Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Matter of Make-Up

It seems other feminist bloggers are buzzing right now about make-up.  Whether women should or should not wear it, if make-up is a tool of patriarchy, whether criticizing make-up is femmephobic, if it has something to do with putting color on faces, it's up for discussion.  This got my friend, The Dirty Nerdy and I talking about our personal experiences with make-up.  It was such a surprisingly deep subject that I thought I'd muse about it a bit from a trans woman's perspective.

When little pre-transition Dori wandered into the make-up aisle she had no idea where to begin.  It was a really intimidating experience for me, as were many of my initial adventures into womanhood.  Make-up made me question my gender because of the mysticism society places around all things feminine: if you're a woman, than you should magically know how to use make-up, if you're not a woman, than you will never know.  So I did my research about how different products could be used and then felt stupid for being intimidated in the first place.  "This is super easy," I thought, "Why is everyone supposed to pretend like it's a big secret?"  Early into my transition I felt like I had to wear make-up in order to be perceived as female.  If I wandered out of the house without my "full face" I genuinely feared for my life.  I worried that people would know I was trans and try to assault or kill me.  Make-up was, quite literally, a matter of life-and-death for about the first six months into my transition, at least in my mind.  So I can sympathize with other women who feel pressured about make-up.  You should never feel like you "must" do anything because of your gender.  That's just bullshit.

Flash forward to present-day Dori.  Now that I'm well beyond the initial feelings of liberation and indulgence and the fear of people knowing about my birth status that come with the beginnings of transition, I've stopped questioning my gender.  I don't worry about my gender not being acknowledged by others because I'm lucky to be perceived as female anywhere I go.  Even if I chopped off my hair, wore my boyfriend's clothes and tried to lower my voice, I would still be "read" as a woman.  Knowing that as a trans woman makes life a hell of a lot easier.  It gives me time to question why I had those feelings in the first place.  I think it ultimately comes down to the double-standards placed on trans women, specifically the one I like to call, "Man if you do, and man if you don't."  If you're a trans woman who is not feminine, than people say your just "really" a man.  Never mind that cis women have the freedom to be as non-feminine as they want without having their gender called into question.  You're supposed to be a girl, so act like it you damn transy.  But if you're a trans woman who is feminine, than you're still "really" a man, because you obviously think wearing a dress and make-up is what makes a woman and you couldn't be further from the truth.  You just can't win if you try with some people.  Especially with the media.

Transamerica is a prime example of the "fool" archtype.

In the media, there are two kinds of trans women: Deceivers and Fools.  Deceivers are pretty, are perceived as female, are feminine, and are almost always pre-op for dramatic plot purposes.  Deceivers "trick" men into being attracted to them because that is the only motivation for being a woman.  To fuck men.  Fools are unattractive, are not perceived as male, are masculine but try to be feminine, and will never be taken seriously as women.  Fools are used as a comic relief and generally to reinforce how naturally feminine cis women are.  Fools tell the audience, "Gender is concrete and you just can't fight it."  Regardless of which category the media is portraying a particular trans woman, 9 times out of 10 you will see at least one shot, if not multiple, of her putting on make-up.  When I pointed this out to Dirty Nerdy she thought it was because trans women are women, therefore they must wear make-up.  But I think it's much more insidious than that.  I think the reason they show trans women putting on make-up is to call attention to our "artificial" femininity.  That's why you never see a butch lesbian trans woman on TV or in a movie.  She doesn't reaffirm gender stereotypes.  You'll never see a trans woman rolling out of bed and rushing off to work.  She's supposed to require lots of prep work in order to be perceived as female.  If not, than people might have to actually examine what makes a woman a woman.

I generally have a "five-minute face" I wear unless I don't feel like it or don't have the five minutes to spare.  It's just foundation, blush and powder with my tinted Burt's Bees lip balm.  If I'm getting all "dolled up" then I add eye-liner, mascara, and maybe some eye-shadow.  That's pretty much it for me.  I like the way make-up makes me look, but I'm not fanatic about it and I'm so busy I don't have much time for it.  However, I have seen friends use their make-up as an art medium.  They can do fascinating things with nail polish and cosmetics.  I have seen youth at my center come alive when given make-up to play with.  Boys, girls and everyone in-between should have to freedom to make their bodies their own.  If make-up helps them accomplish that, more power to them.  Some people might ridicule the time that is dedicated to something they see as "trivial", but if using your body as a canvas makes you come alive than use your make-up however you damn-well-please.  I'm all about expressing yourself in the ways you can.  We all have a voice that needs to shout to the world.  I'm not great with a paintbrush, but I'm a big fan of writing.  Some people might think my blog is "trivial" and a waste of time, but it makes me happy and what I do with my time is my business.  Do what you love and to hell with what other people think.

1 comment:

  1. I wanted to write a post about make up after our conversation, but I just couldn't organize my thoughts. Then I saw a youtube video called "Will I Be Pretty," and it made me think about it again. I was going to write an in-depth examination of how and why make-up is used, but I decided to just write out my personal feelings instead. As you can see it's a difficult subject for me (as it probably is for you as well), my post is a bit emotional.