Posts Tagged With: bearded lady

Beard Stories: “How come she can grow a beard and I can’t?”

“How come she can grow a beard and I can’t?” my 14-year-old cousin A asked his mom, enviously.
(Background/ Context)
Friday after thanksgiving, 2008.
My brother, aunt M, uncle G, and cousins A (14) and C (10) and I had dinner in SF.

They hadn’t seen the beard before. When I arrived, M said something like “Wow, you’re getting fuzzy” with a smile and a gesture to her cheek. G said it looked good. C looked like she didn’t know what to say, in a kid way. Aaron looked pretty neutral.

Apparently, after we left, Aaron asked his mom, with a tone of envy and injustice, “How come she can grow a beard and I can’t?” M relayed the comment to my mom by phone. My mom relayed it to me, several months later, while we were up late talking about anything and everything, sitting on the kitchen floor in my brother’s apartment in Switzerland.

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Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Family, Positive, Questions | 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: 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

Beard Stories: The moment of determination

At the Castro farmer’s market today:

The man selling hummus and other spreads held out a piece of spinach-stuffed bread with yogurt, artichoke hummus, and jalapeno sauce on it. “Free sample, sir?”

I dropped my voice half an octave. Not faking anything, just the lower end of my normal range. “Sure,” I said, taking the bread. Part of what fascinates me in my experience with my beard is what gender they guess me to be. Some days, I feel like I’m presenting a very masculine appearance – button down shirt, tits smooshed flat in a sports bra, shoulders squared, taking large steps. Sometimes I default feminine, raising my voice a few tones and turning up my sentence-ends, to appear friendly to store clerks and taxi drivers. Most days, I feel kind of neutral. I have my beard. I have my tits. I wear tshirts sometimes, button-downs sometimes, jeans most times. And in these neutral times, it seems like a toss-up what gender I’ll get read as. Not that people will necessarily be confused; that comes a few seconds later. It’s the first read that puzzles me. “Free sample, sir?” “Can I help you, ma’am?” These phrases, said with casual confidence – and often quickly corrected – give me hints at what people notice first. Sometimes it’s obvious why. When I’m slouched in the window seat, with a blanket over my chest, no wonder the stewardess calls me “sir.”
These moments are often fleeting. As soon as I ask the stewardess for a coke, my voice tips her off to her “mistake.” So, sometimes I try to extent the moment. I drop my voice a little, square my slouchy shoulders, let the ends of my sentences fall, clip my words a little bit, substitute “yeah” for a precise “yes.” I’m curious what they’ll see next. If the tits don’t tip them off, and the voice doesn’t tip them off, will they wise up to my gentle jawline, my delicate hands, my shallow brow ridge, or some subtle social cue of feminine behavior that I’m not even conscious of performing?
So much of the reading of gender is below consciousness – mine as well as theirs. So I try to slow these moments down, pay more attention, see what I can pull out.

Of course, the answer is that most of the time I can’t read the person’s mind. I can’t tell what they responded to, what they thought.

The man selling hummus doesn’t correct himself, but I can see the second look as he watches me eat the hummus, which, incidentally, is delicious.
He tells another customer about the special deal – five for the price of four – and then turns back to me. “It’s good, yes?”
“Yes. Very tasty.”
He talks me into another sample – the same stuffed bread, with butternut squash dip, hummus, and sweet and sour carrots.
As I chew, he motions stroking his chin, nods towards mine, and says, “This looks good!”
“Thanks!” I smile. A compliment always feels good.
“I like it!”
“Thanks!”
“How… How do you… How do you grow it?”
“It just grows there.”
He looked puzzled.
“It just grows there,” I repeat, “I just stopped shaving.”
“Hm. Wow,” he purses his lips and raises his eyebrows, nodding. He thinks for a moment, nods approvingly. “It looks good. I like it!”
“Thanks!”
He smiles and nods again, then goes back to discussing the merits of the lentil-curry spread with seasoned carrots. I take him up on the five for the price of four deal, getting one of everything except the jalapeno.

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

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

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