Those of us who feel that we have been born into the wrong body have a lot to cope with. Most of us, I suspect, suffer enormous mental, emotional and spirtual anguish from time to time, sometimes for years, even for life.
No matter how early we learn the truth about ourselves, no matter how unmistakeable the evidence, no matter how determined we are to bring everything to the right conclusion, our situation inevitably involves what might best be decribed as psychic assault and battery.
And then, having given that to us as our birthright, dear old mother nature adds insult to injury by allocating many of us not only the wrong sort of body, but a body that demands a great deal of transformation before we can begin to appear as the person we know we are.
We can cope with most of it, of course: we can buy realistic false breasts and padding, or we can let hormones do the work for us.
We can buy magnificient wigs, or we can grow our own hair long and let the experts decide the best way to wear it. We can get away with excessive height, by dressing carefully and by behaving with the confidence that comes from remembering that many women are tall. We can even learn how to modify our deep voice. And of course, we can enlist the skills of a surgeon to make some especially significant adjustments.
Considering how effectively we can deal with so many apparently big physical problems, it’s ironic how much difficulty is caused by something as delicate as a hair. Yet, for many of us, body and, particulary, facial hair is one of the most basic obstacles between us and what we seek to achieve.
Of all the physical characterstics which are held to disguish man from woman, it is facial hair which is probably the most difficult to disguise. Some male bodies are blessed with the fairest and softest of hair types, but most are not. Anybody who needs a shave faces the problem, and those with dark hair face the greatest of difficulties of all.
For a dark-haired male to female transsexual the problem is especially restricting. Even with the most skilled use of specialist make-up, Andrea knows that, in due course, people around her will be provided with unmistakable evidence that she started life as Andrew. And, if you are like me, “in due course” can mean as little as a couple of hours.
The worry that my five o’ clock shadow is only thinly covered by my foundation; that the wrong sort of light will disclose it no matter what I have used and how recently I applied it; and that the tell-tale tips of new-grown hairs will inevitable break the surface – all of this works on my confidence. When I should be experiencing life as the woman I know I should be and although I know I’m otherwise convincing, I need a lot of persuasion and the right light before I will venture outside my front door.
Perhaps you will think that is a bit extreme. Perhaps not. I imagine though, that you will have experienced some, at least, of these concerns.
Can the problems be overcome? Well, yes, it can. But it takes more than determination and money. If you want to get rid of facial and/or body hair, you also need information. There are many techniques on offer, not all of which are nearly as effective as those providing them would like us to believe – and some could actually be dangerous. Even among woman, for whom the different methods were devised, the specialists feel there is a great deal of ignorance.
Even among experts there are disagreements. They cannot, for instance, even agree whether people who carry out the most effective treatments should be called electrolysists or electrologists. In using “electrologists” to describe them, I know i will be incurring the displeasure of a number of highly professional and dedicated people who prefer to be known by the other term. All I can offer to them are my apologies.
What I can offer you, though, is a survey of the main methods of treatment now available, and the experts’ assesments of them. I have spoken to scores of practitioners, all over the country, including very many who treat transvestites and transssexuals. What they have told me has encouraged me, I know how to beat my own problem and, as a result, I can look forward to the prospect of living life as I should.
But I have also learned of the dangers and heard of people who have suffered badly from mistreatment.
Whether you are undergoing treatment now for hair removal, whether you are planning it or whether you simply feel you might need it sometime in the future, this article is for you.
How does hair grow?
To understand how the diffrent treatments work (or don’t!) what the hazards are, why they cost what they do, and why you may have to be patient indeed, you need to know something about what hair is and how it grows.
This is not an excuse to give you a science lesson and it certainly won’t get technical. We all need to get into the complexities of the structure of the skin – there are plenty of books available if you want to do so yourself – but the basics are farly simple.
The starting point is that, of all the organs of the body, your skin is the largest. If, like me, you have always assumed that the main purpose of skin was to stop the blood from leaking out, this may come as something of a surprise. It is far more important than that, as its relative size suggests. In fact it has a number of functions without which you would be in considerable trouble, and just as you can damage your liver by drinking too much alcohol, you can harm your skin by treating it badly. It pays to understand it.
