Beard stories –

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.

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Bearded Lady: A Memoir

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I’ve been busy with kids and a pandemic and life in general. But, thanks to an email from a friend, I’m once again looking at getting all of these beard stories down and turning them into a book someday. So, here goes, again, at trying to write.


At the dragon birthday party, it was 39 degrees, and everyone was in masks. I knew most of the kids, from the beforetimes, but one was new to me – the only kid there whose name didn’t start with E. S asked, craning her neck to see me from under her dollar-store foam dragon hat, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I paused, as usual, taking a moment to calculate which answer fit this situation. “A girl, mostly,” I replied. “I’m a girl who happens to have a beard.” S’s eyes widened, startled and confused.
It took me a minute to realize she hadn’t seen my beard, which was hidden underneath my masks, hat, and hood. What was she asking about, then? Maybe it was the mismatch of my voice and my clothes? I’m not sure if my tits are noticeable under all the winter-wear bulk, but they probably are, more than I think or wish. I guess she’d never seen a butch before? Or anyone female person wearing a man’s jacket? It’s not like all the women around here wear skirts, but there is a pretty strict adherence to clothes from the ‘women’s section’ of the store, plus the occasional ‘boyfriend hoodie’, worn extra-big and flirty, hanging loose over skin-tight pants and topped with long styled hair. (See, I don’t even know the fashions around here to know what hairstyle they’re all wearing.) So, I suppose I stand out, even to an 8 year old, since my second-hand jacket came from a male acquaintance.
Other than her widened eyes, I don’t know what else S might have thought about the revelation about my beard, since the ice balloons, food coloring, and road salt grabbed her interest, and that was that.

I knew E in the beforetimes, but she was 6 then, or barely 7. So, by fractions, it would be like expecting me to remember someone from my late 20s. I’d seen her in the intervening time, but only masked. But now that I think about it, she saw me on zoom, unmasked, which changes things a bit.
Anyway, the first time she saw me, in person and bare-chinned, she chirped, “I like your beard!” with 8 year old enthusiasm. She said the same the next time she saw me. And the next. A few times after, she didn’t mention it, instead spending her time chatting about upcoming sleepover plans or what she had sewed recently or what kind of dragon she’d slayed recently. And then she complimented my beard again, saying she liked my recent trim. And then a few times later, she again said, “Nice beard!” as soon as I walked in the door. This time, she added a gesture, almost like she was about to cup my chin. But, from her height, she had to reach upwards, so the gesture looked more like a modified Italian-delicious-emphasis gesture. Then she said, in an equally chirpy voice, “I’m sorry I compliment your beard so much!” sounding not at all sorry. I told her I don’t mind at all.
The first few times, I thought she was reacting to seeing my beard after a long while. I thought it was news to her. But, now that I remembered that she’d seen me on zoom once a week or so for the prior school year, the encounter seemed different. If she wasn’t reacting and complimenting me out of surprise, what was it? What drew her to compliment my beard, so often? I know her well enough to know that she’s not prone to the empty compliment. She’s perfectly willing to dish out a child’s honesty, such as when she first sat down in my car and asked why the floor looked like that and then repeatedly suggested I should clean it. She’s not wrong about my messy car, though I have other priorities and haven’t taken her suggestion.

When someone comments on my beard, it makes me wonder. It’s like a tiny window into their head. Or maybe like looking backwards through a peephole. Trying to guess, from a tiny sliver of information, what’s going on inside. But it’s an opening, a peephole, a crack. It lets me see more about someone’s thinking than the usual small talk reveals.

