I made my way the twelve minutes north and west from my house and parked in the large-enough-to-hold-three-vehicles side of the driveway. Making my way along the north side of the house, the part which contains Arborcrest, I entered to the familiar chime which announced my arrival. As I grabbed a fun-size candy bar from the inviting bowl, Barb the Impaler appeared and greeted me with her cheery, “There she is!”
Easy for her to be upbeat, she wasn’t about to spend an hour of poke after jab after stab of an electrified needle pulling hairs out of her face. No, that would be me on her table. And, this day, we would pass the one-hundred-hour mark in our odd relationship.
The male face holds approximately 30,000 hairs. My best estimate is that Barb has seventy percent of my beard cleared. That would mean that she’s removed 20,000 or so hairs. That’s 20,000 times she has inserted her needle, zapped the root of the hair, and pulled it out. That means I can look forward to about 10,000 more.
Almost every week—usually on Tuesday, so that I can shave for church and then allow my now-sparse beard to grow on Monday and Tuesday, so that the hairs are long enough for her to grab—in one-hour sessions, Barb pokes and zaps and snatches a couple hundred hairs, many which leave me wincing and whining, and then I pay her good money for the experience.
Sadists and masochists got nuthin on me.
I recall the beginning of this long process, how after the first session I could barely see where she had yanked hairs from the tip of my chin; to when I could finger areas which were now smooth; to where enough were removed that I no longer had a five o’clock shadow and didn’t need to cover it with makeup; to where I am now, that I can skip a day of shaving and can run to the store without concern.
I set a goal of being done this calendar year. If I don’t miss more than a few weeks, I should be close to achieving it. After this, the hope is only to have to see Barb once every couple of months, to touch up where formerly dormant hairs have decided to once again grow.
I want to say that I will miss our time together. Forgetting the pain which The Impaler inflicts on me, I can say that I will. Barb is fun and funny, wise and kind and smart. She could put her personality to work as a therapist or bartender, and excel at either one. If a person has to go through a process as lousy as is electrolysis, what a blessing for it to be with someone whose presence you enjoy.
Two weeks ago, I asked her how many of her clients she enjoys, with whom she has good conversation as she works. She said that about five percent are unpleasant, another five percent are always a joy, and the rest are neither here nor there.
Since I gab away every hour, I figure that I fall into one of the two five-percent extremes.
The face presents one of the starkest differences between a genetic male transitioning to female and a genetic female transitioning to male.
When a trans man (genetic female) goes on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), introducing to his system a significant amount of testosterone, in a very short time he can be growing facial hair. For many trans men, significant whiskers appear in a few months. For others, it takes a year or more, or might never grow in well (as happens for cisgender guys, too). As with all things, your mileage may vary . . . er, your personal genetics is the ultimate determining factor.
When a trans woman goes on HRT, she will lose her facial hair in similar time ranges—
Where adding testosterone causes beard growth for trans guys, we gals don’t enjoy the opposite outcome. Though our body hair growth eases—I lost almost all of my chest hair, and my arm and leg hair thinned—our beards just keep-on-keeping-on as if no hormonal changes have taken place.
For most trans women, this presents a host of challenges. Covering one’s shaved face with makeup might work, and it might not. Some have such heavy, dark beards—especially on the mustache and chin—which takes a mountain of makeup to hide and, unless one is a professional artist, one is left looking like she is wearing a bucket of goop.
Even if you achieve good coverage, if you do it early in the day by five o’clock the shadow that’s named for that hour will come shining through. Over the long run, makeup simply doesn’t cut it. Besides, what woman wants a beard? It has to go.
There are two reputable options, but for some folks one of them won’t work; that is, the easier, quicker, less expensive one won’t work. Ugh.
For people with darker hair—that’s right, you redheads, really blonde folks, and those gone gray, have to skip to the second, more arduous and expensive option—laser hair removal is the better choice. In as few as five sessions, and up to ten sessions, of perhaps an hour each, most of your beard can be zapped away. Generally, follow-up sessions over the next years will be needed as minimal hair growth continues.
Laser hair specialists usually claim that this procedure produces a bit of discomfort. For some folks, this is true; the zap of each laser pulse, dozens of times across the entire face, is hardly felt on parts of the face (for example, the cheeks) and produces only a pinch of pain in other places (above the lip, especially). I’ve heard gals brag, “I hardly felt it.” I hated them.
