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.