There is no one way to portray your gender, especially as a trans person. Transness comes in many different forms and aiming to be hyper-feminine is definitely one of them. But for many trans women — myself included — we don't always have the option to look any other way besides overtly feminine if we want to feel safe.
In September, USA Today marked 2018 as the "worst year for deadly assaults against transgender Americans." At the time, 21 deaths due to violence had been recorded that year alone — with 19 being trans people of color. By the end of 2018, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, released an additional report, detailing the names of five more trans people who lost their lives to acts of violence that year, bringing the documented total to 26. However, while only 26 deaths were counted, the number of trans people murdered in 2018 is likely much larger, seeing as a high number of cases go unreported or are improperly classified. And while police often say the motives behind these murders are "unclear," many trans women believe it's a direct result of gender discrimination and transphobia. This is why, as a woman of color who is both tall and hairy, my morning routine is about more than just getting ready — it's about survival.
Making myself up to be traditionally pretty can mean I don’t have to spend every day advocating and explaining my existence and humanity to the people whose sex matches their gender. It might also mean that, as a trans woman, I could be allowed the privilege to access certain opportunities, or resources — maybe even a fulfilling career — the same way a cis person would.
Even though I love wearing makeup to make myself feel good, it's also very important for me to use it as a means to pass. This way, I can avoid unwanted questions, degrading comments, or potential violence. If I happen to leave the house when I’m wearing feminine clothing while my face is bare, my day is full of long stares of confusion and disgust. People I don't know tend to yell out pejoratives at me from across the street; minor interactions with a cashier at a grocery store, for example, become heated when they clock me as trans. I even remember an instance where a woman entered a public restroom after me and asked, "Are you really in this bathroom? That’s really disgusting," as I sat motionless behind a stall door wondering how long I’d have to hide. But on days I wear makeup, people offer small compliments about my appearance, hold the door for me, and engage in simple conversations.
This means I really don't have the option to sleep in most mornings, due to my need to put on makeup in order to feel safe as I step outside. My routine can take up to an hour or more to finish, which means I typically avoid early morning obligations to give myself enough time to get through my skin care and beauty routine, and of course eat breakfast without feeling rushed.
To prep my skin, I always start by rinsing my face with hot water, while using my hands to cup the water around my face for a few moments. This helps me feel a bit more awake. The steam from the water also softens the hair on my face for a closer, smoother shave. Then I apply Barbasol's Original Thick & Rich Shaving Cream — I love the low price — and use The Truman razor from Harry’s. I’ve found that, for me, Harry’s razors are gentler than Gillette or Bic.
Then, I usually go for a bar of Shea Moisture's African Black Soap or Cerave's Hydrating Facial Cleanser to wash my face. I find both of them to be quite gentle, and they've helped me manage chronic acne flareups I've experienced in the past.
After cleansing, I go for an exfoliating mask, which helps to get rid of any dead skin cells and prevent razor burn or bumps on my face. Lately, I've been using Mask of Magnaminty or Don’t Look At Me, both from LUSH. Of course, exfoliating can be a good step in anyone's beauty routine due to its physical benefits. But it's become one of my favorite parts of my routine from a mental health standpoint as well. For me, the sensation of using these products helps me to feel like I’m scrubbing away at any negative feelings I have when I look at my own sleepy face in the morning.
Once I'm done, I finish by using the Rose Gold Luxury Sparkling Oil Serum from Azure Kosmetics as my morning moisturizer. This product helps my skin to feel soft, smooth, and luxurious.
Then it's on to makeup.
When choosing products and tools, I love picking items with cute packaging — something I like to look at everyday. This isn't necessarily essential for contributing to my end goal of passing or looking like a cisgender woman, but I still try to do tiny things for my own joy throughout my routine. It is a form of self-care, a small ritual I can do to feel pampered and precious in a world that might not agree with that sentiment. I also feel that I’m pressured to talk about my trans experience singly through the lenses of gender dysphoria and pain. But I prefer to center the experiences that give me gender euphoria, like having a perhaps overly glamorous morning routine.
I start by using Pore Filler Primer from NYX, then cover my beard with orange color corrector from the Make Up For Ever Flash Color Case Multi-Use Palette. I find that no matter how close of a shave I get, the roots of my beard hair will show up as a greenish-gray shadow underneath my foundation, and the shadow only becomes more prevalent throughout the day. This product helps create an even-toned, Instagram-filter-like texture that I love. Then I apply Make Up For Ever’s Matte Velvet Skin foundation, which provides all-day coverage and is great for oily skin.
Another vital step in my routine is creating a bold cat-eye. I find that striking winged liner gives my eyes a doll-like look and really helps to feminize my face. Sometimes I'll also use eyeshadows and blush, depending on what mood I’m in or what event or obligation I have to go to that day. But lately, I have trouble walking out the door without showering my entire face in Diamond Bomb All-Over Diamond Veil by Fenty Beauty!
I finish by setting my makeup with NYX's Matte Finish Makeup Setting Spray. I find it holds my face together on even the sweatiest 101 degree days — and it’s affordable.
Some days, I wonder if I can go out without doing any of this. But, when I’m too lazy for my morning ritual, I usually feel obligated to pick an unremarkable androgynous or boyish outfit to wear — something pretty uncharacteristic of me at this point. Still, I try to blend into a crowd and let strangers assume what they want about my gender. Because when trans women don’t pass, it can result in physical or verbal assault, and in the worst cases, death. I either have to put my all into my beauty routine, or just try to look like a boy.
But although my morning ritual is one of survival, obligation, and necessity, I still try to find happiness in it. I focus on the euphoria it brings me to watch a blue mask rinse off my face and reveal smooth, glowing skin. I admire the artistic merit of winged eyeliner and how it changes the entire look of my face. I experiment with different products, and take inspiration from platforms like Instagram. I turn something I do to survive into something I do to have fun.