The big day had arrived! Finally I was going to get my first dye job! My whole life (53 years) I’d had my natural dark brown hair color. The only changes that had occurred via sunlight and chlorine from swimming or surfing. Recently some grays had begun to show so I felt somewhat justified in my decision to color it. I had always wanted long styled hair as a boy, but for so many reasons that had always been a non-option. Until about age 7 or 8 my mother had given us the “regular boys” cut. My three brothers and I would be marched into a barber shop like soldiers. She would ask, “4 regular boys please.” A regular boys cut in the late 1960’s was short in the back and sides, trimmed in an even loop around the ears (aka “white walls”) and a little longer on top so the hair could be combed back and parted on the side with brilliantine or some other men’s hair styling pomade.
The only hitch in this plan was that I was anything but a “regular boy.” Every single time we went into the barber shop I wanted to scream and run to protect myself from that hideous hair style being inflicted upon me. All the wonderful hair I had accumulated in the last 8 weeks or so being shaved off by the sadist in the white apron. It was literally all I could do to keep from crying knowing full well what the consequences of that would be among my brothers and the other men seated in that very male sanctuary. I would tough it out and be a good soldier and leave feeling like Samson, his strength and person shorn from him along with the hair left to be swept up on the barber shop floor.
As if this was not bad enough, it actually became worse after my parents divorced when I was 7. Now that my mother was on her own and money was tight, she decided that she would buy herself a pair of electric clippers and save the $10.00 for the four haircuts by doing it herself. Many children have their mothers cut their hair but ours did it with an added level of difficulty. My mother would only cut our hair when she was drunk on bourbon and stoned on pain killers. Due to her terminal breast cancer my mother took an incredible cocktail of pain meds daily. Demerol, Codeine, Percoset and others she’d blend with a tall Jim Beam before beginning. By the time she got the razor out she could barely stand much less cut a straight line. During these haircuts even my normally stoic brothers wanted to run. Seeing Mom coming at you with a pair of scissors and the Wahl electric razor in that state was enough to rattle anyone. Brendan, my younger brother was always first due to his unfortunate place in the line-up. We would literally push him to the front of the line. There was no use resisting, our fate was sealed. It was just a matter of just how bad it would be. Brendan, resigned to his fate in this as in so many other unpopular things was our guinea pig. When Mom was done with him a few minutes later he would come walking out of the restroom eyes downcast his hair butchered into a series of gouges and lop-sided whitewalls. A perverse and butchered version of the “regular boys.” I would have happily submitted to the “regular” humiliation rather than this new degradation. Being the next youngest I walked into the bathroom shell-shocked from having just witnessed Brendan’s fate. Mom tolerated no discussion of why this was happening. If I did resist at all, her pat answer, “do you want to be a pretty boy all your life?” would silence me. Even though I really did, I knew that was an unacceptable answer. To this day though I wonder what would have happened had I answered “Yes.”
Perhaps the most challenging part of these drunken haircuts came the next day at school. Our journey to school on our bikes was a quiet funeral procession. Like the condemned on their way to the gallows there was no conversation. We were all lost in expectation of what was to come when we arrived at school. Wearing our cheap Sears clothing we now had the added offense of looking like we were run over by a lawn mower with damaged blades. Upon our arrival the insults and jeers would begin. “Nice haircut!” This at a time when many of the boys were allowed to grow their hair as long as they wanted. Many had hair half way down their backs. “Hey Benny Goodman!” “Did yer head get caught in a blender?” “Hey Jarhead!” Taunts rained down. Regarding our anachronistic style, our Mother advised, “Don’t be such followers.” We certainly weren’t although we longed to be. By about lunch time each of us would have made our way into the principal’s office for fighting when we finally lost our temper. It was a sorrowful thing for the child who received our pent up wrath. Each one of us had long ago been identified as “dangerous” due to boxing lessons given by older brothers far larger than any of our schoolmates.
Fast forward now 40 years and I sat under a hair-dryer in a beauty salon, my newly dyed long dark auburn hair setting. I looked around unable to hear anything as the blower drown everything else out. My eyes took it all in. The women in the salon talking, cutting, grooming and just being women. A world so long alien to me I was now able to cross into with ease. The journey that had seemed unattainable would now be just part of my normal routine as so many other uniquely feminine activities had. I marveled at it all and to my changed attitude towards it. Conversations that not so long ago would have been excruciating I now enjoyed. Children, clothes, fashion, gossip had all become part of my experience and felt as natural as I had discussing the latest event in the Surfing or some other adenaline filled male pursuit. My stylist and I discussed kids, her father’s illness, getting old, breakfast favorites, local music, make-up and hair care with equal interest. I chatted and the words flowed effortlessly. I sat in the chair, hair slicked back with dye in the most unattractive way without fear that a man would see and judge me here. This was where women went to achieve the beauty men and society required of them. A safe place where any woman or female spirit might come and be welcomed as a sister in the timeless mutual grooming ritual. Even after 52 years as a man I was welcomed like any other woman.
