Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Scrape, Scrape, Scrape the Shame (or the gender-variant person's fear of the five o'clock shadow)

I hate shaving. I cannot stand it. It's an embuggerance. Faffing around with scrubs, razors, shaving oil, styptic pencils and aftershave balm, going both ways with the blade, cutting the same bloody spots on my chin every time. Kate Bornstein, in My Gender Workbook, refers to it as 'scraping the face', and it's a pretty good description.

As a genderqueer person, though, I find shaving an essential ordeal in maintaining my androgynous look. There's only so much you can do with mascara, nail polish, clothes and accessories if you have more stubble going on than Ralph Fiennes' character from Strange Days.

But it isn't just a matter of how I look to other people. I find shaving regularly to be necessary for my own mental well-being. The hairier I am, the worse I feel (this applies to other parts of my body than my face as well: I often shave or otherwise remove the hair from my arms because I hate being able to see forests of forearm fur. In fact, as soon as this blog is put to bed I shall be off to shave them again, and I find myself taking regular breaks from this to tweeze out particularly annoying follicles.) It bugs me.

To paraphrase Jane Siberry, however, I can't shave all the time. For one thing, my facial hair goes through cycles of growth. Thankfully, I don't generally need to shave every day, in fact it tends to take two days after a shave before the hair is shaveable again. But this isn't the same as spending two days walking around clean-shaven. All the time between shaves the stubble, the shadow, is growing, underneath the fingertips with which I obsessively feel my cheekbones, underneath the eyes I can feel on me. Sometimes, if I leave it for a third day, I feel like crap, like some horrible bearded trucker shambling around with stubble you could use to sand down wood.

But sometimes I wind up having to leave it for three days. There isn't time; I haven't got the energy. Whatever. Things slide. And it's at times like these, when the thought that I should shave really preys on me, that I'm at my lowest ebb. My confidence drops. My sense of my own attractiveness plummets. I feel like crap.

And I'm not even trying to properly pass, for heaven's sake (though, to be honest, it would feel more as if I was trying to pass if I wore a lumberjack shirt and started challenging people to arm-wrestle). Yes, I like confusing people; yes, it was cool to get called 'Annette' by a caller on the phone to work yesterday, and yes, it felt good to be sized up by a fierce-looking butch at the bus stop this morning; but the stakes for a genderqueer like me are not as high as they are for a trans woman going through her gender transition. For someone like that, having stubble is likely to be mortifying; and for anyone dealing with such a woman to bring that stubble to the attention of others, to dwell on it, would be an act so vile and mean-spirited that it could only be the province of absolute scum.

Which is why I am seriously pissed-off with two separate reports from the mainstream press today. First, that Blackshirt-endorsing rag the Daily Mail decided to refer to trans woman Nina Kanagasingham - who seems to have caused the death of another trans woman, successful human rights lawyer Sonia Burgess, in what may, for all we know, have been a genuinely horrible accident - as 'Unshaven Nina Kanasingham, 34' in a report which displays so much misgendering and prurient thigh-rubbing under the guise of moralising over Sonia's supposed work as an 'escort' that it merits a severe trigger warning; and then we also have this piece, fisked by Helen at Bird of Paradox, in which the reporter thinks that Mikki Nicholson's 'hint of stubble' is germane to her victory in a Scrabble contest (do scroll down to the end of that report by the way, for one of the best conclusions to a blogpost I've read in ages).

I cannot fathom what - beyond a grotesque sense of arrogance as a result of cis privilege, and a desire to pander to the lowest denominator of humanity which has caused them to forego their last inch of integrity as both journalists and human beings - makes these people think it is perfectly acceptable to describe these women, people who are in a marginalised group, during a fragile enough time already, now stressed out even more by external events - one through triumph, one through tragedy - as 'stubbled', 'unshaven' caricatures. But I know how it makes me feel. It makes me feel sick, and disgusted, and ashamed to live in a country where thoughtless, insulting crap like this gets published.

But I don't want to end this piece on such a sour note. Instead, please read this thoughtful obituary for Sonia Burgess by Stephen Whittle. Some of us care, some of us won't put up with this kind of transphobic crap from the mainstream media anymore, and we will succeed in the end. Because we have to put up with this crap and survive, and that means we have a strength that the kind of slime who obsess over the stubble on the face of a trans woman, whether in the dock or on a podium, will never understand.

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