For years, the word ‘makeup” always made me cringe. Like watching that scene in Indiana Jones and the temple of doom where he has to put his hand through that wall that was also a bug sanctuary and pull the lever. I couldn’t say the word without feeling squeamish and disgusted. So ashamed was I of this thing that could also markedly improve my life that i would rather be crushed by the walls closing in than admit to myself that i want to learn to cut a bomb ass cheekbone.
It would be a spell of time before i would really try makeup for the first time. Like a lot of trans folks, i went first to nail polish. I went with black, a color i had told myself would fly under the radar, forgetting all together that black nail polish on white fingers is like taping a flashlight to a sheet of paper. I remember the day after i first shaved my beard off and saying aloud that i was Trans going to my office and my employee giving my newly painted fingernails a long look. She would later tell me that she thought i was just going goth. Which, to go goth at 34, is almost a bolder move than coming out as trans. How many grown ass goths do you see out there in the world? I had some other items at home, mascara, some red lipstick. My girlfriend at the time was not one for makeup herself, she would give me the same line 82% of the women in my life have given me: “i have no idea what i’m doing with any of this stuff”. I was walking into a scene of what i perceived to be seasoned veterans only to discover no one had the slightest idea what it was they were doing.
It took a little time for the first offer to come in. I had a friend that was a hairdresser, that also knew her way around a makeup brush. She came by my house and helped style my hair for the first time (at this stage i was far too bashful and terrified of a salon) and then showed me some rudimentary makeup tricks. How to use colors to offset things like 5 o'clock shadow, or redness. She gave me my first set of makeup brushes, helped me figure out what my shade was for foundation. That foundation would sit in a drawer for months after that day. Some nights, when i was alone and afraid of the world outside, i would take it out. I would spend far too much time applying far too much foundation, without a real plan of attack. I have photos of this time, they are not pretty. I would wash it off and look at Trans women on reddit and feel ashamed. I would worry i would never pass, no one would believe my identity.
But here’s the thing. I would also actively avoid the things that would help me be better. A lifetime of masculinity had taught me that makeup was weak (an untrue fact) or queer (it totally can be, is, and should be), and that knowing anything about it made me the same. You know the thing they don’t teach you about toxic masculinity in school (see: everything) is that it teaches you that to truly care about yourself, your authentic self, is weak. To take pride, to find ways to play with your image. To define yourself outside of what people expect or dictate of you, is weak. The thing holding me back from getting better at makeup wasn’t that i still had stubble to cover up, or that i have a masculine jawline, it was that to truly discover myself i had to admit that i desperately wanted to know how to cut a bomb ass cheek bone. I had to learn how to properly apply a light layer of eye shadow, not a lot, but enough to create a defining effect.
If you’re reading this sometime in the future, we may be done with this now, but at the time of writing YouTube is chock a block full of makeup tutorials. I would start watching these, and turn the sound off. Or turn it off after i got the basic information i needed. Like watching a blurry late night cinemax movie in your parents basement (wow, i really am 36), i was ready to quickly change the feed at a moments notice, lest i allow people to know that I, an out of the closet public Trans feminine queer person wanted to know how to do my makeup. Imagine the absolute shock and horror. What would the neighbors say? What would my diminishing male ego say?
Pearl clutching aside, i see this now as my wanting to hold onto my male ego as it slipped through my black tipped fingers. One simply doesn’t just throw out a perfectly serviceable safety net. It’s like tipping over a vending machine, sometimes that mother fucker takes a few rocks back and forth. I would get really into it, a full face of makeup, put on a dress. Take photos. Think i had finally found my look. And then the next day it was back to casual goth vibes. It would be months before i left the house in any makeup at all. And even then i would always keep a hood over my head, sunglasses on. I looked like a narc trying to pass themself off as a civilian. I was trying to hide while being the most conspicuous person in the room, and denying myself the ability to walk into a room as who i truly am.
Shameful as it is to admit, there was a lot of internalized transmisogyny inherent in the way i approached makeup. As someone watching from the sidelines my entire life, i would see Trans women living their truth and pick apart their makeup, their looks. I learned to clock Trans folks from a distance. Totally normal cis-het behaviour i’m sure. I would hate the look of someone obviously wearing one coat of foundation more than most to make sure their stubble is covered. Never me, i thought. It’s scary how much unconscious learned behavior can affect the way you view other people, especially people that are more brave than yourself. The true sign of a coward is the judgement of other people just trying to leave the house to get a coffee. I wouldn’t allow myself to become the thing i had interaly ridiculed other Trans people for in my head.
Now, of course, time has proven the victor over bigotry with me. After a while i began to develop a look. I discovered a foundation i liked, and used it sparingly, on occasion. I started using BB cream, which is a decent foundation alternative, every day. I used words like Tone and Cleanse. My bathroom exploded in a sea of product, cleansers, and cotton application tools. This was around the time i started to truly see myself more. Truth be told, even when i was playing the part of Hipster Dipshit, i liked to dress up. I loved presentation, and the idea that you get to define your look based on your personal taste and sensibility. This was really a natural extension of the only true joy i ever brought into my life as a man. I began to figure out what my style was, what my look was.
At least i thought i had. Here i was saying “okay, i’m one of those no makeup for me” women.
I write this as a person that works from home and thus has no real reason to leave the house or interact with any particular aspect of the outside world that also has on the following, in no particular order:
Eye shadow primer
I apply most of these with a beauty blender, which is a $35 sponge you buy from Sephora. I also am a VIB in good standing with Sephora. Their website is a saved bookmark on my desktop. Again, i’m not sure if anyone but me will see this look today. A few months ago I couldn’t even say the word “foundation” without feeling an internal shame machine light up like a christmas tree. But, time heals all internalized misogyny, and I love my look. I’ve watched numerous youtube tutorials on how to achieve a look that is extremely low-key, and when i look at myself in the mirror i see the me that i always wanted to be there. I love myself when i look at who i truly am. And i finally understand why people take care of themselves and put this work in.
We don’t get to control many things for ourselves in this life, especially as a trans person. Especially as a later transitioning Trans person. Male puberty did a number on my body, and there’s only so many things i can turn the clock back on. What i can do is learn how to use the tools provided to me to redefine, to shape and mold and blend and conceal to a look that feels like home. It’s thinking something is gross but putting yourself into it anyway, to pull that lever and save yourself. It’s never as bad as you tell yourself it is if you’re willing to get over yourself and just do it.