Make-up is important to t-girls. The biggest issue is our beards. Getting made up begins with a really close shave. But however close I shave, my chin still looks slightly blue – too blue to walk the streets without feeling acutely self-conscious. One solution is electrolysis, which is as close to permanent a solution as possible, but not cheap. For the rest of us, other solutions are required. I use quite an involved routine. The general advice in the community is to apply an orange lipstick or concealer under foundation, with the idea being that the orange counterbalances the blue. I use a layer of sparingly applied red lipstick, followed by a layer of concealer matched to my skintone, a little powder and then foundation. Because I have to shave my neck too, the same treatment has to be applied there. Quite a lot of make-up is involved, therefore. I do my best to make it look natural, but for going out in daytime it would be lovely to get away with less makeup.
Today I decided to try an experiment with minimal make-up, to see how little I was comfortable with. First I thought I’d try no make-up at all, but it was immediately clear that would not work. As my hair has greyed, my beard has become less intensely coloured, but not sufficiently so that I can get away without wearing any camouflage. For the photos on this page I used just a little liquid foundation around my mouth and on my nose, some powder and a small amount of blusher (plus lipstick) – not the all-over cover I normally use, and much less make-up where I did apply it.
I have to say I feel quite pleased with the result, although I’m not sure I’d have the courage to go out on the street wearing so little concealment. My paranoia about having a blue chin goes quite deep – but once you go for full cover, then the eyes need to be done too, and it becomes more elaborate. I’ve stuck to the same formula for years. I like being made up nicely, but I’ve always been interested in blending in as much as I can (as much as a 6’2″ t-girl can, anyway), and elaborate make-up is unusual in daytime (although some women like it too). I think I need to challenge myself a bit and I’ll keep experimenting.
I have travelled a little in the course of my transgendered experiences, and met t-folk from several continents. Always it is remarkable to discover how much we share in common, despite the superficial differences in our lives. The path appears never to be without pain, but some societies appear to do better than others at grappling with the challenge. The Guardian this week published a fascinating piece about the Muxes (transgendered people) of the Oaxaca region of Mexico. There is a charming accompanying film, which if not accessible via the link above can be reached through YouTube. While the transwomen of Muxes in this film have struggled to understand and define their own identities, it is heart-warming to see the degree of acceptance that they have experienced in a society that lacks many of the privileges we enjoy in Western Europe. Their courage is remarkable, but what comes through powerfully is the strength of the acceptance they find in their mothers – there is no force of nature so powerful as a mother’s love.
Following the revelations about first Harvey Weinstein and then a depressing roll-call of Hollywood celebrities, a wave of accusations of sexual harassment has swept through the UK Parliament. Every day new accusations surface; the evening news on TV is a daily expose of the darkest, seediest aspects of human nature. There is no party political division here: wrongs have been committed in all parties. The vast majority of the perpetrators are men, and the majority of the victims are women, although it is clear that both in Hollywood and Parliament gay men have been subjected to humiliating unwanted sexual attention too. Painful though it is to see this torrent of revelations of inappropriate behaviour, one does feel a sense of catharsis, of shining a light into dark places and a refusal to allow evil deeds to remain cloaked in secrecy. Some politicians have sought to manipulate their responses to accusations, like Defence Secretary Michael Fallon who claimed that “14 years ago things were different…” and led us to believe that his only misdemeanour was to place his hand on a journalist’s knee once, a long time ago. The argument is hollow: my own father, nearly 80 and of a conservative world-view, would never countenance the kind of behaviour displayed by Fallon, many years his junior. We have not re-written right and wrong in recent years; we have instead attempted to right the imbalance of power that has led so many victims to be pressurised to be silent. Such are the days in which we live that more misdeeds have been uncovered and Fallon’s attempted frank and direct confession now looks like a cynical effort to conceal and limit damage. Such is the momentum of disclosure that it simply will not work.
The problem of sexual abuse is multi-dimensional. It is not restricted to parliament. This week the UK’s Commissioner for Equality and Human Rights warned that there is an epidemic of sexual abuse in schools. The prevalence of pornography that shows women not only participating in abusive sexual practices but, indeed, craving it does not help. But schools are failing too. Girls who make complaints of rape (and we know how difficult a thing that is to do) are being forced to return to the same classroom as their perpetrator while the trial date is awaited. There seems to be a gulf of human empathy and understanding between the tragic suffering of young women being abused and the woefully inadequate response of the education system that is supposed to protect them.
Workplace relationships are a staple of TV dramas, and lines are often crossed that I would feel should not be crossed; romantic attachments between individuals with unequal status are often portrayed. As long as dramatists portray sexual advances between individuals in the workplace as normal – even when there is a plain differential in power and authority – the myth will be perpetuated that there is no clear line between good and bad behaviour. Men will continue to claim that “banter” or an honest expression of romantic interest has been perversely re-interpreted. In Michael Fallon’s mind, when he grabbed a journalist, pulled her to him and kissed her, he was perhaps – like Donald Trump – acting out a fantasy that the unwilling recipient of his advances was irresistably drawn to him because of his power, importance and goodness knows what else. We know – because she has spoken clearly – that the incident filled her with revulsion.
In my work I have mentored and supported many young women. I hope that none of them would ever bring accusations of abuse against me because I have drawn clear lines. There is a right and a wrong way to behave in an unequal relationship; I do not believe there are shades of grey. Always, the person in authority should resolve any doubt by erring on the side of caution, but in the vast majority of cases the shades of grey are only in the minds of abusers. As a society we must define limits that we all understand, and honour, so that such abuses cannot happen again.
One of the oft-made criticisms of trans-women made by radical feminists is that they grow up experiencing all the benefits of male privilege, evading the discrimination that marks the lives of many women. These are complex issues. Perhaps the most foundational question is, does male privilege exist? In a very interesting interview on the BBC web site, Vivienne Ming, a tech industry entrepreneur, describes how she experienced the removal of her privilege after transitioning in her 30s. “Overnight, people stopped asking me maths questions”, she says, and she places the value of those male privileges at around a quarter of a million dollars. It’s an intriguing insight. One can accept, intellectually, that discrimination on the grounds of gender is an ill, and something to be resisted, but to hear a first-hand account of the outworking of people’s unconscious prejudice is shocking and illuminating.
For Dr Ming, male privilege evaporated as she transitioned. There is no doubt she has entered into the discrimination that all women suffer. But does that deal with the complaints of the radical feminists? The answer to that is complex. Caitlin Jenner, who has become the media-appointed poster-girl for transgendered people, presents a rather different case. Having made fame as an athlete, and fortune as a celebrity, she transitioned as only rich girls can, with expensive reconstructive surgery in an effort to realise a vision of feminine glamour that many women feel to be a straight-jacket. As a wealthy celebrity, every piece of publicity could only increase the value of the stock first accumulated as a privileged male. Its a very different story, and it underlines how problematic it can be to take a single celebrity and make them a representative for a broad and diverse community of human beings.