When I escaped California, and it felt like a real escape, throwing everything away and getting on a plane before dawn, I couldn’t look at my face in the mirror without makeup on. Having that job at the queer nonprofit and realizing queer people liked my face better made up was…..well, it’s just a trip to realize there’s no group of people who likes the actual look of your face better than a paint job. Looking at my naked face reminded me of being trans. Being trans had been a period of being encouraged to make a lot of choices that made me dependent on other people’s mercy, and then finding out people expect quite a bit of submission back from you if they’re going to extend their mercy. I didn’t want to look at the face that had gotten me into that.
So when I landed back home last winter, and I had accepted the reality that the world did not like my face, there was not going to be an escape from the gender game, and I was just going to have to suck it up and commit to a role to play, I started putting on makeup immediately when I woke up. The magic it worked in my life was tremendous. Just like at the queer nonprofit, people liked me, wanted to help me, projected kindness and good will onto me, smiled back.
Here’s how make up works- you erase your face and then put it back on. Concealer under the eyes, on the ridge and tip of the nose, a dab above the lip, a dab on the chin, along the jawline. Something darker along the sides of your nose and on your cheekbones. Primer on your eyelids. You blend that, and you are blank. Now your face is gone and the canvas is ready.
Now you fill a face back in. You trace your eyebrows and fill them in. You line your eyes, you line your lips. Now you can see your features again.
Then you fill in the landscape. You darken the crease above your eyes and color the lid. You add blush to your cheeks. You fill in the lip color. You paint the lashes. All the while you are blending, blending, blending.
Painting a face on means bringing home a third more money in tips. Because I paint on a face I might actually be able to pay off the credit card debt I took on while I had no job and still needed to eat in California.
You gotta choose the indignities you’re willing to endure until you get a base of autonomy. Men talk to me a lot about my body these days. I act like that is fine. My actual face is not good enough for the world. I act like that is fine. People say we’re moving to a world where gendered behavior isn’t forced out of people anymore. I know that may be the world people with money live in, but it’s not the world people who need to work live in. It is not the case if you have been shuffled away from math and science and the skilled labor those realms give you access to, and have only the service sector to depend on. Servants will do better if they put on the right mask. Servants will do better if they erase themselves and paint a wanted face back on.
Someday I will move around the world with my real face. Someday I will have the money in my account, and the land in my name, and I will not have to look like someone else to make the world be kind to me. I’ll live without mirrors and paint, I’ll live without constructing a face to live behind. It probably won’t be a young woman’s face anymore by the time I get that. I wonder how strange I will look to myself.