It has three main layers, although each have lesser layers within them, and the layer at the surface (the “epidermis”) is flexible, but tough. Like all parts of the body, it is made up of cells and, as the ones at the surface die, they flake off and are replaced by other cells from the layer below.
The two layers beneath the eperdermis (the “dermis” and the “subcutis”) contain an extensive and remarkable network of nerve fibres, blood vessels, fat cells and glands of different sorts, all set in a web of body tissue.
Among the functions this very complex organ performs for you are the maintenance of your body temperature; protection (against blows, harmful light and bacteria); the disposal of material which could be harmful to your body; and the detection of sensation – heat, cold,pressure, pain, pleasure and touch.
Your skin varies over your body. It is thinnest on the lips and eyelids, thickest on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. In some places – armpits and forehead, for instance – it has more sweat glands. And in some places, too, it produces more hair than in others.
The surface of the skin has a very large number of openings. They are not so much punctures in the skin as places where the surface layer funnels down into lower layers for one reason or another. To provide a sweat gland with access to the surface, for instance; sweat glands produce a moisture, as we all know. When this moisture reaches the surface of the skin though one of the special ducts, the heat from which we are suffering evaporates it, and the process of evaporation cools the body. The skin produces about two pints of sweat every day in normal circumstances. Another sort of funnel contains the hair. It is called a “follicle” and this is one of the few technical terms you will need to remember for the rest of the article. There is a diagram which shows, in a very simplified way, the way in which the hair itself and the folicle are arranged.
A very important companion of the follicle is the sebaceous gland. Whenever you find a hair follicle, you will usually find a sebaceous gland, but not the other way round. Sebaceous glands make a substances called “sebum” which reaches the skin through the follicle opening. Sebum is a lubricant and conditioner which works on the scalp, the skin and on the hair itself. Without sebum, they would deterioriate.
They exist in the skin on every part of the body except the palms and soles and they reach their heaviest concentration in the face. Every hair has its origin in a sebaceous gland but not every sebaceous gland always produces a hair. Because of their importance to the condition of your skin, it is obviously crucial that any action you take against the hair itself does not damage the sebaceous gland.
The structure of the hair needs also to be understood because this holds the key to the way it can be attacked. The hair shaft is the part of the hair above the surface of the skin. The part below the surface, lying in the part of the follicle, is the hair root.
At the base of the root is a slightly swollen part, called the bulb and there is an indentation in the underside of the bulb which contains the papilla. The papilla is also very important when it comes to destroying the hair.
The whole folicle is served by a system of blood vessels and nerves, and also by its own muscle. As you will note from the diagram, hairs usually grow at an angle to the surface of the skin. In certain circumsatnces – fear and coldness for instance – the muscle comes into action and pulls at the base of the hair so that it can be dragged upright. This is what we call hair “standing up on end”, and it is also the explanation for goose flesh or bumps.
It is the bulb and the papilla which are responsible for the growth of the hair, after receiving a trigger from the hormones in their blood supply. In due course each hair regenerates naturally, and falls out. The bulb and the papilla then rest, before receiving a further hormone signal and starting the growth of new hair.
Specialists who treat hair have a number of names for the different types or stages of hair growth. We need to know only three. “Vellus” hairs are soft, downy and fine, and you will find them on most parts of your body. The hairs you will see on the face and arms of young women, for instance, will almost certainly be vellus hairs. You will sometimes see these described as “lanugo” hairs, which are actually the hairs which grow on babies in the womb, and which they usually lose quite soon after birth. “Terminal” hairs are far tougher and much more noticeable. Women have them on the scalp, under the armpits and in the genital area. The distribution of terminal hair on men is usually, as we know and despair, much more widespread and usually includes the face.
The other sort of hair we need to know about is the “regrowth” hair. We will return to it later.
As you would imagine, hormones play a very important part in the growth and distribution of hair. The male androgens, and particularly testosterone, are very powerful stimuli for hair growth and are especially responsible for the growth of tough, terminal hairs on the face. In women, the female oestrogen hormones are normally able to outweigh the effect of the testosterone in their bodies, so that terminal hair will usually be found on their scalp under their armpits and in their genital area.
