Reflecting back on my beard

Last night I came across this photo in my Instagram history and I had one of those rare moments where I thought “Wow! That beard really was great sometimes.”

Caleb board portrait

To be honest, when I look at this photo I see an absolutely gorgeous queer person that I would date in an instant. But the problem is that it doesn’t look like me and never really did. What I see in the older photos of me isn’t the same person that I actually am inside. I may as well be looking at an old friend that I’ve grown apart from.

For a long time I despaired of ever getting my appearance and identity to match which is why I didn’t take any steps towards medical transition. I think now that I’ve done a lot of hair follicle removal and my facial features are changing, it’s getting closer. But I still have a hard time focusing on my face in the mirror.

My final jaw surgery, which includes some feminization of my chin, is in 3 weeks. Hopefully once I heal from that and get my braces off next year, I will be closer to who I am.

1 year without a beard

Today is the 1 year anniversary of me shaving off my beard. It was a big scary leap for me to give up something that had been such an important part of my identity for 12 years and accept that I would have to deal with more dysphoria for awhile as I dealt with the facial hair. But I’m so glad I did.

I’ve now had 5 sessions of laser hair removal on my face and spent over $2,000 in the process but all the pain, time, and money paid off because now I’ve gone a week without shaving and my face is still smooth! I have no more stubble or that dark shadow on my face and the amount of hair I have left to pluck isn’t any more than many cisgender women have to deal with.


In other news, I’ve conquered two of my biggest fears around bathrooms so far. I’ve used a women’s room at a mall (with my spouse), and I’ve had a conversation with a coworker in the women’s room at work. Both things that I never would have felt safe doing with a beard.

This transition has been expensive and I’ve managed to make it this far with the help of my spouse but I still need to raise another $5,000 for my bottom surgery next year. If you are able to contribute I would really appreciate it. 

A new life

It’s been a little over 10 months since I shaved my beard and almost a year since I started using my new name everywhere and already it feels like another lifetime and another person. I’m still getting photos from a year ago popping up in my Facebook memories and it is hard to even recognize them as myself. I can see that the person in (some) of the photos is beautiful but it isn’t me anymore. I have moved so far beyond who I was in that moment.

The first few months after shaving were definitely rough with having to face my dysphoria around my chin and stubble. But now there is so little hair left that I don’t have to think about it 90% of the time and I often forget to shave the few stubborn hairs around my lips. I feel so much more feminine now without the shadow on my face.

It also helps that I can really visibly see the changes that estrogen has made in my body. My facial structure has been changed by both rounding of the edges from hormones and from a pretty distinct cheek structure change created by the first jaw surgery. Many acquaintances I see think I have already had the feminization portion of the surgery which feels great. At this point I’m feeling more excitement than dread about the second surgery and the final results I’ll have. Especially since I can finally get this annoying metal out of my mouth and feel confident smiling again.

There are still a lot of hurdles to cross. I’m trying to get the letters from the psychiatrists that I need for surgery and the hair removal on my genitals to prep for that. I have appointments today and next week that should hopefully cover those barriers.

I also started vocal feminization lessons last week. While my voice has subconsciously raised a few degrees already, estrogen doesn’t automatically bring your voice back to where it was before testosterone (yet another reason to support hormone blockers for trans teens). I have to do a lot of conscious work to expand my upper range and retrain my muscles not to create the masculinized resonance my vocal cords are used to. Someday it will hopefully be second nature but for now it is exhausting work.

However, I do seem to have crossed some magical threshold now where many people in public recognize me pretty quickly as a trans woman. Whereas before with my beard I would get stares of befuddlement everywhere I went, now I mostly get recognition, at least in liberal Seattle.  Which has meant that I get a lot more “ma’am”s and “she” either automatically or from self correction.

I tried using she/her pronouns before just around my chosen family but it still felt grating at the time. Like I was too far away from that reality and the pronouns just reminded me that no one would automatically assume that. But now I have decided to use them again as another option in addition to they/them and it feels wonderful. Especially when it is coming from strangers who I am first meeting.

In the moment, progress can feel so slow but it is nice to have these moments where my head comes out of the water and I feel like I can breathe again.

Dysphoric Bandaid Beard

There are times when I wish I still had my beard. In a lot of ways it was like a security blanket for me, allowing me to exist without having to constantly focus on my dysphoria around shaving and my chin shape. When I first grew it of course I had no idea what dysphoria was or why I hated my face so much, but I used it as a crutch for 12 years.

When I made the decision last fall to get rid of the beard, I knew that my dysphoria would get worse before it got better. And it most definitely has. It is starting to get better now that my growth rate and amount of active hair follicles have been reduced from laser therapy and electrolysis, but the first few months were hell.

Ultimately, the reason I chose to shave was because I chose to believe that it could be better eventually. That somewhere down the road I could be happier and less dysphoric than the low level that I was at with my beard. Sometimes it is hard to see through the high level of dysphoria I have now to that hope that I held for a better future. But I have to keep reminding myself that transition is just a stage in my life and the point of it is to pass through it to emerge from my cocoon as the beautiful butterfly I am.

