Sometimes it’s helpful to look back and realize how far you’ve come. I ran across some photos recently of a vacation I took in 2016 and I was shocked at how hairy I used to be and how different my face looked. It is really a testament to how well laser hair removal works that I don’t really have to think about that much anymore. I used to have a very full beard and now I have shaved once in the last 2 months. It is such a relief to not have the constant dysphoria-inducing shadow on my face from stubble. And I’m so thankful that I had the resources and support to make all this expensive hair removal happen.
On Wednesday I had what I hope is my final laser hair removal appointment for my face, legs, and chest. I am so close to having my hair reduced to what is normal for most cis women after spending thousands of dollars out of pocket for “cosmetic” dysphoria treatments. This time I paid $1,400 just for one session.
As I was sitting there, gritting through the pain, I was really struck by how much pain and expense trans people have to go through just to treat dysphoria because we went through the wrong puberty. A puberty which is totally unnecessary with modern technology. I really wish more parents could believe their kids and more doctors would be willing to prescribe puberty blockers to teens. It really would save so much money and pain in the long run.
Despite how much it has cost, I am really glad I had the privilege to get that done. When I first shaved my beard, the dysphoria from the stubble was absolutely overwhelming, even when freshly shaved. I can barely stand to look at pictures from that time unless I was wearing a lot of concealer foundation because the whole color of my skin was off. Now I can shave the few remaining hairs once a week and hopefully not even that now that I’ve had my final session. If I have more hairs pop up later, I can get a couple hours of electrolysis to finish it off.
Shaving off my beard was so scary for me because of that phase I had to go through. And there are days when I can really admire how stunning it looked in contrast with my femme presentation. But overall I am really glad I look more overtly feminine now. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better but I am so glad to be past that part.
I had my first laser hair removal session on my genitals today to begin prepping for bottom surgery. I’ve been dreading it all week because it is so extremely painful when I do it on my face that I assumed it would be even worse on such a sensitive area. But I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t know if it’s because the numbing cream works better on the thinner skin (it did last longer), or because it is a wider dispersal laser head but it was a breeze and over really quickly. It honestly hurt a lot less than waxing or sugaring.
Turns out the worst part of laser down there is the shaving. It is a pain in the ass (literally) to try to get it all and the aesthetician still had to clean it up. I recommend having a friend or partner help you shave. The other part that sucks is the insurance approval process which took me three months of pestering.
But session 1 is finally over. I have 6 more months of doing this every 6 weeks and hopefully it is enough for surgery. I’m also going to finish laser treatments on my face since I had to stop because it is expensive to pay out of pocket ($300 every 6 weeks). But the stubborn hair patches that have come back are giving me too much dysphoria to keep waiting.
I’ve passed the point of no return (queue Phantom of the Opera music). I’ve started electrolysis on my chin which means the beard is never coming back. I now have a quarter sized patch which is all inflamed at the moment where the hair has been permanently killed using a combination of electric current and heat to create a chemical reaction of lye to remove the whole follicle. And boy howdy was it painful!
I didn’t use a topical anesthetic this time and I definitely regret it. At first it wasn’t too bad. It was similar to tattoo needles but with the added weird sensation of radiating heat in your skin. But after a surprisingly short time, my body stopped ignoring the pain and by about 45 minutes I was begging for the hour to end. And the worst part was that it really wiped me out after. My body was just so exhausted that I came home and crashed.
Actually no, I take that back. The dysphoria caused by letting my stubble grow in for 5 days was the worst part. By this weekend I just felt gross and ugly in a visceral way. And when I added the pain to it on Sunday afternoon, it pushed me over the edge. All I could manage was getting high on pain relieving cannabis (legal here) and playing video games. Engaging my brain in Mass Effect Andromeda was the only way I kept from dissociating.
I feel much better today now that I’ve shaved. But it is odd to have a pink scabby spot on my chin that I’m acutely aware of. It is really going to take a long frickin’ time for that circle to grow to the size of my face. I’ve got a lot of sessions ahead of me but I’m glad that I found a trans esthetician to do it. I feel better about the sheer amount of money I’m going to be spending knowing I’m keeping it in the family. Hopefully next time with lidocane it will be better.
With the NYT article that is going around (which shows one valid point of view not representative of everyone), I think it is worth pointing out that the level of dysphoria I experience now is not something I expect to last forever. Starting my transition has made my dysphoria and mental health worse in some ways and better in others. It’s not a linear path but I do think that it is similar to facing any trauma – the only way out is through. The path to healing and authenticity is painful and dredges up a lot of feelings that have been buried. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it or that it is a disease that I am looking for sympathy for. Treatment does help reduce dysphoria significantly but it’s a long game. You don’t get fast results.
What it does mean is that we need to reduce barriers to care for trans people. I so often hear the argument that things like hair removal shouldn’t be covered because then all the cis people should get it too. But that comes from a lens of equality rather than equity. Trans people have the most barriers to healthcare of pretty much anyone as a group. There are not only barriers from gatekeeping but the added burden of increased rates of employment and housing discrimination that keep many trans people in low paying jobs without coverage. Hair removal for many trans people is a crucial step needed to reduce gender dysphoria and if I didn’t have the money and life circumstances to be able to afford it out of pocket I wouldn’t have the ability to improve that distress.
So today I’m thankful for all the people who have supported my journey thus far. And for my job with decent medical benefits that allows me to start planning for bottom surgery (after I save enough for all the travel and associated out of pocket costs). And for my incredible partner and chosen family I live and share costs with that makes it possible to live near Seattle and still have money for things like electrolysis. I hope every person can find the kind of unconditional love that I have.