roll my eyes and act like I couldn’t care less about what they were saying. It was largely true. My parents had also taught me to have confidence in myself and to have pride in being a good person. So, I knew I was better than the bullies and that their opinion of me didn’t matter. And yet it still hurt. And they didn’t stop; I think they may have taken my stoicism as a challenge.

Now, when folks are rudely curious about my beard, my default reaction is this learned apathy. Partially, I genuinely don’t care. I’m confident in who I am and I could care less if a stranger thinks I’m weird. But it’s also partly about not letting them know they can get to me.

The handful of times someone has taken pictures without asking or stared too long, I feel like I should say something, that I should act as the queer ambassador and start a transformative conversation with this stranger that will make them realize the error of their carelessly homophobic ways and build unexpected connections. I feel like it’s my queer duty to inform these folks that they’re not supposed to take people’s pictures like that. Not so much because it bothers me. But because I don’t want my silence to turn into tacit permission to take a picture of the next queer freak they see. That next queer might actually mind being photographed, and I don’t want to silently contribute to their discomfort.

But my gut reaction, my conditioned junior-high response, is to say nothing and look distinctly unfazed. Which makes it hard to go say hi. Plus I’m an introvert.

But this time I did it.

The restaurant hostess came to show us to our seats at the sushi boat counter. As we passed by the woman and her children, I stopped.


The woman turned.

“Were you taking my picture earlier?”


“Ah, I saw your phone, and I just thought you might be taking my picture.”

“No. Uh, we were just, uh, playing a game.”

“Ah. Well, I just thought you might be, since I saw your phone. And I wanted to let you know that if you wanted a photo, you’re welcome to one, you’d just have to ask,” I stammered in a perky tone, barreling through the shyness I was feeling.


“Ok. Well, enjoy your meal.” And I walked away.

“Did they cop to it?” My friends asked as I re-joined them.


I keep replaying it, wishing I’d said it differently – not led with a question that gave them an easy out, been friendlier, something. But, at least this time, I did say something. And even if the mom didn’t respond well, maybe the kids got something out of it.

Categories: Beard Stories, Negative | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beard Stories: Another one of us!

Several friends have forwarded me links to the photo of a bearded woman on reddit, followed by her response and a flurry of internet discussion.

It’s exciting to find another bearded woman. I know of a few of us – women who have decided to let our facial hair grow, for one reason or another. I know of bearded women in New York, Provincetown, Germany, and now Ohio, plus myself in San Francisco. I think it’s interesting that there are a scattered few of us out there, living similar lives in disparate parts of the world.

I’ve had the experience that Balpreet had, minus the internet notoriety. I’ve had my picture taken, with and without my consent. Sometimes I’ve found these pictures online. I’ve had a blogger post snide and mocking comments about my facial hair. I’ve had a blogger make an apology of questionable sincerity when confronted on the issue. I’ve had people call my facial hair disgusting. And, most commonly, I’ve had people compliment me, my beard, and my courage and dignity in letting my facial hair grow.

I admire Balpreet Kaur for having such a clear and strong rationale behind her decision to grow a beard. She articulates her choice and her faith clearly. I was a little disappointed to see her apologize for “causing confusion” or “uttering anything that hurt anyone.” I could find nothing in her post that was hurtful, and I don’t think that “causing confusion” is a problem that any person should apologize for.

A lot of the discussion of Balpreet Kaur’s beard centers around the religious basis for her decision to be bearded. Sadly, many of the negative internet comments have been critical or hateful towards Sikhs, “unusual” religions, religious individuals, and people of color. Similarly, many of those defending and praising Ms. Kaur have focused on her religious conviction. The discussion of gender has been secondary to the discussion of religion.

My reasons for growing my beard are varied, and, to be honest, I’m still discovering some of them. Artist (and part of my chosen family) Nayland Blake ( has written that he makes art in order to figure out what he thinks – the process of creating art leads him to an understanding of his own thoughts and mind that he didn’t have previously. I feel similarly about my beard. I started growing my beard out of a “why not?” curiosity. I had six weeks between jobs, so I didn’t foresee any real-world consequences to growing my beard. I started growing my beard because I didn’t have a strong sense that I shouldn’t. I was raised to believe that, as a woman, I could do anything I wanted. I was raised to believe that there are many ways to be a woman. My parents taught me I could be a woman who wore skirts or a woman who wore pants, a woman who raised children or a Nobel laureate science geek (or both); either way I was still a valid and valuable woman. My parents never said I could also be a woman who had a beard; I extrapolated that part on my own.