Many folks find it to be more painful. I still had enough dark hair above my lip and on my chin to be able to have laser, and had six treatments. Each pulse hurt so much that I had to hold my breath and grasp my hands tightly together. These sessions only took ten minutes, with a couple of dozen zaps, but I was virtually left out of breath and in a sweat.
So, you know, your mileage may vary with how much pain you experience. If you experience only mild discomfort, please don’t brag about it . . . unless you don’t mind having zero friends.
There are topical pain creams you can apply. Lidocaine is available over the counter and numbs the skin a bit. For better numbing, a cream which is equal parts lidocaine and prilocaine is available by prescription. I wish I knew about this when I began work on my face. Once I started using it, my discomfort was greatly reduced.
Laser treatments are spread every four to six weeks. Hair grows at various times, with some growing and some resting at any given time. That’s why several treatments are needed, and spread out by several weeks. Besides, each session’s zapped hairs won’t fall out until a week or two has passed. (When the time arrives, t’s fun to watch them just sort of flake away. Brushing at them with your finger increases the sense of achievement.)
As for the cost, I know folks who have invested only several hundred dollars to get the job done—they bought a package of deal of something like ten treatments for $600—while it might be more common to break the thousand dollar mark. If you think that’s a lot—I know it is, but just wait—compare it to the other option—electrolysis—and keep reading.
For those with red, really blonde, and gray hair, electrolysis is the only way to permanently remove your hair. For me, that was most of my gone-gray face. Where lasers zap an area—laser head sizes vary, depending on hair density, covering a pen size on up to a nickel size—the electrolysis needle takes one hair at a time.
One. Hair. At. A. Time.
Oh, and by the way, the male face has from 7,000 to 30,000 hairs.
Since I had neither a light nor a heavy beard, I would guess I was in the 15,000 to 20,000 hair range. How many dark hairs did I have, which the laser got? 1,000? 2,000? The whiskers are the thickest around the mouth, and the laser treatments got rid of my shadow, so I benefited a lot from those six treatments. They reduced by dozens the number of electrolysis hours I required.
Last week, I asked Barb the Impaler—she does business as “Arborcrest” and “Barb Clayton,” but I’m onto her—how far along my beard removal is. She hemmed. She hawed. She finally guessed. “60%? Maybe 70%? It’s so hard to guess.”
I sure hope it 70%. As of this week’s hour session, she’s performed electrolysis on me for 91.5 hours.
I don’t like talking about how much this costs. Suffice it to say, Julie and I could buy a really nice used car with what we have invested in removing my facial hair.
I affectionately call Barb “the Impaler” because of how she needles me so badly. The electrolysis is pesky, too. (Cue the rim shot.)
The process works this way: an electrified needle is inserted into a hair follicle, a pulse of electricity is applied, and the hair is removed.
Shampoo bottle instructions are well known: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Electrolysis goes this way: Stick. Zap. Yank. Repeat.
Accent on the Zap and Yank.
About every ten seconds.
Some hair pulls are barely noticeable. Other hair pulls are excruciatingly painful, enough to make me jerk and say “Ow!” Most are somewhere in between. Suffice it to say, I am always glad when the hour has ended.
Because the hair has to be pulled out, one cannot shave for a couple of days ahead of a session. (The opposite is true for laser: shave away!) By the second day, I look shabby. Even with large areas where whiskers no longer grow, there’s plenty left and, despite my appearance in the two photographs, those white hairs are very evident. I try really hard not to schedule anything where I have to meet people those two days.
Looking closely at the two pictures, you can see that the zapped areas are left a bit blotchy, and some of the larger hairs leave little blood spots. It takes a couple of days for this clear up. Thankfully, mine is not so bad that it keeps me from going out in public.
Facial hair removal is the longest process in transitioning from male to female. The progress is painfully slow. Patience is paramount.
When I shave on a daily basis, I am at the point where I hardly see anything before applying my razor, and I can zip across my face really quickly. Gone are the days of exacting work to get a clean shave. Hopefully, in one more year, shaving will entirely be a thing of the past.
