Posts Tagged With: strangers

Beard Stories: Me too

(Originally written August 29, 2009.)

“Large chai latte, please.”
“Venti chai. That’s three thirty-five.”
“Thanks.”
I’m in the DC train station, waiting for the next train to Baltimore. Not in a total hurry like usual.
A black woman in her forties, wearing a beige trench coat and a long, business-woman skirt and blouse, is in line behind me, so we end up standing together waiting for our drinks. She catches my eye and asks, smiling in a friendly, wide-eyed way, “How do you grow that?” with a hint of pleasant fascination in her voice.
“It just grows there.” I reply, smiling back and shrugging. “It started growing in when I was thirteen, and I used to spend all this time shaving and tweezing and plucking and doing chemicals and whatnot. So I decided to just let it grow.”
She’s smiling broadly now. “That makes sense!” she chuckles. “If I had one, I’d grow it myself!” she says with a chuckle.
I laugh and say something generic like “Cool!”
“Venti chai.” The barista sets my drink on the counter. We smile and nod, and I head off to my train.

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Categories: Beard Stories, bearded lady, bearded woman, Positive, Questions | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Beard Stories: Jump in and swim

A week ago, I went to Slut Walk (http://www.slutwalksfbay.org/). Slut Walk is a rally and march challenging the idea that women (or other people) who “dress slutty” are asking to be raped, or that, if they’re not asking for it, they’re at least being unwise, because it’s “inevitable” that they’ll attract negative attention.

Slut Walk started off with a few scheduled speakers: Carol Queen, some other local notables. Then the crowd marched from Dolores Park, through the Castro, to Officer Jane Plaza, where they held a second, open-mike (open-megaphone?) rally. Some speakers were clearly used to public speaking. Others admitted their nervousness, and the crowd cheered them on.

A handful of years ago, I wanted to get comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I considered toastmasters, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I considered classes or a coach, but that seemed like too much money. So instead I started teaching workshops. I’d already taught some – training wilderness leaders, mostly – and I was ok in front of a room of people who knew less than me. But standing at the front of a hotel conference room, in front of a mix of people, some of whom knew more than me on the subject, was sufficiently daunting. But the workshop audiences were low-stakes. It wasn’t for work. It was people who wanted to be there to listen to me. It wasn’t a competitive environment like an academic conference. It wasn’t an easy next step, but it was a manageable challenge. And it worked. I started teaching workshops, and along the way I figured out how to teach and how to be comfortable teaching.

Recently, I’ve been wanting to get more comfortable with a microphone. Giving a speech, running an event, doing a fundraising ask. So I figured the same jump-in-and-swim approach might work.

The crowd at Slutwalk seemed friendly. A few speakers admitted their own nervousness, and the crowded cheered their encouragement. The organizers kept inviting folks to speak. I kept chickening out. And then they announced that they could only take three more people. And I walked up and asked to be put on the list, half hoping they’d already gotten their last three in the time it took me to get to the front. But they had  only gotten two, and I suddenly had the honor of speaking last.

As the two ahead of me spoke, I rehearsed in my head. I started off, “I”m proud to be a slut!” and waited for the crowd to cheer. And they did. I continued “I’m proud to be a woman!” And they cheered again. “I’m proud to be queer!” One more cheer. I talked for a minute or so about how slut-shaming acts as a way to control women’s (and others’) options in life, how it acts to restrict their clothing, their movement, their sexuality, their freedom. I talked about how advice that begins, “You’ll be safer if you don’t ___” is still controlling, even when it masquerades as concern for our welfare. I didn’t quite know how to end it. I hadn’t gotten that far in the three-minute rehearsal in my head. I was grateful that the speaker before me had given a lengthy and eloquent speech on intersections of oppression, on how violence crosses all lines, and how being liberal doesn’t protect people from domestic and sexual violence.

I spoke for probably a minute, though I couldn’t swear to that. The stage fright erased my sense of time and my memory of what I said. I said something to finish and handed the megaphone over to the organizer. I had been aiming for “not a disaster” and left feeling like I’d met my goal.

In the last week, three different people have come up to me and introduced themselves, saying they saw me speak at Slutwalk and that they thought I did a great job. One was an attendee, the second was one of the organizers. The third, this morning, came up to me on the BART platform, thanked me for speaking, and introduced herself as the founder of Slutwalk SF.

I’ve had this beard for over four years. And I still forget how memorable it makes me. I need to keep that in mind as I venture into speaking in front of crowds.

Categories: Beard Stories, Positive, Surprising | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

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