UPDATE: my blog is still having the same problem, so if something doesn’t work just hit reload and it should work.
I can see the flashes of light. They seem red through my closed eyelids. When the laser flashes, I see a star, that is red-orange, but its brighter when the laser is higher on my face, closer to my eyes. I tell her this and she says “yeah, but with these glasses, it’s fine. Its not like you’re going to go blind.”
This is my fourth laser skin treatment with the Long Pulse Alexandrite Laser at 755nm. Yet I’m not here for a face transplant, like others, just to change the way my skin grows hair. I’m here for a treatment that will burn away the tiny areas of skin on my face where hair follicles turn old cells into hair.
I ice the area about to be heated with the laser, the room is cold, the laser itself shoots out even colder air, yet the blue gel of the ice pack before and after the laser snaps onto the skin makes it much more bearable.
It seems like hair isn’t something we discuss much in important meetings of the alterglobalization movement, shaping new worlds, but it affects each of us so much. It is a question of traveling between worlds, one world where women with facial hair don’t need to worry about it affecting the way they’ll be talked to, and another where hair determines the entire reading of a person, their sexuality, their worth, their humanity. I have a lover who works with teenagers. She constantly has to discuss her body hair with them. Their idea of what her hair means has meant the threat of violence on more than one occasion.
I’ve never been a very hairy person, but once I began my transition, any facial hair began to bother me. I felt that it added to people reading me as male. Yet the more I shaved, the less it seemed to matter. The little cuts and missed spots were all it took for people to stare. The most important days to me, it felt, were always the days when I would cut my face the worst.
So close to our skin, our hair can be sensual and soft, can be the rough feeling of one’s partner in the most comfortable, intimate moments. While we can create other worlds, worlds of creative alternatives to patriarchy or worlds of synthetic digital bodies rendered with precision, it seems that hair is so often left out of these worlds. In a way, hair is the unnamed realness of our bodies that we don’t want to see. It is the redness inside Irma’s throat that Freud sees and Lacan refers to as the real, the point at which “all words cease” . The powerful erotic moment, just before sex, when anticipation is so strong, is the moment when we undress and show our pubic hair, or lack of it, to each other. For trans people, hair is part of the many bodily transformations we make to be able to shapeshift, it is part of the language of gender that we manipulate to transform, be percieved as something else.
As she works her way down to my neck, I inhale the smell of something burning or singed. I tell the laser technician about the tattoo that my tattoo artist has on the front of her neck, right over her trachea. Her story of getting that tattoo in Peru, after a long day of hiking, from an incredibly heavy handed, not very empathetic artist, is harrowing. Yet it is still less harrowing than the Tracheal Shave that some trans people get to try to transform their voices, since hormones don’t change MtF people’s voices. That’s one procedure I’ll definitely be passing up. Even though this hurts not nearly as much as a tattoo, and it’s over in about 15 minutes, tattoos come to mind, another painful skin modification, every time I’m here.
I reflect back on her comment about the huge dark protective glasses we’re both wearing, and for a moment I think of the scene in the third person, two of us in this very cold room, the air from the laser rushing around, the loud sound of the laser compressor, the super bright flashes that we’re both protected from. As strange as that seems to me, I still feel lucky to live in an age of laser skin surgeries. Electrolysis is a procedure that uses electricity to burn the hair follicles and takes easily a hundred hours. Laser simply uses light to heat up the hair, sending the energy down the hair itself under the skin and killing the precise layer of skin that produces the hair.
The economy of these surgeries is something I’m not happy to be a part of. The same laser technician at Laser Skin Reinscription will also happily inject you with Botulinum Toxin Type A, known on the street as Botox. Yet these economies are still small enough to be accessible to some. These inbetween, informal procedures are not the multiple thousand dollar procedures that live saving medicine calls for. Surely, there is a great deal of privilege in being able to use these procedures, yet they are also possibly a remedy for some of the discrimination, marginalization and violence that people who want to step out of the mythopoetic rules of sex, gender and desire face. The word “public” comes, as my friend rdom likes to point out, from the latin “pubes”, meaning the male population, tying together the pubic of pubic hair, the politics of gender and the public interface of skin that must have a razor slid across it every day, or a light amplified by stimulated emission of radiation, a handful of times. While my choice to transform has meant a few months of living much closer to emergency, many live much closer to that edge, permanently.
Days later, my face still has red areas, recovering from the precise burn. I was told I should stay out of the sun and I thought, vampires don’t have facial hair either. These procedures may be optional, but for those around me in this city of cru cuts, flat tops and blonde beach bunnies, the smoothness of my skin or the hair on my skin is enough to inscribe the meaning of my whole body and every word that comes out of my mouth. And beyond them, my own gaze back in the mirror is far more satisfied with the smooth skin of a dragon, a shapeshifter, the choice to be in permanent transition and transformation, than the prickly skin of a human that I was supposed to learn to live with.
1. Geneva lecture on the symptom (Russell Grigg, Trans.). Analysis, 1, 7-26. (Original work published 1975) ——. (1988). from http://www.answers.com/topic/real-the-lacan