When I first started talking to friends about my gender identity, and exploring what was possible, what I could do, what seemed to be impossible, one of the first things I did was to start a course of laser hair removal on my facial hair.
Laser seemed like an easy decision: I could afford it; it takes time (meaning I can back out at any time along the way if I changed my mind); and even if it works and removes the hair and then I decide that transition isn’t for me, then I wouldn’t feel like I’d have gone “too far” – a man without facial hair is something that society is basically OK with.
When in boy mode – including all that time that I didn’t realise that I was trans – I very rarely allowed it to grow much beyond a couple of days. My wife wasn’t keen on it, and neither was I. So I tended to be clean-shaven.
And then later, my viewpoint shifted, as I started to realise who I was: that I wasn’t comfortable in the role that society had mapped out for me, that I was so much more comfortable in a role I’d been trying out for myself in private. Whereas “before trans” I generally saw my facial hair as an annoying fact of life, instead I came to see it as a fault, a problem to be cured; each hair, erupting through my skin, as an injury; and even when clean-shaven, that I was still left with this blue tinge from my cheeks downwards. That horrible, dirty, loathsome blueness, which was a big factor in people reading me as male, that I now realised didn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t “a fact of life”. I was in control. This fault could be fixed.
Over the two years or so I must have had about 18 treatments on my face, until there were “just a few” hairs remaining. So then, as the laser treatment seemed to have had about as much effect as it ever would have, and the improvement slowed to a crawl, I stopped. I agreed with my wife that I should “look into” getting electrolysis – more time-consuming, therefore arguably more expensive, but more permanent, and more thorough (it takes care of the lighter-coloured hairs too, unlike laser).
So I got busy with the tweezers, plucking each hair as soon as I could, and thinking about electro. And I “thought about” electro – without actually doing anything about it – for a whole year. And actually, that was OK.
This January, I finally phoned a clinic, had the initial consultation, and booked my first appointment. The appointment was a few weeks away, so I stopped tweezing, and switched back to shaving; then for the last few days before the appointment, stopped shaving too.
I knew that the last week before the appointment – when I had to allow the hair to regrow – was going to be tough. The preceding weeks weren’t great either: although shaved, the hairs were still far more visible than they had been for the last year, making me feel a little awkward; sometimes I’d shave more than once a day, just to keep things as smooth as I could.
But the final week was, inevitably, hardest of all. Now, it became apparent just how many those “just a few” hairs that the laser missed, really were. The darkness of some of the patches. I looked in the mirror, and I saw painful echoes of a man that no-one’s seen since Autumn 2011. Not just in an abstract way, but because, whereas generally I did not let used to let it grow, there was a specific week, about two months before I came out, when I didn’t shave for over a week; probably the darkest, thickest, hairiest it had ever been.
This week, that’s what I saw in the mirror: at best, echoes of a friend we used to see, who doesn’t come around any more. At worst, me from four-and-a-half years ago. Me, in maximum denial mode, approaching a breaking point. Me, about to crash.
One clinic visit later, and just like that, he’s gone. I look in the mirror, and there I am again.
Yes, I know it’ll take more than one visit. The hair will regrow, and I’ll have to do it all again. But the first is always the worst: as the treatment takes effect, each regrowth will be less than the last, the echoes will become fainter and fainter; the shockwaves from a past life will lose their power, as they blend into the background and can be heard no more.
Eventually, before long, he’ll be gone forever, and all that’ll be left is me. And you can bet that I’ll be smiling.