Sometimes, however, this balance is not maintained and they may find terminal hair growing in embarassing places – on the face, for instance, and sometimes around the nipples. This is often one of the effects of the menopause or “change of life”, which women experience in their forties and fifties. But all sorts of other factors, including emotional stress,can upset the hormonal balance; and professional beauty therapists believe that most women, at some time in their lives, feel a need to get rid of unwanted facial or body hair.
The methods, techniques and practice of hair removal described here, therefore, been developed for use on women. They are, of course, available also for men; but it is important to bear in mind that the technique for permanent removal starts off with an assumption about the relative androgen and oestrogen levels in the person being treated which will not apply to physical males – unless that is, you take special steps to counteract your own overwhelming testosterone levels.
To find out more about the different methods, both temporary and permanent, I have spoken to many practitioners, most of them beauty therapists. I will refer to them mainly by their first names. I have also been greatly helped by Julie, who is course director for the beauty therapy courses at one of the country’s top colleges of arts and technology. And I have talked also to Margaret, Clinic Manager of the Albany Clinic, which specialises in treatment and care of transvestites and transsexuals. If you want to follow up your interest in this subject, I would especially recommend a book called “Principles and Techniques for the Electrologist”, on which I have also drawn for this article. It is written by Ann Gallant, who was a lecturer responsible for beauty therapy at two colleges of arts and technology, and is published by Stanley Thomas (Publishers) Ltd.
Are These Methods Effective?
Methods of getting rid of hair permanently are called “epilation”, while temporary methods are called “depilation”. We will start with the temporary methods of depilation. They appeal to many people because they are often quite simple and can be performed by the person who needs the treatment. But are they safe? And are they effective?
The most obvious method is shaving. For women this is one of the most commonly used methods, especially for legs. They are, however, treating vellus hair, whereas a man will usually have to contend with terminal hairs. There is some uncertainty about whether, as Margaret says, “the more you shave, the more it stimulates the growth”, but she would probably agree with Rosemary that “it doesn’t really have any detrimental effect. It’s an old wives’ tale that it damages the hairs”.
Julie, however, has an explanation for why the growth of hair often looks worse after shaving; “usually your hair has a nice tapered end, so if you’re shaving the hair you’re going to get a blunt edge on it… so it looks darker or coarser as it grows through”. You have only to remember that the hair usually grows at an angle to the skins surface; your razor will not be simply be chopping it straight across, but slicing at an angle, leaving a bigger cross-section showing.
There seems to be no reason, then, why you shouldn’t shave your unwanted hairs away – you won’t do them any damage or actually make the regrowth coarser. Most of us, however, could find several reasons why shaving is no real answer. For body hair it has to be done too often to be practical, and there are dangers of inflicting cuts, which make it clear to everyone what you have been doing. And, of course, for facial hair it is only the most temporary of solutions.
It is likely, though, that shaving will toughen the skin; dragging a razor across it regularly will inevitably produce both friction and pressure, which tends to lead to a thicker skin layer. It is interesting that electrologists will often recommend to their clients that they use sharp scissors instead of a razor, once treatment has started.
If you are a transvestite who likes occasionally to look as convincing as possible but has no interest at all in dressing full time, shaving may be a very convenient, cheap and private way of dealing with a short-term problem. For a transsexual, however, it is less likely to be satisfactory.
Another method that is cheap, simple and private is plucking, using tweezers to pull the hair out. It is a method many women use on their eyebrows. But says Julie, “tweezing out the hair on a facial area is not a good idea”. Marian says: “I really don’t recommend it. It produces infection sometimes and it can distort the hair”. And “it’s very painful, apart from anything else, especially on a large area – and very difficult”, adds Margaret. Nobody i have spoken to recommends plucking at all. Many beauty therapists raised fears that trying to pull hairs out by the roots with tweezers would only succeed in breaking off the hair and damaging the root. At the moment there are three systems of permanent hair removal, by electroysis, in use at the moment in beauty salons in Britain. In all of them a very fine needle is inserted into the follicle and electrical power is used to disrupt the bulb and the papilla.
The skill required of the practitioner is remarkable. Few untrained eyes, I suspect, would be able to identify a regrowth hair which might then be crooked, making it very difficult indeed to treat permanently by any method, including plucking.
