Minka: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to Minka Guides. This month we’ll be talking about what it’s like to move through the world as an AFAB person with facial hair. I’m really delighted to have my friend Riley Spicer here to have the conversation today.
How are you doing today, Riley?
Riley (they/them): Hello, I’m doing great. Really happy to be here to talk about this with you.
Minka: Yay! Awesome!
So, Riley is a 32-year-old queer, non-binary person who travels full time but is vaguely based in Barcelona, which is where I met them this summer. Riley works as an artist, a product leader and as a community builder. You can find them on Instagram and Tiktok as @rileslovesyall, which I think sums up your vibe perfectly, Riley.
So, I thought the best way to jump into this conversation is, firstly, to talk quickly about what AFAB means.
There are some people who might be watching this video who have never heard about it before. Do you have a particular idea of what that term means to you?
Riley: Yeah, so AFAB means “Assigned Female at Birth.”
So, when we’re born, we tie together sex and gender. Most people get assigned to a specific gender, and that’s how you’re treated, and that’s how you’re raised culturally. Definitely lots of conversations within the queer community about those terms and whether people like to use them.
As someone who was assigned female at birth and raised as a woman, and is culturally treated as a woman – I see myself as a non-binary person, and that’s how I present myself. But if I’m just walking down the street, people are going to treat me the way that they treat people they’ve gendered as women and I do think that changes the way that I experience the world. It changes the way that I’ve been raised it changes the way that I’m socialized.
I do think it’s an interesting and important facet of how we communicate with the world and how the world communicates with us. So yeah, it’s just like the world communicates with me thinking I’m female or a woman.
Minka: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve also heard people use the term AFAB as “Assumed Female at Birth,” which is interesting.
I think some of the conversations that you kind of touched on there that I’ve heard around the term being used is that it seems to be generally accepted that this is a term that is for anyone who’s under the umbrella of trans/nonbinary. But it isn’t a term that cisgender people should use to describe themselves. That’s what some people say.
Also, it is a term rather than an identity. So, it’s ideal for this conversation where we’re talking about something specific that relates to it. But a lot of people don’t think you should identify as say an AFAB nonbinary person. But those are all conversations that are always being had within the queer community, so you know these are not things that are set in stone.
I wanted to ask you, do you see yourself as someone who specifically has a moustache or do you just see yourself as like, “this is my facial hair?”
Riley: Yeah, so it’s funny that you ask that. I genuinely didn’t think about the fact that I had more facial hair at one point I mean. I feel like I have had a long journey with how I’ve interacted with my body hair in general. But by the time it got to facial hair, this was probably in the last four or five years, and I had already grown to, like, “I just don’t really care. My body has hair and I’m fine with that. I’m gonna focus my life on other things. This is not important to me.”
I started growing little moustache hairs, and I actually didn’t really notice because I don’t do a lot of makeup. I’ll do like quick mascara lipstick, right? I don’t stare at myself in the mirror that often, which again, is fine to do. It’s just not something I tend to do.
So, I had like posted a selfie on Instagram and one of my friends made a cute comment. It wasn’t even mean. He just commented, “Oh nice little stash” and I was like, “Oh, huh, I do have a little moustache. Oh, I guess that is kind of growing. I guess you can see that.”
So definitely the latter. Definitely, I just happened to have this hair here. It hasn’t really been that intentional until maybe a little more recently.
Minka: Yeah, which is the opposite of what my experience has been.
It was something that I was very deliberately removing for a really long time, even though I actually wanted to have it but thought for lots of reasons that it would be unacceptable for me to have it. You know to get a job or for desirability politics kind of stuff.
It was very also something that was very specific that I was like, “I want a moustache. This is something that I want.” Most of the time, I probably want to present as like a fab femme with a tache you, and that’s something that I really want to have as a look.
So that’s really interesting that it wasn’t something. You consciously were like, “Okay, this is who I am.”
