Someone asked me recently how I manage to be so comfortable in my gender. Particularly in a gender that I’ve never found a word for. The simplest answer is, “I don’t know.”
Some other answers include:
My most notable gendered feature, the one that draws attention and sparks all these stories, is my beard. Which I cannot see. Or, more specifically, which I cannot see without the help of a mirror or camera. Sometimes, when I’ve grown my beard really long, I can see the ends of it. And when it’s long, I’m more likely to feel it, as it brushes against my shirt. But, most of the time, I have no sensory reminder that my beard is there. So there’s nothing to be uncomfortable with or startled by or intrigued by, as others are. To my own eyes, my gendered appearance is “normal.” To my eyes, my most notable gendered feature is my breasts, which puts me in good company with all the other people with breasts. I see my breasts, and I feel them – their weight, the way they strain against the fabric of any shirt, the way they make my back ache, how they obstruct the movement of my arms. But my beard causes me no trouble at all, save, perhaps, for the occasional ingrown hair.
My beard bothers me much less than my hidden-beard did. When I shaved and tweezed, my beard was ever-present in my mind. I spent at least an hour a day, every day, tweezing. I’d tweeze while I studied, I’d tweeze while I drove. I’d tweeze almost anywhere, so long as no one was watching. So I had to keep track of whether someone was around. And plan in time, alone, to tweeze, if I had a busy day. I used to constantly check if I needed to tweeze. Running my hand over my chin. Looking in the mirror, straining to lean far enough over the sink and crane my neck at the right odd angle to see under my own chin, to ferret out any errant hairs before they were detected by anyone else. I occasionally tried hiding my five o’clock shadow with makeup, on the rare occasions that I wore makeup, but that never worked well. Because, almost invariably, if I was wearing makeup, it was because I wanted to look good… for someone. Someone who I hoped would touch me. And then they’d find the texture under the concealer. So makeup didn’t cut it, it had to be tweezed to smoothness. Which I could never quite achieve.
So I tweezed, and checked, and checked again. Running my hand on my chin, to see if it was smooth enough for whatever date I might have coming up. Even once I was dating in queer circles, I didn’t want my beard to be found out. Even when I was dating people who also dated people with beards.
I often joke that I’m so comfortable with my beard because I forget it’s there. And there’s truth to that. I do forget, because it provides no sensory reminders, and how can I be bothered by something I’ve forgotten? But also, I’m comfortable with my beard because I have the luxury of forgetting. My beard is no longer a secret that I have to defensively, continuously guard. When I first grew out my beard, I was hyper-aware of it. It was my secret, torn out and stapled to my face for all to see. I was nervous, at each interaction with someone new, about how they’d respond. But over time, as each person responded positively or with studied neutrality, I relaxed a tiny bit. Until, without me realizing it, I stopped thinking about it. My beard became part of the background noise of my life – the refrigerator hum of my gender. Something that’s always there, of course, but that doesn’t draw my attention because it doesn’t need to. It doesn’t demand constant maintenance, it’s not in danger of being uncovered, it doesn’t usually create tension in my interactions with others.
For others, my beard is like a new and startling noise, something intriguing to be investigated. But for me, it’s subconscious. Still there, of course. Still shaping how I interact, of course. But not in a way that I think about on a daily basis. I suppose, in that way it’s like all the rest of the things that make a person who they are – their backstory and identities. Most days, I don’t think about my grade school teachers or ex-lovers or backcountry adventures, but they make me who I am. Like everyone, some of my backstory is great, and some makes me uncomfortable, in a variety of ways. Mostly, I like my backstories. My beard, I think, works the same way. Some of my beard-based interactions have been hard, but mostly they’ve been good. But, most of all, they’re usually irrelevant to the present moment and the day-to-day mechanics of my life.