Forced to avoid shaving my face due to an impending trip to Electrolysis 3000 in Dallas, I am quite a sight. I don’t look much like my old self or my new self, but something hybrid, resisting category. I avoided going to town all weekend and instead got a lot of chores done, but the time came to go get groceries.

I briefly considered wearing a skirt, tight blouse, and makeup, and thought better of it. I wasn’t interested in causing a scene, and I knew that no amount of makeup would disguise the fact that I’ve got 2 days’ growth on my face, diminished though it might be through laser treatments. No, I put in trousers and a work shirt, paying homage to Joyce with diamond earrings. I combed my long hair back and put on a straw hat and then headed out into the world.

At the store, I must say I felt very, very odd — I’ve been Joyce for quite a while, and I felt (and you’ll no doubt recognize the hilarious irony here) like I was in drag, or drab, to be more precise. [If drag is shorthand for “Dressed as a Girl,” then the opposite is drab, or “Dressed as a Boy.”] I still had my backpack purse and my mannerisms and I certainly felt completely Joycean, but I also was aware of being tentative and feeling like hiding, and it reminded me of years ago when I first went out in drag: afraid, tentative, feeling as if I didn’t fit into society at all.

I did my shopping as I always do and talked to the butcher as I bought 4 nice ribeye steaks to cook tonight and I had almost forgotten about the disconnect between my appearance and my essence, when an interesting thing happened in the checkout aisle. I was thumbing through O[prah] magazine while a young woman scanned my items, and the bag boy, a youth of perhaps 16, asked, “Do you like Oprah?”

“Well, I don’t know. I suppose so. Why do you ask?”

“I used to like her,” he said, “but she said some things about religion that really turned me off.”

I told him of hearing a news story on NPR this past weekend about a woman in Chicago who is living the entire year of 2008 adhering to every single bit of advice Oprah gives, whether it be from O magazine, her show, or the internet. This woman was having quite a bit of trouble with it, but found it an interesting exercise.

His eyes got big. “Really? That sounds fascinating.”

“Well, it’s like doing anything to its extreme, isn’t it? That sort of thing reveals a lot about the system you’re adhering to, or studying, if you think of it.”

We started walking out to the car, still engaged in conversation, talking about avoiding the extremes of life, like whether this past weekend’s productivity was better than a couple of days on the hammock.

He shook his head. “I’m going to have a hard time balancing it all it this fall — I’m in a university track at my school, which means I go to school three days a week, but have homework the rest of the week. I have to balance that schedule with my work here at the supermarket, and with my dual-credit courses.”

I told him this 3-day-a-week curriculum must operate under the assumption that the student is self motivated since it can’t use absences or tardies to control students, and he agreed entirely. “I’m very motivated!”

The groceries loaded, he looked warmly at me and said, “Thanks for talking. See you around.”

“Yeah. Good luck balancing all that stuff on your plate.”

As I sat in my car and reflected on my outing, it hit me (although I’m sure it hit you, dear reader, a lot faster than it got through my dense skull) that the reason this bag boy and I were getting along so great is that he was a young gay man and my androgyny and chattiness was taken as a sign that I was a gay man and we were flirting. I didn’t mind it, not being homophobic, but I found myself chuckling at the layers of irony, that I appear to be a scruffy gay man instead of a transsexual woman, that I can’t “butch up” any more, even with a beard, that I am gay in the sense of being in a same-sex relationship with my wife so that that bag-boy got something right, but just not the flavor of my same sex existence.

It was interesting and even somewhat pleasant, and I have one more day of drab adventures before getting to return to my normal self, and that will be quite a relief.

I had a long talk with the boys tonight, just them and me, as Mary Jo’s out of town on horse business. Lane had been saying he was scared that he might not be up to par with the other kids on his new soccer team, so after talking about that fear and how he was likely to do just fine in soccer, I volunteered that one of my fears is that they wouldn’t love me after I transition. Mind you, we haven’t spoken very much — they have had much deeper conversations with Mary Jo. I wasn’t sure if that’s the way they wanted it or if I’m giving off a vibe that says “leave me alone,” or something entirely different.

In any case, I figured this would open up some kind of discussion, and boy, did it. They told me my fears were nonsense because they figured I’ll still be the same and their love will remain the same. We talked about how I’m going to start looking like a woman more and more. We agreed that it was going to be pretty weird for all of us, but that it’s ok to feel weird as long as you know it’s ok to talk about it and ask questions. We made a pact that they can ask anything they want and let me know how they’re feeling any time they want, and in turn, I’ll promise to always be honest and let them know what I’m feeling and doing.