In March, we locked down. In May, we sewed masks. A year later, we’d switched to KN95s and N95s, now that they were available and increasingly necessary, as the whole world started to go about bare-chinned. But my kids weren’t vaccinated yet, so we leveled up our masks. I explained to relatives and friends the principles behind double-masking and the differences between N95s and KN95s. It comes down to fit. If air comes in the sides, it’s not helping. I read a story about how Sikh doctors were choosing to shave their beards, so that their N95s could fit right. I compromised and trimmed mine close. The curve of my mask follows my chin, but it’s not sealed. Which seemed good enough for the low-risk outdoor settings we were visiting. I told myself I’d shave it completely if I really needed to, perhaps if I ever took an in-person job before the pandemic was over. Or if I ended up in the hospital. A few months later, I realized I needed to tell Kerrick that, to let him know that I expected him to shave off my beard if I landed in the hospital and couldn’t do it myself. It’s not quite standard content for the “getting your affairs in order” paperwork and medical directives, but I felt it needed to be said. Of course, he said he’d already thought about that and assumed that’s what he would do. I’d do the same for him. This is the new intimacy of marriage, in the pandemic era.

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Beard Stories – Finger curls

The hair on my head is dark brown and basically straight, maybe a little curly around the edges when it’s really humid. My beard is red-brown and tightly curled. It winds itself up in unruly tendrils, about a quarter inch across. Except when an occasional hair decides to be straight for a day. It’s never the same one. I know because I tried pulling That One straight hair, but there was a new one the next day. I let that one go, and after my next shower, that day’s straight hair was back to curling with the rest of the bunch, but there was an errant straight hair on the other side. After a while, I realized that I could make that one straight hair curl back up. It’s like curling a ribbon on a gift. If you have a rippled ribbon and you run one side of a pair of scissors along the ribbon, it will make a corkscrew curl to decorate your present. If I take my fingernail and pull hard against the stray straight hair, it will curl back up, into a tidy little quarter-inch-wide spring.

Except that the white hairs don’t seem to respond to curling so well. I’ve got a few white hairs now, scattered through my temples and head and beard. And it seems like the white hairs are more likely to be That One straight hair. And, at least half the time, they won’t re-curl, no matter how many times I try. Until a few days later when they re-curl of their own accord.
I don’t want to pull out my white hairs. I’m proud of my age, of what I’ve worked through, of the stresses I’ve endured to earn these white hairs. I think white hair is beautiful, and I admire and envy people who have a shock-white head of hair. I don’t think my genetics will turn my hair that white for a long time to come, so I hang on to the few white hairs I have. I let them stick out, unruly and stubborn, until they decide, in their own time, to rejoin the group.

