Most of the girls where I grew up started wearing make-up in middle school. By the start of high school, I still wasn't on the bandwagon. I didn't understand why girls were expected to wear make-up, since boys didn't have to--and goodness knows there were dozens of boys at my high school whose goth-pale or acne-addled complexions would have been improved by a touch of foundation. But since no one expected them to paint over their faces' imperfections, I was inclined to exhibit my own just as freely.
Understanding that I was a pretty logical kid, my mom chalked up my aversion to makeup (as well as to carrying a purse) as old-fashioned, practical minimalism. As my overloaded tie rack now reveals, this was off the mark, but given the evidence available at the time, it was not an unreasonable hypothesis. Although my mom didn't want me to be Barbielicious or anything, she sometimes commented on my lack of interest in makeup--or, as she put it, in "putting on a little color." E.g. (pleadingly): "Don't you want to put on a little color?!?"
Playing to my "minimalism," my mom would try to give me makeup survival tips. "Instead of carrying around separate blush, you can just put a dab of lipstick on each cheek and rub it in," she might advise conspiratorially. Or: "In a pinch, you can always use mascara to darken your eyebrows."
I was highly doubtful that I would ever be in a "pinch" involving insufficiently dark eyebrows. But gamely, I gave both strategies a shot. I wore makeup on and off for several years. Putting it on always felt like putting on a costume, but I could look at myself in the mirror and see that I was pulling off a conventionally feminine look. I figured that this was how all women felt--that it was one of those burdens that she-creatures have to bear, like menstruation or writing thank-you notes.
When I was married to my DXH, every time I applied what seemed to me a LOT of makeup, I'd ask him if he thought it was okay.
DXH: Is what okay?
BW: My makeup. Too much?
DXH [looking at me; tilting head]: You're wearing makeup?
BW: Obviously, YES. And possibly way too much of it.
DXH [squinting]: I literally cannot tell that you're wearing any makeup.
BW: I don't believe you. I look like a clown.
DXH: Sweetie, what seems to you like a LOT of makeup is not exactly what the rest of the world considers a LOT of makeup.
BW: Oh. Well, now I just feel stupid.
DXH: Sorry. In that case, you look like a two-dollar whore.
As a kid, I tried to humor my mom's suggestions to look more feminine, which often involved compromise on both our parts. Because I threw a huge fit at the prospect of putting on a skirt, my mom tried to persuade me that culottes (thanks to Bee Listy for the correct spelling) were JUST like shorts. "Then why can't I just wear SHORTS?" I'd ask, incredulous. (My mom and I are still very close, by the way--which is proof that, despite occasional frustrations on both sides, a butch dyke NPR-loving daughter and a conservative, Fox-News-loving parent can still find enough common ground to want to spend time together.)
It wasn't that I objected to the style of the culottes (though I should have). Nor were they physically uncomfortable; they felt like well-ventilated shorts. But there was something I hated about other people seeing me in a skirt. It felt wrong, uncomfortable, humiliating. Some butches say that in childhood, they "felt like a boy," and didn't want people to see them in the "wrong" clothes. But I didn't feel like a boy; I felt like a girl who wanted to wear pants and a tie and have everyone think I looked dandy that way. From a very young age, I wanted sex and gender to get a divorce.
(A brief aside: This is what I mean when I say that there's something "visceral" about masculinity. My DGF doesn't like me to use the word "masculinity." She says it's too tied to maleness, and that part of the fun of being a butch woman is turning maleness on its head by co-opting its trappings. But for me, "masculinity" refers to a style of dress and way of being that is not tied to biological sex--although for the rest of the world, there happens to be a very strong correlation. For me, maybe masculinity is more of an aesthetic?)
Anyhow, the other day, for the first time in years, I slapped on a touch of makeup, just to see what it felt like. And you know what? A bit of lipstick and some eyeliner looked kind of kickass with my masculine glasses, haircut, and clothing. It was enough of a pain that I don't plan to do it again anytime soon. But it was pretty funny that after so many years of resisting makeup, it finally didn't feel "wrong."
It makes perfect sense, though, doesn't it? Since I'm at a point where I feel free to dress as masculine as I want to, a tube of lipstick isn't a threat to my core being. It's just--well--a little color.
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