We talked about people like me and how this feeling just gets stronger and stronger as you get older, and really, if you want to be a good parent and spouse and person, you have to face up to it. Ezra looked at my eyes very, very carefully and closely. “I think your blue eyes may be girl eyes because everyone else in the family has normal eyes (meaning brown), but maybe you got part boy and part girl eyes.”

“Good theory,” I said, “but I’m not sure if eyes are a way to tell.”

Lane asked if I would have to get a new driver’s license picture, to which I answered Yes.

I told them that Miles and Khloe, colleagues at the university, had asked me to have a beer with them tomorrow, and that I was going to dress up as a woman, and that it is something I’m going to need to start doing more and more. I said, “You know, I don’t really want to do a lot of girly-girly things in order to become a woman. I’m thinking really of just fixing my hair and wearing some makeup and why don’t we all see how it looks?”

They were intrigued so I asked them if they wanted to watch me get ready tomorrow and see that it’s really just a matter of a wig and a few bits of makeup, and that I’m fundamentally the same person. Yes, they said, that would be really neat. They were very interested in seeing the transformation, so I said, “OK, then I’ll call them and I’ll tell them I can go out as a woman tomorrow.”

We sat on the couch and hugged and talked for a very long time, and it felt absolutely wonderful to be loved and accepted by my children. So tomorrow afternoon, we’ll continue making Joyce a real family member and we’ll see how it goes.

I’m feeling less and less apprehensive about my sister and uncle, maybe because I’m feeling more confident of myself and maybe because I’m feeling so supported by Mary Jo and the boys and my friends that I am beginning to imagine that I can weather anything. In fact, I’m really excited these days–I feel incredibly blessed, which is a real 180-degree change from feeling incredibly cursed a year ago. Isn’t it odd to be feeling so powerful and empowered at a moment when everything should be in complete turmoil?

The difference in electrolysis and laser hair removal is the difference between getting bit by an army of mosquitoes and being blasted by the death star from Star Wars. You can achieve the same goal (i.e. destroying a planet) with the mosquitoes, but it takes a really long time.

Gray hair is immune to the blasts of laser light, and I have my share of gray in my beard, scattered randomly around my face and clustered around my chin. There’s nothing to be done except to get each gray hair follicle killed individually through electrolysis. So in between laser sessions (once every 4-6 weeks), I get electrolysis on my beard.

My operator, a middle- to older-age woman named Opal, does a fine job in 60 minute intervals. I counted a pace of approximately 1 hair per 4 or 5 seconds, thus making our progress 12-15 hairs per minute or 720-900 hairs per hour, which costs $52, or about 6 or 7 cents per hair.

Opal isn’t too talkative and isn’t too quiet — she strikes me as someone who has done this a long time and knows just how to respond to different kinds of people, sort of like a barber.

She lays me down on her table, turns off the big light and turns on her highly-magnified work light, swings it over my chin, and begins. She’s got a foot pedal that she taps 2 or 3 times per follicle, sometimes more, before satisfying herself that the hair is dead. She then pulls it out with tweezers. If the resistance is too much (maybe 1 in 10 hairs), she zaps it again, which always does the job.

It feels like a pinprick or a mosquito bite when she’s applying the current to the follicle. Depending on the proximity of the follicle to a nerve ending, the feeling is sometimes painful and sometimes barely noticeable. After she’s worked in an area for a while, the feeling isn’t so intense, probably because the area has become accustomed to those pinpricks. When she moves to a new area, however, that first zap feels pretty uncomfortable.

It’s easy to doze off, as the session lasts an hour and it’s a bit warm in Opal’s room, so the pain can’t be that great, can it?

An alternative to these 1-hour sessions would be E3000 in Dallas, a service specifically for male-to-female transsexuals. Their philosophy is to clear your beard and neck at every visit, so the first one can be an extremely long appointment. They use 2 electrolysis operators at the same time and they also numb your face with novocaine so you don’t feel a thing. They’re relatively expensive, but more and more MTF’s are using them, even if they fly to Dallas from Seattle, London, or New York — the complete clearing of your beard in one fell swoop is simply worth it.

[See also “What is Laser Like?“]

Scene: upstairs in our bedroom on a Sunday night after the boys have finished their baths, but aren’t really heading off to bed yet. We are lounging on our bed, the kids and Mary Jo and myself, talking about nothing in particular. It’s a warm family scene. We’re comfortable in each other’s company, lying on the bed, hugging, and just talking about family and school things.

Lane, the older one at 11, looks over and sees my wigs (which we’ll probably use forever until and unless the hair transplants work, but that’s an entirely separate thread). “Hey,” he says, enthusiastically, “can I try on Dad’s wig?”