Riley: I love that. That it is intentional and I’ve started to see that from other people.
This is something I mentioned to you when we met before. I’ve started posting on Tiktok and have people watch my videos that are about whatever. I don’t really ever intentionally talk about body hair or how I look or anything. But of course, you have people who will just come through and, apropos of nothing, make comments about me having a moustache.
When it first started happening, I was also like, okay yeah, I guess that’s true. I gotta give snappy retorts in a follow-up video. But then that would create a lot of people who were like “Wow, I don’t usually see people feeling confident about this” or “You’re inspiring me not to shave my moustache.”
Again, do whatever you want to do with your body hair. I do not have any value statement around that as long as you feel comfortable with it. But it was interesting to see that reaction from people and actually, that’s made me be more intentional about keeping it. There are times when I’m like yeah I might have just plucked it off for myself just because sometimes I’m like maybe I don’t know that I really want this anymore.
But I’ve kept it because it’s so weird to me that so many people feel that they should just police a stranger’s body on the internet. About something that has no negative impact on you. Has nothing to do with you. Has nothing to do with even the content of what this person is discussing that I’m like, “Now, maybe I do want to be a person with a moustache.” It brought me around to wanting to be that intentional.
Minka: Yeah, you’re like, “This is something that I kind of fell into, but I’m really down with.”
For me, there’s such power in people like yourself normalizing this. Because coming to Barcelona this summer I’d gone through this whole process of being like, “I know this is something I want and I’m going to have to do it because I really want to do it but like I’m scared (for all the reasons that I detailed before).” Then it was like the universe just ushered in lots of AFAB people with facial hair into my life all of a sudden that hadn’t really come across my path before.
So, we met, and I met some people at Primavera Sound festival, and I met another non-binary person from Belgium who was travelling through and all who had different facial hair. Whether it was beards or moustaches or whatever. I was like, “Oh wow! Wait, Hi, okay, cool.” So it’s obviously not just me but also it’s so nice to see other people out there living their lives with facial hair. It’s not a big deal. It’s not an issue. I was like, “Oh wow, okay, cool. Thank you universe. This is really good.”
Riley: Yeah, and I think it’s so valid to be scared about it. To feel those feelings. This has been a long journey for me too. The most recent bit was the moustache and me feeling more comfortable but I also for a long time shaved and did all these different things.
You are inculcated with that in society. That body hair on AFAB people is unacceptable and gross and bad, and there is that internalized shame which I think is almost harder to get over than the external shame.
At least in my experience, the type of people who are going to dislike me or say something because I have facial hair are not the type of people I actually want to surround myself with anyway. So it’s actually a fabulous self-selection mechanism.
But my own internalized shame… If I can’t get over that, then it doesn’t matter whether the people around me care or not because I’m shaming myself for it. I feel like that was the biggest hardest part to come to terms with.
Minka: Yes, absolutely.
It’s interesting because the first moment of recognition that I had externally was walking past a group of teenage boys. They were like, “Oh my god, she’s got a moustache!” The interesting thing was that I felt in that moment like so happy because I was like, “Yay people can see it.” This moment of like being seen and recognized. But also I felt really joyful because I was like, “Yeah you get that I’m not for you. I am not designed as a visual for your pleasure or desire that you can project stuff onto.” That almost cuts that out. I just felt really great, and it wasn’t something that I’d anticipated or thought about or anything.
Riley: I love that.
Minka: But it’s so interesting that when across the board body hair for women and AFAB people is seen as something that we’re not supposed to have. Specifically, facial hair, anything beyond eyebrows (which obviously I don’t have myself at the moment, really) that’s like that’s the only thing facial hair-wise – and eyelashes – that everybody is allowed to have. But having any kind of facial hair around here is very much marked as being masculine or belonging to men.
Do you feel (your moustache) is a marker of masc energy for you? Or is it part of your appearance generally?
