PCOS And The Pressure To Perform Womanhood — Even If You Aren't A Woman

I stand in the bathroom for six hours. My parents and brother are gone, and I stand there, staring in the mirror, staring at the butter knife on the sink, staring at the contained labeled cold Persian wax sitting on the counter. Moved to the microwave, then returned. Stripped from my face, then reapplied.

The cloth dangles from my cheek, waiting to be ripped off, waiting to remove the signs of my shame. It no longer hurts, not when I’ve been doing this since age twelve, not since Stephen K took my face in his hands and turned it this way and that, marveling at how smooth it was for the first time.

I yank the cloth strip, and with it, some of the hairs on my cheek, and drop it into the sink. I wish I were a boy, I think, just as I always have.

#

Girl, please do something about those eyebrows.

For a short period of time, when Facebook is still new to us, I use Honesty Box. I keep it on my profile, hoping someone might come confess their love to me. I am in love with the idea of love. I want more than anything to find my prince, because the thought of being alone, and not by choice, scares me.

Please do something about those eyebrows.

I am fourteen, or fifteen, but I could be nine, ten, eleven. I shudder at the word unibrow, hate the way it creases my face. I avoid mirrors so that I don’t trace the hairs that shade my neck, my cheeks, my lips. In the shower, I fantasize about cutting it all away, just as I do with the rest of my skin.

Then, I am eleven again, and I’m standing with a razor in the upstairs bathroom. I run them along my arm, watching the hair fall away. I move it along my upper lip, seeing it smooth out. I take a pair of scissors and snip the center of my face, disconnecting my eyebrows for the first time. Then, I panic, and put everything away, and hope my mother doesn’t notice. She never says anything, but I begin waxing after that.

Those eyebrows.

They are called caterpillars, rugs; they are called scraggly, unruly. Someone calls me bushy brows as a nickname. Someone else says something worse.

I keep them thick in anger, and defiance.

#

I stand in front of the only boy in the class my age and rub my legs, bare for the first time since the hair grew in. I am twelve, and he is nearly fourteen, and we have known each other for five years.

“Beauty is pain,” I say, touching my freshly waxed legs, marveling at smooth my skin is for the first time. He says nothing, but he brings it up weeks later, in an angry email.

You are in love with me! he writes to the account I share with my parents. Admit it! You are in love with me.

I want him to notice my legs because I want to feel like a woman. I dream about him cornering me in a room to show me what it means. For a short time, anyway.

PS, if girls are XX and boys are XY, then you are neither!

Or maybe he says, then you are XXY.

I don’t realize that he’s using actual biology, saying that my hair and my face and my personality can biologically never be female. I don’t know that XXY is a disorder that I don’t have, but that others do. I don’t know that, years later, I will wonder if my chromosomes are wrong, because that’s how I feel.

#

I am thirteen. It’s the first day back from winter break. My friend holds my face in his hands, turns my cheek one way, then the other. He marvels at how smooth it is, how clear.

It’s the first time that I might be remotely female. I understand that, now, understand that the hair I cannot control is directly related to how badly I want to be a woman. I wouldn’t begin to say I’m a gay man in a woman’s body until high school, but then I would say it a lot. To everyone, to anyone. It is the easiest way to explain my shame, as I cannot hide it.

As I age, as boys challenge each other not to shave for a month, I roll my eyes. Maybe I’m used to it by now, resigned. Three days into November, my beard is thicker than theirs.

I try to use my dark curls to hide the ones growing on my face, growing it long until it reaches down the middle of my back. I get my first haircut in years, see the length bounce against my shoulders. It stays down every few days. I can only wax once a week, after all.

#

I am too busy writing about my pain to realize that no one has commented on the source of it. It’s years into high school, and I’ve moved to going to Devon to get my face done. The women there are Indian, but they know this skin, this hair; they tut as they twist my face from one side to the next to wax and thread the hair.

“Have you looked at laser?” they ask.

I did it for a year and it didn’t work, I want to say, but I don’t. It’s a half-truth, anyway; my legs reduce the growth drastically, but my face is the real problem. I want to live in a world where my face and stomach and chest and butt aren’t considered sources of beauty that I didn’t have. Who finds body hair attractive? I should have been born a man, I think, because then my body would be acceptable. I could be fat or hairy and it would be fine — but both? It would be impossible to find love with both.

In my first year of college, I go back to the doctor for laser. I was too young the first time; now, at eighteen, it would be better. For one year, I apply chemicals to my face to singe off the hair, so that once a month, I can get them burned again.

A few weeks after my sessions are over, it grows back the same as before.

#

When I finally have a name for what’s wrong with me — it’s hirsutism caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome — I do not understand that a burden has been lifted. I do not understand that it is a medical condition I cannot control, that there is no one to blame, not even myself.

Instead, I lock myself in the bathroom on the weekends, using the wax as my mother teaches me. Put on while hot, in the direction of the hair growth. Apply the cloth strip, rubbing the top to ensure its grip. Pull the strip in the opposite direction of the growth. Repeat as necessary, because the layers of hair on your face are stubborn, like you.

And all the while, as it goes on, as my life feels loveless, I remind myself, I wish I were a boy.

My mother catches me crying. She is horrified when I parrot back the words I’ve heard about my weight, the darkness on my skin, the truth about myself. I’m ugly, and it’s not the insecurities of a little girl. I am actually ugly, with my greasy flat hair and belly fat, my curved thighs and the scars I’ve put on them. And more than that, I am not a woman, like I want to be.

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