“Sure,” we say simultaneously.

He takes it off the wig form, folds it inside out to see which is the front and which is the back, then tries to put it on. Mary Jo jumps up to help, pulling it into place. Lane looks at himself in the mirror and everyone gasps, partly in feigned excitement, and partly in recognition of just how much a little hair changes one’s image. Lane is obviously impressed and immediately begins prancing around like a girl. “Let me try on the other one,” he asks.

Mary Jo puts on the first one and helps him with the second one, a shorter one with highlights. Mary Jo looks like a member of a band and Lane looks almost like himself, except with really well-coiffed hair.

Ezra, 9, is watching all of this and enjoying it until Lane says, “Hey, you need to try on one of dad’s wigs.”

“I don’t want to,” he says.

“It’s only dad’s girl hair,” says Lane, matter-of-factly and slightly exasperated that Ezra doesn’t seem to grasp this fact.

“I know,” he says. “I just don’t want to.”

“No one has to do it,” I say, “not unless they want to.”

Off they come and back onto the wig forms, a non-event, honestly, but I felt wonderful about the whole thing. I have been thinking that the boys were completely in denial about everything, and yet here they were speaking as if dad’s girl hair was a matter of public record.

We have talked about my need to go “all the way,” and I’m pretty sure they understand that phrase to mean to be living full-time as a female. We’re going slowly, and there will doubtless be huge bumps in the road, but if the kids recognize that it’s still me, the parent who can play after bath time, help with homework, and love them unconditionally, and they know that it’s just medicine that’s making me female, along with a wig that anyone can wear, and makeup that anyone can put on, I’m starting to feel very confident about my home life.

Having been on the receiving end of 5 or 6 laser hair removal sessions, I feel fairly qualified to discuss what it’s like. First, in case you are asking yourself, “why would Joyce want to remove hair?” let me remind you that a large part of physical transition involves moving the body from male norms to female norms. Unless we’re going into the circus, bearded ladies are generally not what we aim to be. Body hair may or may not diminish or vanish under hormone treatments, but beards most certainly do not diminish or vanish. Hence, electrolysis or laser beard removal is called for.

Waiting Room. My place has several rooms and operators, so the waiting room is almost always occupied by one or two waiting clients, almost all women. In fact, I’m the only one of two I’ve seen presenting as male in my experience. This other guy, who appeared to be middle-eastern, was sitting on the couch with numbing cream all across his unibrow. And there was once this guy who was waiting for his girlfriend to get rid of her mustache, if that counts for anything. Anyway, these women are sitting around watching TV or reading magazines and they all have some cream on their face. It’s mostly numbing cream, but this place also does chemical dermabrasion and other things, and some of the women in the waiting room are actually in the middle of treatment. It first amazed me that something so personal would be viewed so publicly, and the area of treatment so obvious. I was quite relieved when we began to do my numbing in the treatment rooms in the back instead of out in the waiting room.

Numbing Cream. First, never, never forgo the numbing cream. You may think you’re tough, but you’re not, I promise you. The numbing cream is applied while wearing a rubber glove because everything it touches goes numb (hence the name). You spread it on the area (beard, neck, chest, arms, or wherever) liberally, then you wait 15 minutes and reapply. I have found that the skin feels weird for hours after it’s applied, not unlike the feeling of numbness in your mouth after a visit to the dentist.

Laser blasts. As in Star Wars and other sci-fi movies, the blast of the laser is bright and destructive. There’s a big machine with a whirring fan off to my side as I lie on the table. The operator also runs a big fan in the room to help keep things cool, as the machine heats things up quite a bit. There is a long hose coming out of the machine where two things happen — the laser light is emitted and a small spurt of cryo-fluid shoots out just before the laser blast. The operator positions this hose, which has a tip attached for broad or fine work, and then blasts you. The first thing you sense is a little pssst of cryo fluid that’s really cold, and this is followed by perhaps a quarter or half of a second by the POP of the laser. The hair having been vaporized, the next thing you sense is this puff of burned hair smoke rising gently from the treatment area, followed by the smell of burned hair. In fact, the whole room is permeated by that smell of burned hair, and it reminded me of branding cattle.

The laser works through differential heating. Light skin and dark hair are perfect. Picture a certain amount of energy shooting out of the laser tip, just balanced so that the light skin doesn’t burn at all, but anything darker gets heated up and burns. If the dark thing is a hair, then it acts as a conductor, just like a copper wire, and transfers the heat down the shaft to the follicle, where the heat boils and kills the hair follicle for good (we hope).

