To Shave or Not To shave

That is the question that I’ve been struggling with lately.  I attended an all-girls catholic high school.  When the weather in Ohio changed from cool to frigid and I traded knee high socks for opaque tights I stopped shaving.  Even as a cheerleader for one of the all-boys high schools I didn’t bother to shave my legs.  To me, it seemed like a waste of time.  Even when cheering, it was only one day a week and why go through the hassle and yoga-like poses to shave for an hour and a half long game? 

As I grew older I adopted this “no shaving in winter philosophy” to the dismay of many ex boyfriends.  I’d argue that I had to deal with their hairy legs and for the cold months they could deal with mine.  I hated the double standard of hairy legs on a man-okay vs. hairy legs on a girl-bad.  It has to be said that the hair on my body is very fine.  You’d never think it by looking at the huge mound of hair on my head but if I go the entire winter without shaving and pull out my shorts for the first spring day you’d not notice the hair unless you were about 2 inches away from my legs. 

The latest eczema attack on my body this winter caused me to make several changes to my day-to-day life.  I stopped eating gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar for over a month to try to get the excessive and painful itching to stop.  I noticed that whenever I shaved my arm pits that I’d get a patch of irritation there so opted to stop shaving my arm pits as well.  A hairy arm pit girl, herself, M didn’t mind the almost non-existent arm pit hair that I started sporting just as summer came to a close last year. 

For my 30th Birthday, however, the fact that my arm pits were hairy came to a surprise to all of my party-goers, well at least the straight ones.  I was pointed at with hands across mouth in disgust. 

“Shave your fucking pits, Erika!”  One girl shrieked after my fist pumping to a slammin’ song exposed my secret. 

“Why?”  I shot back. 

“It’s gross, that’s why, ” she retorted.

“Don’t look at ’em,”  was my reply.  “It’s my fucking birthday, goddamnit!”

The heckling didn’t stop there, though.  I posted my 30th birthday bash pictures to my facebook page and my “Oh man, you’re gay?!” cousin was the first to post a comment about the hairy pits in question.  After, I posted a disclaimer that read, “If hairy armpits offend you, please do not read view these pictures”

Are hairy armpits so offensive?  And if so why?  We’ll start with the first question-I suppose the easy answer is yes, hairy armpits are offensive to some people.  Clearly.  I even shaved my armpits and tortured myself in Costa Rica as to not offend my fellow travelers but why are they so? 

I find hairy armpits to be some what erotic.  I can remember climbing on the shelf in my father’s closet to find his stash of dirty mags and seeing women with soft wisps of hair under their arms.  I hadn’t got hair there yet and there was something naughty, almost, about it.  I found the Joy of Sex in my mom’s hiding spot and would spend hours not reading about the joys of sex but looking at the illustrations of women with hair in places I didn’t have hair.

I’m a big fan of vintage porn from the 70’s I like to full bush, the hairy pits.  Is it a fetish?  Could be, I suppose.  This post isn’t to explore a hair fetish but rather to question why in a span of 30 years have we taken something natural, like hairy pits or hairy bush to this bald world? 

When I first saw a bald crotch in porn I was struck by the nakedness of the woman.  I’ll admit that I found that, too erotic and even shaved my own muff to the naked skin.  The more I think about the lack of hair the more I get disturbed by it.  If you take away something, like hair; a sign of maturity and adulthood for a shaved look are we making a pre-pubescent look more attractive sexually?  Those ramifications are beyond disturbing and again, I’m not going into that topic. 

So why shave?  It has to be said that the notion of shaving is truly a new American idea.  And I’ll go as far as to say a white American idea.  My mom fought me hard when I asked for my first razor and I ended up spending my own money to buy it so that I could talk about shaving along with the other girls in my 6th grade class.  I have pictures of my grandma holding my sister and you can see hair peeking out from under her arms.  Most of my older relatives do not shave and while in Costa Rica I noticed that the people there did not either.

Hippies of the 60s didn’t shave, and I don’t imagine that women’s liberation fighters did either but somehow now it seems that most women do.  Does it make us feel more clean?  Virginal, perhaps?  Or have we just bought, literally, into the culture created by companies like Shiek, Bic, and Gillette who remind us that in order to be a Goddess we must remove all of our hair.

The thing I love about queer culture is the acceptance of hair, of feminine beauty as natural as it is.  That’s not to say that I don’t know plenty of queer girls who happily shave their legs and arms religiously because I do.  It comes down to personal choice, really.  It’s refreshing that us queer folks respect and understand that choice.

Party like a Rockstar-My 30th Birthday Bash


I have a crush on Staceyann Chin

Yup, that’s right.  Wicked mad crush on Staceyann.  It’s not the way she looks, although she’s very beautiful it’s not even her bangin’ body, which is bangin’.  It’s her memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise” that I started reading this week that has made my crush on Staceyann Chin what it is today.

