No Shave November is right around the corner!
I’d like to use this time to raise cancer awareness by sharing my own experience as an (unofficial) NSN participant last year. My hope is that this might inspire others to participate in their own awareness & fundraising efforts, practice self checks, and/or donate money to NSN, other preferred cancer research organizations, or specific individuals/families fighting cancer.
I am not in the habit of asking for money on this blog, but if you would like to donate to the brave individual who inspired this post, please do so here. As a single mother, the financial strain of healthcare and uncertainty is not easy and every little bit helps in her battle against breast cancer.
Let’s kick cancer’s ass!
Why write about cancer on a SEX blog?!
A couple of years ago, one of my best friend’s older sisters found out that she has an aggressive form of breast cancer. She has recently finished chemo and is currently in recovery from a double mastectomy & lymph node removal, followed by a couple of surgeries to combat infection. The next step is radiation. Marci is literally coming at this with everything she has… and yet, she still has a moderate chance of the cancer returning within 3 years.
Many of my teenage memories are wrapped up with this friend and his family. In some ways, his older sister became a motherly figure to me, just like she was to him. To this day, she still has a habit of checking in with me simply because she “has a feeling” that I might be struggling — and strangely enough, she is often right.
But suddenly, when Marci was diagnosed, she became the one who was struggling…and I felt powerless to help. After making a donation to her crowd-funding campaign, I did the only other thing that sprang to my mind: I decided to participate in No Shave November. My idea was that I would raise awareness (and hopefully some money) by writing about the experience on my blog — where I conveniently discuss gender & body image on the regular. Of course, I didn’t expect it to be the following year before I found the time to write again.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. That amounts to nearly 247,000 women every year — as well as approximately 2,600 men. (Cis-normative stats because that’s what’s available, of course.)
In the past, No Shave November has been seen as being a bit of a “boy’s club” due to the social stigma surrounding hair & femininity. Let me be the first to say: Fuck that noise. The very concept of stigmatizing someone based on their adherence (or refusal to adhere) to gender norms is ridiculous. However, I also understand that it is still very much the reality that we live in. And as someone who identifies as non-binary but is constantly assumed female, I believe that it is precisely because of this stigma that I have power within this campaign. By swearing off the razor, I can leverage my own femaleness to attract attention and start important conversations about cancer.
If I can… You can too.
I’ve spent a long time hating my body hair.
I started shaving my legs in the 5th grade. I was a cheerleader at my elementary school and I remember feeling incredibly embarrassed when I realized that the other girls didn’t have hair like I did. For most of them, shaving simply was not a reality in their lives yet, just like sports bras & menstrual pads. You could say that I was an “early bloomer.”
By middle school, I had become increasingly self-conscious about my pale skin & dark hair. My arms reminded me of a man’s and I felt powerless to change or to hide them. I panicked over the slight hint of a happy trail under my belly button and obsessively plucked it away along with many other stray hairs across my body. I became increasingly paranoid about visible stubble and started shaving my armpits every single morning — even if that meant buying special moisturizing deodorant to combat the constant skin irritation.
In 7th grade, I got my first serious boyfriend. He was 2 years older than me and I thought that I was the luckiest girl in the world. We would make-out on my parents’ couch for hours, and one afternoon, I looked down to see that a pubic hair had found its way onto the bottom of my shirt. I was mortified. He didn’t say anything (at the time), but I still remember how I ached to return my body to the little girl aesthetic that I had just outgrown. I started shaving my pubic area almost immediately thereafter.
As an adult, I’ve wasted hundreds of hours abiding by the same hair removal rituals that I started as a young teenager. It has only been with my current partner that I felt secure enough (beautiful enough/accepted enough/loved enough) to cut myself a little slack. Over the course of 6 years, I slowly made the transition to keeping my pubic area trimmed but rarely completely shaven. I started to allow stubble on my legs during the winter months, when the prying eyes of strangers would never see. And I routinely shaved my armpits every other day in the shower — but no more.
Becoming active in feminist, queer, & sex-positive communities over the last few years has introduced me to many female-identifying/presenting individuals who are open about their decision NOT to shave. It doesn’t surprise me like it would have in my teen years, but part of me always wondered… “Could I ever do that? Am I so confident & brave?”
As I started exploring my gender identity, the questions in my mind only became louder. I wondered what role body hair played in my overall gender expression. Would my hang-ups prevent me from appearing masculine someday if that was what I desired? Or would I find that I am miraculously more comfortable in my skin once I finally embraced my human fur? Either way, my anxiety monster popped up to say “hello!”
An Exercise in Sitting with Discomfort
Being anxious about letting my body hair grow rampant may sound trivial & silly (especially compared to the larger topic at hand: cancer). But we are all human, and humans are weird, and I suspect that I am not alone in this.
My month started with a weird detachment & discomfort with the appearance of my own body and an increased need to hide under layers of clothes. I also found myself battling a purely habitual urge to shave. At first, I figured that I would fail simply from a prolonged moment of distraction during my normal shower routine.
As my hair continued to grow well beyond the point of stubble & further into uncharted territory, I questioned my own negative feelings and their relation to my budding non-binary gender identity. Did my hatred of more “masculine” body hair invalidate me in some way? Could I appear generally feminine and still be accepted & viewed as “non-binary enough?” Or would I be instantly flagged as someone who simply wants attention or to be different?
And then there was the whole love issue. What would this do to my relationship if I did grow to enjoy a more masculine gender expression? My partner (though otherwise quite supportive of my journey) had already shared a mild distaste for my new fuzz. And in response, I instinctively pulled back sexually, afraid of rejection & disgust. The fear voice amplified throughout my mind, harshly begging the question: “He is straight. Is there still space for you if you are no longer strictly a woman?” Gender & sexuality are messy, folks.
Yet as more time passed, my strange sense of detachment eventually morphed into not giving a damn. I still looked forward to the day when I would be able to shave again, but in the meantime, I learned to accept the naturalness of my body. And as it turns out… I didn’t run straight for the razor on December 1st; I waited patiently until a day when I had enough spare time to dedicate to the taming of my underarms, legs, and pubic area. To my surprise, hair had actually become meaningless.
Finding Permission & Continuing the Fight
For the most part, how I have chosen to groom my body hair over the last year has not really changed that much. I may allow a few more days to pass after I start noticing stubble, or I might decide to wear yoga leggings to the gym even if my calves aren’t completely smooth. …But then there are some days (like today), when I realize that I can’t even remember the last time that I shaved my pubes. The difference is that I simply don’t care most of the time.
If I don’t shave, it only means that I get to laugh it off & embrace the dreaded “hairy feminist” stereotype. And if I do shave, it doesn’t detract from my identity as a non-binary individual or from my androgynous appearance. All of that is ME.
No Shave November most definitely provided me with an unexpected opportunity for growth & self reflection; an experience that is very fitting for a blog that deals with gender & sexuality. However, that is obviously not the importance behind this campaign – and it has nothing to do with why I will be participating again this year. Rather, I will use this as a starting point, a platform, a way to attract attention to the larger issue.
This November, I will be donating once again to Marci. I will be even more vocal in my personal life & on social media about participating in this campaign. I will try to overcome the last residual days of body image anxiety and wear clothes that make my body hair more visible — especially towards the end of the month.
And I am asking others to join me.
Whether or not you are able to donate or participate, please do me a favor: Learn how to do breast self-exams and perform them monthly. Educate yourself – even if you don’t have breasts, but your current (or future) partners might. It is not uncommon for a romantic or sexual partner to be the one who discovers a lump or change in breast tissue. We should all be in this together. <3