My father taught me to shave by handing me a Norelco. That was the extent of his instruction.
I rubbed the buzzing thing over my face until the fuzz was gone, and thus was I initiated into a timeless rite of manhood.
I don’t know how electric razors work, but it feels like they yank each hair out by the root. My sensitive skin would often react by breaking out in angry red splotches. And thus was confirmed my sneaking suspicion that I was not cut out for manhood.
Nobody is exactly overjoyed to enter puberty. I approached it with a sense of renunciation similar to that of Bartleby, the Scrivener. Sprout hair all over the place? I would prefer not to, as Bartleby would say. Develop the capacity to produce B.O. and pimples? Thanks, but no thanks. Get inopportune boners? Especially in church? Which was clearly designed to engineer inopportune boners? What with all the slow, lull-you-to-sleep parts—encouraging your treacherous body to relax and your pervy mind to wander—interspersed with random orders to stand up for hymns or prayers or the altar call? God himself was clearly opposed to the whole idea of pubescence.
But He didn’t put a stop to the whole thing. He doesn’t end poverty, illness, or The Bachelor—what makes you think He’d let me skip the agonies of growing up?
And so pubesce I did—zits, boners, Norelco, and all.
I continued using electric razors through adolescence and college and then well into my 20s. I didn’t go manual until I was pushing 30. Nor did I try growing a beard—not a full one, anyway.
At the Christian high school I attended, facial hair was prohibited, along with collarless shirts and left-leaning politics. After I left home, I still aspired to hairlessness—on the face as well as the body—because I had been led by prevailing standards of beauty to believe that young gay men such as myself were supposed to be as smooth as dolphins, though not near as smart. The pursuit of bodily smoothness resulted in some depilatory mishaps and more angry red splotches, this time below the neck. And below the belt.
My commitment to staying clean-shaven subsequently slackened, and I have sported scraggly whiskers on numerous occasions in the years since. I wish the results were sexy in a lumberjacky way, à la Joe Manganiello, or sexy in a hot-daddy way, à la King Triton of The Little Mermaid. But my dorkiness stays intact whether I have whiskers or not, so after a few days of not shaving I start to look instead like an I.T. guy who’s going through a divorce and developing a problem with online gambling.
I finally switched to the nonelectric Gillette Mach3 razor in my late 20s. Someone told me that manual blades provide a more thorough and closer shave than Norelco’s tug-and-snip method, and I have found this to be true.
My boyfriend, Frank, who would later become my husband, led a one-on-one interactive shaving tutorial for me, about 15 years or so behind schedule. Thanks to his skill, patience, and follow-up lessons, I have managed just fine for about a decade now. Guess I just needed an active male presence all along.
Frank taught me about using warm water, not shaving against the grain, and, most important when it comes to avoiding nicks, taking my time.
That last bit is fine by me. As I tried to explain to nature, society, and my glands when they were dragging me through puberty all those years ago, I’m in no rush.