Greetings dear friends of S.H.E, social, health and empowerment feminist collective of transgender and intersex women in Africa.
Wow, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Following a very hectic last week of training, we kick off this week with another morsel straight from the coordinators pen. In this piece of writing, I want to unpack the issue of make-up. Yes, make-up!!! As unusual a topic it would seem, this plays a big role in the lives of most transgender women I know and believe it or not………..the simple topic of make-up has gained sharp criticism for transgender women.
I’ve always got a little irritated with all the layers and layers of make-up transgender women tend to apply everyday. I apply make-up everyday, so i find it a little hypocritical when I get so annoyed at other trans women applying make-up and making themselves presentable to the world. For me, this presentation centers on one belief, the more the make-up, the bigger the affirmation of their female chosen gender. And this brings me to a burning question. Who decided that make-up and femininity are co-requisites? Well, I know women are programmed from a very young age to apply the foundation, add some colour to the eyes and top off with a nice colourful lipstick. Like most women, transgender women follow this almost religious regimen every morning. And so, when I applied my make-up one morning over the weekend, I thought of unpacking this issue of the context of womenhood, femininity and gender affirmation.
Acceptance of their gender is a top priority for most transgender women. But we tend to associate womenhood with red lipstick, hair extensions and high heels! This also speaks to the sexualization of transgender women. The higher the heel, the longer the extension and the brighter the lipstick, the bigger the sexual fetish around it. I meet gentlemen who question whether I am really trans because, apart from the little eyeliner and vanishing cream, I dont do red lipstick, bright nailpolish and I am particularly put off by weaves and hair extensions. All these things are not unique issues to trans women only. These are stereotypes perpetuated by everyday women, especially sex workers who “create” a “beautiful” concept and we play right into the hands of patriarchy becoming the visual, sexual stimulation sought by men. Without making the conversation too academic, basically we play into the vision men create for us!!!!
Taking men out of the spotlight and not blaming them for all we experience, my reflection on the single issue of make-up points me back to self confidence and security. As a set rule, I would never leave the house without make up, even to buy bread and milk at the corner cafe. For me, it comes back to the way that it makes me feel about myself because social programming has kicked in a long time ago to believe that a woman is no more than her red lips and blossy cheeks. Yes, even my brain is wrapped around that kind of thinking!
During this woman’s month of 2012, I want to encourage transgender and intersex women to explore the issue of make-up, hair and high heels in the context of social femininity. I want all the beautiful trans and intersex sister to realise that we be not defined by all this superficial stuff. No! I’m not saying take it all off. I just want you’ll to be cognisant that you are more than your hair. To the haters out there.
The next time you walk past a sister who slapped her mask on that morning, please stop going: “Girl, what happened to you, that is way too much”. Understand this comes from a place deep within, needing love, security and acceptance. It is an expression of individual identity. We all have that little something something that makes us unique and sets us apart from the rest. Eminem, the American rapper is known for his fowl lyrics, demeaning women in his songs and yet, his music is selling like hotcakes! Whitney Houston was killed by her drug habit and yet she was revered as a international musician. Now a sister wants to express her femininity and she gets sharp criticism from all corners, kinda hypocritical, isn’t it? In the same breath, I want to encourage fellow trans and intersex sisters with the words of India Arie from her song I am not my hair:
Good hair means curls and waves
Bad hair means you look like a slave
At the turn of the century
Its time for us to redefine who we be
You can shave it off
Like a South African beauty
Or get in on lock
Like Bob Marley
You can rock it straight
Like Oprah Winfrey
If its not what’s on your head
Its what’s underneath and say HEY…
I am not my hair
I am not this skin
I am not your expectations no no
I am not my hair
I ma not this skin
I am a soul that lives within
Happy Women’s Month to all the transgender and intersex women around the globe.
Until next time
Leigh Ann and all the folks at S.H.E