Face off

One of the many joys of being a late transitioning trans woman is that you have a choice: you can be a bearded lady, you can get used to shaving two or three times a day, or you can have facial electrolysis to remove your stubble. If you’re younger or darker-haired there’s another option, laser hair removal, but it doesn’t work on grey, blonde or ginger hair so that rules me out.

As much as I’m in favour of breaking gender norms the Conchita Wurst beard-blue-eyeshadow-and-blusher combination doesn’t work for me, and I hate bloody shaving. So electrolysis it is.

Electrolysis is a process where a highly skilled technician uses a tiny probe to remove all the money from your bank account.

I’m not kidding. I’ve been approved for 15 hours of NHS-funded treatment. Unfortunately the typical born-male face has around 30,000 follicles, each of which has to be treated individually, and the process takes between 100 and 200 hours over a year or two. For some trans women who have thicker or darker hair than me that number can be as high as 400 hours.

Once you’ve used up your NHS funding you then have to pay for the rest yourself. The clinic recommended by the NHS in Glasgow charges £72 per hour, although there’s a 10% discount if you block-book ten sessions. That brings the price down to £64.80 per hour.

Let’s assume I’ll need 150 hours. Less my 15 hours of NHS funding that’s just 135 more hours: 130 at £64.80 per hour and the remaining 5 at £72 per hour.

That’s 130 x 64.80, which works out as £8,424, plus 5 x 72, which is a further £360.

As a conservative estimate, then, this is going to cost me £8,784.

I’m sure it’ll be worth it in the long run, because stubble is the ticking clock in my Cinderella story: if I’m going to be out for more than a few hours I need to decide what I’m going to do about shaving. I currently shave twice a day, sometimes three times if it’s going to be a late night. But in the medium term it’s awful.

It’s awful for several reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that it’s bloody sore.

Lying on a table for two hours as individual follicles are electrocuted and heated before the hair is yanked out with tweezers isn’t a great deal of fun. It’s particularly awful on bits where there isn’t much fat, such as close to the jawline, and when it’s done anywhere that bit of my face doesn’t calm down for about two days afterwards. For the first 24 hours I look like I’ve been stung by angry wasps.

The literature tells you that most patients find electrolysis mildly uncomfortable rather than sore, but those patients are women and their hair is easier and less painful to remove. Whenever you see electrolysis illustrated it’s always a shot of a serene-looking young woman with porcelain skin, not a middle-aged trans woman shouting JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I FELT THAT IN MY TEETH.

The main reason it’s awful, though, is that in order to remove stubble there needs to be some stubble to remove. And while I’m glad I don’t have the kind of Desperate Dan chin that gives a five o’clock shadow fifteen minutes after shaving, it means I can’t shave for the days running up to each electrolysis appointment – or immediately after the appointment, when the skin is angry.

What that means is that to keep a weekly schedule, I have to spend most of my week presenting male: if I’m getting stubble yanked out of my face on Thursday, I can’t shave after Monday morning and can’t shave again until Saturday. If I do a really good job on Monday morning I can get away with being me into Monday evening, but Tuesday through Friday means presenting male. That’s four days a week of people double-taking at my name, four days a week of trying not to see my own reflection, four days a week that feel like the biggest backwards step imaginable.

I’m sure it’ll get easier once the most obvious bits of stubble are gone and I no longer need to shave them. But for now the prospect of doing this for another year and a half isn’t exactly filling my soul with joy.