I shaved my beard this morning. No stubble, no ‘tache. All off. I have always had hair on my face for the last two years. Even though I was ‘he’ for longer, it holds quite a weight within my gender identity. It is part of the reason my parents take me seriously as their son, and I suppose its part of the reason society takes me seriously as a boy. Facial hair is hugely and oddly important when it comes to identifying maleness. It’s a trademark that routinely determines the visual difference between a man and a woman.
There are two reasons why I did it. The first one is purely superficial; I’m hoping it will grow back thicker. The second reason, I think has something to do with a few experiences I’ve been having recently/ever since I’ve been ‘he’.
I was volunteering on Friday evening with MindOut at a small gay pub in Kemp Town. I don’t know whether it was the cramped space, the fact that I had a MindOut t-shirt on, or my incredible charisma that made it easy to talk to me, but a white, middle-aged gay man approached me:
“You’ve very androgynous,” he started, holding a pint in his hand and leaning towards me, “I can’t figure out if you’re male or female. You’ve got the facial hair, but I don’t know…” He gestured to his own face and he examined my body with his eyes.
I could feel my body reacting immediately. I felt my hands shake as blood and adrenaline raced through me, my pulse thumping at the bottom of my neck. I was aware of the other volunteers around me; we only met each other twice, and I didn’t expect them to pay any attention, nor did I want them to. Wearing a MindOut shirt, I was representing a charity, not myself. I had nothing to say anyway. I was already feeling completely powerless. People like him, who start so confidently, have usually made their minds up already.
I don’t remember what I said in reply, but it doesn’t matter anyway because he quickly responded, “You’re female,” and continued to undress me with his eyes, bedazzled by the he-she creature in front of him.
“No, I’m a guy,” I tried to say assertively, but I had already given up. I don’t believe in calling myself ‘male’ because I don’t see myself as ‘male’ – usually I’m happy to state my gender as ‘trans’ but I know when to keep myself safe. “He’s a guy,” one of the volunteers echoed.
“You’re female, I can tell in the voice, you are female.” It shut me up that’s for sure. I think he noticed I was feeling uncomfortable by his forward observations and assured me, “You are attractive though, I love androgyny.” His friend chimed in, “Don’t pay any attention to him, it doesn’t matter, you are beautiful and very attractive.” He winked.
Thank god! These men want to have sex with me regardless of my gender! I was worried I wasn’t seen as a sexual being, you know, because of how mysterious and androgynous I am. How else am I supposed to feel comfortable with my physical appearance and supposed gender without validation through sex and praise…
I don’t know what happened after that, he got bored of me talking about not being female, and after I didn’t thank him for telling me how attractive I am or offer him sex, he turned around. I went outside for a cigarette and forgot about it. But of course, here I am two days later, writing about it.
I’m fed up. I’m sick and tired of having to always defend my gender. I am offended by people around me telling me who I am, shouting me down and then expecting me to open my legs and say thank you. I am scared of visible my queerness is, how obvious it is that I don’t belong. My androgyny screaming out: please exoticise, eroticise and exploit me. I deserve it. If I knew what I was worth, I would have picked a side, stuck to heteronormative gender roles and disappeared.
So, my beard disappeared.
And so has a part of me. I feel deeply saddened. I don’t know if it’s the fact that when I look in a mirror I see a young lost girl, the same person I was years ago, or whether it’s the fact that I changed something because of society’s attitudes and actions towards me. No wonder I feel out of control; this wasn’t my decision.
I expect people to read me more as female now, I expect ‘Miss’ and ‘Madam’, I expect stares in the men’s toilets. I know I haven’t made it easier for myself in that respect. But I think right now, for me, it’s easier to be read more as female. I’m not questioned holding my partner’s hand. We’re just two lesbians. People won’t look at me the way they look at me with a beard: My relationship is invalidated. My race is invalidated. My gender is invalidated. My entire existence is invalidated. I need a break. I can’t handle the interrogation and challenge. If people aren’t saying it verbally like the man I encountered on Friday, they are saying it with their eyes – the language of their gaze is loud and clear, and invasive, like the men I encountered the Friday before.
It’s always something that’s happened before. It’s always something that will happen again. It’s just what I have to get used to. I see the sad and defeated look in people’s eyes when I tell them my experiences and when I tell them how I feel. I know it’s a reflection of how I honestly feel inside. But what’s going to change? Nothing. Unless I change. Then there’s a chance things will be different.
Different. But not better.