Like words in our hands and mouths, women and non binary people can, and do, take the tools of our oppression and subvert them to liberate us.
Makeup is a femme signifier. It is often used against women to make them feel as they are forever reaching toward the respectable feminine ideal. Wear concealer and foundation to work or you’ll look like a ‘slob’, wear red lipstick and you’ll look like a ‘slag’. Fuck that.
My aesthetic is anarchic agender drag. By drag I mean to subvert the idea that only men wearing makeup are ‘in drag’. That only highly exaggerated makeup is ‘drag’. Drag is everywhere. Drag is looks you created and looks you woke up with. Your puffy morning face is a look. Drag is covering your dark undereyes, wearing mascara to drag up your lashes. It’s a cut-crease and glitter, it’s ‘no-makeup makeup’.
Everything is drag because looks are ephemeral, no look is the consistent core of your being. At the same time, all your looks are you, wearing the core of your being.
One of the roots of sexism, queerphobia and biphobia is the idea that people must be one thing at all times. If you’re a girl, you’re a girl and your appearance should not fall outside that boundary of ‘girl’. Similarly if you like boys and you’re a girl your looks must indicate that sexual preference.
But what if you are not binary and/or not monosexual? The world of looks is built, from the foundations up, to oppose your existence. Let’s go beyond gay guys looking camp and gay girls looking butch. Butch and camp can be one and the same look, a combination of infinite looks.
Makeup is just another thing we can use to transform ourselves. Makeup is undoubtedly political, whether it’s how you wear it, or how you buy it, or how you make it. Makeup is also a plaything: children of all genders are fascinated with makeup, given half a chance, because what kid doesn’t like face paint? I can look like a lion, I can look like a boy, these are naturally exciting prospects.
At heart the transformative nature of makeup is about allowing your curious self to flourish. What would I look like with emerald green eyelids? Is that a question with a gender?
And even in our every day lives, makeup is survival. When you’re a person of colour who can look more assimilated by concealing and transforming parts of your face, you can move through the world a little more easily, get safety and money a little more easily. And when you get home you can de-drag and re-drag into your realness, take a shitload of selfies and feel as good as you are.
How does looking at makeup in the ways I’ve described have any politically transformative power? When we treat makeup like what it really is — paint for the face — we at once fight the oppressive history of beauty and build a progressive future of beauty. Looks matter. For queer and trans people of colour specifically, we can subvert both racist and prejudiced ideas that have tarnished our pasts and breathe autonomy into our daily routines. We can build freedom into our faces.