Family

Beard Stories: Poker Face

(Originally written August 26, 2009, while I was temporarily clean-shaven in preparation for starting a job.)

 

My aunt A has a better poker face than her husband.
It’s the little widening of the eyes, the tell off a repressed startle. In some people it’s the tiniest flash. In some people I can’t see it at all.

Often I miss the obviously inquisitive ones. D tells me about them.
The waitress at the Chinese restaurant the other day, nearly craning her neck to check my chin for shadow, trying to figure out if I was the same person she’d seen with a beard (maybe 3 times in the past year, but still memorable).
The dyke-looking woman walking down the street towards us who gave me a full head-to-toe scan.
The couple we hiked past, who stopped hiking and turned around to figure me out. D was several paces behind me, so they didn’t realize we were together and that their staring might be reported.

I like watching the eyes though. Seeing if I can see the question, the surprise. Hardly anyone ever comments or asks.

Even when I shaved the beard, almost no one commented.
Joanna asked if I’d gotten a haircut. So did Kyle.
The scruffy guy down at the Lagunitas store asked what had happened to my beard. When I told him, he said he thought it looked good before and I should grow it back.
One of my labmates, Jeff, who I hadn’t seen since April, said “You shaved your beard!” in a friendly, disappointed way. He too seemed happy when I said I was growing it back. Then we asked how each others’ summers had been and he showed me pictures of his newborn son.

I wish I knew what was behind that flash in the eyes. I can see the question but I can’t tell what it is.
I wish I could know what people say and think about me. Not because I want their approval. Just out of curiosity. It’s like a secret. The flash in the eyes is, to me, the little kid taunting, sing-song “I’ve got a secret! I’ve got a secret!” Maybe I’m just nosy. Maybe I spent too much of my teen years with people gossiping about me. Maybe I’m bad at reading people’s expressions and that fires my curiosity more. I want to know who sees me as a woman with a beard and who sees me as a guy with tits and who’s just confused and whose mind works in a way that they see me without an instant label. I want to know what my relatives wonder. I can see all the questions people have, that they don’t ask.

I want a little pin to wear on my backpack strap that says “It’s ok to ask.” Saying that aloud when I see the eye-flash seems rude, like I’m calling them out on an impolite moment. But I want people to ask. For my own curiosity about the questions and so I can give them the answers they’re seeking. The questions I do get are often so simple – “How do you grow that?” “Are you a boy or a girl?” Not hostile, just seeking information.

I want more people to know how to ask respectful questions. How to precede a personal question with “May I ask you a question?” How to gracefully accept when a person declines to answer.

I’ve been told, by other queers and genderqueers, that I’ll get tired of the questions. That I’ll get tired of being an involuntary public educator. But I don’t see that yet. I’m not burdened by people asking me questions. It’s interesting for me to see what they ask. I hesitate to suggest, when teaching workshops on gender, that it’s good for people to ask when they’re curious, because I don’t want to increase the burden on the people who don’t want to answer. But I fear that valuable conversations and questions are much too often avoided out of fear of being impolite. It seems like the standard is to politely pretend like the person is normal. To do one’s earnest best to hide the flash of the eyes and to suppress the questions. I worry about this polite silence – how it denies the “clueless public” these tidbit chances to learn about queerness. For the vast majority of people who will never attend a queer-awareness training, I’m happy to do this bit of public-outreach queer-ally education. I know not every queer is, but I am. But no one starts the conversation.

And, to be honest, I’m not very good at starting it either. I don’t want to force queer education on people who’d rather not know. i don’t want to come across as having an agenda or hosting the all-about-me show.

Speaking of the all-about-me-show, I start teaching tomorrow. So, failing to find a tidy conclusion to this pondering, I’m off to bed.

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Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Family, Positive, Questions, Surprising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Beard Stories: Remedial teen boy lessons

(Originally written August 20, 2009)

Earlier this summer, I saw an listing for a part-time job managing educational programs for Sonoma State’s biological preserves. The job description pretty much listed my entire resume. It seemed perfect. Part-time, interesting, well-paid work for while I finished grad school. I applied, hopeful. Even did a ritual with Dossie, just to hedge my cosmic bets. Pondered whether or not it would be wise to shave my beard to get a job this good. Never heard anything back from the job.

Then, on a Saturday in late June, my friend L mass-emailed her friends, saying she needed someone to sublet her place, asking to borrow a car for a road trip, and that the high school where she works was looking for someone to teach one section of AP Biology. Excited, I emailed her back saying I was definitely interested in the job. On Monday morning, L passed my name to her boss and I sent in my resume. By of lunchtime, I got a request for an interview. Problem was, I was scheduled to fly to the east coast on Tuesday, to teach at leather events for 3 weeks. So I did a phone interview on Tuesday with the head of school and on Wednesday with the head of the department. Both were barely interviews at all. No hard questions, just discussion of what the school was like and a bit of chatting about my background. It pretty much seemed like I had the job. I just needed to pass an in-person interview.

When I started growing the beard, I intended to grow it for 6 weeks, while I was in between jobs. Then, I decided to keep it for the summer. Then I decided to keep it until I needed not to have it – assuming that would be when I finished grad school and applied for real jobs.

Last year, I taught one day a week in a middle school. So, I know from experience that teens, teachers, and school administrators could all be fine with my beard. But, I figured I should shave. It would suck to lose a job that was nearly mine just because of the beard. I didn’t want to shave. I’d grown to like my beard, and I resented having to hide it out of fear of not getting the job. I knew that having it would distract the interviewer from my qualifications, but I wished that wasn’t the case.

I asked different people what they thought. When I was talking to Dad about shaving, he told me that when he shaves off a beard, it takes a week for his skin to get back to normal. Having never shaved off a beard, I hadn’t even thought of that. It was fun and funny to be getting remedial lessons in teen-boy-personal-grooming. I asked D, and I asked friends. I asked L what she thought, since she knows the school. The consensus seemed to be that I should shave. A new friend who’s inclined to the woo offered a quick divination on the matter. I pulled a rune, which he said represented “rapid change.”

I’d thought about trying to have some fun with the shaving, but the priority turned out to be getting me shaved as quickly and smoothly as possible so that my skin wouldn’t be visibly irritated at the interview. G suggested I call M, who was raised by a barber and a beautician and was a natural with a razor. So, with the benefit of M’s shaving experience, I asked Dossie to pick up a Mach 3 safety razor and Edge shave gel so I could shave as soon as I flew home on Sunday night. Airline delays ensued, and I didn’t get home until Monday morning. The interview was scheduled for Tuesday morning.

(To be continued.)

Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Family, Negative | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beard Stories: “How come she can grow a beard and I can’t?”

“How come she can grow a beard and I can’t?” my 14-year-old cousin A asked his mom, enviously.
(Background/ Context)
Friday after thanksgiving, 2008.
My brother, aunt M, uncle G, and cousins A (14) and C (10) and I had dinner in SF.

They hadn’t seen the beard before. When I arrived, M said something like “Wow, you’re getting fuzzy” with a smile and a gesture to her cheek. G said it looked good. C looked like she didn’t know what to say, in a kid way. Aaron looked pretty neutral.

Apparently, after we left, Aaron asked his mom, with a tone of envy and injustice, “How come she can grow a beard and I can’t?” M relayed the comment to my mom by phone. My mom relayed it to me, several months later, while we were up late talking about anything and everything, sitting on the kitchen floor in my brother’s apartment in Switzerland.

Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Family, Positive, Questions | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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