Riley: Yeah, different people will definitely take this in different ways. But for me, I want to degender it entirely. I don’t feel a sense that it’s masculine or feminine. It’s just like bodies do body things.
I do wear some makeup when I want to, and I do pluck my eyebrows because I do like how it feels, like mowing a lawn or tidying your room. I like when it’s tidy, but I don’t want to be forced to do something. Spend hours of my life… spend the mental energy if I don’t actually care. If it doesn’t feel nice to me.
So, for me, it’s a lot about that perspective. It’s not that it’s particularly gender-affirming or denying. I don’t care that my body is doing this thing, and I would like to spend the energy of my life focusing on other things.
Minka: Yes, exactly.
It’s interesting. I’ve found myself cultivating mine a little bit. I’ve bought a little pair of moustache scissors. You probably can’t see it as well here. But I’ve been dying it blue. When I bleach my hair and dye it blue I’ve been doing my moustache as well. So it looks natural with my hair.
Riley: Ah, love it. I love your natural blue moustache.
Minka: I’ve also been trimming it to make it sit above the top lip, so it doesn’t go down a lot. So I’ve definitely been shaping it, which I’m finding very fun. I love having a tiny pair of scissors and a tiny comb that are made for just that.
Riley: That’s a really good idea. I definitely have done a little bit. I have ones that’ll get a little long near the edge and I’m like this is annoying and I’ve just plucked it out. But trimming it – excellent idea. I’m gonna have to get some scissors.
Minka: Yeah, it feels like I am cultivating this.
Also, I think it’s a really important point to make and this is actually comes from when I was talking to my best friend about this for the first time. He said that everybody over a certain age on the planet has a moustache. It’s something that we try and pretend that half the population don’t have and aren’t meant to have but actually, we will all have one. Whether it’s soft little baby hairs or it’s a full bushy tache.
I’ve also found myself having moustache envy. So as soon as I started growing it, I was like, “Oh, I’ve finally done it… I’ve taken this step to growing my moustache in and now I’m realizing that it’s never really going to be a full 70s porn moustache. It’s always just going to be some little wispy thing.” And I was like I’ve got full moustache envy. That’s a legit thing.
Riley: I once did a poetry reading in college… So, maybe I have always wanted a moustache but not consciously. But the guy before me read some poem about beards. I was really really nervous about going up, so the first thing I said was “I’ve always wanted a beard.” That’s what I said to this room.
Riley: I guess. I mean I can’t grow a beard, so I don’t know what I would do, but it just seems so cool. You could just change the shape of it whenever you want and change your face so quickly. Then it’s like let’s say that to this room full of strangers.
Minka: Yeah, absolutely. You’re like, the top photo on my mind right now is “Godamn, it’d be good to have a beard.”
It has been interesting as well when you see people let their facial hair grow in that they’ve probably stopped in the past. You’re like, “Wow, there’s a load of it, and this is something that you were clearly removing for a really long time.”
I’ve had people be shocked, like, “Wow you know your moustache is actually quite big and thick,” and I’m like, “Thank you very much.” But for me, I think it’s always been there. Definitely, I knew it was there and “needed” removing. But also that… ah what was the point I was going to make my brain has gone out of it for a second…
But I think also that going through perimenopause, your facial hair does become a bit thicker and more prevalent. So, I think it also ties into this timing in my life I’m going through. Now it’s a force to be reckoned with. It would take so much more extra work for me to be removing it. So, now it’s all good. Come on down! Welcome to my face. You have arrived.
Riley: I love that and like it’s nice the way you’re saying it comes in more as you get older.
Like why can’t we appreciate some of these signs of ageing and the signs of the different phases of our lives? I don’t need to seek eternal youth. I don’t want to be 19 forever. Like great, I was 19 at one point, and I am delighted to no longer be 19. I mean, this comes along with many other ways but I think the point you’re making really brings it up with facial hair. Facial hair is one of our signs of ageing as well.