A much less dangerous method of removing hair temporarily is by waxing. The basic technique is to seize a lot of hair on one area of skin simultaneously by applying something sticky in the direction of the hair growth, and then removing them all at once by pulling sharply in the other direction.
Done properly, this will usually remove the hair roots. But, of course, there will still be some regrowth in due course because the papilla will still be in place.
There are three main ways of using wax. There are prewax strips, intended mainly for home use, which you buy in a box. You remove a backing sheet, stick the strip on in the direction of growth, and pull it off like an elastoplast. Women use this method on their legs but rarely elsewhere. The advantages are that it is quite cheap, and you do not need any special equipment.
Cool waxing works in much the same way, except that you apply a sticky honey wax thinly on the leg, then put a paper or muslin strip on it and pull it off in the same way as with pre-waxed strips.
Hot waxing involves heating a mixture of beeswax and resins to about 60 degrees and spreading it thickly on the leg. When it has set, gripping the hairs, you yank it off in the same way as in the other two methods. “it is said to be more effective than cool waxing,” says Julie, “but we’ve done a lot of tests with clients in which we do one leg with hot and the other with cool, and we haven’t seen much difference. But with very strong hair, you have perhaps got a better grip.” Beauty salons will usually offer both hot and cool waxing, and it is possible to buy kits for use at home. Cool wax has to be disposed of after use, but it is possible to filter the hairs from hot wax, and re-use it. Many salons refuse to do this, however, because there is a danger of cross-infection; if you are going to be the sole user of a home hot waxing kit, filtering would not present the same kind of problem. An advantage of waxing is that the effect should last for three or more weeks, until regrowth occurs, and then, of course, you might find eventually that the regrowth hairs were less course and noticeable. A disadvantage is the pain which these methods inevitably involve. Much will depend on your own pain threshold, of course, but it is worth remembering that successful treatment of an area such as a leg will need several applications of wax or prewaxed strip.
One beauty therapist from Essex said she would consider using the waxing on some body areas in treating a transsexual. Waxing is not, however, an option on the face.
Nor are most depilatory creams, which are probably the second most popular method of home treatment. “Immac” is perhaps the best known brand, although there are a number of others. There are some types designed for facial use but it seems very doubtful if these would be able to cope with male facial hair.
They work by a chemical reaction with the hair at the point that it leaves the follicle and, says Julie, their effect may last a little longer than shaving or plucking. There are dangers, however; “Because they’re quite a strong chemical product, the skin might react to them. So you’re actually destroying the surface layer of the skin if you leave them on too long.” That is why you’re always advised to do a patch test when trying a new depilatory cream or treating a new area of skin. The time recommended by the manufacturers for you to leaving it on the skin is obviously related to its use by a women – a man might need to leave it on a little longer but not much.
Margaret believes that there is a danger with these creams that their frequent use will result in a stronger hair growth in time, while Julie points out that they do tend to smell a bit unpleasant, despite the makers’ attempt to mask the chemical smell with some other fragrance.
Having said that, chemical depilatories – which comes as creams in tubes or jars, or as aerosol sprays – will often appear to be the best method available to transsexuals or transvestites for regular use. They are not, however, a permanent method of hair removal.
Transgender ResourcesEverything You Need to Know About Hair Removal, By C Dawson
There is one other, and in this country very unusual, method of temporary hair removal. It’s called “threading” and it is used quite commonly in Middle and Far Eastern countries. It is impossible to describe, but involves a piece of thread with a loop in it, one end of which is put in the mouth.
The thread is then drawn in and out of the hairs, which are then removed – “very like a mass plucking,” says Julie. “It’s wonderful to see it done.”
The only available method of permanent hair removal – epilation – is electrolysis. This, as you would imagine, involves the use of electricity and, to be fully effective, it must not only remove the hair from the follicle but must also disrupt the papilla in some way, so that it is no longer capable of producing regrowth hairs. At the same time, it must not cause lasting damage to the follicle itself, and especially to the sebaceous gland. There are several techniques which have been developed over the years, and we’ll examine each of them.
