Beauty

11.19.2019

6 Transmasculine Artists Discuss Make-up and Defying Beauty Norms

The conversation around beauty has changed over the years, however, there is often a missing link surrounding transitioning and transmasculine youth; it’s important to leave space and celebrate the navigation of people experiencing their beauty and make-up routines on their own terms. Makeup has no gender, and to break the stigmas associated with masculine leaning identities and free expression, photographer Soraya Zaman teamed up with makeup-artist Shideh Kafei and stylist Jimi Urquiaga to bring forward their vision of all-encompassing beauty.

Milk spoke to the inspiring model Devin-Norelle, rising musician Graham Garlington, actor Theo Germaine (who appears on The Politician on Netflix), full-time fashionista Mads, dancer and fitness enthusiast Ashley Yergens, along with artist and activist Artemis about their interests and creative endeavors, their relationship to make-up, and what products they like best.

THEO  (They/He)

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about yourself?

I was born in Southern Illinois and grew up in a few different areas of the state – but mostly lived in a very small, conservative town in East Central Illinois.  I spent a lot of time outdoors and shoeless when I was growing up; the smell of corn, soybeans, or manure in the air was usually a thing.  I drank a lot of orange soda and ate a lot of frozen strawberries when I was a kid, and spent my childhood imagining. I’m the oldest child of 3 (plus 3 step-siblings.) My parents split up when I was 10 or 11 and the aftermath was pretty bad, and it colored most of my adolescence.  I somehow made it through high school and college and now split my time between Chicago and NYC and live a fabulously queer life.    

What do you like to do in your free time / a day off?

I watch TV or listen to music, or spend time trying to teach myself a new skill.  I write, or I go on a long walk or engage in some kind of other physical activity like going to the gym or taking ballet.  I take a long bath and do skincare; I go out dancing with my loved ones and stay out all night; I try to ask myself what will make me happy, and I do that!

What’s your sign?

Aries.  I was supposed to be a Pisces, but I think I was delivered a week late because I wasn’t ready to come out yet. 

What role does makeup and beauty play into your life today? Do you have a favorite product?

Makeup is fun and allows me to feature a part of my face, I smear my eyes with glitter and they become illuminated. I put on a full face and I play a role – I get to fight androcentrism and decorate myself.  It all depends on how I am feeling.  Normally, I like doing bare face and wearing a really shiny lip gloss, making sure my brows are nice and full and even, and I might do a little bit of highlight on my cheekbones.  Skincare – I’m obsessed with mostly everything, especially if it is cruelty-free.  Drunk Elephant is a brand I use daily – serums, eye creams, moisturizers, and oils. 

Who are some of your beauty inspirations?

Alok Vaid-Menon, Aaron Phillip, January Jones, my makeup artist, Zandi, Jari Jones, and Jessa Thomas-Wise (a long-time friend of mine.)

What advice do you have for trans youth navigating themselves and their identity?

There is so much I did not initially allow myself to explore because I got really caught up in binaries and boxes and masculinity.  Do what you feel.  Wear your eyeliner.  Wear what makes you feel good.  If you have big hips or curvy hips and you identify as a boy, then your hips are boy hips.  People come in all shapes and sizes. 

Is there something you would say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

I think I am who I am today because of my resilient, stubborn, and occasionally frightened, younger self.  I am not sure what I would say because give little whispers of encouragement into my 17-year-old ears.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or creative endeavors?

Next up, I’m working on season 2 of The Politician, and my other show, Work In Progress, will be premiering next month.  I’m also in the process of working on some scripts, both for the stage and for the camera. 

GRAHAM (He/They)

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m from upstate New York, a town called Greece outside of Rochester. I’m a musician! I sing and play some instruments and write chamber musicals about my gender, mental illness, and just other weird shit I think about on the reg. I also love/do comedy and film.

What do you like to do in your free time / a day off?

I smoke weed (c’mon chronic illness!!) watch movies, TV, and YouTube. Write songs, stare into space. A perfect day off includes chicken wings, Buffalo with blue cheese, obviously.

What’s your sign?

I’m a LEO hunny! And I got a Leo stellium. Scorpio moon, Aquarius rising.

Who are some of your beauty inspirations?

My style inspirations come from any and everywhere I can think of and always have. I think the fact that I do drag now has made sense of a lot of my looks as I child. I would wear similar styles, colors, and silhouettes to that of people I admired and/or wanted to emulate. Whether that was Willy Wonka or my gym teacher. So when I got to college and didn’t have anyone, in particular, to base my fashion off of I found myself very lost when it came to clothing. This was also right around the time I came out to myself. Once I realized that I didn’t have to wear the clothes I was told to “I was a girl” and 12, I just kinda let myself wear whatever the hell I want. Sometimes certain cuts or shapes or patterns are dysphoric so I find my way around them but besides I’m pretty free, which is what I’ve always wanted. I thrift 90% of my clothing, also I think I grew up doing, so trial and error when it comes to clothes isn’t that much of a worry for me. I love color, I live for camp and drama (I will often wear too much for the occasion, ahem, Leo), and I really love when a look has a story behind it. Like a red jacket isn’t just a red jacket. Like in the movie that is my life what’s the plot and what character am I while wearing this jacket? The lead? The villain? Tea. I think musicians have had a HUGE impact on my fashion, as well. The stage is such an amazing place to just really go for it, so people like Erykah BaduAndre 3000David BowieFreddie MercuryGrace JonesLady GagaMissy Elliot, etc really inspire me to gag myself with my looks. My rule is: if I wouldn’t look twice if I saw this outfit on the train, it ain’t it!

