I grow a lot of body hair.
Not a truly atypical amount for an assigned female, estrogen-influenced person’s body, just kind of… a lot. My hair is thick and dark, so it’s noticeable as soon as it grows in – on my legs, under my arms, along my forearms, between my tits, in a trail down to my mons pubis, and all over my pubic area itself. These are all very typical places for an adult mammal such as myself to sprout hair.
The conundrum is whether I should keep it.
The obvious answer, the one that everybody I ask defaults to, is that it’s my choice, and I should do whatever makes me most comfortable. But therein lies the problem – what makes me most comfortable is changeable and confusing. There are so many components to my comfort that it’s almost indecipherable, and I’m easily overwhelmed – so I figured I’d break down these components in a blog post, partly so that people in similar tangles can come to their own conclusion about their own hair, and partly as therapy for me.
First of all, there’s the gender thing. My gender is… unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll have a masculine-of-centre phase so long, so intense and so dysphoria-laden that I’ll genuinely consider medically changing my body through HRT or surgery… but then the pendulum will swing and I’ll find myself watching hours of makeup tutorials, dressing exclusively in skirts and contemplating growing my hair back out to shoulder length. Equally, sometimes I’m just indifferent to gender and I simply want to do whatever is most convenient. As far as I can tell, my genderswings (y’know, like moodswings, but trans) aren’t linked to any environmental factors (though my masc phases sometimes coincide with lower mood, but that may well be because the low mood is caused by the dysphoria that accompanies my masculinity). There is no way for me to anticipate them, so I just have to maintain a level of androgyny that can be accessorised with to match my moods. Of course, body hair isn’t inherently gendered, but it’s perceived by other people as masculine and it feels masculine to me – so when I run into a masc phase the day after I’ve shaved my pits bare, I’m disgruntled. Luckily, my body hair grows fairly quickly, so as long as a masc phase lasts longer than a few days, I can revel in my hairy armpits for at least a little while.
That is, until the sensory side of it becomes unbearable. Autistic people can be acutely sensitive to particular stimuli – and, in my case, I’m hypersensitive to some tactile inputs. It’s not usually the hair that bothers me, though. I barely register my leg and arm hair, noticing them more by sight than by feel. The two big problems I have are my pits and my pubes. I use stick antiperspirant almost exclusively (due to my lack of proprioception making it inevitable that I’ll get spray deodorant in my eyes or mouth, as well as having lived with an asthmatic mum and then an asthmatic housemate for most of my deodorant-wearing life) and when you apply that stuff to a hairy armpit, it takes an age to dry, and feels slick and slimy for a ridiculously long time. Application to a bare pit, on the other hand, means that it dries in moments, as well as getting all over the actual skin I’m trying to deodorise, so I don’t have to deal with sweaty pits either. (For the record, I like other people’s sweaty armpits just fine, especially if I’m being sorta headlocked into them – but my own sweaty pits give me the bad autism somethin’ awful.)
Meanwhile, the pubes issue is rooted in a deep hatred for the way that menstrual blood interacts with hair, but is also complicated by vaginal discharge, lube and other people’s sexual fluids whenever those things enter the region. I hate having wet and/or clumped-together hair anywhere, but I have some particularly vivid memories of my labia literally being tangled together by menses-soaked pubes back when I used pads (and had heavy, birth-control-free fourteen-year-old periods, rather than the more manageable ones I have now), so now I keep my pubes trimmed out of habit and fear.
The third and final component of this conundrum is the feminist one. I’ve spent this evening researching criticisms of neoliberal, uncritically choice-oriented feminisms for a module I’m doing at uni, and it solidified what I’ve felt for a long while: that blindly advocating for personal choice in all matters is a woefully lacking feminist strategy, since all our choices are going to be influenced by patriarchal bullshit. To painstakingly remove all my pubic hair in an emulation of porn performers’ genitals (which are, as I understand it, hairless for cinematic convenience more than anything else) and insist that I’m doing it solely for myself, without pausing to consider why I think that emulating porn produced by cishet men counts as an act of self-care… it would be naive at best and wilfully ignorant and apolitical at worst. So instead, I have spent many, many hours agonising over what I should do with my body hair, well aware that I’m taking into account my own aesthetic preferences (influenced by pop culture, porn and patriarchy) and those of others (including people who don’t even see my genitals any more!) alongside the factors I deem more “legitimate” like transness and autism. Then I get myself into a spin about why I don’t prioritise my aesthetic preferences (regardless of where they come from) and whether disregarding what I want to spite the patriarchy is still letting the bastards win, and, and…
And it barely matters. It’s a few square inches of hair that always grows back. The people who get to see my genitals are ones who already understand and respect my feminist principles and who understand that free choice under patriarchy is virtually impossible, so, while we should all be as self-aware as we can, we should also be kind to ourselves and to each other, and save our energy for things that have more real-world consequences than “I have once again had to dredge pubes out of the shower drain in order to prevent overflow”. At the end of the day, in this case, I really should do what makes me feel best – and if that means spending a few minutes before each shower doing a little introspection, feeling around for my confused and abstract gender, and prioritising my sensory needs over the bold statement I could make with my underarm hair, then I think I’m okay with that. I don’t need to have a fixed body hair policy.
I just need to be self-aware, and to be kind to myself.