Hair: It's a perennial problem for Trans women.
Since opting for this particular life path, I've had a love hate relationship with hair. What I have and what I want are so diametrically opposite, you'd think there was some cosmic joke doing it deliberately.
As they say in show-biz, I'll start at the top: Head hair.
Some people, some lucky, lucky people, have more head hair than they can use. I'm not one of these people. You could say I've inherited the baldness gene. I've always known it was a possibility when I looked at my granddad's extended forehead back when I was little. The baldness gene, I have discovered after extensive reading, is one that turns testosterone into di-hydro-testosterone. That's a very long word, which is why hair scientists have shrunk it to DHT.
I'd imagine hair scientists are all bald. It's probably what attracts them to the discipline.
Anyway…In me, because of my remarkably efficient DHT gene, lots of the testosterone is turned into DHT. I'm blessed in a way, as testosterone is the hormone associated with risk taking and aggression. Sadly, you don't need much testosterone for body hair. As far as I can tell, the only effect DHT has on the body is to kill head hair follicles. Oh! And when you're a foetus, it tells the bits down below to become a penis. If I was in charge of designing people, I'd turn that gene off as soon as you're born.
I tried thickening shampoos, caffeine shampoos before finally relenting and going the hormone route. I discovered Propecia. It's a hormone blocker. It blocks the conversion of testosterone into DHT and is given to people who have a hair transplant to stop DHT from undoing the expensive movement of hair from the back to the front. And top. The side effects are an inability to get prostate problems, slower growth of body hair and gynecomastia. That last one is the growth of breast tissue in men. I looked at those side effects and thought I could take it for the side effects alone! That last particular side effect is rare. I was one of the lucky ones: I started to grow boobs. Back then, I had no intention of transitioning, and my wife was a little unhappy at the thought of more than one pair of boobs in our relationship, so I had to switch to Avodart. Avodart is a bit like Propecia, but instead of blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT, it blocks the production of testosterone, so there should be less chance of boobage.
Cue the discovery of another gene variant. It turns out my body produces more oestrogen than a standard male. Who'd have guessed looking at me now that my body already knew what I should have been? All men produce oestrogen, it just so happens I produce more. Oestrogen is the girly hormone with the side effects of osteoporosis, cellulite and the ability to recognise the use of scatter cushions. Taking the testosterone out of me had the wonderful effect of making my boobs grow all the more! So I had to stop that too, and resign myself to the loss of head hair. That's right, I wear a wig. I had DHT coursing through my veins and killing hair follicles in my scalp with the ruthless efficiency of a traffic warden, and making my forehead grow.
On the plus side, I've been left with a very nice pair of B-cup breasts. It's a shame really, I could have done with a D-Cup. Still, going onto HRT restarted the growth, and a D-Cup is now achievable! I also discovered that DHT kills eyebrow hair. But this is less of a problem as I can draw those back on.
While the hair on my head maybe decreasing, the hair everywhere else continues to merrily grow. In the days when I used to shave it off, I was removing enough hair to stuff all the cushions in Ikea. The other effect of testosterone is the growth of body hair. Fortunately, I don't have a hairy back, if I did, I'd probably cry. However, every other part of my body has decided that hair growth is to be encouraged. Except my palms and soles, that would just be weird.
My body hair is putting up a fight that puts my head hair to shame. While the scalp admitted defeat under onslaught of a tiny molecule, the rest of my body is fighting a rear guard action that would have left me with long luscious locks had the scalp taken any notice. So I have a hair removal regime.
Initially, I used to shave. And shave. And shave.
For my face, I opted for IPL, or intense pulsed light. This is similar to laser, but cheaper. Sadly, you have to finish all the treatment or it's a waste of the money you've already spent. It's like getting locked into a timeshare agreement after popping out for a loaf of bread. I did try electrolysis, and when the consultant asked what it felt like, I had to admit it felt like she was sticking needles in my face; which she was. The IPL has been very successful; I only need to shave once a week. I wouldn't have to shave at all, but I've been left with a small number of transparent hairs that don't absorb the light properly, and won't die. It's a mystery to me how my hair constantly comes up with ways to annoy me! Transparent hairs: Who would have thought of that? I could get these last few holdouts with electrolysis, but as I've already said: it's very painful. No, that's an understatement. It's excruciating.
From the neck down, I'd love to be dipped in a vat of Veet, left for ten minutes then hosed down. Sadly, Veet comes in tubes, not vats. I did used to use Veet. I wish I'd bought shares in that company before I'd started, as I can go through an entire family sized pack of the stuff in one go. Sadly, Veet only really lasts a week, and it really hurts if you get it on your nipples. So I switched to an epilator. This is an electrical device invented and designed by medieval torturers. The rotating head grabs hairs and rips them from your skin. Legs, arms, torso, my war with hair was taken to a new level; I was both the battle ground and the victim. Once every couple of weeks, I'd pluck up the courage to pluck, and epilate a part of me that needed doing. I have to be alone to do this, as it is very loud. Not just the machine, but my screams. I think it is powered by a jet engine.
Given how painful it was, I bought some waxing strips. I then spent a lovely afternoon in the shower peeling off strips of wax paper where it had shredded on initial pull. It also wasn't very effective, or easy, due to the poor design of the human body. So I decided to visit a salon, and get it done professionally. The single best move I have ever made in my war on hair. Don't get me wrong, salon waxing hurt like hell at first. But like the IPL treatment, there's a nice lady there that I don't want to break down in tears in front of. It's the last vestige of my male pride. Salon waxing is very effective. I'm left smooth for a month, easily. I go once every four weeks for arms and torso, and once every five weeks for legs. Why my leg hair grows slower is a secret I'd like to know the answer to. It also has the advantage that she can see and rip hairs from places I didn't know existed. It also doesn't hurt quite so much now, as she's not only ripped the hairs out, but also taken a number of nerve cells.
I do still use my epilator, but only on my underarms. And I also still use Veet, on what I will politely term 'crevices'. A major argument against Intelligent Design is some of the places hair grows. Some of it is frankly unhygienic. Fortunately, I only need to do those areas twice a year. It's fortunate because it's like sitting in a very hot curry.
Hormone replacement therapy has been quite handy in the fight against hair. I still need the waxing, I still need the occasional shave, but now I have boobs, so everything's all right. I've conceded the battle of the head hair, but I think, overall, I'm winning the war.