I’m not that far into it, truth be told.  This really cute (possibly queer) girl at Greenlight books in Fort Green sold the hard cover to me.  I’d been eyeing it for a month but was working on finishing “Wuthering Heights.”  I make a point to only have one new book in my possession at a time, otherwise I’ll drop one for the other and most likely not return to the first.  I just finished “Wuthering  Heights” and had about 15 minutes after yoga and before Tongues to get to the bookstore to buy “The Other Side of Paradise.”  My book store crush asked if I knew anything about the author, that she’d been wanting to read it.

“Well, she’s queer…” I started (to see if she was, too.  She gave me that knowing look.  Aha!  One point for Erika gaydar.)  “She’s a feminist and activist, she had a one woman show on broadway in the mid 2000’s…”  I went on and on spouting my Staceyann knowledge and she agreed that she’s buy it too, when she was finished with the book she was on now.  She also made mention to another author, Dorothy Allison, that I should look into when I was finished with “Paradise” 

innocent flirting at the bookstore.

I’m still in Part One and just wrapped up page 46 through teary eyes on the C Train.  I love when a book can move me to tears.  And it wasn’t just the book or its content but the way that a good writer can not only make you feel like you’re there with them in the text but their ability to make you feel what the protagonist is feeling.  In that moment of feeling like a helpless 7-year-old girl being ridiculed by her Aunt while her grandmother helplessly watches the abuse, I felt like I was Staceyann in that brief moment of prose. 

I’ve never had to watch a woman I love do domestic work, as Staceyann watched her Grandmother.  As I’ve disclosed many times here I lived what most would describe as a priviledge life.  Reading “The Other Side of Paradise” awakens so much of my race identity and the itch that was my memoir (lost in computer oblivion) comes racing back into my mind and the memories of my childhood come pouring to my frontal lobe.  (it is the frontal love of the brain that controls memory, right?)

My parents are both black so my race identity isn’t lost in that.  It is, however lost in my education, my speech, my back ground.  Here’s a little snippet, that “Paradise” has forced me to remember.

I remember being in fourth grade.  We’d just switched from the YMCA day camp to the Catholic Club.  I went from having a mixed race group of friends to all black friends.  I am and always have been a social butterfly.  I walked up to the girls who looked my age and asked their names.  Their names I don’t remember.  I do remember, however the looks they gave me.  The way that made fun of the way that I spoke.  The entire summer, even in the small cluster of friends I managed to make I was mocked and taunted for “sounding like a white girl.” 

Funny thing is, as I grew up and my parents continued to enroll me in predominantly white, upper middle class schools in which I excelled socially and kinda sorta academically my father became the taunter.   It wasn’t just him, though.  At family reunions cousins, aunts, uncles would look at me bewildered when I spoke.   I was told that I wasn’t proud of my color, I didn’t embrace it, I was trying to be someone that I could never be.   Looking back, I’m not sure what else was expected of me.  Was I supposed to ignore the rules of the English language in favor for double negatives and slang?  It’s not who I am.  I sound ridiculous trying to “talk black” whatever that means.  

 Now at 30 as a proud black lesbian when I see him he asks why I don’t relax my hair.   “You’d look more professional with straighter hair, Erika.”  “I was going to buy you a comb for your birthday”   A little ironic, no?

This blog doesn’t make much since.  It’s a stream of thought, ideas, and memories evoked by a special lady whose childhood was way more, dare I say, fucked up then mine ever was.  When I listen to the poems and prose from some of the women in my writing group-stories of mixed race childhood angst echo.  Stories of what it means to be a black Latina, what it means to have a white father who didn’t acknowledge your existence or a white mother who tried to mold you into a white daughter are experiences I can’t relate to.  On the other hand, what does it mean to be a black child and never really know you were black-or more accurately, never know what it meant to be black.

Mirs and I talk about race identity all of the time.  What it will mean for us, as partners, to raise black Jewish children.  Our future children’s Jewish heritage is just, if not more, important to Mirs and our children’s black heritage.  No one will know, looking at them, that they’re Jews.  But they’ll sure as hell know that they’re black.  We have to have answers for them.  We always discuss when you start talking about race, identity, religion, and the injustice of so many peoples in our society. 

When we talk about my black identity, especially as a child, I always have to think about it really hard.  Clearly, looking in the mirror I could see that I was black but what my skin color meant; the struggles of my people, were never relayed to me.  When I honestly think about it I’m pretty sure that I learned the most about the Civil Rights movement from a white nun in school.  I asked my parents, and was given a book on MLK. 

My mother had the most insight, she lived in the segregated south until she was twelve.  She would tell me stories about visiting her mother, a domestic worker, at her job and having to use the back entrance.  She told me stories of using separate water fountains.  And I would listen to them and her and appreciate her taking the time.

My father, on the other hand, never told me anything.  Like so many instances in my life his childhood, his experience of being a black man living in New Jersey during the Civil Rights movement is a mystery to me.  I could ask him now, sure, but for a person so formative in my black identity or lack thereof as he often reminded me his imput is completely obsolete.  It doesn’t exist.  But the scars of his constant ridicule is.

Clearly, another reason for therapy.  Or excess money so I can quit my job and spend all of my time writing my memoirs or a work of autobiographical fiction.  So, thank you Staceyann Chin for what is shaping into an amazing and inspiring memoir.