ARMPIT HAIR - AN EXCERPT
My mom and I are in an argument about my armpit hair.
We’re going to the beach. I know my mom doesn’t like my body hair. It’s funny, with all my “questionable” choices, why was this where she chose to finally draw the line?
In my last year of college, I “became” a lesbian. My mom wasn’t surprised, but I was blindsided. After I first broke up with my boyfriend she asked me if I met any boys “or girls!” and I was so scandalized she would ever think that I was gay. So, maybe not even a year later, I told her I met a girl. She was more concerned that she’s a musician like my dad.
My girlfriend and I moved in together in a small town in Ohio. It’s something I said I’d never do. But even after we broke up, I decided to stay. I started dating someone else and so did my ex. In true lesbian fashion, we remained friends and did our best to avoid running into each other’s new partners in the house.
My ex’s new girlfriend’s family disapproves of her. She thinks she’ll never be the ideal partner for a parent’s child. She said, “Who wants their daughter to date a lesbian musician alcoholic?” and I told her that all my sibling asked from me for Christmas was her band’s CD. I told her about the check my mom sent to make sure she had enough money to go to the doctor when she was sick.
Sometimes Mom assumes I’m ungrateful. I just don’t really know how to say thanks. My parents are plenty capable of guilt, but I never felt it for being gay. In high school, I had that Christian fear for my gay friends’ eternal suffering, trying to save their souls by getting them to change. But when I came out, it was met with a “We just want you to be happy.”
So, here we are at dinner with my family and we cannot come to an understanding about the most arbitrary of all things: my armpit hair. They’ve accepted that I’m gay, helped me pay for art school, I’m living with my ex, dating a polyamorous bisexual woman, in Akron, I've just been fired again from a full-time job, back on food stamps. They said they want to buy my house that I live in with my ex because it'd be a "good investment".
Very “We just want you to be happy” of them, but I don't think that's the way.
So now the only thing standing in front of their unbridled acceptance: all I have to do is shave, right? With this simple act, I can pay back everything I owe them.
As I sit there at the table with them considering it, I recover every memory I have about my body hair. The time I was mortified when I realized I forgot to shave my pit stubble at a water gun fight and I thought everyone could see it was disgusting, so I tried to keep playing with my arms pinned to my sides, bending only at the elbows like some kind of bird or a dinosaur. The time when I had a horrible eczema flare-up that lasted for months, it spread from ankle to thigh, but I kept shaving whatever hairs would spring through it like grass growing between cracks in the concrete. The hundreds of dollars I spent on laser hair removal, but it all grew back just as robust as ever. The insulting comments I’ve gotten from people I’ve dated--a man and a woman--about my “man legs.” The UTI’s from shaving my pubes. The insecurity at the swimming pool.
Once I started to surround myself with other queer people, I was able to free myself from giving any more thought to my body hair. I let it grow as it wants. Now, I get compliments about it. I’ve inspired women to grow their own hair out too. I’ve even monetized it. I'm a figure model for fine art classes, but also for chat rooms hashtagged #allnatural #hairy #lesbian.
We all want more ways to be able to accept ourselves for how we are.
All those thoughts, of course, pass in a split second, and I decide to make a deal with my mom. “If you pay for me to get a massage, then throw in a full body wax at the spa.” She immediately agrees. Business transactions are easier for us than emotional unpacking. When it comes down to it, I’m comfortable shaved or not. I grew out my hair so it would occupy less space in my brain. But if my own mother can’t relax on her vacation because her daughter couldn’t just this once shave clean for the beach, then nobody is going to be comfortable. It’s not worth it. And I knew, at the back of my mind, that this might be the last time I'd be able to spend time with her on vacation like this. Getting on a plane is a thousand times harder for her, than whatever it is for me to shave my body. What I didn't know is this could be the last time I could have a relatively coherent conversation with her like this. Even if it was an argument, it was one that was under control and had a source I could identify. It also had a solution that I could control.
I have bent and twisted myself into so many shapes, accommodating all sorts of situations and preferences. I’m enormously privileged, I’m “chill,” I'm (probably) neurotypical. I’m always the one less bothered by things, so isn’t my responsibility, and even my higher calling or purpose of being on this planet, to make everyone’s lives easier? It’s just hair. It’s only what’s on the surface that concerns them. I’m still queer, whether people can see it or not. What people should see is that I'm kind, I'm compassionate, I'm doing my part to "serve others less fortunate" and placate the anxieties of others at all times.
I get a stomachache after dinner, a relatively regular thing. I take some big gulps of air while I'm in bed, and after a few attempts, my heart palpitations stop. You could use the word "thrilling" about the feeling of my heart beating twice as fast as it should, and the moment it would suddenly slow down. The silence between the last fast beat and the first slow beat is just enough time to wonder if my heart stopped for good this time.
The next morning while I’m wrestling with the Keurig, my mom says “I’m sorry about the whole thing about the hair yesterday. If I’m embarrassed, that’s my problem. You don’t have to do it, you can do whatever you want. Okay?”
“Wow.” I took a second to look at her. I didn’t expect her to come around so fast. “Thanks, Mom.”
I hugged her. She turned to scoot back onto the couch to watch House Flippers. I drank my coffee next to her, our feet touching.
She still bought me the massage for my birthday.