To T or not to T?

Facial Hair: Fantasy and Reality

What makes a man?

Sex is (most unfortunately) all too often heralded in popular culture as one’s initiation into manhood, but facial hair is a much more striking sign. A beard or moustache is such a strong signifier of maleness that little else can contradict it. I enjoy the parody and glamour of drag king make up, or eyelash glue  does do the trick (so to speak), but a lack of facial hair combined with a moderate height of 5”5′ means my gender is read as that of a boy, not a man.

cyborg-supermanI grew up from a generally accepted tomboy into a much less accepted tranny boi, but will I want to be a boy forever?

T is often regaled as the journey into manhood for the transguy, for precisely these reasons. Sometimes I long for the relief of passing. Although, of course, it comes with its own pains.

Physically it is not yet possible to trans ftm in the way it is mtf. And it is prohibitively expensive. This reflects the still misogynistic nature of trans surgery, which privileges the male body and creates it as ‘unimitatable’, while it treats the female body as easily (re)constructed, yet for the most part ‘untreatable’.

When someone ‘misreads’ me, I usually turn away in the hope they won’t reconsider as it is in the so-called ‘realisation’ that violence manifests. Or mockery. Or cruelty. The liveability of a genderqueer life is always in question. It can be straining, stressful, frustrating, and sometimes, well, terrifying. As well as daring, fun, fabulous, subversive and socially treacherous.

Hard muscles. A flat chest. Bulging pants. These are things I dream of. But what would it mean for my maleness, my manhood, to be sculptured by surgeons? Kate Bornstein argues that to move from F to M or M to F doesn’t reinforce a binary concept of gender, but rather creates transformation itself as the meaning of gender. Here she carries the legacy of Simone de Beauvoir, that one is not born a woman but becomes one: gender is the act of becoming. And I agree. But the fact remains that the maleness of my body would be crafted and re-created according to standards of gendered beauty that I, theoretically, disapprove of and have for so long openly rejected. This is troubling.

As I have said often to my fellows on the subject of embracing male privileges: one always has the choice about what kind of man one becomes.

Right now my masculinity doesn’t necessitate surgical intervention. But when I gaze at the flat, hard pecs of a guy at the gym, when I watch beads of sweat gather on his chest hair, his grimaced jaw shadowed with stubble – I wonder if I will hold out forever.

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6 Comments

Filed under What's Queer Here?

6 responses to “To T or not to T?

  1. mich

    *ponders the misogynist nature of appearing young*

    amazing article, thank you!

  2. malcolmhardwell

    “I wonder if I will hold out forever.” I hear you on that one. It’s an interesting way to put it, too, as if you’re trying not to eat another piece of candy or buy an expensive gadget.

    What are we (I apologize if this is too presumptuous to make it a “we”) holding out for? That’s what I’m thinking through, myself, among other things.

  3. People I’ve known who are (always-already or not) ftm transitioning have often expressed satisfaction at the appearance of facial hair or frustration at its absence, and I suppose there are indeed many people for whom facial hair demonstrates, for themselves and to the world, some authentic masculinity.

    One of my very-much female-bodied and recognised friends – who we shall call here Hilary, because that is her name – for many years had a mustache and no apparent desire to remove it. When she finally did, I felt that it was part of a process of shifting away from non-monogamy, from non-conformity, toward career and settling in every sense – “giving in” is the phrase she used.

    To me the everyday growth of facial hair is, I suspect, a somewhat different experience – the seemingly never-ending need to spend time pulling a very sharp object across my face, for one. While my experienced imperative to remove facial hair at least every few days probably can’t be reduced to a purely physiological phenomenon – ie that it is itchy and annoying after a while, genuinely uncomfortable – but probably reflects a learned relation to my body as a presentation of self, nonetheless, for me, facial hair and everything that goes with it is one of the least desirable manifestations of my body-as-male, an aspect of my life which I would happily give away on the very day someone invents the facial hair transplant.

    I’m not the world’s greatest shaver, a skill which is apparently also an accepted measure of effective masculinity. Also it is very dull and I’ve learned to no longer try to read while I do it. Shaving cuts hurt and blood flow can be annoyingly persistent. and cuts and blood are read as socially embarrassing for related masculinity-and/is-facial-hair reasons. And shaving isn’t free either – if you’re really very poor there is a temptation to re-use equipment, a constant if low-level juggling of money and discomfort and risk. That’s right: shaving is a class issue. Or maybe: (S)having facial hair is a class and gender issue. If you are in an economy or other social relations which make shaving non-facial body hair desirable or mandatory, things only get worse.

    That early Scorsese short called “The Big Shave”, in which someone stares into a mirror as he shaves off his facial hair and then all of the skin of his face, leaving himself skinless and very bloody, was described as a metaphor for the United States during the Vietnam War, but for me it had a much more direct interpretation as the first filmic portrayal of someone who is almost as bad a shaver as I am, and of the very mundane horror consequent of being male-bodied.

  4. embolalia

    (insert your name here, which I am tempted to type out of habit, but I resist because I suspect that there is some reason why you have chosen an alias to write under – most likely you are embarrassed about the lack of sophistication that you are required to adopt in writing for some queer magazine…)

    I read the words “gender is the act of becoming” and I am not so sure that I am comfortable with this description of enacting gender… I suspect that the physical circumstances of gender transitition (ie. that in purely physiological terms it is easier to ‘become’ a woman than it is to ‘become’ a man as a consequence of technology or lack thereof) reflect something of power relations, that it seems to me that as a result of the conditions of our existence – ftm’s cannot ever ‘become’ male, even if that manage to ‘pass’ (that is not to say that I think that mtf’s ever really ‘become’ women, but they seem to be able to get closer, there doesn’t seem to be as many barriers to attempting to acquire an ‘identity’ that is ‘oppressed’). Ftm’s will never gain access to male privilege, thus I feel that the notion you can choose what kind of ‘man’ you become is an empty point – that whilst it seems possible for ftm’s to emulate the misogyny of male privilege, they will never be capable of doing this from the position of male privilege. I suppose my uncomfortability with the idea of ‘becoming’ is that it seems to hold out an end point – that one will eventually reach the end point of ‘transitioning’ and will have ‘become’ a woman, or a man. I feel that trans people need to be more willing to let go of the notion of authentic gendered identity as something that it is possible to assume. What I am really trying to say is – you are never going to be a man, but I would like to feel that bulge in your pants…

  5. Anonymous

    Max,
    If you believe yourself to be a man then you are a man. Gender is in the mind, not the body. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

    “It’s not what’s between your legs that defines your gender” – Buck Angel

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