What Self-Quarantine is Teaching Me About Gender Dysphoria

I shaved my legs a month after coming out to myself. Following the directions of an article on Deadspin titled “The Reluctant Man’s Guide to Shaving Your Legs” I first trimmed with my retired beard trimmer, then exfoliated, then shaved the right leg, then shaved the left leg, then exfoliated again, and then applied a heavy dose of lotion. Yes, I bled. Yes, it took hours.

I put on shorts that I’d force-feminized by folding them up a few times and was amazed when I looked down. Red polish on my toenails, smooth skin, my makeshift short shorts — I had women’s legs.

I began taking frequent pictures of my lower half, especially once I bought skirts. The process of transition seemed so impossible, so arduous, so slow, but this had been so easy. I could even tuck my penis between my legs when I was in the shower and with a full bush it seemed like I was years beyond my first steps.

A couple months later I shaved my armpits, my chest, and my stomach. Around the time I started hormones I shaved my arms too. Exhausted by the length of this semi-daily process I switched to epilating. I got used to the pain of having my hair literally torn out because it saved me hours each week.

Unwanted body hair certainly isn’t a trans-exclusive problem — cis women love to remind me of this — but the gender dysphoria it can instill in us is unique. The cis women in my Jewish family are hairy, but it’s nothing compared to the thick, dark AMAB hair all over my face and body, and the way it makes me feel is different than the way it makes them feel. I’m petite and because hormones gave me a C cup — the upside of my Jewish genes — hair has always been the primary source of my physical dysphoria.

As the years went on, I became more comfortable in my body and self, and I started to wonder: Why did I feel self-conscious about my body hair, while finding it hot on other women? Why did I apply societal rules of womanhood to myself that I didn’t actually believe?

Then three weeks ago I began my Coronavirus self-quarantine. Faced with the reality that I wouldn’t be seeing anyone except my roommates and twice a month grocery trip strangers, I decided to begin an experiment. I wasn’t going to shave or epilate, I wasn’t going to paint my nails, and I wasn’t going to put on makeup — until I wanted to for myself, and only myself.

I only lasted two days before shaving my face. This wasn’t surprising. My facial hair is easily what makes me most dysphoric. Over the past three years I’ve spent thousands of dollars I barely had on electrolysis and laser. The last activity I did before starting my quarantine was go to electrolysis.

Electrolysis is painful and it leaves my skin visibly irritated for the entire week in between appointments. But the promise of someday not having any facial hair — and not having to shave — makes it worth it. I don’t hate my facial hair because “women don’t have beards.” I hate my facial hair, because I, a woman, don’t want to have one. People who have known me for years tell me that it’s become so much thinner, that they can’t even tell once I’ve shaved, but I don’t care. This isn’t for other people. It’s for me.

A few days later, I epilated my chest and shaved my stomach. I don’t have much hair on my chest after hormones and years of epilating, but during sex my chest is the most mindlessly gender euphoric part of my body — sex with other people and myself. That gender euphoria is lessened by the hair that remains, so I removed it. I’d like masturbation to be as pleasurable as possible during quarantine celibacy, thank you very much.

Next, I trimmed my bangs. As much as I hate my body hair, I cherish the hair on my head. I was supposed to have a long scheduled haircut a week after I started quarantine, but I canceled it for obvious reasons. I still planned to pay my hair stylist, so I asked if he might be willing to coach me over FaceTime on trimming my own bangs. He did and I was pleasantly surprised by the results. It had been a very tough first week self-isolating but getting my hair to look the way I wanted made me feel so much better.

Those first couple weeks, I realized that not wearing makeup and not painting my nails didn’t make me feel dysphoric, but something doesn’t have to feel dysphoric to not like it. I enjoy wearing makeup sometimes and I enjoy painting my own nails and having them painted. It was nice to realize that I didn’t need to do these things, but I started doing them again anyway.

And that’s it. Three weeks in I still haven’t shaved or epilated my arms, legs, or armpits. Hormones have thinned the hair considerably on my arms and combined with feeling more confident in myself I think I’ll probably stop removing that hair altogether. I’ll shave my legs again at some point, because I do still feel sexier with them shaved. But the acuteness of the dysphoria around it has drastically decreased.

I’ve realized I actually feel sexier with armpit hair.

It was always important to me that I transition on my own terms. I’ve never understood why I’d go through all the effort of getting out of one box only to put myself in a slightly better one. I have the privilege to not look cis and to still be relatively safe. I intend to utilize that privilege.

I don’t know why my facial hair bothers me but my Adam’s Apple doesn’t. I don’t know why I plan to someday get bottom surgery but have no interest in FFS. I don’t know why some days I feel as uncomfortable in a dress as I do in clothing made for men.

