Posts Tagged With: curiosity

Beard Stories: One of many

Several friends have now sent me links to the current news story about Mariam, a bearded woman in Germany.

These, among others:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2306272/Bearded-lady-Mariam-People-say-I-shot-having-beard-Ive-felt-sexier.html
http://now.msn.com/mariam-feels-sexier-since-letting-her-beard-grow
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/webreg/user/reg_cnt

Talking to M last night, we were trying to count up the bearded women we know or know of. Here’s the list of who I can think of –

Mariam
Jennifer Miller 
The bearded woman who was talking about producing a documentary a while back.
E, a friend of M’s
Debra Beechy 
The person who ran Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Cafe in the Mission
Someone M remembered seeing a few years back at a workshop
Vivian Wheeler 
Amiee Ross
And this list from wikipedia:

This article says there are 30 people (both men and women) in China with congenital generalized hypertrichosis terminalis, a condition causing extensive body hair growth, including a beard.
According to womenshealth.gov, “Between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age has PCOS. As many as 5 million women in the United States may be affected.” Not everyone with PCOS has facial hair, and most folks don’t let it grow. But, still, there are probably a few who do.
Plus there are various other reasons for a woman to have facial hair.

I like graphs. I’m wishing for a graph of the number of bearded women throughout history (with the y-axis units being “bearded women per capita”). I want it to magically auto-update itself each time a woman stops shaving. I want a graph that would take a little dive if I shaved my beard again for a wedding or some such. I want a graph because I’m curious, and I like data, and I’m curious how my fellow bearded women are doing out there in the world.

And, also, I’ve got a bit of ego in the game. I want to know if I’m starting a trend. I want to know if the number of bearded women is rising slowly but exponentially as we bearded women become more common. I want to know if clusters of bearded women are popping up, centered around prior bearded women, in a pretty fractal pattern. I want to know if anyone else has looked at me, like I looked at Jennifer Miller ten years ago, and thought, “Hm. Maybe I could stop shaving mine.”
I kind of hope so.

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

Beard Stories: Kids

There’s an after-school program for gradeschoolers that meets in the classroom next to mine.

When I left my classroom yesterday afternoon, there was a girl, maybe 9 years old, hair in high tight pigtails with colorful plastic balls on the rubber bands, standing in the hall with her back flat against the wall, looking bored and chastened while her classmates played inside.

She looked at me, and I smiled at her and locked my door behind me.

“Are you a boy?” No emotion yet, just checking.

“Nope,” in a cheery tone.

“A lady?!” her voice incredulous, quiet and breathy.

“Yep!”

She raised her hand to her chin. “You have a beard?” sounding confused, like she was checking her facts, wondering if I was an optical illusion.

“Yep,” nodding.

She considered this for a moment as I walked by her, towards the stairs. “How?” a straightforward question, curious about new information, the kind of tone I hear in my science classes.

“It just grows there,” shrugging my shoulders.

“You should shave it,” she instructed me, having resolved the issue.

“Nah. Too much trouble. And I kind of like it,” smiling.

Her eyes bugged out a little.

At this point I was at the stairway door. “Have a good afternoon!” I called to her as I left.

 

I forget which trans* writer said that they were friendly towards kids asking them gender questions but drew the line at puberty. The writer felt that after about age 12, a person should know better than to ask personal questions of a stranger (or a family member, neighbor, or co-worker for that matter).
I don’t feel the same; I like it when adults ask me curious and non-threatening questions. But, there’s something particularly fun about having a kid ask me about my beard. Their emotions flicker so rapidly, covering a charming range from shock to decisiveness to wonder as they work to fit these new pieces of information into their world.

A good friend of mine has a two-month old, who I’m lucky enough to get to spend lots of time with. It’s fascinating trying to figure out what her tiny brain is making of the changing lights and sounds that swirl around her. When she’s not sleeping, she spends most of her time wide-eyed, staring intently at the ceiling fan, a nose, a hat, a picture of black and white dots. One minute she’s smiling and then next she’s upset, but she spends a lot of the time in between with her little brow furrowed in puzzled concentration. As children sort out the world around them, they spend less and less time astounded, puzzling through the mysteries of everyday events. Grade schoolers still do it a lot, middle schoolers somewhat, adults almost never.

When I teach science, I get to reawaken that “what the heck?” response. I get high schoolers, who think they have it all figured out, to be amazed. I get to make them curious by showing them something completely perplexing. I love the bug-eyed “What just happened?!” look on their faces when I convince them, for example, that plants are made of air or that a clump of atoms has the information to make them who they are.  (I feel particularly proud of myself on days when they actually, literally say things like “Whoa!” or “Wow!”)

I’m only just realizing this now, as I write, but I think this is part of what I like about having my beard. I get to give adults the experience, rare in their grown-up lives of routines and schedules, of encountering something utterly new and yet not dangerous or even upsetting. Usually if an adult encounters something completely new, it’s a scary situation like a disease or a car crash. Outside, perhaps, of international travel, it’s hard for adults to find new experiences in the daily routine of work and home.

On a kid’s face, the stumped curiosity is more visible, but I like catching glimpses of it on an adult’s face, too. I like when an adult is willing to break through everything in their brain telling them they should understand everything already. I like it when an adult is willing to engage with something puzzling, rather than pushing the experience away under the guise of politeness or dismissing it as unimportant to their life.

I like curiosity, fascination, inquisitiveness, and wonder. I like it in babies, I like it in my students, and I think I like it in the people who go a little bug-eyed as I walk by.

Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Positive, Surprising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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