Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Brief History of The Bearded Lady

This post is sort of piggybacking off of a previous post, where I talked about the hysterical horrors of my stay at the psychiatric hospital years ago. 

Just before entering the hospital, I had started taking a psychiatric medication for the first time, an antidepressant called Lexapro.  The day I was discharged, I had begun to walk in small circles in my (shared) room. (Did I mention yesterday that my roommate in the loony bin unceremoniously stripped off all her clothes in front of me one evening and lay naked on her bed?  On top of the covers. I can’t believe I left that out. Damn it.) Over the next few days, my restlessness increased to the point that it was psychologically painful for me to sit still.  They have a name for this in psychiatry; it’s called akathisia, and it’s more commonly associated with antipsychotics than with antidepressants. 

Which is interesting, because when I presented to my local mental health clinic, they switched my antidepressant (to PaxilCR), and added in an antipsychotic.

That was my introduction to the sleepy time sugar tits that are antipsychotics, particularly the new class (like they’re Saved By The Bell or Baywatch or something) called atypical antipsychotics. 

Not just psychotic, kids, but atypical.  I mean, really.  How many socially unsavory names can we load onto one drug?

Not that it hinders their use.  Antipsychotics are now prescribed like….well…like crazy.

Like, as antidepressant power-up pills.  Did you know those were antipsychotics? 

But anyway, back to my experience with this particular drug class, and here’s where I’m getting to my point:

Taking Risperdal, and later Seroquel, then Zyprexa (sounds kinda like “Suppress her,” doesn’t it?), then back to Seroquel again, I gained over 100 lbs. on antipsychotics, which I believe I’ve mentioned here before, but also, and I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this or certainly made such a very big deal to the point that I devoted a whole post to it:

I became a bearded lady. 


And I remain a bearded lady.

As in, I continue to grow unsightly amounts of facial hair in the chin and neck regions. 

Now, it may not be up to the standards of most men (or some women, as we’ll discuss later), but I want to be clear about this:

We are not talking about plucking a few hairs.  We are not talking about anything light, or thin, or downy, or peachy fuzz, or sparse. 

We’re talking many, many, possibly even hundreds of hairs.  I’ve never counted because there are too many to count.  Like I said, this is not a lovely little plucking endeavor.  This is a situation that I coat with hot wax and rip out of my face on every occasion that I have to interact with other human beings who are not blind.  Maybe even if they were blind, I don’t know, because what if they wanted to do that thing where they touch my face?  

And here’s the real shit kicker: I am no longer taking this type of medication.

In fact, I am no longer taking any type of medication that would cause this.  But I’m stuck with the hair.  Thankfully, I was able to lose much of the weight I gained, eventually, but I’m pretty sure my metabolism was forever changed. 

Over the years since kicking Seroquel’s ass to the curb (my longest antipsychotic-affair was with Seroquel), I have attempted to address the hair issue with different physicians, mentioning, to each, that this problem started with the mother fucking mental drugs.

One physician, an upper level nurse of some sort who is allowed to prescribe meds and also be inappropriate (that’s another post, some day, maybe), ordered a battery of hormone type tests, declared that I did not have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and could therefore return home and immediately suck it.  Apparently, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is the only cause of rampant hair growth in women, even women who noted their hair growth started with the introduction of a certain medication to her system.

Another physician, a cardiologist, noted my “hirutism” without my mentioning it, because I had been too sick with chronic physical stuff to wax the shit off my chin for weeks.  He ordered testing, and at this point, I was suspecting issues with my thyroid, but, much like the situation above, nothing along the lines of “Here’s why this bitch has nasty amounts of hair on her stank face!” showed up in the results, and then I moved, and started all over with new doctors.

This led to my visit to a gynecologist who once again ordered blood work, as well as an ovary scan, which happens with something that is called, I shit you not, a vaginal probe.  Even though the blood work was normal, and the vaginal probe tech said my insides looked normal, the gynecologist sat me down, declared that I do have polycystic ovarian syndrome, and prescribed both birth control and some sort of steroid.  At this, I went home and immediately decided that he could suck it.  I felt that this was a diagnosis of deduction based purely on circumstantial evidence (i.e., the hair) rather than confirmational blood work or other testing.  And I’m not comfortable with that, especially if drugs are being offered.

Because I’ve kind of learned to be leery of drug side effects. 

I did learn one thing from the gynecologist though.

When he was offering me the medication, he did so with the caveat that the prescriptions would help to keep the rampant hair growth from raging even further above and beyond the boundaries of what my own personal gender expression deems comfortable. (He didn’t say it like that.)

But with that information, I realized that it didn’t matter.

I realized, and I haven’t verified this by asking but I’m pretty sure, that once hair grows somewhere, it’s fucking there, unless you have male pattern baldness in that area.

Hormones can’t stop it, steroids can’t stop it.  They can only act like the boundaries that firefighters set up around wildfires to keep it from spreading.

My facial hair is a wild fire.

I do not have male pattern baldness on my chin.

There is nothing I can do to end this vicious, painful cycle of rip-out and re-growth.

Unless, if course, I develop male pattern wealth and have it removed by laser.

Or unless I summon up the radical attitude of a thousand fuck-its and decide to just let my facial hair grow.

That’s what at least a very small few numbers of historically and culturally significant women have done.

When you have facial hair as a woman, you pay attention when you come across other women with facial hair.  The Internets have notified me of two recently: Harnaam Kaur and Wilgefortis.  Go look.  Educate yourself. 
These are just two examples that have come across my viewing pleasure recently.  Search “bearded lady” over at Wikipedia and it will provide you with some linking good times as you dive into the history of the bearded lady in her manifestation as a circus freak.

Admittedly, women who have really reached the status of Bearded Lady have the amazing beards of prize fighters turned lumberjacks, and while I do have significantly more hair than the average woman, mine is puny in comparison.  I'm kind of like James Franco's beard trying to square up on Lebron James's beard.  (Look at me, knowing popular culture and shit!)

Nonetheless, hair - anywhere, in any amount, wanted or not - is a hairy issue for women.  I like to be pretty.  The scraggly mess of shadow I have growing on my neck and chin does not fit into my construct of female beauty.  And note:  That’s okay.  Because my feminism is about defining my own aesthetic even if it does fit the “norm,” or the traditional.  That’s allowed, too.  My feminism burns bras and aprons only if you want to.  It’s just about being aware of all the options.  I’m aware that not removing my hair is an option.  I’m not comfortable with it, and that has more to do with my personality (Myers-Briggs ISFJ - essentially a socially conforming introvert) than it does with my lack of the knowledge of, awareness of, or signing my name in blood to the Feminist Encyclopedia of Good Conduct.  So there. 

Still, wax hurts.  Like hell.

Also, other methods:

Note: this is not the video I was looking for.  There is, or was, a hilarious video from a fabulous, hysterical queen about the ridiculously meticulous methods poor girl went through to rid herself of her beard and I cannot find it.  This video is more serious and informational, but the queen here is mesmerizing.  Watch her.

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