Tanya Compas Is Fighting For A Space For Queer Black People To “Exist Loudly”

By Tanya Compas

Hailing from London, Tanya Compas is a youth worker, queer activist, and motivational speaker. In 2018, she was named by Amnesty International as one of the 100 most inspiring women in the UK, and was also included in the Evening Standard's Progress 1000, which recognised the city's most influential people. She works with UK Black Pride, among other organisations, and focuses on empowering women and girls from marginalised backgrounds.

People often look at me, particularly when I am dressed more masculine, and assume that beauty isn’t a part of my life — it is. In fact, it’s actually a pretty important part of it. As someone whose gender expression is fluid, some days I wake up wanting to wear a full face of makeup, and others, I don’t want to wear any at all. But regardless of whether I’m dressed more masculine, more feminine, or somewhere in between, every day, I want to feel beautiful.

I wake up every morning and think, “What mood am I in?” Depending on where on the spectrum my gender expression falls that day, my experience of how I navigate the world changes accordingly. It’s important that I feel like myself — however that looks that day. I have this saying that I live by, to "Exist Loudly." It motivates me in so many areas of my life, I got it tattooed on me.

We do need representation, but we also have bills to pay.

As queer Black people, we are constantly told, either directly or indirectly, that we have to “tone it down” or be a “bit more quiet” because people can’t handle — or don't want to handle — our energy and presence. This leads to so many of us minimising the best parts of ourselves in order to fit in. "Exist Loudly" is a big middle finger to all of that.

I feel like the conversation around beauty, not only in the UK but globally as well, needs to been shaken up. We are now in an era where businesses and companies are capitalising on the "self-love" and "empowerment" movements, as well as appearing more aware about the need for representation. However, within that conversation, they seem to forget about masculine-presenting women, as well as non-binary and gender non-conforming people. It’s as though our gender and masculine presentation makes us invisible. Beauty does not exist solely within the remit of femininity and whiteness, and I just wish more brands, companies, and people would explore this and pay people to do so, without expecting that we should merely be grateful for the "exposure."

When brands do choose to explore beauty outside of that limited scope of beauty, they often seek the services — whether that be consultation or the "face" — of models who exist outside of being white and feminine, and yet expect our labour for free or for a low cost because we should feel "grateful" for being considered by the brand. As Ari Fitz, an androgynous model and social media personality, recently tweeted, “There’s a financial benefit to inclusivity. You gain access to new audiences with money. So if my presence in your project provides you access to a new market, more than my non-poc counterparts in the project, then I provide value. Value that should be paid for.” And this perfectly articulates how I feel on the matter. We do need representation, but we also have bills to pay.

To be honest, representation isn’t enough for me. I mean, it’s nice and all, but I want to see a change in the way people think, in our language and our actions, so that it makes it easier for the next generation to Exist Loudly. I want to counteract the idea that femininity belongs to women and masculinity belongs to men. I want people to feel comfortable and safe to explore their gender expression, their femininity, and their masculinity through beauty. I always think to myself, if I wasn’t assigned a gender at birth — if I wasn’t told I was a girl — would I dress or act any differently? This is what I think we need to ask ourselves more often. You can be masculine and be beautiful, you can be feminine and be beautiful, you can float along the spectrum of femininity and masculinity and be beautiful. At the end of the day, you are at your most beautiful when you are your authentic self.

Before I'd learned to reject these notions, I used to think that in order to "look feminine," I had to have long hair. Back in university, I was dating this guy and when I met him, I had short hair. I remember one evening we were in bed together and while whispering "sweet nothings" into my ear, he told me how much better I would look if I had long hair. So I grew it back... for him. I sought the validation of a man who projected his own ideas of womanhood onto me and, in doing so, I changed how I dressed and how I presented myself. My femininity became nothing more than a performance.

My shaved hair has forced me to unlearn society's ideas of what a girl should look like and find myself again.

So a few years ago, I cut my hair off again. At first, I left some curls on top as a safety net, but I soon grew in confidence, and grew into my queerness, so the following year, I shaved off all of my hair. I remember the first reaction I got from a child in the barbershop was, “Is that a boy or a girl?,” which reflects just how young we learn what constitutes feminine and what constitutes masculine. The honest truth is that I’ve never felt more feminine. My shaved hair has forced me to unlearn society's ideas of what a girl should look like and find myself again.

My beauty routine empowers me to feel like I can take ownership of my body. Some days I can get ready in the space of 20 minutes, other days it can take over an hour. If I am going out, it's usually the latter. I like to take my time, figure out what mood I’m in, do my makeup — if I choose to wear any — have a drink, and most importantly, dance. I love dancing by myself and lip-syncing to get myself in the mood. Right now I'm listening to Teyana Taylor, Daniel Caesar, Tiana Major9, or any form of Bashment music. I'll take some thirst trap pictures and videos for my eyes — or my partner's — only, and just feel confident and sexy, no matter what I’m wearing.

If I could go back and give my younger self beauty advice, it would be to find who you are first, before you are told who you are meant to be by anyone else.

As I have short hair that I brush into waves, my beauty routine consists of a lot of brushing with hard and soft wave brushes which I get from my local Black hair shop, along with all my different variations of du-rags, depending on my mood. I’ve built up quite a collection, and my velvet yellow du-rag is my favourite. I also love face masks — my favourite is Lush's Don't Look at Me mask. I use them every few days as it forces me to slow down. I also love peel-off masks, especially the T-Zone Rose Gold Peel Off Mask. There’s something so satisfying about seeing all of the impurities taken out of your face.

When it comes to makeup, I’m still learning, but one thing that has always been a staple of my routine from the age of 14 is a thick black liquid eyeliner. I’ve used the same Rimmel Glam Eyes Liquid Eyeliner for over 10 years. What can I say, I’m a loyal consumer.

One of my favourite parts of my beauty routine is moisturising my body. I like to make my own body cream out of shea butter, coconut oil, and a mix of different essential oils. I make it out of love. When I put it on my body, I stand in front of my mirror naked. It's a major part of my self-care routine. It has helped me love my body in its entirety, wobbly bits and all.

If I could go back and give my younger self beauty advice, it would be to find who you are first, before you are told who you are meant to be by anyone else. Give yourself space and time to figure out what you like, what you want to wear, and how you want to wear it. There is nothing more beautiful than being yourself. Some people will refuse to see or will try to negate your beauty because you don’t fit into their limited, and often binary, idea of what it means to be beautiful, but that is their loss. You are and have always been beautiful, even when you are covered in mud after playing football. Don’t minimise yourself or make yourself smaller to fit in. Exist Loudly — you owe it to yourself. Oh, and please leave your eyebrows alone — your future self will thank you for it.