Before we do, we should look at one method which is sometimes thought to be a technique of epilation – permanent hair removal – but which, says Ann Gallant, “is not currently considered by the electrology profession to give the proven results neccessary to class it as a method of permanent hair removal.” This is the tweezer method (not to be confused with plucking, where no electrical power is used). It’s known as “Depilex”, which suggests that it manufacturers, recognise it as a method of temporary hair removal. Because of superficial similarity between this equipment and other types intended for true electrolysis, there is sometimes confusion about the lasting effects of this method.
It operates by gripping a hair with a special pair of tweezers as it leaves the follicle and passing a strong enough current through to destroy it. The theory is that the current will be carried through the hair to the papilla, which will then be incapable of producing regrowth hair. Ann Gallant, however, believes that the current tends to be dispersed on the surface, via the moisture and oils on the skin, and says, that “permanent results have not yet been achieved” by this method.
None of the specialists I spoke to would recommend it in preference to any of the main techniques of electrolysis, but some felt that, as a method of temporary hair removal, it might be as effective as shaving or depilatory creams, although probably not as effective as waxing.
There was also the fear that, in the hands of an experienced operator, it could result in some burning of the skin.
At the moment there are three systems of permanent hair removal, by electrolysis, in use at the moment in beauty salons in Britain. In all of them a very fine needle is inserted into the follicle and electrical power is used to disrupt the bulb and the papilla.
The skill required of the practitioner is remarkable. Few untrained eyes, I suspect, would be able to identify a follicle opening, even using a magnifying lamp. Electrologists locate the opening, identify the direction in which the hair is growing, insert the needle and judge precisely how deep it needs to go before applying the electrical power. They then remove the hair.
They can work at speed; Rosemary reckoned to work normally at 100 hairs in fifteen minutes (or one hair every nine seconds!) but has achieved twice that number. “The main thing,” says Julie,”is the depth, because you can go too far and go straight through and cause a blood spot; and obviously won’t get an effective treatment. And then you have to judge how much current to use, because the stronger the hair is, the higher the current you may need.”
It is worth at noting this point that there are “home electrolysis kits” which are offered for sale, usually through mail order, for about thirty pounds. The instructions for the one I bought come on a sheet no bigger than an A4 page. These are the full instructions given for inserting the needle (or stylet tip) into the follicle. “Note the angle of hair growth and gently insert stylet tip along underside of hair and into the follicle using a downwards pressure (sideward will bend the tip). In the beginning it may take a few tries to locate the follicle so tip enters easily, but you will become proficient sooner than you think. The stylet tip floats on a spring cushion, thus cannot pierce or break the skin; it can only locate and slide into the follicle. Good lighting is imperative and a magnifying mirror is helpful.”
Constrast with the training Julie insists her students should have “We give them them about 300 hours practice, and a lot of it is spent initially on each other, using a needle without current.”Marian says of home electrolysis kits “Diabolical! There’s a real danger of scarring. Correct probing is absolutely crucial. You need plenty of training.”
The warning about scarring stems from the fact that, if you release the current before the needle tip has reached the bulb and the papilla, you may well burn the upper layer of the skin or the surface itself. If you are considering whether it is worth buying a home kit, consider how you would cope with hair you cannot see very easily and, if you are right handed, how effective your left hand would be in treating your right arm…
Back, though, to the three main methods of permanent hair removal. For simplicity, I am calling all three of them “electrolysis,” although technically only one should actually carry that label.
The oldest is the galvanic method. It uses a discharge of electricity to produce a chemical reaction at the base of the bulb; the sodium hydrochloride which is formed is an alkali which destroys both the attachment of the hair to its follicle and the ability of the follicle to develop regrowth.
Galvanic electrolysis is slower than the diathermic method, but it probably results in less regrowth and, therefore, not so much need to return to treat the same follicle again. Diathermic electroysis uses a short wave diathermic current which destroys the hair root through heat. It takes far less time for each hair, but because the needle has to be positioned with far greater accuracy, it is not so immediately effective as the galvanic method. Far more hairs can be treated in any one session and that will result in a sense of far greater progress; but, in fact, it is far less likely that any one insertion will result in permanent destruction of the hair. It may take a number of treatments before that has taken place.