My first week as a fifty-nine-year-old just might have been the most event-filled week of my life. Every weekday, I experienced a big step in the long road of transitioning.
9:30 a.m. At Marion County Circuit Court, I was the sixth person called before the judge. My petition for name change was granted. I legally became Gina Joy Eilers.
2:45 p.m. I departed the local office of the Social Security Administration. After an un-momentous number of keystrokes, my Social Security number now showed me as Gina Joy Eilers.
10:00 a.m. I met with three pastors of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the church body in which I was a minister for eighteen years. I previously announced that Julie and I were back to church shopping, desiring to be back in the LCMS. I long to educate LCMS pastors and laity regarding gender dysphoria and what it means to be transgender, and wrap all of this up in sound Christian theology. At this meeting, these pastors learned more about me and trans issues, and I spoke of my long range goals. Since all of this is in the formative stage, I won’t reveal which pastors these are, or where we are worshiping, but I am glad to say that for the past five weeks we have worshiped in a LCMS congregation and have been welcomed to continue worshiping there . . . and, as is my nature, I chat with the greeters, the ushers, and the folks sitting next to me in the pew . . . and no one has freaked out . . . and the walls have not come crashing down.
1:30 p.m. My weekly electrolysis appointment with Barb the Impaler is not unusual, but it deserves mention as an important piece in the entire puzzle which is transitioning. On this day, I received electrolysis which is required for me to have sex reassignment surgery (SRS), which takes me to . . .
3:00 p.m. I had my final appointment with a therapist for the purpose of securing a second therapist’s endorsement so that I can qualify for SRS. Because this surgery is so significant in the life of a trans person, World Professional Association for Transgender Health standards call for two therapists’ endorsements. After my second appointment, this therapist agreed with my previous therapist’s assessment that I am a candidate for SRS and is writing my endorsement letter.
8:30 a.m. After a hiccup early Wednesday afternoon, when the BMV told me I did not have the correct form to have the sex changed from M to F on my drivers license, I returned to show them that I did, indeed, have the correct information, that they had missed an “or” in their own instructions. An hour later, I departed the BMV with a new drivers license, with a new picture, my new name, and this important designation: “Sex: F.”
6:00 p.m. Last August, I did my first radio interview. That one was not aired live, but for a podcast, with a LCMS pastor and layman. On this day, I did my first live radio interview, with a station in Bloomington, IN, on the bloomingOUT program, which covers LGBTQ issues. It was a blast. I feel very good about how I efficiently answered their excellent questions, providing good insights for folks to learn what it means to be transgender. (A link to the show is at the end of this post.)
5:00 p.m. I had nothing lined up for Friday, so I thought I’d worn out my wonder-week. I walked to the mail box. Flipping through the few pieces, an envelope addressed to me aroused my interest. Going to my usual spot in the kitchen, where I prefer to leave mail for Julie’s attention—unless it is the latest Reader’s Digest, or it can immediately go into the recycling bin—I opened the envelope. It was from our health insurance provider informing me that I have been approved for my facial feminization surgery (FFS). While there should not have been a doubt that I would be covered—I met every qualification—it had been seven weeks since my doctor applied for coverage, so I had been antsy to get word.
FFS will allow me to literally put my best face forward. Looking more feminine, with a female ID, with credit cards that soon will bear a woman’s name instead of a man’s, and on the path to having my body corrected to match my internal identity, and to hopefully have the meaningful work of educating my fellow Christians in the LCMS regarding gender dysphoria and what it means to be transgender . . . well, whew, everything in my life is coming together in an orderly, wonderful way.
And an important aspect regarding each one of these things happened each of the five weekdays in my first week as a fifty-nine-year-old.
Wow. My wonder-week.
I am reminded of a verse from a favorite psalm, the 103rd: “Praise the Lord . . . who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” I am a walking, talking testament to the Lord’s faithful fulfilling of His promises. Through His indwelling Spirit, I apply myself to His Word and to fervent prayer, always seeking to know and obey His good and gracious will. Transitioning seemed like an impossibility for the Lord to bless, but all He does is bless me.
All He does is bless me.
And satisfy my desires with good things.
In my earthly life and in my sure and certain hope of eternal life.
For the sake of Jesus Christ my Lord.
Therefore, I love Him with all my heart. Alleluia!