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.

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.

I shaved!

So I got the hair-brained idea in my head yesterday to shave. It’s been 12 years since I grew my beard and I’ve only shaved completely twice, the last time being 5 years ago. I was going to get it professionally shaved by a fancy barber on Saturday but he was out sick so I bought a nice shaving supply kit and did it myself.

And it seems that 7 months of estrogen has worked it’s magic and softened my face sufficiently for me to feel beautiful. The cleft in my chin is almost completely gone. It also helps to have other gender affirming markers like my hair, glasses, earrings, and clothing. Now to work on evening out my skin tone to match.

It definitely takes some getting used to. My chin alternately feels cold when there’s a draft and warm when there’s not because it’s not insulated anymore. And I haven’t gotten used to my face in the mirror yet so it doesn’t feel like me. Can’t tell if that’s dysphoria or just an adjustment.

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Jaw feminization

I just talked to my oral surgeon about what can be done to feminize my chin, the biggest source of dysphoria for me at this point, when I go in to align my teeth this Winter. This is a major oral surgery I’ve been dreading for almost 10 years now as I waited for the right insurance and financial stability to make it possible. But now that there is the possibility it could make my face more tolerable, I’m actually excited.

I started the process 2 years ago when I first met with the surgeon before I was out and thinking about what the impact of my prominent, square, cleft chin was. I’ve been using my beard to cover it up for so long that I sometimes forget that this really ugly-feeling part of me is underneath. I found out just how much it would cost and realized I needed a new job to make this work. The next step was the braces I got installed in January which re-align my teeth back to where they will need to be after the surgery. Unfortunately, in the short term, the braces have made my dysphoria and confidence worse. The first day I had them I dissociated so badly that I felt like I was walking around viewing the world through a long, dark tunnel. It has gotten better since but I still can’t wait to get them off.

But the end of stage one is finally in sight so I got up the courage to reach out to the surgeons office to find out if there were parts of facial feminization that could be accomplished as part of this procedure. I was both excited and terrified as the appointment got close this month fearing that he would just dismiss my concerns and focus on function. But it went surprisingly well. For an old white cis dude he seemed to really get it. He talked about the various things that he can do to tilt the lower jaw back, shave off the harsher edges, and bring it more in line with the rest of my face. He even was aware enough of the gendered aspects that he is suggesting increasing how much of my upper teeth are visible when my lips part because apparently that is a feminine trait.

He was cautious about over-promising and he is limited with how much he can do because of the potential impacts on my breathing and sleep apnea and the amount of muscle I have on my chin. But I am hopeful that it can be enough better that I can actually face myself in the mirror without my beard. He promised to do some advanced prediction models and show me several options we can discuss at our pre-surgery appointment so I can have some say in how my new face will look.

I’m especially excited for this since my insurance doesn’t cover facial feminization. And overall that’s not really a primary concern of mine on the rest of my face since I have great cheekbones (even according to the surgeon) and a good nose that balances my face. So if I can get this all done in one surgery that I’ve been planning for so long, I will be very happy.

Now to see if I can actually live without the beard for the next few months before surgery. I haven’t gotten up the courage to go into the barber yet…

Shaving prep

So I’ve decided that I’m going to at least try shaving soon and see if I can get used to my chin. I was going to wait until just before my jaw surgery this winter but I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with how people read me due to my beard. While I want to be confident and not care, I think it leads to even a lot of allies not realizing that I’m trans. And it gives me a lot of impostor feelings.

One of the many reasons, other than latent chin dysphoria I didn’t have a word for at the time, that I grew the beard in the first place is because my facial hair is very dense, thick, and curly and grows quickly. Because of that, I got a lot of ingrowns and my face didn’t tolerate shaving well. So I definitely need to step up my game. I talked to a friend who is an expert and I’m going to go into The Art of Shaving to get good supplies and tips. Other than a quality razor and exfoliating at night, what else can I do to keep my face smooth and soft?

It’s been 12 years since I’ve shaved regularly. This is going to take some getting used to.