Last week, I got my hair cut by a professional for the first time in over 20 years. Why haven’t I done this sooner?! I was aware that I had acquired some stubborn habits around my hair, and I was planning to go to someone to intervene, but it still took me a long time to follow through and book an appointment.
Hair salons / barber shops are one of the most gendered spaces someone can enter. That is the biggest reason I’ve avoided them for so long. I have never been to a barber. Starting at age 8, I decided I needed my hair cut short, like a boy. My mom took me to Hairzoo, a unisex salon with 8 locations in Western, NY (and, strangely, one location in Santa Monica, CA). I just wanted a fucking bowl cut, but the stylists, every time, talked about a “feathered look,” tapered down to the neck, etc. I kind of hated going there as a kid, but I tolerated it because it was the best avenue toward the ultimate goal of keeping my hair short. As I got older, my mom met a friend who did hair, so we’d go to her kitchen and I’d get my hair kept short.
At age 18, a friend buzzed my head for the first time, and I immediately knew I needed to procure my own set of clippers.
I got my hair cut professionally one final time, at age 19, at a salon in my college town. It wasn’t a bad experience. Actually, it was probably one of the best hair styles I’ve ever had – I had bleached hair at the time which was growing out. Long natural brown roots. I asked the stylist to keep the tips of the blonde, and she actually followed my instructions, and I had a cool frosted effect (am aware this fashion trend is very much dated. But in 2001, it looked awesome!) The person I had a crush on, who didn’t talk to me much, complimented me on my hair shortly after this cut. It doesn’t get much better than that!
A few factors contributed to me never going back in there though: I hated the “culture” I had walked into when I went to that salon. Too many ladies and women talking too much and too emotively, basically. Plus there was the price factor. I didn’t have the spending money, as a college student, to keep doing that. So I pulled out my clippers and any pair of scissors I had laying around and hacked away at my hair every so often until I actually got pretty good at it. (Getting kinda good took a while. I definitely had some hair disasters. I usually went for either a mohawk or bowlish cut / undercut. One time, I shaved everything off completely, down to using a razor.)
The mohawk eventually morphed into a mullet-hawk and then just a full on mullet. I have been rocking a mullet for a solid 15 years. I stopped bleaching it about 15 years ago as well. It was ravaging my scalp. But I did pick up another bad habit around this time: a friend emphatically stated that he stopped using hair products. Only baking soda as shampoo and apple cider vinegar as conditioner. I followed suit because I didn’t know whether hair products were working for me and there are just way too many and I liked the idea of being stripped bare. And also getting rid of fragrances. I started the regimen but quickly discarded the vinegar – too smelly – in favor of a fragrance-free conditioner. But the baking soda stayed. It was a point of pride.
In retrospect, it was probably drying out my hair and scalp like nothing else! For so long!
I started testosterone in 2013, and it’s brought on two major changes to my hair: It suddenly made my hair very, very curly (it had always been wavy, but now we’re talking sausage curls inverting inward toward infinity) and a receding hairline. The receding hairline has been such a concern that it’s been the major reason I’ve gone on and off T, over the years. (I finally started taking Finasteride a month ago – it has yet to be determined whether it’ll help, long-term.)
Anyway, jump back in time to just a week ago. For months, I had been toying with the idea of at least consulting with a professional, if not actually letting them cut my hair. And I had someone in mind – someone who is an acquaintance, so at least I already know them, and they’re an expert on curly hair, and they curate their space to be non-gender specific, and they work alone. Pretty much, the perfect person. I booked the appointment. I kept the appointment.
And, I’m so super happy I followed through. We talked about habits I’d been doing for years, if not decades, that haven’t been working for me. She verified baking soda is no good regularly, but could be good as a cleanser, maybe monthly or so. She suggested some products that are known as “no-poo,” basically shampoos that don’t foam up, act more as conditioners, and maybe that’s all I’d need. And I told her about how I’ve barely cut my hair in a very long time, maybe just 1/8 of an inch to take care of split ends, but I’m aware that’s not nearly enough but I can’t get myself to cut more because I just want more of my hair in light of the receding hairline and I pull hairs from the back and sides forward in an effort for more coverage and it’s really not working for me, not to mention my split ends and knots. (Wow, OK, that was a run-on sentence!) She acknowledged that it made sense I was trying to do the things I was doing. Then she proceeded to start cutting (after I consented to that) and it was like AN INCH OFF! and I was a little freaking out. Until I realized it made almost no difference in actual hair coverage. It just looks smarter and cleaner. And, no one in my regular daily life has yet noticed I’ve gotten my hair cut at all, which to me, means it’s a resounding success. Because I didn’t want my hair to look much different. I just wanted to clean it up and learn some ways to take care of curly hair. I want healthy hair, now, and I think I can achieve that. Maybe I can actually coax it to grow longer, over time. That’s the dream! I tipped her 40%. I’m pretty happy overall.
My hair is the longest its ever been. It’s also only 3/8 of an inch, on the sides. I cut and buzz it myself. I’m not sure whether it was a conscious decision (probably partially conscious), but as my face has become more masculine, I’ve grown my hair out in the back so that it falls over my shoulders slightly. Also, it has gotten a lot more curly since I’ve been on testosterone.