It’s much easier for me to disregard the judgments of my family or straight society than it is to ignore messaging from my own community — especially people I want to date. Whether it’s body hair or makeup or clothing, if I presented like a lot of cis queer women, I would read as male — not masc. This isn’t fair or unfair, it’s just how it is. The question is whether I let that impact how I present.

When I first started dating in queer community I was desperate to determine if I was femme or butch. Obviously, being femme was easier — it’s what was expected of me as a trans woman — but it didn’t feel right. I relished the possible rebellion of being a butch trans woman, but that didn’t feel right either.

I realized that the only words that fit are gay, dyke, faggot, gay, gay, and gay. When I present according to these words — whatever that means to me on any given day — I feel less dysphoric. I don’t necessarily feel like there’s a map for me and my gender presentation. I’m not going to pretend that I have the same ease of presentation as cis lesbians. Maybe some trans women do! But for me, personally, certain acceptable things in our community are going to make me feel dysphoric.

The goal is never assuming that dysphoria is forever. The goal is making sure that dysphoria is coming from my gender and not from the messaging of others. It’s always going to be both, but, in the moment, I want to locate the truest source of the feeling.

Quarantine has provided an opportunity to check-in with myself at the three year mark of my transition. I feel so grateful to be weathering this moment of collective trauma in the body I currently have – even as I still long for certain changes.

I like that people think I’m attractive, but that’s not a new feeling. People thought I was attractive before I transitioned. What’s new is the experience of finding myself attractive. It’s invigorating.

Two weeks before quarantine, a date asked me how I’d describe my style and presentation. All of a sudden it dawned on me: flamboyant dyke. I still feel that way after my weeks of experimenting. Now I’m just a flamboyant dyke with armpit hair.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 520 articles for us.


  1. I love this piece so much! Thank you ❤️

    I have many similar feelings around my own dysphoria, presentation, and the social pressures that inform them. Being a not-especially-feminine trans woman has been confusing (and lonely?) at times, so it’s quite validating to read about your experiences and see myself reflected in some of them.

    Immersing myself in queer community helped me begin to disentangle some of this stuff years into my own transition. I’m grateful for the people and spaces (especially at AS/A-Camp) that gave me room and acceptance to find my own way. Y’all are the best!

  2. Thank you so much for this lovely essay. I’ve been having some question-y feelings about my gender identity and presentation, and thought I’d try to use this extended just-at-home time to maybe figure it out? It’s really beautiful and encouraging to read about your own experience with it.

    • Loved this meditation on the meaning of your body’s hair to you, Drew.

      I’m a (white) cis woman, and I shave my chin and upper lip about once or twice a week (it’s better for the skin than using tweezers to remove hairs, and certainly less painful), and trim my under-arm and leg hair every other month or so (I tend to keep them both at around a half inch in length). I’ve only shaved under my arms once and I’ve never tweesed my eyebrows or shaved my legs (!)

      Just sharing to add to the chorus of “there are lots of body and face hair options, and it’s ok to experiment”. <3.

  3. I have a lot of the same feelings about my hair. I can very much relate to the part about family as I am a Mizrahi Jew, which means we’re even darker hair at larger quantities on more places. It can really be dysphoria inducing.

    • As a formerly very fucking hairy Jewish tran with unfortunately light body hair that has responded so-so to laser, Ive spent many hours under the needle, and I feel a lot of this so hard.

      But I gotta say this part made me actually weep:

      “I realized that the only words that fit are gay, dyke, faggot, gay, gay, and gay. ”

      Thank you ♥️

  4. Wonderful read. I have issues around gender presentation and often think about what is an internal vs external thing. Not Being Seen by other people while in isolation has definitely been an experience for me too, really interesting to see someone else thinking about the same things.

  5. “The goal is never assuming that dysphoria is forever. The goal is making sure that dysphoria is coming from my gender and not from the messaging of others. It’s always going to be both, but, in the moment, I want to locate the truest source of the feeling.”

    I really love this. Thanks, Drew!

  6. “I like that people think I’m attractive, but that’s not a new feeling. People thought I was attractive before I transitioned. What’s new is the experience of finding myself attractive. It’s invigorating.”
    This is exactly how I feel. Thank you so much for this piece, I love everything you write but this one hit extra hard.

  7. Thanks Drew – this piece is super interesting to me as someone who only recently decided to bite the bullet and top surgery. I’ve opted out of trying to get insurance support because I don’t want to have to check all their boxes. I don’t want to feel like I need to fit someone’s ideal of how I should look – I want to look how I want to look.

    So thanks again!

  8. Wonderfully written, and I admire your bravery and confidence for going into such personal detail. We cis folks are not entitled to this depth of detail, but you have invited us in and I can’t be more grateful.

  9. I think my problem with my body hair is that its masculine. Its rough and course and feels kinda wiry. Ugh just thinking about it makes me feel bad. I think HRT would make it softer and more acceptable to me

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!