My mother had passed away when I was 14. For a few years I grew my hair longer but by the time I was 18 employers would no longer tolerate it. It wasn’t until I broke into being a full-time professional Artist around the age of 25 that I grew it back out. During the next 10 years it was often halfway down my back. At 37 when my wife divorced me the male spirit rose in anger over having been deceived and in protection of my place as a father to my small children. The hair came off in preparation for that battle. My 3-year old daughter administering the first lopsided cut across my pony tail. A stylist cleaned it up the next day and for the next 10 years I wore my hair short as I attempted to be the protector my children needed. Part of this was intentional and part was the result of hair loss. At around 40 my hair began to fall out and thin. I was horrified.
At 43 I had my first hair transplant. It helped with the recession on the sides but it was clear that I would need to take medication to stop the thinning as well. Rogaine entered my life. I was unaware that it also stimulates hair growth everywhere on the body. My God, what a dilemma for a female spirit! In order to stop my hair from thinning I had to become a Sasquatch! I began to disappear into a blanket of fur. Shoulders, arms, chest, back, neck, ears, you name it. Keeping it at bay became a full-time job. My eyebrow and nose hairs seemed to spring up like small trees over night and removing these deeply rooted specimens felt as if they were attached to my brain-stem. Something else had to be done!
I discovered laser hair removal at age 44. I found a company about an hour drive from my home that would remove all my body hair in five 2-hour sessions of pain 6 weeks apart. After shaving the afflicted area, the nurse gridded my body with a pattern of dots using a stencil. Each dot about a half-inch apart, they represented a location for the laser to zap the hair follicles in the area. Even though she administered a numbing cream I would sweat from the pain. The only thing that got me through was the idea that I might be released from the hair body suit.
Once completed I felt reborn. Suddenly there was a smooth body in the mirror I was happy to see. I couldn’t believe what joy I experienced feeling the wonderful hairless surface. I began to swim and workout again. I felt younger and more comfortable in my skin. I began to think there might be a glimmer of hope out there for me to be more feminine. Crossing over still seemed impossibly out of reach since I still had a very thick beard that grew down my neck. I could sport the fashionable 5 o’clock shadow halfway through the day.
I began laser removal of my beard at age 48. I started with my neck and worked my way in towards my mouth and up my sideburns strategically. I wanted to keep as much as was necessary to remain male should my goal of being a woman prove unattainable. As the hairs were removed the skin on my face smoothed without the coarse hair follicles disrupting the surface. At about this time I started taking Propecia to encourage my thinning hair to grow back. Slowly as my beard disappeared, the hair on my head became longer and thicker. I became a man with nice hair. I began to find myself more popular among women my age and even much younger. This new popularity led to a romance that held me for a couple of years in limbo. I wondered, maybe this can be enough.Maybe I don’t need to go any further. My partner embraced me dressed as a woman and we would often go out to Gay clubs together. As time went on it became clear we were not otherwise compatible. I began to lose hope for us and along with it my last attachment to being male.
I began taking estrogen at age 50.The estrogen began making even more changes. Even as I began finishing laser removal of my facial hair my skin became softer and my hair even fuller. My body began to change too. My hard lean body began to soften and breasts began to grow. In the pool I began to slow. People I could have beaten easily before now became my equals and then faster. The clock was ticking. The time had come to make the final leap. I scheduled my facial surgery and swam in my local pool as a man for the last time.
Now, facial surgery behind me and living as a woman, the man I was feels like someone else. I ponder the distance I feel from him. It seems strange to me but I almost experience memories of him as if they were another’s life. I’m not entirely sure if it’s just from living this life for the last year as a woman and all that has meant or if the hormones have actually altered my mind. I suspect it may be a bit of both. My body now more and more feminine by the day. My skin is smooth and soft, my breasts a full c-cup, more fat all over and my hair thicker than ever. I sit at the salon my my first dye and cut complete. I look in the mirror at the new me. My hair now a deep wine color, almost burgundy with a chestnut undertone cut into layers that frame my face. My large blue eyes popping even more against the complimentary color. My stylist asks, “What do you think?” I pause for a moment letting it all sink in. “I love it!” I answer. I do. I love the salon and all it took to get here.