Questions

Beard Stories: Why not me?

I saw this the other day http://free1love1tool1box.tumblr.com/post/31277581031/mxshota-cissexism-assault-harassment, 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.

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

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

Restroom

June 9, 2008

I finished washing my hands and turned to walk out of the restroom at work. The door opened, a woman walked in. She saw me, blinked, paused half a step as she was walking in. She continued walking a few more steps, so did I. When she had passed me and I was almost out the door, I turned for a second. She had stopped walking and was looking around at the stalls, confused. “Is this the wrong restroom?” she asked me. “Nope,” I replied, in a friendly tone.

I love my new haircut. I also love my beard.

(And I’m wondering if I should start using the men’s room.)

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

The story of this beard

The short version, the version I usually give when a stranger inquires, is this: 

Hair started growing out of my chin when I was about thirteen. For the next twelve years, I shaved, tweezed, pulled, and occasionally chemical-burned the hair away. It was a pain, so I finally decided to just let it grow. 

I didn’t expect to like having a beard (I didn’t expect to hate it, either), but I did. So I kept it. And, somewhere along the way, I started writing down all the odd occurrences and amusing moments my beard brings me. These are those stories. Some day, I hope to organize them into a book, but, for now, they’re appearing here in a more scattered form. 

For more details about who I am, see the “About” section. 

Enjoy!

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

Beard Stories

I’m a woman.* I have a beard.** These are my stories about my experience with my beard – people’s reactions, my reactions to their reactions, and what I’ve learned about myself, gender, identity, race, class, assumptions, and people through these interactions.

Eventually, I hope to compile these stories into a book.

*I’m a female-bodied person who was tagged female at birth. I mostly identify as female in my daily life, but I also identify as gender-fluid/-queer/-variant/-unaffiliated. In various settings in my life I’m sometimes male-identified.

**My beard grows on its own, without the assistance of creams, pills, or added hormones. It is dense and curly – it’s more than a few stray hairs, and it’s obvious and visible even from a distance or in blurry pictures. It started growing when I was about 13, and I shaved and tweezed for years to keep it hidden. In May 2008, I started letting it grow. I’ve been bearded more or less continuously since then.

Some of these stories are password-protected for privacy. If you’d like to see these posts, email me for the password. If I don’t know you, please explain who you are and why you’d like to see these posts.

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

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