I didn’t expect to keep my beard. I expected to grow it for six weeks, see what it looked like, and then shave it. I didn’t expect a lot of things. I didn’t expect the compliments. I didn’t expect the women who whispered to me that they had facial hair they took great pains to remove, who told me that no one knew about their facial hair and that I was the first person they were openly talking to about it. I didn’t expect the silence – the general lack of reaction from people around me, the collective unfazed shoulder-shrug. I didn’t know I would like how it looked on me. I didn’t guess that people to think it was sexy and to flirt with me because of it. I had no idea that it would feel so comfortable and so right. And I didn’t expect the near-total absence of vitriol, scorn, and mockery. I suspected that it might expand my ideas about my own gender, but I didn’t realize how far it would throw that door open. I didn’t realize it would change how I interacted in the world, to pull me out of a life as a wallflower. I didn’t expect it to teach me about my assumptions, about other people, about race and class and nationality. I didn’t expect that it would teach me about the experience of being disabled. And I certainly didn’t expect that it would give me a special fondness for homeless folk and street beggars.

I’m excited that this story about Balpreet and her beard is getting so much attention on the internet. However fleeting the attention on one bearded woman is, it’s undoubtedly reaching scores of women who have facial hair that they hide. One of my reasons for growing my beard was that I met a bearded woman. Jennifer Miller ( was a visiting artist and scholar at the Claremont Colleges during my time at Pomona. I barely met her, but seeing her was enough. The idea was planted in my head: this could be possible, that could be me.

I hope that there are others out there, the potentially-bearded women of the world, who might see in Balpreet’s story some hint of possibility, some glimmer of bearded ease.

And, for the vast majority who aren’t Future Bearded Ladies of America (or elsewhere), I think Balpreet’s story has been one more tiny step forward in the long march towards women’s rights, queer rights, trans rights, and religious freedom. From what I’ve read in the comments, this story has left most people with a positive impression of one bearded woman. So that now, when they meet another one of us, the first thing that comes to mind with be that nice Sikh girl.

Thank you, Balpreet.

Categories: Beard Stories, Negative, Positive, Questions, Surprising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beard Stories: Customer Service

(Originally written August 17, 2009)

I get great customer service.


At the Borders near campus, where I stop and get a chai latte once or twice a week, the teenager working the counter addresses me by name. I’ve never introduced myself. He must have gotten it off of my credit card.

(08-09 school year, Borders near SFSU)

I walk up to this gate agent, to check about some detail for the flight I’m waiting to board. She answers my question, addressing me by my legal first name. I’m confused for a minute, wondering, illogically, if I’ve got my name on me somewhere. I think for half a second that maybe I forgot to take off one of those name-tag stickers from a workshop, even though I haven’t been to any workshop recently. I wonder, in a flitting second, if she’s got amazingly good eyesight and is reading my name scrawled in little print on the paper luggage tag on my backpack. I glance down to see where the telltale tag is that’s giving away my name, and think about how they tell little kids now not to wear shirts with their name on it, so that some grownup can’t address them by name and pretend to know them.
And then I realize that she must have been working at the ticket counter earlier and checked me in – and saw my ID, with my legal name. And remembered me.

I find it odd that, even after this has happened to me several times, the first few explanations my brain comes up with are pretty far-fetched.

(summer 2008? Some non-CA airport. FL maybe or OH?)
“You were here about a month ago, right?” the woman in the box office at the museum asks me in a friendly voice as I pay my entrance fee.
“Yeah,” I reply, in a half-questioning, half-amused tone. This time I’ve picked up quickly on why she remembers me. But still, I’m surprised. Last time, I bought my tickets online, and I distinctly remember that a different woman took my ticket on the way into the museum. So I didn’t interact with this woman last time.
“You were down at the big coral reef tank, right? I saw you there.” She’s friendly. A nice 20-something white brunette, indistinguishable from any other other cute young presumably-straight girl.
“Yeah,” I say, smiling mildly but chuckling inside. I had been there a month before, with D and her daughter A. It was a weekend. The place had been packed. We’d barely had space to squeeze in to see the big reef tank for a few minutes, peering over the tiny shoulders of wiggly children. So, she had to have noticed me from within a pretty big crowd. I wonder what she thought of me.
“Cool.” A pause, with a smile with no particular meaning. That’s all she had to say on the subject. “Here are your tickets. Enjoy the museum.”