Recently a new system has been introduced. Called “The Blend”, it combines both galvanic and diathermic methods, and it is claimed to have the permanence of one technique and the speed of the other. Those beauty therapists who have used The Blend seem very enthusiastic, although several have said that they will keep their previous system, as it may still be more appropiriate for some clients.
Although much more effective than any other methods available at the moment, none of the three techniques is without its problems, no matter how skilled the operator, as many beauty therapists have told me. The galvanic system may result in some of the alkali it produces being left at the base of the follicle, for instance.
However, there are side effects. Electroysis is painful, although much will depend on your own pain threshold. But nobody I have spoken to is in any doubt that there is a possibility of a great deal of pain involved. Not, as Julie explains, “from the insertion of the needle, because you’re not actually breaking through skin or anything else.”, but the electrical power produces heat and that causes a sensation like “a short jab, the pain of which depends on the sensitivity of the area you are working on.”
As one authoritative American study, “Electroysis, Thermolysis and the Blend,” puts it; “The goal of the electrologists is to work as closely to the pain threshold as possible, employing the maximum amount of current that the client can comfortable take. The higher a client’s threshold level, the greater the intensity of current we can use, thereby shortening the length of time needed to treat any follicle.”
A threshold level is defined as “the degree of pain sensation beyond which the intensity of pain becomes consciously uncomfortable or intolerable,” and it varies from person to person, from day to day and from body area to area.
Electroysis nearly always produces a certain amount of inflammation and redness on the area of the skin treated through this, too, will vary ftrom person to person. But “redness and swelling rarely lasts longer than thirty minutes to two hours.” The more sensitive the skin, the longer. Younger people show more effects. It’s common, especially with a lot of growth.
This can provide problems for any client, but especially for a man. It may be difficult to arrange the frequent treatment you would need at times which would allow you to keep out of sight until the redness and inflammation disappears although, according to one specialist, “only an electrologist would notice.”
A similar problem arises from the fact that an electrologist needs a certain length of hair growth before she can work on it. Not only does she need to grip it with tweezers, after treatment, to remove it; but she will neither be able to locate the follicle nor to determine the direction in which the hair is growing without some growth.
How much? “You need at least twenty four hours growth to enable the tweezers to grip. But as the treatment proceeds and you get regrowth hair, it becomes less noticeable.” As you might expect, this puts dark haired people at a disadvantage, but there are compensations; “Dark hairs are easier to see, depending on the colour of the skin. Blonde hairs can be a pair in the neck.” That’s obviously not a joke!
Time and money
If you are considering money, treatment by electrolysis – and is really is the only possibility for dark-haired transsexuals, for instance – then you have to be prepared for frequent treatment over a long period of time. The normal pattern seems to be one session a week of about an hour, and some people arrange two sessions a week. As the treatment continues, and the amount of regrowth hair increases, it might be possible to have less frequent sessions. And you must be able to continue for at least eighteen months and, more probably two years – or even more.
It is expensive, too. Depending on where you live, and where the salon is situated , you will be paying no less than £20 an hour and, very probably, in excess of £30 or £35. Although that sounds – and is – a great deal of money, especially when added up over the entire length of the treatment, you are paying for a very high degree of skill and experience.
Some electrologists operate a home visiting service, which might be more convenient for you and also cheaper – the cost of their travel might be significantly less than the rent and rates for a high street salon. And, if you are seeing a psychiatrist as part of your gender reassignment treatment, you may be able to arrange for much cheaper electrolysis, as it can be available on the National Health Service. Beware, though! Fees paid by the Health Authority to the electrologists who work for them are often very low.
So you will either get superb treatment from someone who is doing it because of social commitments or you could be in the hands of someone who is far less experienced or skilled.
Go for the best
Wherever you seek your treatment, you must go for the best possible. “Electrolysis is a very demanding and difficult technique and unfortunately there are too many people carrying out treatment who are not really adept. I have met many cases of people with redness and swelling that has taken over twenty-four hours to subside, and this should not be. As a result of poor treatment, carried out ineffectively over a period of two years, I myself took up electrolysis…” and discovered, says this specialist, that many apparently qualified people are not actually very good electrologists.
