Negative

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.)

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

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.

“Hi.”

The woman turned.

“Were you taking my picture earlier?”

“No.”

“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.

“Nope.”

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

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

“Nah.”

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.
http://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/109cnf/im_not_sure_what_to_conclude_from_this/?limit=500
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/25/balpreet-kaur-sikh-woman-proudly-sports-facial-hair-faith_n_1913355.html

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 (http://naylandblake.net/) 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Millerhttp://www.circusamok.org/about-us/jennifer-miller-2/) 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: 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: “That’s disgusting!”

August 2, 2008

1pm, downtown San Rafael, Marin County, CA

J (my coworker) and I are walking around downtown San Rafael, killing time as we eat ice cream and being amused at the overly quintessential American downtown neighborhood with its upscale Marin boutiques. We’re standing in front of a portrait studio, critiquing the cheesy, artsy family portraits on display.

A guy in his early to mid forties, shaved head, medium-heavy build, tall-ish, wearing a tshirt and maybe jeans walks by, passing in front of us. As he passes me, he turns to stare, pausing a step, craning his neck around to see as he walks past. When he’s a step or two past me, he exclaims, “That’s disgusting!” with a look of horror. For a second, I looked around, looking for what horrible thing he’s referring to. A few steps further on, he adds, “That was a bearded [____]” – I didn’t catch the last word, as he’d already turned his head away and was several paces down the street.

I told Dossie about it, puzzling over whether he might have been talking on a bluetooth headset or whether he was addressing the world at large, since he didn’t seem to be walking with anyone in particular. Dossie replied, “He was talking to you.”

The only other negative reaction I’ve gotten was from the one rabbi in Israel. Nothing bad when I was in New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, or even West Virginia (although I avoided strangers and wore baggy jackets when in West Virginia). I didn’t expect this in the bay area.

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Beard Story: Marriage, beards, and bigots

Beard Story from June 16, 2008

(Historical context – this was the first day that gay marriages were allowed, for the second time, in SF.)

Went down to City Hall today, to see Del Lyon and Phyllis Martin get married at 5:01pm
There was a decent-sized crowd outside – out front of city hall and across the street. The queers/ queer-friendly folks and the anti-gay christian folks were all mixed in together, with their various signs and placards. It looked like some people were going inside, but it was a little unclear whether it was an invite-only thing. Dossie asked the cop standing by the doorway if we could come in. He said, “Of course.”
Dossie pointed out to me later that she had made a point to hold onto my arm, so that she would look queer enough by association – quite a role-reversal of me coattailing her through Leather spaces.
We walked into City Hall, got through the metal detectors. It seemed like people were going upstairs, so we followed them. There were clearly a group of people with lots of cameras gathered at one end of the 2nd floor, but it looked roped off. We wandered around trying to see if from various angles, and then saw that no one seemed to be policing who got into the apparently roped off area. So, I wandered in, waiting for someone to stop me. No one did. Apparently it was open to the public.
The crowd was maybe 10 people deep from the center, so we couldn’t see a thing. There was a woman who looked like a reporter, standing on a chair so she could see better. There had been folding chairs outside the crowded area, so I went to get one, again waiting for someone to stop me. Again, no one did.
With the chair, we could see to the center of the crowd. Jacob, Dossie, and I took turns (and shared with some other people nearby) watching Gavin Newsom speak, then hearing Del and Phyllis talk to a reporter, then Gavin again, then the city attorney, then Mark Leno. Lots of cheering. The whole thing was excited and festive and alive.
Somewhere in there Del and Phyllis cut the wedding cake. They’d had the ceremony in a private room and were having a private reception elsewhere, before they took off in a limo with a “Just Married… Finally” sign on the back. When the speeches were over, 3 or 4 fags set to cutting the cake into tidy little 2″ cubes, so everyone there could have a tiny piece of the historic cake. Jacob, Dossie, and I split a piece, after Dossie said hi to a few friends of hers who were there as part of the private party with Del and Phyllis. One of these friends had been Dossie’s “older woman” lover, way back when.
The crowd was starting to disperse inside, so we wandered back outside, to see what the crowds were up to.
As Jacob, Dossie, and I exited City Hall, with Dossie and me walking arm in arm, the whole crowd outside started cheering (and the few hateful hecklers booed and shouted other things). We looked around, trying to figure out who they were cheering for. Apparently, they were cheering for us. A bunch of people took our picture as we walked out – people were lining the ramp out of city hall, nearly blocking our way as we exited. Either the crowd was just so excited they were cheering for anything, or someone didn’t get the memo that there was only one gay marriage today. We watched for a while, and the crowd seemed to be cheering anyone who left city hall who looked anything like a queer couple.

The whole thing was fabulous and exciting and sweet and momentous. The Gay Freedom Band was playing, there were many more pro-gay folks than anti-gay bigots, so the assholes’ yells got drowned out easily, although they did have bigger signs. There was a woman in a cow suit hawking free Ben and Jerry’s, and there were people holding the four poles of a rainbow chupah. And, of course, there were plenty of fabulous signs. My favorites were:
-Married heterosexuals support you
-Yay gays! (Written with a marker on notebook paper and resolutely held up in front of a huge “god hates you” sort of banner, so you couldn’t take a picture of the hateful sign without getting the friendly sign in the picture.)

We wandered the crowd, said hi to a few friends, took photos of the pro-gay signs held up in front of the anti-gay signs. We were standing by one guy with a “god hates you” sort of sign, and he started yelling how there were no gays and lesbians, there were only men and women – and presumably they should pair off accordingly. So, to prove him wrong, Dossie and started making out in front of him. He yelled, “That beard doesn’t prove you’re a man!”  Dossie, Jacob, and I cracked up.
As we walked away, Dossie commented to Jacob , “the beard might not prove it, but the dick sure does a good job of it.”
As Dossie and I walked back to the car, arm in arm, a guy said, “Congratulations! I saw you come out [of City Hall] earlier.” We thought it was sweet to be congratulated by the random public on a marriage we hadn’t even had. And that we don’t intend to have, for that matter. We seem to be doing just fine skipping right over the marriage and on to the consummating.

It was fun to be at something that felt important and historic. I live around so many people who were at events that are now part of the cultural history, and I feel like I’ve missed so much – especially so much of the good, exciting stuff. So, even if this was the second time around for Del and Phyllis to get married, it still felt like a historic big deal, and it felt good to be there.

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

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