I am lucky to be surrounded by wonderful people who constantly tell me how beautiful I am at every step along the way. But the thing is, attractiveness feels good but it doesn’t alleviate dysphoria. Dysphoria and dysmorphia aren’t the same thing. The only way to treat dysphoria is by addressing the medical and social needs around gender affirmation. Words alone can’t cut it. But luckily we live in an age where we have plastic surgeons who know what they are doing and are constantly refining the process to create and re-form the body parts that we need.

Thanks to a new trans friend for the title of this blog post and some of the thinking behind it. Maybe someday I’ll make the queer band to match.


I’ve heard many trans people use the allegory of metamorphosis and seeing their transition phase as a cocoon but it really feels true. I am still struggling to figure out who I am without my beard now. The beard was a big part of who I was as a caterpillar and now that I don’t have it I am struggling to see the butterfly underneath the stubble. I can see my wings starting to form and I’m looking more and more like the idealized version of myself every day. But right now, especially between braces and electrolysis, I very much feel like I am in a cocoon phase. I really wish that I could just hide away until my metamorphosis is complete. But sadly I need a job and I’m an extrovert (though to a much lesser degree than before). Someday the butterfly will emerge even if not as dramatically as a single moment of unfurling my wings.

Brief thought of the day

I honestly thought I would have a beard my whole life because I couldn’t imagine a world where I was happy with my face. Other than the stubble which I’m working on, I think I’m getting there. I’m excited to see what it looks like after my jaw surgery.

Facial dysphoria

I’m still in this weird place where I go back and forth almost every other day about whether I like my face better now or with the beard. But today as I was feeling wishful for my beard again I looked back at my photos and realized I’ve gotten used to my face as it is now and my beard looks odd to me. I guess I’ve successfully adapted my brain to my facial  structure.

I am still having a lot of dysphoria around how dark and thick my hair follicles are on my face. And how my face constantly has red bumps, whiteheads, and cuts from shaving. So I reached out to a trans electrolysis esthetician about starting the process of permanent hair removal on my face. I can’t really afford it but I also can’t afford to live with this level of dysphoria either so I’ll have to find a way. It takes so long that I know I should start now.

Today I’m also having dysphoria around my double chin. I’ve tried to ignore it as I’ve continued to put on more weight over the last 10 years but it’s a lot more obvious without the beard. My jaw surgeon said that setting my chin back may make that part worse but he will do his best to reduce it. I may need a chin tuck at some point though.

Sometimes I regret shaving but I think realistically the only way through is forward.

Beard update pt 2

So the bad news is that my facial hair grows back a lot more slowly now and the stubble gives me so much dysphoria that I’m not sure it’s worth it. The good news is my hair grows so slowly now that I think I can get away with shaving every other day.

Beard update

Things I’ve realized so far:
1. I hate shaving
2. My skin hates shaving
3. I really liked my beard. It was dramatic and beautiful and served a role rather similar to makeup for me in giving shape to parts of my face that I wanted definition on. It was gloriously dense and curly which also means that underneath the hair follicles are really thick and visible without it.
4. I feel like the biggest reasons I shaved was about other people, not because I wanted to. I was curious to see if my face had changed underneath and if I could get used to it, and in that regard it was a successful experiment. But mostly it was because I feel like having the beard makes a lot of people jump to very gendered expectations of me and they are less likely to see me as trans even if I’m wearing a dress. And I am really tired of living in such a gendered world and in a society that bars me from many activities if I don’t look like I’m trying hard enough to be a woman (even in supposedly trans inclusive spaces). But the solution isn’t necessarily for me to try to conform to that image but to keep trying to do what I want and fits with my own experience and dysphoria. And to continue trying to learn to ignore other people’s opinions and prejudices.
5. Seeing the dark shadow on my lower face and feeling the scratchy texture of my skin gives me far more dysphoria than having the beard. If I do want to get rid of it, I will likely have to wait until I can afford laser hair removal.
I think I’m going to start growing it back which shouldn’t take long with my face. Though perhaps longer now that I’m on estrogen than before.
Thank you to everyone who was so affirming of my little experiment and gave me so many lovely compliments and shaving advice.

Beard update – day 3

It’s been 3 days since I shaved and I’m still not sure how I feel about being beardless. I am getting used to seeing my face and my chin is causing less dysphoria than I expected. But seeing the 5 o’clock shadow from my thick, dense hair follicles that never seems to go away is causing a lot of dysphoria that I never felt with an intentional beard. And it’s aggravated by the fact that no matter what I do, my face is still getting red bumps and reacting poorly to shaving.

Unless I can figure out some technique that simultaneously gets me a smoother face with less irritation soon, I think I’ll just go back to the beard at least until I can afford laser therapy for my face.