17 Jan Guest Blogger Tami Meise, “The Hair: My Body Acceptance Story”
Ever since I found out what trans meant, I’ve felt a kinship with trans people. I was born female, but with body fuzz covering every inch of me. To top it off, I sported short curly black hair and a “Nose” (with a capital N) that reminded my older siblings of Al Lewis, the African American boxer. I was told this with good-natured ribbing and a lot of affection, but the racist implications still stung. Why, in a big family where each child felt compelled to earn uniqueness, did I have to be the one with The Nose and The Hair?
School children were – of course – less kind. One classmate in kindergarten dubbed me “the girl with the hairy arms and big nose holes,” and others drew pictures of me as a monkey. I played with dolls, loved singing, reading, art – and boys – but I knew I looked weird for a girl. I felt very much “other” and like a freak. Surprisingly, in that way that children cope and move on, I decided to earn other claims to fame. I got the best grades, won every spelling bee, finished first on every test, and had a couple of wonderful, loyal friends. I even changed the spelling of my name from “Tammy” to “Tami” and insisted everyone at home, church, and school comply. I found tiny corners of self-respect. I enjoyed school.
That is, until puberty. Oy Veh. Puberty. The hair on my legs started coming in very thick and very black. I started shaving when I was 10 even though I didn’t get breasts until I was 14. My prone-to-eczema legs itched incessantly from razor burn or from Nair. I started bleaching facial hair with little green tubs of Jolen that I bought in bulk, turning my black beard into a blonde one. My body grew to a muscular 5’9”, with large hands and feet – a swimmer’s body, had I been willing to expose that much skin.
A defining moment came at 16 when I walked up behind a friend playing a game at the arcade and she ignored me. I felt deeply offended and righteously indignant; after all, we’d shared everything at slumber parties and were good friends. She explained later that she saw someone tall in her peripheral vision (had she also seen my hairy arms?) and thought a boy was lurking over her shoulder. Oh my Gawwwwwd…
Well, that wouldn’t do. I started shaving every exposed inch of skin before I left the house, every day, for YEARS. I cycled through a number of bad boyfriends who couldn’t handle “The Hair” until I found an amazing fellow who didn’t care. He’d grown up with autism and scoliosis and claimed his own triumphs over cruelty. We laughed and flirted, both of us stunned and grateful to have a sweetheart who was kind. That was over 30 years ago.
Since then, this body has lived through weight gain, weight loss, childbirth and menopause, and enough laser hair removal to buy a small car. I’ve met many trans people in the waiting room who were also “regulars.” I put up with the little scabs all over my legs, the itching, the wondering if I was worth all that time and expense because once the hairs all fell out, I was FREE. A smooth, hairless ecstasy only a male-at-birth-longing-to-be-female would understand!
Today, I swim whenever I want. I shave the “strays” when they pop in. The Nose is what it is, and at my age, I’m just grateful for all the things in my body that work. I have a huge, good, blessed life with friends, family, and work I love. A couple of years ago, I found a picture of me that a piano student had drawn and accidentally put inside her notebook. With a triangular skirt…and a beard. She was mortified, but I was deeply amused. I gave her a twinkly, reassuring smile, put the picture back where I’d found it, and moved on. Instead of being offended, all I could think was “wow, look at how small she made my nose!”
Tami Meise is a piano teacher, freelance musician, and hair-growing human.