I wish I had a way to dip inside someone’s head and see what they think of me. What their judgements are, yes, but also just what they make of me – how they interpret things, whether they think of me as a ‘woman with a beard’ or a ‘person with tits and a beard’ or a ‘guy with tits’ or what. And what they assume. What explanations pop into their heads before they can think – like the illogical ideas that I’d forgotten to remove a name tag popped into my head. In this case, I also wonder what else she noticed – if she even saw D and A, and what she thought our connection to each other was.
(December 2008. Going to the California Academy of Sciences with Mike from Pomona.)

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive, Questions | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beard Stories: Why not me?

I saw this the other day, and it got me thinking.

I’ve never been harassed in a public restroom. I’m not sure why. I hear it’s a thing that happens frequently to gender-anomalous and gender-nonconforming folks. It happens enough that there’s discussion of it, writing about it, workshops about avoiding it, art about it. But it hasn’t happened to me. And I don’t know why.

I certainly look strange, in terms of gender. Some folks find my gender hard to ascertain. Some stammer over pronouns or sir-ma’am-sir. Some ask outright which I am. Some ask if I’m changing genders, and some ask what else I’m planning to do in the gender change they assume I’m undertaking. But I haven’t been hassled in restrooms.

It’s not that I haven’t been in public restrooms. It’s not that I go out of my way to use single-stall restrooms. I’m not even consistent in which restroom I use. Mostly I go for the women’s, but if the line is shorter or if I just feel like it, I’ll use the men’s.

I’m not an intimidating person. It’s not that a potential attacker would look at me and decide I’d win the fight.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky, not to have been hassled in a public bathroom. But it seems like, given the frequency of harassment others report, I should have been hassled at least once by now.

A while back, a fabulous queer friend suggested that maybe it’s because I’m clearly not trying to pass as anything. It’s no secret that I’m oddly gendered, so it’s no fun for a would-be-bully to point out my difference. It’s no secret what my genders are, so no one will feel duped when they “realize” that I’m not what they thought. No one gets to feel righteous by outing my sneakiness or gets to be a know-it-all correcting my error. The friend pointed out that attempting to pass is implicitly asking those around you a question: “Do I pass?” By necessity, it’s putting the decision about your gender in the hands of those around you. It’s giving the people around you the opportunity to approve or deny. I’m not trying to pass, so I’m not asking anyone a question. I’m not giving them the implicit opportunity to evaluate my gender. So, while my gender is non-traditional, it’s also not a secret or a question. Which takes all the fun out of harassment.

I think I also benefit from a dearth of stereotypes about bearded women. To take the South Pacific view on prejudice, “you’ve got to be carefully taught” to hate others. No one really gets taught to hate bearded ladies. There are slurs for gay men, for lesbians, for races of all sorts, for many religions, for women, for disabled folks, and for transgender folks. But there isn’t really a slur or a stock set of insults or jokes about bearded women. Sure, people learn to tease a woman who sports a hint of darker lip hair. But a full-on bearded woman? We’re believed to be mythical. We’re considered hoaxes, invented by clever make-up artists of bygone circuses. Or, if we are believed to be real, we’re considered so rare that you’d never expect to meet us – we’re a once-in-a-generation world record, a believe-it-or-not fascinating freak, like an 8-foot-tall man or a cow with two heads. We’re in the category of rarity that borders on the fantastical and miraculous, chimeras that are possible cousins to mermaids and centaurs. The most common reactions to my beard seem to be confusion and disbelief, followed closely by curiosity. Anger and derision almost never come up, in bathrooms or anywhere else.

Now, there have been a few times when someone got upset by my gender. Twice, the worst insult they could come up with was “bearded lady,” and they had to rely on their tone of voice, volume, and adjectives to convey their displeasure.  The other time, I got called an abomination, in Hebrew. Apparently the ultra-Orthodox have a stronger set of gender-policing insults at the ready than most Americans. Or, to be fair, one ultra-Orthodox man did.

When I first grew my beard, I was nervous about restrooms. I followed the advice from friends and workshops. Go in with a friend. Talk as you go in, so they can hear your high voice that confirms your place in the ladies’ room. Avoid eye contact. Rush in, rush out. Try to avoid standing in lines, which gives people time to look at you. Now, I forget to do these things.

I wonder what else is protecting me from restroom harassment. I’d like to think that my confident posture is helpful, but I’m not sure that’s true. Partially because my posture isn’t always that confident. Maybe it works in my favor that I’m not intimidating. I’m short enough to not be very threatening, so maybe women don’t feel scared. Or maybe it helps that I have at least a few clear signals that I belong in any given restroom: tits, stature, voice for the women’s; beard, haircut, clothing for the men’s. So, if anyone is looking for confirmation that I belong, they can find it easily enough.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. For someone to hassle me or assault me in a public restroom. Four years and counting, and it hasn’t happened yet. Knock wood.