Sensitivity. No matter how much numbing cream you apply, there are places where you just feel a lot more pain than others. Maybe it’s different for different people, but my operator says my experience is pretty much the same as others. On my face, the upper lip is utter hell. One blast and 30 seconds of suppressing a scream, then on to the next blast. Below the mouth is about 70% of that amount of pain, and the center line of the face is overall much more painful than outlying areas. An odd exception to this is the nostril, which my operator asked me if I wanted, and I said “sure, how bad could it be compared to my lip?” and it hardly felt like anything. Who knew that zapping a laser blast up your nose wouldn’t feel bad at all?

On the body, I had expected my nipples to be painful, but it was no big deal. In fact, with a few isolated examples, the whole chest and belly hurt only 10% of the upper lip. On the arms, the upper arm feels like nothing, but around the lower arm in places it hurts about 40% of the upper lip; however, these zaps are not very numerous.

Scope. It took 2000 zaps to do my arms the other day, 1000 per appendage. The chest and belly take about 1000 zaps, and the face takes about 1000.

Recovery. I found that applying an ice pack, or those chemical ice bags for emergencies, right after the treatment really helps recovery. I sit in the car for 15 minutes with this ice bag on my face. We apply aloe to everything (no cream, no oils) and that helps the burning, too. The first day or two the skin can be pretty sensitive, but not terribly so. I sat in a hot bath the other day, forgetting about laser, and my arms really burned when they hit the water.

Collateral Damage (or Benefit). When I was getting my arm hair zapped the other day, my operator said, “you see all these moles and freckles and other things? They’ll all get burned off as a result of the hair removal. Consider it a freebie.” You see, the dark part of the skin attracts the heat of the laser, just as a dark hair does, and they burn up and scab over. They do this same treatment for removal of age spots and that sort of thing. So in a few weeks, we’ll see what my arms look like.

Efficacy. This is a tricky one and I’m not prepared to weigh in authoritatively. The laser obviously works, but you don’t clear all the hair at once. Some of the hairs just avoid destruction somehow. And other follicles happen to be dormant, and don’t have a hair sticking out of them, and thus have no dark conductor for the laser heat to travel down. Some hairs (like all those gray ones on my chin) are too light to provide a difference in color, and thus are unaffected by the laser.

[See also “What is Electrolysis Like?“]

When you trans late, you’re apt to have some non-dark hairs in your beard, and that means a visit to the electrologist, the long needle, and the hundreds of bee-stings on your face. Laser only works when there is a contrast between the skin and the hair so that the energy from the laser is transmitted down the dark hair shaft to the follicle, which is killed in the blast. Gray hair, being lighter than most people’s skin, is completely oblivious to lasers.

So, after 3 or 4 laser sessions, the time has come for me to begin paying visits to a grandmotherly electrologist. I just completed my first 1-hour session, and foresee many, many more to come. It’s not as painful as the laser treatment, at least when you compare a single zap of one type to a single zap of the other type. Taken all together, however, I’d say the needle feels like it’s damaging my face a lot more than the laser. We’ll see over time.

Just another reason to take action earlier before your hairs start turning gray — that is, if you’re aware of your GID at an earlier age and know you need to do something about it.

While I was focusing on this new hair on top of my head, something snuck up on me very subtly. I was putting on shoes or something and noticed that my leg hair, just above my ankle on the outside of both legs, was missing. I examined more closely and I believe that the long-awaited thinning of trunk and limb hair may be starting. The feet are still hairy, but the calf, from midway down all the way down to the ankle, is thinner or bare. The inside of the legs is not bare, but considerably thinner.

Well, I thought, that’s really cool. During our vacation, I noticed something else. I think the hair on my hands is thinner. here’s this zone that covers my thumbs, index fingers and middle fingers, and then in a semi-circle down to join that whole area, that’s thinner or missing. Here’s a numerical approach. Let’s count dark hairs on the first zone (from the joint to the finger tip). Left hand first. Index finger 0, middle, 6, ring, 18, pinky, 14, Thumb (next zone, 4 or 5 soft hairs). I honestly think I had something like my ring finger hair on all my other fingers, but I don’t’ have any documentation about it. But my sense is that there are follicles on various places that are dropping out from the dark, thick hairs and either going dormant under the absence of testosterone or the presence of estrogen, or they’re now producing finer, light brown hairs.

This is a good sign — I can’t see any difference on my chest and belly or elsewhere, but it could be quite subtle. I guess I’ll hold off lasering my chest for a while — there’s no hurry, and we’ll see if we get some progress through hormones.