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.

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