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive, Questions | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beard Stories: Jump in and swim

A week ago, I went to Slut Walk ( Slut Walk is a rally and march challenging the idea that women (or other people) who “dress slutty” are asking to be raped, or that, if they’re not asking for it, they’re at least being unwise, because it’s “inevitable” that they’ll attract negative attention.

Slut Walk started off with a few scheduled speakers: Carol Queen, some other local notables. Then the crowd marched from Dolores Park, through the Castro, to Officer Jane Plaza, where they held a second, open-mike (open-megaphone?) rally. Some speakers were clearly used to public speaking. Others admitted their nervousness, and the crowd cheered them on.

A handful of years ago, I wanted to get comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I considered toastmasters, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I considered classes or a coach, but that seemed like too much money. So instead I started teaching workshops. I’d already taught some – training wilderness leaders, mostly – and I was ok in front of a room of people who knew less than me. But standing at the front of a hotel conference room, in front of a mix of people, some of whom knew more than me on the subject, was sufficiently daunting. But the workshop audiences were low-stakes. It wasn’t for work. It was people who wanted to be there to listen to me. It wasn’t a competitive environment like an academic conference. It wasn’t an easy next step, but it was a manageable challenge. And it worked. I started teaching workshops, and along the way I figured out how to teach and how to be comfortable teaching.

Recently, I’ve been wanting to get more comfortable with a microphone. Giving a speech, running an event, doing a fundraising ask. So I figured the same jump-in-and-swim approach might work.

The crowd at Slutwalk seemed friendly. A few speakers admitted their own nervousness, and the crowded cheered their encouragement. The organizers kept inviting folks to speak. I kept chickening out. And then they announced that they could only take three more people. And I walked up and asked to be put on the list, half hoping they’d already gotten their last three in the time it took me to get to the front. But they had  only gotten two, and I suddenly had the honor of speaking last.

As the two ahead of me spoke, I rehearsed in my head. I started off, “I”m proud to be a slut!” and waited for the crowd to cheer. And they did. I continued “I’m proud to be a woman!” And they cheered again. “I’m proud to be queer!” One more cheer. I talked for a minute or so about how slut-shaming acts as a way to control women’s (and others’) options in life, how it acts to restrict their clothing, their movement, their sexuality, their freedom. I talked about how advice that begins, “You’ll be safer if you don’t ___” is still controlling, even when it masquerades as concern for our welfare. I didn’t quite know how to end it. I hadn’t gotten that far in the three-minute rehearsal in my head. I was grateful that the speaker before me had given a lengthy and eloquent speech on intersections of oppression, on how violence crosses all lines, and how being liberal doesn’t protect people from domestic and sexual violence.

I spoke for probably a minute, though I couldn’t swear to that. The stage fright erased my sense of time and my memory of what I said. I said something to finish and handed the megaphone over to the organizer. I had been aiming for “not a disaster” and left feeling like I’d met my goal.

In the last week, three different people have come up to me and introduced themselves, saying they saw me speak at Slutwalk and that they thought I did a great job. One was an attendee, the second was one of the organizers. The third, this morning, came up to me on the BART platform, thanked me for speaking, and introduced herself as the founder of Slutwalk SF.

I’ve had this beard for over four years. And I still forget how memorable it makes me. I need to keep that in mind as I venture into speaking in front of crowds.

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive, Surprising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beard Stories: Did he really just say that?

I was sitting out on a friend’s front stoop yesterday, waiting for him to come home. It was a sunny afternoon in the Haight. My friend’s place is on Waller, one of the residential streets just off of Haight. As I was sitting there, various people passed by. Some walking dogs, some walking kids, some chatting. I’d been there about 15 minutes when this conversation passed by:

The Characters:

The Guy: 20- or 30-something, white (appearing), hipster clothing, short brown hair, one-week beard, at least six feet tall, broad-shouldered and thin-waisted, man. Walking a bicycle.

His friends: Similar age, coloring, and dress. A small-build woman and a shorter, slender man. Without bicycles.

The Guy: …I don’t see why someone else’s opinion of their gender should trump my own! I’ve seen cock. When I see a cock, I call it a man!…

Thankfully, I they passed by and I didn’t have to hear any more than that.

I’m amazed (but not really surprised) that people still say shit like that. So unabashedly.

