How to Shave Your Face, and Undo Yourself
How many strokes of a razor, the removing of fuzz, can undo gender’s sometimes heavy weight? Drew Zeiba bares their skin in this map of the struggles of hair removal and dysphoria.
I notice the off-color CVS powder foundation caking on thin wisps of blonde hair. My gut sinks. This is the first time the mirror has thrown this – the faint strip of hair now encroaching on my top lip – at me. I touch the fuzz with one finger and wonder if it’s too much, swallowing the thought. I study the fuzz in the mirror, wondering if anyone can see it without being this close. I swallow the thought. I’m far away from myself, falling from the mirror into my stomach, swelling with vertigo. When the inevitable comments come, I want to vomit. I can’t handle the shock of someone noticing the makeup and then, consequentially, and somehow almost worse, the slivers of hair. I swallow the embarrassment and the sick stuck in my throat.
I don’t ask my father how to shave. I don’t ask my father for advice. I feel shame churn in my stomach at the thought of asking him to see me like this. I imagine swallowing the embarrassment and tonguing an apology. Eventually, I buy a razor. It’s my own little secret, stashed away in a plastic bag in the back of the medicine cabinet, left to fester. At last ready or fed up or maybe both, I finally apply shaving cream in uneven globs across my face. I am not standing side-by-side with my father. I refuse to let this ritual enter myself. My father is likely now watching TV in the other room. Perhaps there is a commercial of a man with a wide chest and strong jaw ceremoniously swiping a razor across his cheeks. Perhaps the razor advertised is supposed to be a technological marvel. Perhaps I saw myself fucking the man shaving but not being him, never. I bleed unceremoniously from my chin, my upper lip, my jaw. I do not let anyone know what I have done. I want to swallow the blood, pink with the residue of shaving cream. I want to mouth hello to someone not yet there.
How to Love Someone Who Shaves Their Face
I watch him as he shaves. I watch him withdraw from me with each swipe of the razor and pulse of my accidental cock. I feel his stubble on my shoulder when I sleep, so much fuller than my own. My mind slices open the difference. I dream of shaving cream. I dream of him spreading the shaving cream on his face in front of a fluorescent-lit sink, open to the whole apartment, while I watch in the mirror from behind. I guzzle up the reflection. I think about shaving cream and easy similes. I give them up. I feel this is what you were supposed to want and watch each descent of the dollar store razor as it opens up sluices of liquefied foam. I give up like and as and swallow the arousal. I feel his chin and think about the impossibility of having a face. I hold the difference. Give it up.
How to Shave Your Face
I exhale. I’ve made the mistake before of thinking that because I have completed step 1, because I am so used to this, that it will be easy. It won’t be. I’ll still miss the spot where my neck becomes chin or maybe visa versa. I will still always cut my unfortunate Adam’s apple and think isn’t it pretty fucking unfair? Isn’t it pretty fucking unfair that I’m bleeding and still the few stubs of dark hairs remain, taunting and scratching at the folds below my face? Repeat as needed.
How to Have a Smooth Body (1)
The first Nair job does not go well. I smother my chest and stomach in the lukewarm cream and it immediately begins to burn, tricking me into thinking it’s working. I was vaguely embarrassed buying the cream at Duane Reade (along with my prescriptions, even more revealing than the Nair). I was equally ashamed for the hirsute cause. I had tried the drug store wax first, just winding up gooey – an accidental pink lump of forestalled post-gender aspirations.
After fifteen minutes, the Nair is still burning. I hop into the shower and rinse off the green-white mess. Of course, I have been punished. Red splotches traverse my chest, itching and peeling. My nipples are tinged with a vague itch and my head is hot with the terror of being stuck looking like this all week.
I take cold towel and salve and lotion to my flat chest in the hope that I don’t look so intentional. My body is intentional, but it was, after all, not my intention to have the thin spattering of straight, one-inch hairs across a chest that never grew breasts, and perhaps never will. Repeat as needed.
How to Have a Smooth Body (2)
I want to be noticed for being smooth. I keep rubbing my fingers over the slight cavern in my chest and my hairless navel, thinking to myself this is how it’s supposed to be. I have myself already. I knew how it feels to myself, but I want to be seen, recognized. My partner doesn’t notice and I feel as if I wasted my time. I get mad at myself. Why can’t I just have done this for myself. I try to pretend that it isn’t all about something more. I try to tell myself it will make me more attractive. That I need to be more like this to be fucked, to be loved. I obsessively refresh Grindr in hopes of some indication that this makes me more anything. I’m small, I look young – I tell myself I’m certain this isn’t about some notion of femininity – the hairless and hair removal as traditional and staid as it might be, is about me being some ideal twink. I try to believe it’s about being fuckable and then about my being worthwhile at all in some low self-esteem cluster fuck in my head. In a perverse way, turning my ideas onto their own head in order to make it make me a better man, the right kind of boy to be wanted. I tell myself I want to be wanted, that I need to convince them, the imagined men, that I deserve to be wanted as a man, nothing more.
How to Undo Yourself
New rituals only beget new fears. There’s no return, or at least I can’t return to a before of being bodiless, of being unbodied, of being outside of hair and cock and fear. There’s no world outside of father begetting son. Every time I shave, I am shaving two bodies. I am two bodies wide and just moments shy of shaving my legs into a womanhood that I can never have and ought never to believe was all that could be. It is not mine, I convince myself, but still I lay awake pulling out the straight, tawny hairs around my nipples one by one as if suddenly I will become incorporeal, as if suddenly my body will become after the fact; everyone will recognize it as an accident and I too will be accidental – incidentally slipping into a self that never was but still is waiting to be.
This is not how it works, however. There is no way to rescue yourself by shaving or refusing to, there is no way to rescue yourself through some parts and not others, there is no way outside of having a body and, even if there were, its history would echo into yourself, or, I mean gender would echo outside my self in constant dissonance through leg hair or smooth calves – each demanding a labor I don’t wish to perform, that I fear I can’t perform despite doing it every day, every second, every time I fail to forget there isn’t a hole where the self meets the world, that there isn’t a wholeness to being in the world when every body, every baby comes out screaming, always already in half – an accident that might only promise a finish. An accident that remains unfinished still and I think perhaps this razor blade might finish me; oh, not so melodramatic, but a safety razor only to skin or Nair to flesh as if there is some answer in new rituals when all the new method does as index what is and thus what can never be.
How to Stop Trying
I realize I won’t ever be content, or, that I am already as content as I might be. Weft in and across my body, myself is the impossibility of being – hairless or not – in a body and in a system of belief and power that absurdly strives to make the hair’s presence or absence a meaning greater than simple bodily fact, more than genetic accident. There is no winning when to have the hair is to be wrong and to remove it only reminds you of what was. The circumstances of belief that let the hair remain, that shave it off, that wax it indiscriminately, that burn it off with sick-scented chemicals, are in fact what ought to be excised and electrolyzed. A spattering of hair across my chest, the performance of the ritual of shaving my face causing such dissonance reveals not “another” gender “hidden within” (as it is often phrased in the cis imaginary), or, better yet, that always already was, but rather a system of power with signs so arbitrary that they ought not sign at all.