I was initially on a low dose of Androgel for a few years, and there were really only 2 reasons that I stopped, in December of 2015: 1) I wasn’t sure what it was doing for me, at that dose, anymore. And 2) Was it causing my hairline to recede? That was totally freaking me out!
Two years later, I was ready to give testosterone another try. The pros I envisioned (lowered voice, redistribution of fat and muscle, heightened libido, bottom growth) outweighed the cons I was pretty sure I’d come up against (feeling hotter, sweatier, potential hair growth and hair loss.) And now that it’s been close to a year and a half, on a “regular” dose of injections, I’m still “in it” with that balance. I don’t love all the changes. But I love some of the changes more than I dislike others.
Hair is a big factor. Probably the biggest factor at this point. I’ll start with the easiest, most fun change:
Happy trail!!! I’ve always wanted a happy trail, and now, finally, I have one. That’s all I got to say about that. It is awesome!!!
Facial Hair: I do not like the increased facial hair at all. I regularly – daily – pluck out chin and moustache hairs with tweezers. I kind of love this activity – it’s satisfying to grab and pull out, one-at-a-time, each hair. However, it’s more and more time-consuming, over time, as I have more to pluck out. In addition, I’m sure I’m missing a bunch, especially finer hairs that can be seen in the sunlight. Is this OK? I guess for now, but it is a fine balance. You know that old belief that may or may not be true? That if you shave, the hairs will come back in thicker and darker? I kinda believe that. I don’t want to take that chance with my face. Also, I’m not ruling out electrolysis, as a long-term solution, if it really feels that overwhelming in the future.
Hairline: My hairline has definitely changed since being on testosterone. I have a much more pronounced “widow’s peak.” This is worrisome. Balding definitely runs in my family. I feel vain about it. As of now, I just arrange the curls on the top of my head so that they fall forward, curly bangs covering up male pattern baldness. But I’m not sure if I get to do this forever. Probably not.
I also got some hair growth going on in other parts of my body, like my lower back and legs – all this feels neutral and natural. I’m neither bothered nor excited about it.
I’m actually leaning toward lowering my dose now, as it gets warmer out. I don’t want to feel overheated and smelly and sweaty. And if a lower dose will slow some of the balding down, I’d probably feel better about it. As long as my menstrual cycle doesn’t come back – that’s the balance I’m aiming for right now… I’m sure I’ll feel differently at other points as well, but this is where I’m at.
I have a mild case of trichotillomania. It’s come and gone during different times in my life, and it’s always been specific to the hair on my face, not on my scalp.
Trichotillomania, to paraphrase wikipedia, is an impulse control disorder, also known as “hair pulling.” It’s generally triggered by anxiety and stress, and is usually treated with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy.)
In the past, I have honed in on eyebrow and eyelash plucking, using my thumbnail and pointer finger-nail as tweezers. It hasn’t been bad over-all, like I still have eyebrows and eyelashes, it’s just that my left eyebrow is a little bit sparse. It’s barely noticeable.
I also would get chin hairs, from time to time, starting in adolescence, and I would pluck those too, with my fingers or tweezers. This was, apparently, “pro-social” behavior, because I was socialized as a female, and therefore, it’s necessary to eradicate any hint of a mustache or “chin whiskers.” ??? I mean, there’s a whole industry just devoted to that – bleaching the “mustache,” laser-hair removal, waxing, etc. Blah!
Still though, I keep pulling those hairs out not as a gendered statement, but rather because I liked the sensation of getting at them from the follicle, that very specific and very minutely visceral feeling of a “pull” away from something rooted underneath some of the layers of the skin. It’s much more satisfying to get them with my fingernails, but I also use tweezers, so I can get ’em all! The reason I’d say it’s within the realm of “trichotillomania” is because I will do this out in public and I can’t seem to get myself to stop. It’s not just in front of my bathroom mirror. It’s during break at work, with people sitting in the same vicinity. It’s during a meeting, because I am bored. It’s during a movie with a stranger sitting two seats away. Etc. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a big deal. It’s a rough life to be constantly conforming to societal standards, at least in my opinion…
Facial hair, for me, is a hard limit. I do not want a beard. If I have a shadowy mustache, that’s fine by me, but that mustache never stays for very long before I start plucking out each hair individually. It’ll always happen eventually.
Now that I’m on a regular-ish dose of testosterone, I am getting more facial hair. And I just will not give in and shave. First off, I don’t feel like it! I prefer my methods, even if it ends up taking 10 minutes per day – more or less – to “groom” my face. Secondly, I do think that I believe that old wives’ tale, on some level, about the more you shave, the thicker and darker the hairs will fill in. I do not want to do anything that could potentially promote more facial hair growth.
I do realize this is a little bit counter-intuitive (is that the phrase I’m looking for?) Like, most people who are taking testosterone are embracing the full effect, whatever that means for them. But as someone who is non-binary, it’s a little trickier. Like, I like this effect, but this other thing screams “masculine” a little too loudly, and I’m not really feelin’ it. Something to that effect.
If my facial hair growth ever did start to feel unruly / out of my control, and / or the “grooming” ritual were creeping up toward closer to a half hour per day, something like that, I would not rule out laser hair removal At this time, it just seems a little too extreme, expensive, and unnecessary. But, hey, with this kind of journey, sometimes you never know what is coming up next!