When I first started growing out my beard, I wondered how long it would get. I envisioned myself with a ZZ Top style beard, draped down my front. I hoped to be able to braid it and play with it. When I was in kindergarten, I envied a kid whose hair was so long she could sit on the ends of her braids. Julia, I think her name was, and I can still picture her blond pigtail braids. I decided, with all my 5 year old determination, that I was going to have hair as long as hers. So I rejected haircuts and let my already-long hair keep growing. The problem was, the rest of me also kept growing. So, the longer my hair got, the further it still had to go to reach my tuchus. By the time I was 12, I’d finished my last growth spurt, and my hair finally had a chance to catch up. But by then, it seemed to have reached its natural maximum. If I tilted my head back, I could, just barely, sit on the ends of my own hair. I declared it a victory.
I supposed I imagined my beard would grow in the same way. That it would just keep going, long and straight, or perhaps a bit wavy, until it cascaded down my chest. After all, that’s how my brother’s beard grows. Thick, wavy, long, and red.
But I got curls. And, just like the trailing ribbons on the present turn into short, tidy little springs when they’re curled up, my beard hair curls itself up into a cozy mat around my chin. It refuses to get long. Or at least it refuses to show its length. If I pull my beard straight, right now, it reaches almost three inches from my chin. But when I let it go, it springs back up, nestling close in, barely an inch away from my face. At its longest, my beard got to maybe 5 or 6 inches, stretched out, but it only looked like a densely matted, uneven layer, about an inch and a half thick.
I’ve learned, over the years, how to trim it to make the curls as tidy as possible, and not to let it get too long. I was kind of bummed that I couldn’t grow a thick, long beard. And the curls continue to be a pain to manage.
But then I discovered the best thing about my tight, tiny curls.
My curls are small, about a quarter inch across. Too small to wind around my finger, even my pinky. But, I discovered six years ago, my curls are, delightfully and inconveniently, almost exactly the diameter of an infant’s fingers.
Or, I should say, my son discovered this. He’s always been an energetic child, even before he was born. When I was pregnant with him, as a nervous first time parents, I carefully counted and tracked how many times he kicked, to make sure he was growing ok. I was told to contact my midwife if he kicked fewer than ten times an hour. I never got anywhere near the worry point. When I counted his movements, I usually counted ten kicks within a minute, maybe two or three minutes on a slow day.
When he was born, he took to breastfeeding very quickly, and with enthusiasm. He didn’t want to sit still just because he was nursing, even as an infant. His tiny hands would wave and reach, and his tiny fingers instinctively closed on anything in their path. Including, of course, my beard, which was perfectly in arm’s range. His tiny fingers closed on a hank of my beard. And then his tiny, randomized, but surprisingly strong arm decided to dart off somewhere else. With my beard still firmly in his grasp. I tried to extract him – one-handed, since my other hand was still holding his tiny head firmly to my breast. I worked one finger loose of the cross-twisted strands that trapped his little knuckles, but then, as soon as I started extracting the next finger, the first little finger would dart back into the snare of curls. And as I worked, his arm kept moving, jerking my chin around, just a little bit painfully. It ended up taking two of my hands to remove one of his tiny hands from my tight beard curls, which were just the perfect fit for his beautiful, grabbing fingers.

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Beard Stories – Catching up

I’ve been collecting beard stories, but haven’t had time to post. Here’s what I’ve been up to in the last seven years –

I had a child, found a co-parent and partner, became president of a nonprofit, got married, switched from working full-time to parenting full-time and working part-time, went camping a bunch, bought a house, had another child, grew my hair out long, started a business, sold a house, moved 2000 miles away – from California urban to mid-western suburban, juggled five different part-time jobs, moved one more mile, and planted a garden.

I still have a beard, and I still have my AFAB body.

At some point, I’ll get to writing up the beard stories I’ve been keeping notes on for the past seven years. Here’s a recent one.

A few weeks back, a large sign was posted in my town, tallying the US COVID deaths. Within an hour of when it was erected, before its official unveiling, there was a small crowd of angry anti-maskers yelling and screaming in front of the sign. The loudest one, a grey-haired white man in a Packers tshirt and sunglasses, stood on a low rock wall, spouting whatever came to his mind, and his half-dozen fans cheered him on. About an hour into his rant, he started going on about how conservatives were better in every way. After discussing how conservatives were richer and had bigger balls, he started yelling about how conservatives have hotter women. His three adoring Karens cheered and clapped, so he repeated himself, and they cheered more. He repeated himself again, “”Conservatives have hot women!” The Karen in front replied, facing toward her friend but speaking loud enough for the crowd, “Not women with beards.”

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Beard Stories – Movember

Another bearded woman. This one’s growing out hers for Movember (No-shave November) to raise awareness of PCOS, while her bearded bros raise awareness of testicular and prostate cancers. 


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Beard Stories – Disneyfied

Disney princesses, reimagined with beards!


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Beard Stories: Searching

So, I’ve been neglecting this blog for a bit, because my life has been in a phase of general upheaval, most of it good. (You’ll see me mentioning K a lot more, as he’s become a much bigger part of my life.)

The less fun upheaval has come from an unexpected apartment hunt. Due to some disagreements with my roommates [drama details redacted], I ended up looking for a new place to live, with a potential deadline to get out or face living with a cat and/or angry roommates.

