If phase one was muscle, phase two is hair. Everywhere.
It is thicker on my legs, a forest on my thighs. There are new patches on the side of my hand. A few eyebrow strands have escaped and are halfway to my head. My face is coming in strong and I stroke it every day.
The first time I shaved my face was pre-testosterone. I had missed my flight and had been given an overnight kit. I went to an accessible toilet and washed myself. I put on the clean white t-shirt they give you. There was a shaving kit and I had twenty-four hours to kill.
It was a private act that took a degree of aloneness to be possible. A large part of expressing as trans has been allowing myself to enjoy what I’m not supposed to enjoy. As an adult, there is a childishness to it too. I was a 33-year-old Home Alone Kevin McCallister. The pleasure, however, cuts deep.
Shaving became a moment to gather strength. As my hair comes in thicker, I’m not sure I’m doing it right. I don’t know who to ask. In a related conversation, a trans woman I know teaches me. She tells me how she did it, to get a close shave. It feels intimate, this exchange of wisdom. There are not many I would have asked and I feel for her; there are not many she would have told.
At boarding school, my leg hairs are poking through my navy tights. I tell myself you can’t really see them. I wear navy for that reason. The girls of girl land wear white girl flesh colours and shave every day. They wear the highest heels they can. A boy calls me Chewbacca and he thinks he’s funny. He’s not a boy of power and I don’t know who Chewbacca is, so it doesn’t stick. Star Wars wasn’t something I watched in Africa. I google it later and I think I realise what has happened.
I have a hockey match in half an hour. My legs are hairy. The bathroom down the hall has a bath and I sit on the edge of it, frantically shaving from ankle to knee. I nick my knee. It feels cold and bleeds all down my leg. I wash it off and run to hockey. Sometimes I hit the ball really hard and it scares the girls around me. The boys on the other field are messing around and smacking the ball with baseball swings.
I shave before walking down to the bank to change my name. I have nice products She bought me as a present. I set them out nicely and keep them in a stylish bag. I love the ritual. I love the products. I love the sound as the razor cuts through the darker hairs on my chin.
When I left school I travelled with just a toothbrush and soap. My leg hairs turned blonde in the Mexican sun. There were moments where people would see my legs and it would alarm them. They would look again to confirm what they had seen. There were lunches where I tucked my legs under the chair and events I wore pants to, to avoid the surprised eyeball.
There was one year, at a summer festival, in the early days of finding women who seek masculinity in other women, that a pretty face looked at me with desire and ran her hands across my legs.
At the bank, the teller is there waiting. I have just read an article on the demographic that is voting No for marriage equality. Older, male, religious migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds. He speaks with an accent, he has a cross around his neck and his hair is mostly grey. When I show him my deed poll document with my name change listed from Ms. to Mr., he throws his hands up in the air and in his accented English exclaims:
I smile across my smooth and high-quality moisturised cheeks. Another older man from a non-English speaking background hacks the system, claiming a damaged card so I can order new cards with my new name.
When I am in England and my parents know me as trans, I shave every day. I shave to contain as much of my trans as possible. I find myself pitching my voice higher. I don’t tell them I don’t need the heater they put in my room, the one I used to find too cold. I cover myself.
The morning after a night spent minding my father, he is just about standing. I hold his elbow to steady him as he faces the sink. He squeezes out the foam and rubs it onto his face, his hands bony and yellow. He tells me about his razor. My uncle first told him it was the best razor to use. Both my uncle and my brother use this type of razor. It’s the best one. I watch him as he shaves. I’m not sure he knows it, but he is answering questions I am only just asking. Shaving is important to him, something he would do at the end of a long-haul flight. I can only think of him unshaven twice. Once, when we drove up the coast and slept on the beach. Twice, defeated, a fortnight before he died.
Sometimes I rub my belly when I am thinking. The hair is gradually migrating upwards and outwards. I run my hand over it like a kind of bristly Buddha. I used to have a smaller version, a slight snail trail from belly button to pubes. It seems dainty now. It was one of the things I didn’t show. Now, when my belly sees the sun, I have to remember that I’m allowed to show it. No one ever looks twice.
Another’s discomfort is packaged in concerns for my health. Like what health concerns? I ask.
You might go bald … and hair might grow on your face … and … and I think that’s disgusting.
And disgusting bounces around my head all night.
I return to Australia and brainstorm a portrait collaboration with Patrick Boland. I want it to be of me shaving, my chest exposed. We go to a barber and he sets the camera up high, looking down onto the chair. The barber, tattooed and bearded, holds my cheeks in his hands as I lay back and look up.
Give me that fuck you face, Patrick tells me.
Header photo of Kaya Wilson by Patrick Boland (patrickbolandphotographer.com).