The Truth Can Get a Little Hairy: Reflections on Body Hair, Feminism, and Trans Identity

Person gloriously showing off their hairy under arms

Source: NY Mag

Originally published on The Body is Not an Apology and cross-posted here with their permission.

(Trigger Warning: Mention of rape)

“I mean, look at you, man. With that moustache, you look like a real man. Everybody should want that,” this guy in my bro-far-masculine of center gender support group said to me, as a means of establishing camaraderie and admiration. I felt shame.

“Girls don’t have hairy backs,” said my nine-year-old peer at the city pool. I was wearing a light blue, shiny one piece. I loved the fabric.

“You’re like a tiny bear!” said my lover, enthusiastically, as she pulled my body toward her body.

“So how much is it going to cost to wax my whole chest?” I asked the aesthetician who had been helping me survive my hairy cleavage in my sister’s purple satin bridesmaids dresses.

“I’m going to rape your ugly hairy face, and then I’m going to beat you,” snarled the teenage boy I punched in the mouth after listening to months of him asking his friend what it would be like to rape all the girls in my choir, including me. Who would cry the most?

“Look at you, you sexy little hobbit!” I say to myself on good mornings while looking in a full length mirror post-shower naked.

“Your eyebrows are beautiful. Never do anything to them,” cooed my grandmother as she held me in her arms and pet my eyebrows soothingly. She smelled like rosewater and fabric softener. She sounded like the rolling hills of Cork County, Ireland and the oxidized steel of the Cuyahoga shores. Her hair, formerly as black as mine, had turned white as a Protestant church in a snowstorm.

My body hair has shaped my life.

It is an almost embarrassing thing to admit. But ever since those first mustache hairs began to sprout on my ten-year-old female face, so much of who I am in the world and in myself has been defined by my hairy-ness.

And you know, I’m a mammal – as I suspect you are, too, if you’re reading this sentence. And like any other homo in the species sapien, I have body hair. This is kind of typical of those of us who are primates and, ultimately, is one of the things that classifies us as such.

And yet, in the white, American, middle-class culture in which I’ve spent my life, so many of the messages I received were that body hair was disgusting and unhygienic.

If somebody had body hair, regardless of whether they were male or female, there was something inherently unattractive and unwanted about them. Particularly if you were female-bodied and -identified, to have facial and body hair was basically a social death sentence.

I started with the snapshots of my hairy gendered body to draw attention to the vast difference in the way I was perceived before and after transition and what that says about the way we treat bodies as a culture, particularly female-identified bodies.

And more so what that says about how our bodies exist in the world.

Being a hirsute girl and woman made me the target of a barrage of public comment and ridicule about my body. There were points in my life where leaving my house became difficult because I knew that I would go outside and get stared at, commented on, and possibly physically attacked (which happened on occasion).

Why people find hairy women so threatening continues to bewilder me – and why people believe they have some ownership or right to comment on the state of a female body bewilders and infuriates me even more.

And I spent so much time trying to fit into someone else’s definitions of what my body was supposed to be, thinking that in doing so, I could stop the constant comments and perhaps live without being noticed.

The amount of pain and money that went into waxing or laser hair removal is astronomical and ridiculous – because no matter what female-bodied people do, there’s always something else.

The peace with my body came when I decided to transition from female to male.

Suddenly my body and facial hair was a prized possession. There was suddenly a space for the hair, and I was allowed to let it grow freely. I love all my body hair – even if it is a lot – and that love has carried over into my whole self and loving other people.

But here’s the thing: I also began noticing that people didn’t comment on my body anymore. I mean, every so often, somebody on the street will point out how short I am, but by and large, the constant companion of unwanted attention and commentary ceased to exist, and I gained the ability to hide in public that I had always wanted.

In her book Redefining Realness, Janet Mock talks about being the “model” trans person and how that can be both a reaffirming and tokenizing experience. When I first come out to folks, cisgender people inevitably comment on my moustache and arm hair as a sort of trophy I carry for being a “good” trans person who passes well.

This makes me bristle sometimes. I pass easily – and in many ways, I’m thankful because I wanted to be “normal” for so long, but it is not something that I take lightly.

It comes with the necessity to talk about how completely messed up it is that other people’s bodies are so monitored and policed. It comes with not being silenced about how my female body was treated and how female bodies (both trans and cis) are still being treated right now, as I type this.

The thing that I’ve come to is that all bodies are strange bodies – all bodies are queer. To be embodied is to be queerly embodied because there’s all sorts of hairs growing, and teeth showing up in brains, and trick knees, and runny noses. There’s asthma and allergies, dwarfism and diabetes.

We are all kinds of shapes and sizes and we have all kinds of desires and worries. No one’s bodies fit our expectations.

There is something “wrong” with all of our bodies. In fact, there’s so much wrong with human bodies that you could say that abnormality is what’s normal, what’s human, and ultimately, what’s powerful and beautiful.

Further, we can dismantle and discredit the systemic and abusive control of bodies – all bodies – that happens through patriarchy, and racism, and homophobia, and all other oppressions that attempt to limit and ultimately destroy us, all of us.

When I gained male privilege, I had the choice to live in that privilege and become just another dude, unaware of the havoc I’m wreaking and of the oppression in which I’m complicit.

For a while, I did that – and it left me feeling disconnected from my self, disconnected from others, and disconnected from Truth, Love, and Community as I understand those essential, sacred, and life-giving concepts.

When I began to be actively anti-oppressive, I learned that the goal of dismantling oppressive systems and of living in awareness of your own complex web of privilege and oppression is love.

Every moment that I love my own queer body with each and every sacred follicle, the more love works its way into the world. Love is the end goal of the fight for power and against oppression. And if there’s something sorely needed in our world, it is love.

And with this, I roar like the tiny fierce bear that I am, and I bid you happiness and love with your wild and lovely self.

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For more on this topic, read the following Everyday Feminism articles:

Aidan McCormack is a queer, genderfantastic, dork minister who spends his days working to end homelessness of LGBTQ youth and his nights writing, meditating/praying, making good use of his Spotify account, playing video games and thinking of more ways to work with others to save the world. He recently had a dream where Captain Picard and the Starship Enterprise saved Earth from the zombie apocalypse. It was so awesome.