Julie says that it is best to go on the reputation of the salon or practitioner, but reminds us this might actually be based on their skill at, say, make-up. Her advice to women is to visit the salon for something else – a manicure, perhaps – and weigh up its standards of cleanliness and general professionalism; and, of course, to seek recommendations from friends.
This is less easy for a man, especially one as self conscious as many transsexuals tend to be. However, if you have a female friend in whom you can confide, she should be able to do some research on your behalf. Otherwise, you could approach one of the professional bodies – like the Insitute of Electrolysis – and ask for their advice.
There is one form of treatment which, used as as a preparation for and simultaneously with electrolysis, should make life a great deal easier for transsexuals in particular. This is a hormone treatment, and it is provided by the Albany Clinic, whose manager, Margaret, explained to me how it works. “It contains an anti-androgen which works against the testosterone (the male hormone).”As we mentioned earlier, in most young women their own oestrogens outweigh the effects of the testosterone in their own system and one of the results is very little terminal hair growth. When this balanced is disturbed, as at the menopause, they may start to show a pattern of hair growth which one associates with men. The Albany Clinic’s hormone treatments seek to do the opposite by treatment with female hormones. There are two ways in which this is used. “There is a cream which is used on the areas where you want to get rid of the hair, mainly the face and chest area. It’s applied normally twice daily, in the morning and evening.”
This treatment results in less strong growth, with finer and usually fairer hairs.
The cream is sold commercially, but the hormone level is relatively low. A stronger cream is available but only on prescription issued by one of the medical specialists who are associated with the Clinic.
The other form of this treatment is also available only on prescription. This is a drug which is swallowed and which has its effect over the whole of the body (although it does not make any difference to the hair on the scalp, in the genital area or under the armpits). It has a stronger effect than the cream and it is usually prescribed as part of the process of gender reassignment.
Professional electrologists recommend this treatment highly for transsexuals. “It’s very important that people should have been on oestrogen treatment before electrolysis.” “Do try to get hormone treatment before you start electrolysis.” “Hormone treatment is advisable – taken orally preferably. The hormones remove the desire of the hair to be there.” “There are no problems with treating male hair if they’re on hormone treatment… One client hadn’t had any hormones, and electrolysis wasn’t really having any effect.”
Although the cost of hormone treatment is likely to be fairly heavy, it may well cut the overall cost of the electrolysis – because finer, softer hairs are easier to treat and the whole process will probably be completed more quickly and with less pain and discomfort of the treatment – because the electrologist may be able to use a weaker current than would otherwise be necessary.
Looking to the future, what treatments may be on the horizon? Many practitioners feel that laser technology may have something to offer. The practitioners will still need to be highly skilled, though, so long as the basic method involves targeting the papilla accurately, whether with a fine needle or a laser beam).
From Australia comes news of a drug treatment which has been developed for women suffering from excessive terminal facial hair at the menopause. It is called spironolactone, and it is said to have two effects; it reduces the production of the male hormone and it reduces or prevents the effects of testosterone on the papilla. If so, it is claimed, it might stop the growth of facial hair.
The treatment is given in tablet form and it is said to take two to three months before there is a visable improvement with the maximum effect showing after nine to twelve months. Spironolactone has been available for some years but its use in the treatment of unwanted hair growth is very recent and it needs emphasising that nobody has yet had a chance to evaluate possible long-term side effects. And, so far, it seems to have been used only on women; it might have a totally different effect on men.
For the foreseeable future, the various forms of electrolysis seem certain to offer transsexuals and transvestites the best and, indeed, the only form of permanent treatment, especially when carried out in parellel with hornmone treatment. it will remain a costly, long uncomfortable and difficult process, which should only be embarked upon seriously and with commitment.
How to set about it
If you have made the decision that you need electrolysis and are determined to carry it through, how do you set about it?
The best way, as we have already suggested, is to ask a female who understands you and is supportive, to find out whether any of her friends have had electrolysis treatment, and, if so, who they recommend. If that draws a blank, she may be able to identify a salon which has a high reputation generally, and which offers a service of electrolysis.
There are also professional bodies, whose members have to meet certain standards and which will be glad to put you in touch with a local member who will advise you. You can feel some confidence about the professional standards of people offering electrolysis who belong to one of these organisations.
