T(14): "The Theo" / by Sydney Baloue

I have a small, yet growing mustache. Something akin to Theo Huxtable on that episode of The Cosby Show when Theo tries to draw on a pencil mustache to fill in the faint one that is growing in.

Body hair and hair in general has always been interesting and murky territory for me. Particularly, as someone who was raised as a black girl in this world, hair is often a topic of conversation, politics, frustration, disappointment and as it has been for me later in life, liberating and a point of pride and joy for me to reclaim my own identity. For me, as someone who is mixed race - my father is African-American and my mother is Indo-Caribbean - it has also been interesting to see how both traits of these people have emerged through this shell of a body I currently call my home.

Illustration by  Jackson Siegel .

Illustration by Jackson Siegel.

In comparison to my sisters, it was pretty clear that I was the one who inherited my mother’s side of the family’s hair. And with that, in the context of being feminized as a child, I supposedly had “a gift” of very thick hair, something which not all black girls get, apparently. I always had thick hair growing up and my curls resembled those of my grandmother on my mother’s side whom we all called Moy (she transitioned to the next life last year). When I was a kid I would get my hair relaxed and every time I would head to our family hairdresser, she, my mother and my older sister would lament how I didn’t take care of my hair and that it was a shame as I had so much of it. Of course, this hair was never really mine as it was constantly policed by other people and it would take years before I could finally do what I wanted with it and celebrate it in its full beauty – natural and all.

Body hair-wise, growing up it was similar to the Indian side of things, i.e. very hairy and thick albeit with completely different consequences. Interestingly enough, the hair politics of this end of things was the total opposite of the hair on my head. As the rules of femininity are totally ridiculous, this was actually something to be undesired, I learned very quickly. I remember being really embarrassed by my arm hair when it grew in as a teen. I remember being so eager to shave my legs at this age that I even went so far as to shave off my arm hair! My mother panicked at the time and I quickly learned that I wasn’t supposed to go that far in the shaving game.

In French they make a distinction between the hair on your head (“les cheveux”) and the hair on your body (“les poils”). The latter also translates to “fur” and refers to animals’ hair as well. It’s kind of nice in a way as body hair does have a different texture than the hair on one’s head. It’s also quite nice to use the term “les poils” for humans too as we are mammals at the end of the day and it seems to put us on equal footing with say, whales. It seems to underline the meaning of the term “bears” and “otters” as well, I guess…

As I started to cultivate my own style over time, adopting a more masculine look and finally reclaiming my hair (the cheveux one mainly, but the poils stuff too, particularly on my legs), it’s strange, but I think more people could see my father in me. Even my grandmother was confused when she saw me last summer as she thought I was my father at first. This makes sense as I am the only masculine-presenting one of my siblings (I, unfortunately, grew up in a house of only sisters, all of whom are very feminine-presenting). Yet strangely as this new little mustache comes in, it seems yet again more in line with the Indian-side of my family, drawing me closer to my mother or even my maternal grandfather in some ways. It gives more Indian vibes than African ones at the moment. An unexpected twist in this transition, but one I welcome, nonetheless!

In the shaving end of things, I had to do this recently to my face and it was a strange feeling of unknown territory. I have been getting tired of being misgendered lately, so I just started googling around to see if there was something I could do about it. I stumbled across this interesting Wikihow someone put together (Who are these people on the Internet who have time to make these things?) and one tip it gave was to shave! This is all the more interesting as there isn’t much hair growth on my face apart from these little fuzzies (“les poils”) that kind of line my cheekbones. I felt kind of caught off guard with the whole shaving one’s face thing as I find there is a ritualistic nature to leg-shaving in the land of those of us who were brought up as little girls. Particularly, for me as someone with an older sister, this was a coveted practice, something to look forward to one day. There were many Venus razor commercials to sing-a-long to and know that they were marketing to you. Yes, even YOU can run along a beach with your supermodel friends and let the wind blow through your hair (the ones on your head, not the ones on your legs as those would be shaved off). I feel like this was a heavily discussed topic of my youth and something to look forward to, etc. Of course, when I got older and realized I could do whatever I want with my legs, I stopped doing the whole thing, which was another story.

Nonetheless, I feel like I had great preparation for shaving my legs (“les poils”) and this whole shaving my face thing seemed somehow impromptu. There was no real reference point, say except my fascination with this new product called Bevel this black guy developed for black guys to shave their face and not get bumps. Apparently, multi-blade razors aren’t really made for black hair as black and/or Afro-hair is kinky and when the hair grows back, it often folds in to the skin making these unsightly bumps. I only remember reading about it as Procter and Gamble wanted to buy him out and he said no. Interesting, but apparently not really related to my scenario as 1) I don’t have that much hair on my face and 2) I think the hair that’s growing in is more in line with the Indian side of things and I perhaps might actually need a multi-blade razor. All in all, I had to rely on some teenage boy’s Youtube video to figure out if I was shaving correctly (again, who are these people who make these things and put them on the Internet?). It seemed to lack the kind of ritualistic nature of this kind of rite of passage in a way. However, I found the whole shaving thing somewhat thrilling in a sense as it was something I had never done before to my body that could be considered otherwise really mundane. In the end, it made my Theo mustache pop a bit more. However, I think that it’s more the issue of when the hair on my head (“les cheveux”) grows out that I get "ma’am-ed" and "miss-ed" more in public. I’ve been debating if it might be time for another bigger trim on the top off my head ("couper les cheveux"). Such a shame when I have such lovely curls and have finally learned to love them. However, my hair grows fast, so if I don’t like it, it shouldn’t be an issue to let the curls grow back in. Perhaps they might look nice with a beard one day.

It’s kind of exciting and amusing in a way to see what I will end up looking like the more testosterone kicks in. I think the fact that I’m mixed means that it will be an interesting concoction of sorts. In the English-speaking Caribbean a term for someone like me who is both of African and Indian heritage is a “dougla.” Apparently, it’s quite pejorative to use for a person. Perhaps this is yet another thing I will have to reclaim at some point. Regardless, I am finding it amusing that in my masculinity I may end up looking more like I’m related to my mother than my father in the end. I feel like I'm forging new territory in my family’s lineage somehow. This is a new twist for me.

Bonus: "Mighty Dougla" was a Calypsonian from Trinidad & Tobago who made a song about being a dougla called "Split Me In Two." Catch it here