No Shave November… A Hairy Situation…

Some of you may know that I’m participating in No-Shave November.  What a good number of you don’t know is that my face has been growing a beard/goatee since around the age of 10.  No, I’m not talking about just a few random chin hairs here or there.

I’ve spent the vast portion of my life — over 30 years — trying all sorts of ways to rid myself of the hair that I have been repeatedly shamed for having.  At first, I was dragged to dermatologists, and given blood tests. The results of the blood tests were a big fat Nope.

There was no evidence of PCOS, and my hormone levels showed up the way they were expected to be.  Those avenues drying up, the never ending search for hair removers began: depilatories, waxing, sugaring, shaving, and finally electrolysis, which was costly and painful on the first treatment, and ineffective by the second. At worst, I had painful scaring and burning and it grew back within days.  At best, it still grew back within days.

By this time though, I had already learned that my body (and especially hair,) was something that “should” always be hidden from others because it was grotesque. Did I mention I’m terribly short – not even 5’ tall? So began the jeers of ‘ewok’, ‘Cousin It’, ‘Hobbit’, ‘Dwarf’, ‘mini Sasquatch,’ and the like. It’s no wonder that I wouldn’t leave the house or let myself be seen, even by family, until after I’d managed to shower and shave.   Those taunts stung more than I ever let show.

It almost became a compulsion — the need to eliminate any body hair.  I’d resorted to shaving because nothing else worked. Electrolysis hurt. Waxing was back within a day and not the promised week. Sugaring was ineffective. Depilatories left me with chemical burns on my skin, and the hair still standing proud.  I remember how proud my mother was one day when the shaving went extreme and I did a swimmer’s shave. She exclaimed that my arms “looked so much cleaner!” simply because the hair was gone.

So, I gave up and just shaved.  And shaved. And shaved. Every day.  Without exception.

As I grew older, things didn’t improve.  Having partners who found body hair repulsive didn’t help the matter. One ex-girlfriend asked me if I was trans because of the facial hair, or had ever considered being trans. To have someone tell me that my body was not only unacceptable but wasn’t even the right one for me left me dumbfounded, especially as I’d never expressed any discontent with what actual body parts I have.  I quite like my breasts and other girly bits, thank you.  I didn’t know what to say, other than “No,” and trying to change the subject.  Some partners requested that I shave in specific ways for specific body parts.  I even endured the mortification of a girlfriend after a morning tryst, saying that I had given her beard burn.

I wanted to simply cease existing at that moment.

As time passed and partners came and went, I still wouldn’t leave the house without shaving. If I absolutely had to, I would try everything to hide my chin. It took me until a few years ago to build enough confidence to make a quick run to the corner store without shaving first.  Even then, I would hide my chin in my shirt collar.

In the past year or so, I’ve been forced to face this issue more and more.  Seeing articles about women like Sikh Harnaam Kaur from the UK pop up across the internet, I wished that I had that kind of courage and strength to be able to be comfortable in my own body the way that it is.

I can look at women like Ms. Kaur and see how beautiful she is.  But, I can’t look in the mirror without hearing the echo in my head of all the past taunts and shaming.  At times, it’s overwhelming.

The fact is, this is something that I’m still struggling with and even at times reduced to tears over it at the age of 38, and it feels ridiculous.  I feel that by this point in my life, I shouldn’t be having these kinds of arguments with myself anymore. Yet, here I am. Participating in No Shave November has been more than a little daunting for me as I grapple with internal guilt and shame over my appearance, along with the reactions of other people to my appearance.

My wife, bless her heart, is one of my biggest supporters.  She’s known for years the anxiety and hell that this particular issue creates for me, and has tried for over 10 years to get me to relax about it. Sometimes, she even begs me to let it grow.  Admittedly, she’s struggled to understand why it bothered me so much.  She thought it was different and therefore ‘cool’.  When I tried to explain not enjoying the taunts of being the ‘bearded lady’ or a ‘freakshow,’ she didn’t believe it would happen, no matter how many times I explained that it already had.

It’s been a week now since I last shaved… and there’s no possibility of hiding it.

7 days

Life doesn’t slow down or stop just because I’m uncomfortable.  I’ve gone out of my home – to attend church, to go to VA Hospital appointments, to run errands, and even going out to eat with my wife.  I’ve watched as people have struggled more and more to try not to stare as each day goes by; the way they seek to avoid looking at the lower half of my face, or to try to avoid looking at me altogether.  I’ve watched my wife’s face crumble as she watched me do my best to act unaffected by all the body language that spoke of how unacceptable my appearance was, even though most people remained silent.  One person found out why my chin was hairy for charity, the first words out of her mouth were “Does it bother you yet?”

As long as I don’t leave my house… no, I’m not bothered.  But the minute I do and face the condemnation that comes my way for being different… yes, I’m bothered a great deal.  I know why No-Shave November is such an exercise — it forces those participating and those observing to feel a similar pain that cancer patients who have lost their hair feel. It doesn’t matter if you have too much hair, or not enough – the world is plenty cruel.