You need have no hesitation in approaching a professional electrologist or beauty salon. They may not feel able to accept you for treatment, but they will not be surprised by your inquiry. Phone them, explain simply and straight forwardly why you need electrolysis, and ask if they would be prepared to meet you to discuss the possibility. They will understand why you expect them to be discreet, and they will be. If they feel unable to help you, thank them anyway and ask if they can recommend anybody else you might approach.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the preparation of this article has been the contact it has allowed me with some exceptionally caring people. Not all electrologists are prepared to treat transsexuals or transvestites, but many are. Ann and Patricia, electrologists in different parts of the country, are typical of many of their colleagues. “I get on with them very well. I feel they need the treatment and shouldn’t be turned down. Somebody must help them… I feel very strongly about that.” “They’ve got to be helped. At least they know I’m there, to talk to… I just treat them as people… they ask for advice about what they should wear…” “I have a laugh with my clients, chat them up… they tell me things about themselves… they can’t help feeling the way they are… you’ve got to be understanding and sympathetic, and see them the way they are.” “I just want to help them.”
That sort of sensitivity is more widespread than you might think. Perhaps it’s because most of the work of electrologists stems from the overlap between what are seen as male and female characteristics. And maybe, too, as the practitioners in the “beauty industry,” they are more than usually aware of how important it is for people to look the way they feel. It is sensitivity and a sympathy that should not be abused.
Most of them do understand that many of us, for much of the time, live in a sort of emotional turmoil, and that we are faced with some of the most unenviable decisions imaginable. This is no excuse for taking our problems out on people who are prepared to take us seriously; and yet many speak of one arkward client with which they or a colleague have had to cope.
One practitioner from the Midlands has been particularly annoyed by the casualness with which some transsexuals have treated her. She had three or four enquires in a short time and went to great lengths to arrange convienient appointments, even sending her assistant off the premises to ensure complete discretion. Then the callers have not turned up or even bothered to phone a cancellation. She is still prepared to consider treating transsexuals but one can hardly blame her for wondering whether it is worth it. Each wasted appointment cost her, and her assistant money.
Some prefer not to treat transvestites. Several electrologists have told me that they find transsexuals far more confident, far more convinced and commited to their treatment. And, as one from East Anglia asked, “If a transvestite actually wants to remain a man, why does he want hair removal?” It’s not, she assures me, that she has anything against transvestites; she just doesn’t see the point of electrolysis for them. “I worry about the inconsistency,”
Many will allow totally convincing transsexuals or transvestites to come for treatment dressed. They understand the need to do so, especially for transsexuals. But they expect us to understand their needs and to recongise our responsibility towards them. Put simply, we can lose them a large number of clients and a lot of credibility if we let them down.
They say; “I will only let full-time transsexual people to come dressed.” “Its OK for them to come dressed, but not to cause embarrasment to other clients and staff.” “Presentable appearance is OK but nothing kinky.” “If other patients know you are treating transvestites you could lose a lot of them.”
These comments are from the North, the South Coast, and from the home counties.
The AIDS scare has obviously not helped at all. Many people wrongly assume that transvestism and transsexualism are just forms of homosexuality. Most electrologists understand that they are not, but that does not matter to their clients. “I treat both transsexuals and transvestites,” says one practitioner, from Lancashire, “but subject to our own approval of their hygeine and general behaviour during treatment.”
And who can blame her?
And, although many electrologists will point out that Hepatitis B has been a menace for far longer than AIDS and that they are trained thoroughly to avoid any risk they, too, might feel themselves in danger from a dubious client. For that reason, some will accept transsexuals or transvestites only if they have been referred by a doctor or a gender identity clinic. Do not be surprised if the electrologist you approach for treatment asks for your doctor’s name, address and phone number first.
Ready to help
So what is the overall message? That permanent hair removal is difficult and demanding; but it can be achieved, and there are many highly professional and caring people ready to help you. They will be prepared to help you if you show them you are serious and that will almost certainly involve hormone treatment. For that reason, permanent removal may be a less appealling option for transvestites, for whom there still remain many effective methods of getting rid of unwanted hair temporarily. If you are certain enough within yourself that you need treatment for permanent removal of facial and body hair, there is no reason why you should not succeed.