We Are All Hairy Beings – Male, Female, Cis Or Trans

Photographed by Maisie Cousins.
I can't find an exact or even a semi-accurate estimate of the number of hairs a human being has on their body. Taking an average from endless online sources, it would seem that we have at least five million hair follicles on our bodies; put another way, a lot less than a chimpanzee, our nearest and dearest relative, but a lot more than a Mexican hairless dog. We are hairy beings, male, female, cis or trans. There is no escape from the hair's growth although we can try to control, tame or eradicate it with degrees of success, and a whole lot of bodily shaming and feelings of unattractiveness.
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If you flick through the Wikipedia page on 'facial hair growth' you are led to believe that men are mainly hairy and that only some women are a little bit hairy. Men develop facial hair as a secondary sex characteristic, while women are also capable of developing facial hair but often after the menopause, and typically far less than men. It goes on to say that men's facial hair is celebrated and women's stigmatised. As an older trans woman I'd quite like a new page dedicated to trying to fit me somewhere onto this spectrum of expectation, and apparent disorder.
I transitioned in my 30s, long after the celebrated beard growth had manifested, so I then had to endure several years of utter pain, discomfort and cost of hair removal that extended from my chin to the very margins of my nipples. Facial hair removal such as electrolysis is approximately £1 a minute. Each hair needs zapping around 10-20 times; in a 30-minute session, the area above your lip will get around a third of its stubbly hairs cleared. As a rough calculation, to be smoothly kissable potentially runs into thousands of pounds. I worked for many years in my 30s just to pay for the mortgage and hair removal. No spare money for holidays, expensive creams, twinkly jewels or M&S pudding splurges – just money for zapping and the cooling relief of a cheap aloe vera cream. I recommend keeping the cream in the freezer.
Hair removal for trans women isn't just vanity or feeling gender-stigmatised, it's an issue of personal safety; having a five-o'clock shadow or long white spiky hairs glinting in the sunlight signals to the world that your body is in flux.
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A five-o'clock shadow covered in foundation is a daily reality for many trans women early in their wonderfully liberating process. For many others, the exorbitant costs of hair removal can mean a lifetime's ongoing battle between new hair growth and a blanket of foundation. I assumed I'd zapped every hair on my face in my 30s and 40s but the older I get, the more stubble appears every morning, like ears of corn waiting to be harvested. It's often only when I'm out that I run my fingers over my neck or chin and feel clusters of hair that seem to have appeared on the walk to the station – maybe the fresh air promotes growth?
Most days I accept and can get past it – I'm freelance and seldom have to sit in people-heavy meetings or tension-filled pitches – but occasionally the stubble floors me. I want to curl up in a ball and stay on the train, going backwards and forwards all day long until the dark of night falls and it feels safe to be on the street. I know there is an element of bodily dysphoria here but I also am self-caring enough to know that it comes from a place of feeling vulnerable, not just from vanity. I have often ended up in Boots or Superdrug buying yet another pair of tweezers and a magnifying mirror and finding a secret corner in which to pluck away; occasionally I pluck too hard and end up reddened and marked.
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Look at the freedom men have to grow full and luxuriant beards. They call it 'fashionable facial furniture', as we're running into corners to pluck hairs we are told are not feminine.

I'm angry that as trans women we feel we have to endure this misogynistic ritual just to feel safe on the streets. Trans women with hair are not marked out as 'hairy' – we become real targets, often for abuse and violence, because people read us as 'men pretending to be women'. This isn't creating an 'us versus them' dichotomy, as the sexism that demands smooth, hairless women pervades all of our internal voices and I know from conversations with my sister that she has been made to feel that she is 'disgusting' for having hair on her legs. It's bloody cruel to demand that one gender spends their entire lives removing hair while the other gets to celebrate their hair growth. Look at the freedom men have to grow full and luxuriant beards. They call it 'fashionable facial furniture', as we're running into corners to pluck errant hairs which, we are told, are not feminine.
I've always found it cruel that funding for gender realignment only includes a minuscule amount of money (enough for 6-8 sessions) for facial hair removal, although maybe not surprising, seeing as how the whole process is part and parcel of a patriarchal, sexist system. Go figure that vaginal depth is prioritised over female safety on the streets.
Recently my energy levels have been really low, beyond the tiredness that being freelance, over 50 and busy often makes me feel. My clinician has tracked this through exhausting blood tests and Q&A sessions, which feel forensic in detail, to a testosterone deficiency which can occur in post-operative trans women. There is not one simple answer to tackling a testosterone deficiency in trans females; issues can occur around hirsutism, the idea of which sends me into a spiral in which I have to juggle my actual health concerns with the dysphoric feelings of being beset with beard growth. It feels like I need to have a grown-up analysis of my hormone levels and hormone types but I'm fearful that might result in the sort of unwanted hair growth that society describes as stigmatising and abnormal.
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I sometimes wonder what it would be like just to let go of that fear. It's not irrational, it's a very real fear, rooted in deep-seated notions of what we as women – all women – can and cannot be, of how we should present to the world and what we become if we fall below those standards. The furore caused if a woman lifts her arms and reveals underarm hair, the apparent shock on teenage boys' faces when, having gorged on online porn, they realise that vaginal smoothness is a job and that women (surprise, surprise) grow hair all over.
Surely, 50 years on from the symbolic burning of bras, we can be honest about hair growth and be kinder to us women who currently shave, pluck, wax, zap and dye to uphold the cruel notion that we are smooth and that those who aren't belong in the modern day equivalent of those circus shows where a woman with a beard was a target for public ridicule. What most men don't realise, I think, is the constant pressure this puts on so many women. If they did, I suspect that at least a few wouldn't ask: 'Are you smooth down there?'
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