Posts Tagged With: beard

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.

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

Baby fist full of beard

Ok, so the photo didn’t capture the baby with her teensy-tiny fingers all tangled in my beard, so you’ll just have to imagine. It was adorable. Turns out the diameter of my beard curls is just about the same as the diameter of a 4-month-old’s fingers, so her bitsy little digits kept winding their way into my beard. And when I was holding her upright, my beard was right in range of her little outstretched waving arms. When she gets a few more months of muscle on her, that tugging on my chin will get painful. For now, it’s amusing, feels about the same as having my beard tightly braided, and is far better than when the baby steals my glasses off my face.

p.s. This is one of my favorite websites!

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

Early beard timeline

I’m posting things a bit out of order here, as I begin to assemble the stories from the various places I’ve written them down – LJ, email, notebooks, 3 different computers, scraps of paper.

So, I’ll provide a bit of a timeline here, to give the stories a bit more context and framework.

Early beard timeline:

February 26, 2008 – got accepted into grad school.

March 10, 2008 – got offered a summer job as a grad student researcher

March 2008 – made a plan to quit my job ASAP, which would leave me 6 weeks to travel and play around before starting work/school. Decided to also use those 6 weeks to grow my beard, to satisfy my curiosity about what my beard looks like if I don’t hide it. Planned to shave it before starting work for the summer.

April 2, 2008 – gave my one-month notice at work. I considered giving notice on April Fool’s Day but decided against it. I was happy enough to be quitting and didn’t need another excuse to start chuckling as I told them I’d be leaving.

April, 2008 – planned a bunch of travel, including trips to see family. Didn’t really think through that I was planning this travel for the time that I’d have my beard.

April 24, 2008 – quit my job, started growing my beard.

May 2008 – traveled to see my parents. Also saw several friends from high school and two sets of aunts/uncles/cousins who I hadn’t seen in a few years.

May 24 – June 4, 2008 – traveled to Israel

June 5-8, 2008 – decided not to shave my beard when I started work for the summer. I’d had good experiences overall, so it seemed ok to keep it. And, I had underestimated how long it would take to grow, and I was curious what it would look like as it filled in more. I figured I’d shave it in the fall, before I started a teaching fellowship that would have me teaching in a middle school once a week.

June 9, 2008 – started work at a graduate researcher.

June 13, 2008 – here are a few pictures of me with 7 weeks of beard.

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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. 


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On writing beard stories

When I sit down to write a beard story, I often feel like I’m forgetting something. I wish for an audio recorder, or, better yet, a video camera. Something that would always be on, could start recording instantly, without me fumbling to turn it on and missing – or messing up – the interaction. Something that would record before I knew I needed it, and that would be completely inconspicuous. I’m wishing for a better memory, really. Not that my memory is bad at all, I just want it to be perfect.

I find I want to capture the dialogue perfectly. As I walk away from a beard interaction, I repeat the dialogue in my head, trying to hang onto it until I can write it down. Invariably, I miss something that feels crucial; did he say “girl” or “chick” or “woman” or something else? I also frequently feel like I must be missing a few lines. When I write down the dialogue, it often seems like the exchange couldn’t possibly have been that short. Didn’t we repeat ourselves, make small talk, do something that stretched the interaction out over more than the six lines I’ve written down? The interaction felt so much more substantial than the six lines I’ve written down, how could we possibly have only said that much?

A year or two ago, I was listening to an NPR story on time – on the subject of time itself and how we perceive something that doesn’t physically exist. One study examined the perception of time while subjects were terrified; subjects were asked to closely examine a watch while in the free fall of a bungee jump. The study concluded that the sensation of “time slowing down” during a terrifying event – a car crash, freefall, violence – came from a sharp increase in sensory intake. Apparently, one’s sense of time is calculated backwards from the amount of information taken in, as we tend to take in information on our surroundings at a fairly constant rate. So, when the senses kick into high gear to try to gather enough information to save us from imminent disaster, the brain interprets more information as more time, and the event seems to stretch out longer.

Now, I’m not trying to say that these beard experiences are scary. Far from it; I’m usually amused. But, I do think that I tend to pay closer attention, to try to gather as much information as possible, partially out of curiosity and partially because I know I’ll be writing it down later. So possibly my sense of time is skewed by my attention.

I also think part of the problem lies in writing dialogue. I’ve never enjoyed reading plays. I love seeing them, but when I read them, I don’t have the right kind of imagination to fill in all the details. Reading a play, to me, is dry; I don’t know how to decipher the nuances and characters from a few spare lines of dialogue. Apparently, I have the same problem in writing. I take down the words that were exchanged, and it seems incomplete. I try to capture the visual component, the emotion, the tone of voice. And still it feels like some words are missing. I’ve wished, at times, that instead of writing a book, I could write and direct a play, or maybe a movie, so that I could perfectly capture and recreate what happened, without leaving it open to misinterpretation.

I think that’s part of the challenge in writing these stories: I don’t trust the reader to fill in the details properly. The aim of this writing is to capture a rare experience, one that very few people have seen, let alone experienced first-hand. Most people haven’t even seriously considered bearded women, the way they might have crafted opinions about gay folks or transpeople; most folks don’t believe we even exist. And, for those few who have considered the potential experience of a bearded woman, their assumptions are generally wrong. Mine certainly were. Part of my aim in telling these stories is to convey the (mostly pleasant) surprise I’ve felt in one bearded encounter after another. So, particularly if I ever manage to turn this into a book for a wider audience, my readers will either have no context or inaccurate assumptions when they go to fill in between the lines of dialogue. So I find myself spelling everything out, trying to make sure nothing could be misunderstood.

I’d hate to think that someone would read my story, fill in the wrong details, and thereby reinforce some messed-up gender, racial, or class stereotype. When I write that an unkempt and apparently homeless man in SoMa says, “Hey, how’d you grow that?” I don’t want to let my reader assume that he’s being rude, loud, confrontational, aggressive, or standing too close to me when he speaks. And I worry that because, I admit, that’s what would come to my mind. In reality, he was a good ten feet away from me, and his expression and tone were like a child who’d just seen a magic trick.

A few years ago, I was talking to an author friend about how to accurately capture the full detail of each beard experience, and I told her my frustration in my failure to recall each word of dialogue precisely. She said, “That’s the difference between journalism and memoir.” I have a scientist’s background. I’m trained and predisposed to look at facts, to want all the data, to use precise language. To make utterly sure that my words couldn’t be misinterpreted. I spend hours with my students differentiating between the common, broad meaning of a word and its precise, constrained meaning in biology: adapt, evolve, mutation, and, my favorite, dominant. This writing has been an unexpected exercise in letting go of precision, in the nuance of phrasing, in metaphor and simile, in trust.

Categories: Beard Stories, Surprising | 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.

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