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IN DEFENSE OF THE NECK BEARD

 

The chemistry between me and dudes who work at the corner store is fascinating. They seem drawn to connect with me, even if they don’t know why. It’s like I am just a guy, but with a twist, a tortilla chip with a hint of lime. They call me ‘papi’ and ‘brother’ and ‘boss’. They joke with me. And I joke back; smiling to myself knowing things they do not.

The other day I went into a random corner store where I did not know the guy at the counter. I asked for a pack of Bambu and a lighter.

“Are you eighteen, sir?” he asked, showing me his skepticism by inching his (impressively) bushy eyebrows up towards his not so bushy hairline.

“I am actually thirty, believe it or not.” He chose not.

“No, no. Thirty? This cannot be true,” he said, shaking his head, looking kind of sad for me like no one had taught me to give an age that could be believed, to at least give my lie a chance to pass for a truth. I smiled and handed him my ID. Along with a teenage boy, I too would be uncomfortable with him closely examining my ID, but for fear that the "F" will stand out, not the year of my birth. The F never stands out, it sits quietly nestled amongst the other information about my personhood that the government has neatly organized on this plastic card.

As he reached for it I said to him, “Can’t you see all my gray hair?”

He responded, “Well your hair looks old, but your beard looks like a teenager.”

SHADE. It was funny to me that he was reading me, but he didn’t quite get the moral of the story. I laughed and told him not to come for my beard because I was working on it. As the bells chimed signaling my exit from the store, this small bell in my head chimed signaling that I felt a bit off about that exchange.

Even though I pass almost all the time, on occasion cis-people I interact with seem to have a feeling similar to deja vu or reading a really good poem - there is something there that feels familiar and brand new at the same time, something that cannot quite be named. Part of what tickles their senses might come from the energy I exude, the way I talk and move my hands, the faces I make or the words I use, the warmth that I do have, the walls that I don’t. And a part of what intrigues them might be that I am a big dude with a courageous but quaint beard, which I sport with pride.

I have been on T for 1.5 years and I have a fair amount of facial hair for that amount of time. Comparison is a futile and usually counter-productive activity, but I think most of us tend towards it. Some trans guys have expressed playful jealousy of my facial hair. I have expressed not playful jealousy of Rick Ross’s beard. It’s all about perspective.

My whole life I had a little ‘stache, which pleased me. Well actually, let me tell the truth. Before I stopped trying to force femininity, I used to Nair it off. Just writing those words makes me smell that sweet toxicity again, which in turn makes me sick to my stomach. (What the actual fuck is that made out of and why is it FDA approved and why did I put it on my face?! A moment of silence for all the time, money, and healthy skin lost in feminine people’s war on their own body hair.)

After I started living as a masculine person I was thankful for my little mustache. When I began hormones and it slowly thickened, I felt excited and impatient, which sums up my experience of the first year of my transition. I asked my doctor, my trans friends, God, anyone that would listen- WHEN WILL I HAVE A FULL BEARD? They all responded the same- sit tight, not for a while, maybe never.

Maybe never? This was shocking to me. My relationships with cis men were so few and far between that I had gone my whole life believing that every cis man was automatically able to landscape his face in whatever way he desired. When I was informed that some cis men can’t grow much facial hair at all, let alone a full beard, this first made me swell with pride for the cis guys I had already surpassed, then (ego check) deflate with fear that this might be as far as I will get.

Right now I have a thin but present beard. My mustache and beard are trying very hard to connect, like a little kid jogging and reaching for their parent's hand while the parent doesn’t pay attention and keeps it just beyond their little hand. Or like someone falling off a cliff, forever doomed by the inch of possibility between their fingers and their savior’s anxious palm. Or like Michelangelo’s Adam and God. Maybe most like that one, because both mustache and beard seem pretty laid back about the whole thing, lazily reaching towards each other while I am pressed for them to become one.

I won’t lie, it is not my favorite that I am a grown ass man who has spent most of the last year with pubescent whiskers. Still, I have not shaved since I began transitioning. My beard might confuse people. It might have looked silly at the beginning. But it was mine! (Could this be how the parents of ugly babies feel? Not that my beard was ugly, it just was skinny and a little awkward).

I got into a small debate about my Beard Baby with a friend of mine. He is a transman who transitioned over ten years ago and has a sexy, full, slightly salt and pepper beard, and I had turned to him for many of my early transition questions. He expressed to me that he thinks transguys at the beginning of their transition who choose to keep a slight ‘stache or a nebulous neck beard, look goofy and should just shave it off. I laughed but also protectively side-eyed him as I stroked my hairs, comforting my ‘ugly baby’.

I explained the reasons for my decision (and probably a lot of other guys’ too) to keep whatever facial hair I was gifted during my first year of easing into my true, but new, self.

First off, it was exciting to me! I had imagined what this would look like for years. As a kid, I drew a goatee on with a brown marker. As a twenty-something, I used an iPhone app that showed me my fully bearded self-avatar. For a few drag king performances, I used mascara or the shavings from my buzz cut and special glue. Now my body was meeting me where I was at and even if it was taking its time, I would be patient, as it had been patient with me for my whole life.

Early on in my transition, I was afraid my facial hair was one of the only things making me pass to the (often simple) cis-world. I was so relieved that I was no longer being called ‘lady’ and ‘girl’ and ‘ma’am’. Even if I had never transitioned and lived my whole life as a masculine woman person, no one should have been calling me those things. But since I did transition, and since the world is what it is right now, there was no way I was going back to ladyland. So if a slightly silly beard was the key to keep that door locked, I was going to hang on tight to it.

And ultimately, I don’t really give a damn. Most of my life I have lived outside the bounds of what is conventionally attractive or cool or normal or fashionable. So I don’t have a lot of investment in those things, or at least I try not to. While being trans has sometimes felt like a challenge and a burden, most of the time I am grateful for how free it has made me.

Not for all trans people, but at least for me, I feel liberated by existing outside the suffocating standards of the mainstream. This doesn’t mean I do not want us to be recognized as fully legitimate and equal humans, for us to be a full part of the world. It means I think we have been given special eyes to see through the bullshit, special hands to hold so many true things at once, and special facial hair to keep things interesting.

My Beard Baby has turned into a Beard Teenager. They always say your kids grow up too fast, so I will not wish time away. And by the time I am an old man looking like Merlin, with my silver beard tickling my toes, maybe things will be different and everyone will feel comfy in their face and their fate.

 

 ---  /// ---

T. Wise is a comedian, writer, and lyricist based in Brooklyn. For shows, tunes, and essays check his website: thatboyblue.com and follow him @thatlittleboyblue

 

Want to give your Beard Baby some love? Here's our favorite chin beard pamperer:

 

 

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