I know that the reactions are only going to get stronger, more obvious, and more outspoken as the month goes on, so I’ve decided to be proactive about it.  I’ve made a button that says “Go ahead, it’s ok… ask me why I’m so hairy,” and business cards that talk about No-Shave November. On them, there is a link to my No-Shave November fundraising page, encouraging them to donate.  The way I see it, if people can try to make anyone feel uncomfortable for something that is just a part of who they are, then I can make them uncomfortable right back.  That’s how this ingeniously crafted conversation begins.

Faith and Loss: What the recent policy changes of LDS church have meant for me…

Like many others around me, I was left dismayed and hurt by the policy changes made by the LDS church this past weekend.  I can’t claim to have been shocked, though I sincerely wish that I could.

I was raised in the LDS church in Utah, though shortly after my confirmation my family became inactive. Knowing that I was part of the LGBTQIA community and feeling largely unwelcome and unwanted by the church, I stayed away for over two decades.

Then almost five years ago, I decided to try again.  The church had stopped being quite so vehemently and almost violently anti-LGBTQIA, and I thought that perhaps I could find a place for myself within the church once more.  Maybe my presence (and the presence of those like me) now being treated more kindly within the church would help make it easier for the youth growing up in the church who were realizing they were different, wondering where they fit in, and scared of being rejected by their church and by their families.  With not a small amount of fear, but a great deal of support from my LDS friends and family, I walked through the doors of my local ward on an Easter Sunday, and returned to being an active member.

My ward surprised me in all the best of ways.  They showed me kindness and acceptance; not just to me, but also to my partner, though she isn’t Christian.  People reached out to me, extended a hand of friendship, and helped me to feel comfortable and welcome.  I really thought things were changing — albeit slowly — but they were changing.  I had hope that I could embrace my faith and the church without the fear, intolerance and even hate that I’d known when I was young.

After the policy changes were confirmed by church leadership on Saturday morning, I spent most of the day and evening listening and watching as pain unfolded among friends and loved ones all around me.

I spent hours throughout Saturday and Sunday, and even today, comforting many. First, it was trying to convince a young friend not to take her own life amidst her overwhelming pain and fear, who is now terrified someone will find out she identifies as LGBTQIA, and wonders what will happen to her when they do.  So far, I’m very thankful to say, she hasn’t taken her life.  Then, I read about a friend who was kicked out of her home by her parents because of the policy changes, even though she might be losing her job in a few days.

My heterosexual family, friends, and loved ones are struggling through what I can only describe as a crisis of faith. They have said, “This can’t be right…,” or “This has to be a bad joke.  Surely something will be done to reverse this…,” and even “It makes no sense… it goes against all the progress that has been made…”  as they wrestle with what their conscience tells them is right versus what the policy changes say.   While they pray, they are trying to figure out where their place is now, feeling torn between their church and their loved ones who are LGBTQIA.

I thought very long and hard about what the changes meant for me and my future within the church, and I grieved the loss that I knew was inevitable.

This last Sunday, I went to church with my pagan wife at my side. I gave hugs to friends, and tried to console one sweet friend in particular  who attends my ward. She has a gay daughter, and seemed to perceive my presence in the ward these past five years as hope that her child might find peace in the church.  When she found out why I was there, she burst into tears.

Turning in my letter of resignation was my decision to save us all the trouble, hassle and stress of a now mandatory disciplinary council. You see, my partner of 12 years and I finally got legally married just over a week ago, on our anniversary of Halloween. We were celebrating that I would now have health insurance, among other things. For wanting the safety and recognition of legal marriage, I have been branded apostate by my church.

To his credit, the Bishop was very kind about the whole matter. He accepted my letter without argument and with tears in his eyes, all the while telling me that he hoped I would still feel welcome to come and listen any time. He told me that I am loved by the ward, and that they still want to be there for me. Finally, he conveyed his hope that I didn’t feel judged.

I replied that it was rather hard not to feel judged, but that I wasn’t taking it personally – at least not from the ward. I told him that I am still living my beliefs and my faith, and still wish to be there and be of service for the many friends I’ve made in the ward. They have always been very kind to my wife and myself, and I will always be grateful for that.

On the whole, it went about as well as it could.

For my own part, I could shrug it off, as I’m sadly accustomed to this type of treatment from growing up in Utah. But, my heart is grieving for the lives that have been and will be lost over this policy change, and for the families that are and will be torn apart. That is what has me gutted; what I find to be not only cruel but unconscionable actions against innocent minors, families of LGBTQIA Mormons, and LGBTQIA members.

In the end, I still have my faith and beliefs; I’m not resigning those. I am keeping what is of God. I am only resigning the parts that are of man, and my belief is that man is fallible.

To those of you that might take issue with that last statement of belief, Mormons and the Church of Latter Day Saints strenuously reject any official doctrine of infallibility as papish, idolatrous nonsense. As the old adage goes: “Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but don’t really believe it; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but don’t really believe it.”  On Saturday, I think many of us began to believe it, or at the very least allow for the possibility, once more.

Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

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