On June 26, I quit my job. I immediately stopped doing three things: setting my alarm, ironing clothes, and shaving. The next day I started Klonopin, an anticonvulsant often prescribed to treat panic attacks and anxiety. Five days later I sat in my doctor’s office and, in tears, admitted that for the first time in I didn’t know how long, I felt like myself. He referred me to a therapist and the work began.
With no job, and a new book set to be released August 1, I had nothing to do but work on myself and write. I needed to figure not only who I was but who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do next. Writing was a part of that. With the publication of my first book, What Binds Us, I was classified as a romance writer specifically gay romance, more commonly referred to as mm romance. I was never quite comfortable with that definition quite frankly. My books have strong romantic elements but I don’t see them as romances. Being so close to releasing In His Eyes, I really needed to think through that—especially since I hadn’t written the book’s blurb yet, and that essentially positions the book for prospective readers.
With all that going on, I didn’t think much about not shaving. In truth, I didn’t even start shaving until I was nearly 40, and then it was only twice a week. My first boyfriend in college who actually shaved daily and had chest hair, used to call me an “old smoothie.” I was comfortable being hairless. I was never particularly masculine—especially when I was younger. Facial and body hair seemed reserved for more manly men. Hell, I don’t even have hair under my arms. I stopped thinking about facial hair a long time ago.
It wasn’t until, I went to NY to have dinner with my parents and family one Sunday that I thought about it again. The first thing they said when I walked in the door was, “You look so relaxed.” Without the job-related stress, without a commute that added hours to my workday, I had begun to relax. The Klonopin muted the noise in my head and eased the tightness in my chest. With a fifth book out, which is probably the best one so far, I had relaxed into my talent as well.
The second thing they said was, “We’ve never seen you with facial hair before.” It wasthen that I realized the last time I had shaved was August 3 just before I went to OutWrite 2017 in DC. Other people began to notice. My friend Shirley said, “I like it. Now you look like a writer.” Days later, a neighbor seeing me remarked, “You look so scholarly. You should write a book!” Amused, I dropped a copy of In His Eyes in his mailbox the next day.
A few weeks later, when I again visited my parents, I posted a selfie of me and my nephew Max to Facebook. It was the first time most people had seen me with facial hair. The comments poured in.
You have a beard???
Is that a beard I see?
It's so not what I think of you. It's like if you said you liked math! Who are you????
That comment echoed my husband, Stanley. When the beard care kit I ordered arrived, he stared at it, then at me and asked, Who are you?
I hadn’t meant to post a photo of the new me just yet. I was still trying to decide if I would keep it. It was a decision as weighty as the first time I pierced my ear and then later when I pierced the other one and started wearing earrings in pairs.
I had to re-imagine how I saw myself—how I thought of myself. I wasn’t the type of man to have facial hair, was I? I was to sissy for that, wasn’t I? I’ve never considered myself particularly masculine and that was part of my struggle with the concept of facial hair on myself. Guys like me are supposed to be clean-shaven, aren’t they? I began to wonder if when people questioned my growing a beard, they were implying: I was too sissy for facial hair.
A few more weeks have passed and my beard is filling in. Am I going to keep it? Is it time to leave the “old smoothie” behind? Probably. It’s time for a change. I’ve always considered myself a serious writer, maybe it’s time I started looking like one. I’m still the same person but maybe it’s time to rebrand myself. And my facial hair has grown on me.