So, as you do in San Francisco, I got on craigslist. Or, more specifically, K got on craigslist and started sending me listings. Which I then screened, compiled into a spreadsheet, and contacted every single one that seemed at all suitable.
By Sunday, I had a list of about ten places to view – back-to-back appointments every half hour or so, driving all over Oakland and Berkeley. At half the places, I showed up for the 30-minute open house along with a dozen other people, all clamoring to get a place to live that wouldn’t drain every last bit of cash. They all looked so normal. A young, thin, feminine, white woman, with her mother helping her look. A 30-ish het couple dressed in sweaters. A 30-something man with a tidy haircut and polo shirt. Some folks asked for applications, some didn’t. At one place, I asked for an application and filled it out as three het couples in skinny jeans examined the studio, yard, and garage. I handed it to the agent, a brusque, long-haired, middle-aged white woman dressed in gardening clothes and asked if she needed a credit report or anything else. She said, “No, we just look at everything all together,” which didn’t seem to make much sense to me. I never heard back from her and she didn’t call my references. A shy, mumbling, middle-aged white man showed an apartment and asked us to list our emails so he could send applications. I listed mine clearly and then emailed him to follow up. There were several others on the list – an undergrad whose mother was asking all the questions, a man with an eager Labrador, an Asian man with black-framed glasses.
I started to worry that the landlords didn’t want to rent to the queerdo (queer + weirdo, a term I like for myself most of the time). I started to wonder if I’d need to shave my beard in order to get a place, just like I shaved it to get my job. Of course, no one said anything about the beard, but then no one ever does.

Over Thanksgiving, I kept looking. I scheduled a half-dozen places on Friday, bouncing around the east bay solo this time, which was much less fun than driving around with K for company. This time, it was almost all individually scheduled showings, not open houses. When I showed up, it was just me and the agent.
As before, I made a point to mention that I was a teacher. As before, I made a point to make friendly small talk with the agent or landlord.
This time, I saw an inlaw cottage in Berkeley that looked appealing. The young black man in a grey hoodie showing the place didn’t have applications, so I pulled an application from the other day out of my trunk and filled it out on the spot. I thought it might seem pushy, but I also thought it would be the best way to get my application in first and hopefully get priority. He seemed to young to be the owner and too disorganized to be a property manager. My guess was owner’s son. Then, I went to see an apartment down in Oakland. The property manager, a very chatty, 40-something, rotund, shiny-headed bald black man in track pants, talked nonstop as he sorted through a gallon-sized bag of keys to try to find the right one. I asked if he had other properties for rent for under a thousand, and he offered to knock the price on a nearby apartment down from $1100 to $1000, “to get the right person in there.” I think I might have mentioned being a teacher, but he hadn’t seen my financials yet, so his suggestion that I was the “right kind of person” had to be based almost entirely on looks. We drove over to see it, I filled out an application, he called in to check my credit, found out it was good, offered to throw in a parking space, and offered the apartment to me on the spot. I told him I wanted to think about it, and he said to just let him know. Then he spent another ten minutes continuing to tell me his life story – how he’d lived near where I live in SF, which schools he’d gone to (since I said I was a teacher). Then he mentioned, apropos of what, I forget, that a good friend of his (or maybe one of his tenants?) directed the Gay Men’s Choir. I perked up, asked who. He couldn’t remember the name, but he thought he had a photo of the guy. He searched his messy desk but could only find a photo of the back of the guy’s head, which didn’t give me enough to figure out if I knew him. But we got to talking about the Chorus and how great it was. Finally, I managed to extract myself from the conversation, to go see one last place.

Two days later, I got a call back offering me the inlaw in Berkeley, which I’ve now got a deposit down on. I get the keys on Friday.

I’m glad that someone thinks that a butch-haired, red-bearded, bespectacled, 30 year old white woman in a tshirt and new jeans is the “right kind of person” to rent to. I’m glad I didn’t have to shave. And I’m looking forward to my new place.


Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Positive, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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