I feel like there’s something about wanting to stay young. That’s part of the reason to remove it, but I love that you’re just leaning into it. You’re like “Getting older, moustache getting bushier. Love this for me.”
Minka: Yep, it’s like it’s giving me a sense of maturity.
Perimenopause is like another puberty and so I’m basically like a teenage boy right now with like a little fluffball moustache being like, “Come on and prove that I am older and sexier and I’m I’ve got it going on.”
Riley: I love that.
Minka: Speaking about being sexier, there’s a conversation that we had on the beach this summer in Barcelona, which was very important to me. I was talking to you about my fears, particularly around desirability and I was basically like, “I’m scared no one’s ever going to want to have sex with me anymore and then, therefore, no one’s going to love me.” And you were like, “Yeah, that is not the case.”
Riley: Oh yeah.
Minka: I’m really happy to say a couple of months on, that is not the case at all! But I have been blown away by how there are those people who are, as you said, self-selecting out and I am so here for self-selecting out.
You know that actually saves me a lot of work in real life and on dating apps. Like, “Hi, yep, over there.” But then there are loads of people who are still totally into me with this, and that has been so exciting and amazing and reaffirming and, ah, it’s just been… It’s been great.
So I think it was an understandable fear because of how we’re socialized, but we’re here to tell you that that is not a thing. People will still want to have sex with you. They’ll want to fall in love with you.
Also, like I think we’ve reached a point in time where this shouldn’t be something that prevents you from getting a job. All of that stuff which were all big fears of mine twenty years ago when I first like started removing mine.
So yeah, thank you for being the point of wisdom. You were like, “Don’t you worry. People are still going to find you hot. You know it’s all good.”
Riley: It’s scary. It’s a super valid feeling and that’s what I was saying before, too. I think it’s that internalized fear that we have to just push ourselves through. It doesn’t really go away. Or at least for me, it’s a very ‘fake it till you make it.’ You’re just like, “Okay, I’m going to do it anyway. I am still scared that all of these things will happen.” But then you do start to see that they didn’t happen.
I imagine there would be clearly specific types of work… I’m sure that’s going to harm your work as a model if you’re like an AFAB model trying to do a specific type of modelling.
Minka: But I still want to see that! I so want to see that.
Riley: But it’s just like niching down. There’s absolutely a niche for that.
I really think that if we remind ourselves that in everything – in romantic relationships, in friendships, in work life – you don’t need or want everybody to want you. You will never be everyone’s cup of tea, and you don’t need to be. You will drive yourself crazy. That is not a key to happiness, that is not a key to fulfilment. The more you are yourself and the more that does absolutely let some people self-select out, like you said, it’s easier what you’re left with is the stuff you actually want and would actually be interested in. But it’s this fear of “Oh, I need all, like 100% of everything, like all those doors to still be open, everyone to still like me.” But that’s never going to happen. It’s fine.
Minka: Um, yes, exactly. I feel like everything you’ve just said has reflected the entire journey that I have been on in the last year or so not just around facial hair but everything about this idea of trying to be as desirable as possible all the time. Trying to enhance your capacity to be as desirable to as many people as possible, and it’s like, “No no, no. What do you want? How do you want to present?” You will then connect with the people who actually… you’ll be showing up as yourself, and then you will be connecting with people who actually are interested in you. Everything you’ve just said, yeah amazing. Thank you.
Riley: Beautiful. Love it.
Minka: Well, thank you so much for chatting all of this through with me today. If anyone’s watching this and they’re an AFAB person, and they’re thinking about growing in their facial hair, we say do it. Go for it. We know it’s a big leap to take. But honestly, once you’re on the other side of that, it’s life-changing. So 100% do it.
Riley: Thank you for having me. This was wonderful to speak to you again.
Minka: You’re very welcome!
Just of case anyone’s interested again, if you want to follow Riley on Instagram and Tiktok you can find them at @rileslovesyall and I’ll have links down in the videos everywhere, wherever so you can find them.