Quite a blatant reminder that we’ve still got a long way to go on queer rights and acceptance.

Categories: Beard Stories, Negative, Surprising | 2 Comments

Beard Stories: Remember me?

August 16, 2009:

(Context – I had just shaved the beard for a job interview, which was why it was so short.)

I’ve found myself needing something more productive to do when I’m killing time online. I’ve been wanting to get back to journaling but haven’t been sure what to write about publicly. And I’ve been meaning to start writing up and posting my beard stories. I recently found a blog by a bearded woman in Germany who did a daily posting about her bearded experiences. I wish I’d though to make a daily project of it when I started growing the beard, but then when I started growing it, I only thought I’d keep it for six weeks.

So, my new killing-time-online project is to write up the beard stories. One a day, or as often as I can. I’m not going for style yet, just to get the details down – though I’d welcome stylistic or other suggestions.

A few notes on how I write up these stories. I’ve been writing some of these up in a paper-journal, inconsistently, since I started growing the beard on April 23, 2008.
I try to get as much detail as possible – visual (hence the detailed physical descriptions of the people), location, time, setting, tone of voice, etc. I feel odd writing in someone’s age, dress, and, most particularly, their (apparrent) race. But I’ve found it interesting the ways in which the responses I get do or don’t don’t match stereotypes. So, apologies in advance for that convention in my writing. In the paper version, I also diagram locations, gestures, expressions as best I can.

“Remember me?”
Newark Airport, Newark, NJ, Near Gate 15
approx. 5pm EST
I’m early for my flight. Wandering around near the gate looking for an unoccupied outlet to plug in my computer and get online. I usually wouldn’t pay for the airport wireless, but the school is paying for this trip, so it’s on them.
It’s busy – lots of flights coming and going, lots of people wandering around. A tall, thin man with dark, curly hair is walking towards me, smiling with a “remember me?” kind of smile. He’s dressed business casual, appears to be traveling alone. Resonably good looking guy with a strong, thin nose. White or something that passes for it, I’m not sure. Mediterranean maybe. I don’t have a clue who he is. I can’t remember ever meeting him before, and I’ve got a fairly good memory for faces, even if I often can’t pull up the name or context. He steps a bit to the side, towards me, arms out in a “hey! good to see you!” welcoming posture. I’ve got no clue who he is.
“Hey!” he says, in the “remember-me?” friendly tone.
“Hi…” I reply, with neither tone nor expression hiding that I recognize him at all.
“We were on the same flight out here!”
I didn’t sit next to him, I don’t recall being next to him in line, and I definitely didn’t interact with him at all.
“We came in on the same flight, right? From San Francisco?” he says, as if this explains why he’s greeting me like a long-lost friend.
“Um, yeah,” is the best I can manage. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to reply. My expression is still confused, cagey, not engaging. I don’t know what he’s after.
“I saw you on the flight the other day. And now we’re going back on the same one!” he continues, although I’d pretty much gathered that much already.
“Um, yeah,” followed by a pause, waiting to see if he’s heading anywhere with this.
He continues smiling, apparently not sure what comes next either. At this point we’ve both stopped walking, to have this little exchange. I’m not sure what else to say either, and, following my usual response to social situations where I don’t know what to do, I duck out. “Um, great. Thanks.” I mutter, nonsensically but friendly and smiling obligingly, and turn to walk away towards the gate. Apparently, all he wanted was to say hi and let me know, in a friendly way, that he recognized me, and he continues walking the other way, to get a snack or wherever he was headed.

Even though I’ve only got a week or two of stubble, I assume he remembers me because of the beard. It’s not the first time I’ve been remembered out of a very large crowd. It’s strange for me, since I’m used to being a wallflower and have been pretty happy with that.
I wonder, as I walk away, how it is that he doesn’t register that I’m the strange one, so of course he remembers me, but that he’s just ordinary, so of course I don’t remember him.

I told Dossie about it later. She wondered if perhaps he remembered me not because of the beard but because he’s a “tit man.” I considered it for a few days, but finally concluded that the tone of it wasn’t that he was hitting on me. And I’ve never had that experience before I started growing the beard, even though my tits have been prodigious for 14 years now. Dossie also wondered if the guy was making a point to say hi as a queer-to-queer recognition, but it didn’t have that sense either. I know my gaydar is lousy, so it’s possible I missed it, but the tone of it was a bit more clueless. Besides, I’m used to the usual queer-to-queer recognition signs, like the little nod-and-smiles I got from the other butch teachers at the conference that week.

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive, Questions | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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