Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bathrooms and Make-up.

Bathrooms and make-up are gender designators that all trans and intersex people come up against in one way or another. When was the last time you saw a simple crescent moon on a bathroom door instead of a symbol of male and/or female? Did you know that Ms. magazine lost it's advertising for daring to have a picture of a woman without make-up on the cover? This post is about my relationship with both as played out on two consecutive days.

I had managed to avoid using the bathroom at the club where I've been dancing dressed femme. That changed on July 24th. Basically, I couldn't "hold it" this time. I was faced with the decision to either use a bathroom or go home early. I was aware that fear was operative here. Two fears presented themselves to me; 1) fear of getting beaten up if I went to the men's room. 2) fear of being yelled at and told "you don't belong here" by cisgendered women. I discovered I was less afraid of getting beaten up than I was of being told I didn't belong, and so I went to the men's room. Nothing happened beyond a startled look or two.

Underlying my fears was how I expected cisgendered people to react to their own fears. Cismen's fear of threats to their masculinity do not seem legitimate to me at all. A ciswoman's fear of men invading their space has a basis in real danger all women face in this world. My dilemma in respecting ciswomen's fear, however, is that in doing so I am letting someone else's perception of my gender outweigh my own. This had something of a depressive effect on me.

I began to focus not on my own internal experience, but on assumptions about how others perceived me. I began to think about the fact that my being dressed femme did not communicate transgender. I worried that others saw me as a transvestite. More accurately, I was worried that people saw me as a BAD transvestite. When I decided to begin dressing femme, I realized I had to be willing to f*ck with peoples heads. Not maliciously at all, it was simply a reality that by expressing femininity (especially without the intention of passing) I would blow people's minds*. Particularly the unquestioning cisgendered mind.

The next day as I hovered outside a make-up store, waiting for Tammy to arrive and help me select lipstick and eyeliner, I noticed a woman inside the store giving me a severe look. I assumed she thought I was loitering outside a cosmetics store to ogle the ladies within, but I have no idea what she was thinking. Whatever the actual case here, one phenomenon that transforms my gender dissonance into dysphoria is when other women view me with fear or suspicion because of my physical form.

Tammy arrived and we went inside. She introduced me to her preferred salesperson, who I will call Kitty. Kitty had bright yellow eye shadow that could have been outrageous, but totally worked on her. At first, Kitty and I each deferred to Tammy. Kitty wasn't disrespectful at all, but did ask what I wanted make-up for. Tammy looked at me and asked who should explain this. I ended up giving Kitty the contexts in which I would use the cosmetics (daytime Milwaukee excursions and clubbing at night) without going into being transgendered.

We started with eyeliner. Kitty suggested a waterproof gel applied with a brush for two reasons. One, because I have a significant eyelid fold, and water soluble eyeliner would fade. Secondly because brushed on eyeliner is versatile and can be subtle for daytime and more flamboyant at night. While applying the eyeliner she remarked that she wished her boyfriend would let her make him up. Both Tammy and Kitty remarked on how my face brightened when I saw myself in the mirror.

We moved on to lipstick, the impetus of this excursion (see the P.S. in post "Flow"). I wanted an everyday daytime lipstick and a "slutty" red. We looked a various shades and chose a hot pink color to try on as well. When I saw the hot pink on me, I was just thrilled. My five o'clock shadow (and it's always 5 o'clock it seems) did interfere with the aesthetics for me, but even so… it was exciting to see myself "dolled up." Tammy and Kitty pointed out that I was giggling xD

Now I still have not fully understood intellectually how wearing the outer trappings of femininity expresses my inner sense of gender. From an abstract left brain point of view, my femaleness exists no matter what I wear. I would suspect that hot pink lipstick is a right brain phenomenon. I don't feel "more" of a woman with it on. I don't think I even "look" more like a woman with it on. What I am doing is letting my own perception of my gender outweigh someone else's.

Something I'm struggling to articulate is the relationship between my sense of myself as a woman and my desire to be feminine. I am fully aware that there are ciswomen that aren't particularly feminine. There are feminine cismen as well. Logically, it doesn't follow that wanting to be feminine is the same thing as being true to my own perception of gender. Nonetheless, that is my experience of it.

When Lumi first took me to her closet and had me try on her old clothes, I was overcome with emotion and was at a loss for words. Later I named that experience, "I'm home." Upon reflection I'd name the experience of seeing myself in make up, "that's me." I was using color I found beautiful (sentimental even) to augment my face, my body, in a way that touched my inner sense of femininity. Was some of that sense of femininity cliché? Iconic? Did it matter?

We next tried on two shades of red. It turns out the darker shade gave me the effect I wanted. Kitty showed me how to get the classic bow lip shape. I joked about the effect being slutty, but really I wanted to broadcast feminine sexuality. Intellectually I understand feminine sexuality is not about lip color at all. What I ended up doing was kissing Tammy's wrist and the lipstick print on her skin was nonetheless an icon.

One of the most important aspects of my trip to the cosmetics shop was that it reminded me of my vision about going forward with gender expression. That vision seemed to say, "remain playful." The bathroom dilemma, in hindsight, was an indication that I was starting to take this too seriously. I SO needed to play with make-up the next day <3

*God bless Tammy (and Kristen & Toast) and my other cisgendered friends who have blown my mind by showing me such loving support <3