What advice do you have for trans youth navigating themselves and their identity? 

Whatever feels right is right and it’s okay if/when that changes, and it doesn’t matter how often it changes. I LOVE YOU AND YOU ARE REAL AND SO FUCKING VALID KIDDO!

Is there something you would say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

You a boi. You’re not crazy for thinking so. Also, fight for the Earth like they’re a family member, because they are. Activism is in your blood so don’t be afraid to go against the grain because you’re scared people won’t like you, ya damn Leo!

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or creative endeavors? 

Music has saved my life more times than I can count so I will never stop doing it. So I have a concert of my new music going up at Starr Barr on 11/25 at 7 PM ($10-$15 suggested donation at the door, no one turned away), Troubadour Lounge 11/23 at 7:30 PM. I also have shows with Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir at Joe’s Pub starting 11/24 through December on Sundays at 2 pm.

MADS (He/They)

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m from a lot of different places but would probably say I’m from Kansas but consider Montreal to be my home. As for who I am, I would consider myself a multi-media queer artist! Right now I mostly focus on sewing but I also love making art in all its various forms. I also consider myself to be a body positivity/ fat positivity activist which really works its way into my passion for fashion. I started sewing because I was tired of trying to fit into things that didn’t fit me, literally. As a fat/plus-sized person the fashion industry puts a lot of time and effort into trying to minimize me by making me look smaller and more muted. Insofar as my identity as a transmasculine person, I find that so much menswear is made to be dark and closed off and recluse which isn’t me at all: I’m a very sincere and excitable person. So I started making my own stuff!

What do you like to do in your free time / a day off?

Honestly, any time I’m not at work I’m usually toiling away in my basement making art of some sort. I also try multitask and watch a lot of horror movies when I’m sewing– I love them but I get scared to easily that it’s better when I’m not paying full attention.

What’s your sign?

I’m a Leo! Just got a tattoo to commemorate it!

What role does makeup and beauty play into your life today? Do you have a favorite product?

Honestly, I never wear makeup, especially now that my skin is so fickle from being on testosterone! The conversation around beauty is absolutely important to me however because I find that we live in such an image-saturated world where everyone is expected to be presentable all the time. My take on beauty is that it’s ok to be ugly! It’s taken me a long time to realize that things, especially art and fashion, don’t have to be beautiful in order to be good or worthwhile. Insofar as favorite products, I really love wearing colored contacts, usually, I get mine from Unisqo. 

Who are some of your beauty inspirations?

Jaden Smith is the absolute coolest, having the confidence to wear whatever you want and throwing traditional gender roles to the wind is absolutely what I’m all about! I also recently visited the Camp exhibition at the MET and there wasn’t a single piece on display I wasn’t wild about!

What advice do you have for trans youth navigating themselves and their identity?

People put a lot of weight on “being respectable” when you’re trans, which is really just a code for passing as cisgender. I see so many “passing tips” blogs these days that really enforce traditional masculine stereotypes (don’t dye your hair, don’t wear bright colors, don’t wear makeup, etc.) and where I see that that can be really helpful for some people, I also think it can be very harmful. My take on it is that we need to do more to work on shifting the paradigm of what it means to be a man or what masculinity can be. I think everyone’s transition process is different and that you should do what makes YOU happy, do whatever makes you feel most at home in your own body.

Is there something you would say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

I think that I would thank myself for being so strong. I’ve pretty much gone from being That Weird Kid to That Weird Adult, the only difference being that when you’re young standing out is so much harder. I love who I am today and I don’t think that I’d be able to say that if younger me had compromised in order to fit in better.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or creative endeavors?

I’ve just opened up commissions for clothing on Instagram which is really exciting! for a very long time, I’ve wanted to work with people to give them something that they feel really happy about wearing and also something that is fit for their body, not something that a fashion company expects them to work around the fitting. Other than that, I recently learned that I’ll be moving to Vancouver at the end of the month which I am so, SO hyped about! 

DEVIN-NORELLE (Ze/Zim/Zis)

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised in Harlem. Harlem has always been an overflowing basin of rich culture and history. I have immense pride for my neighborhood, despite its transition over the past decade. I’d like to think that the transition of Harlem is experiencing is very similar to mine. Outwardly, the physical may have changed, but, like Harlem, I’m still the same person within.

At the beginning of my medical transition, I kept a Tumblr journal to help my family and friends grow a better understanding of who I was and why transitioning was so important to me. I also desperately hoped to find more people like myself. When I was a teenager, I felt so isolated. Transness wasn’t discussed out loud. I convinced myself no other person felt the way I did. Tumblr has been a saving grace, connecting me to people that shared similar adversities. Some of these folks became my family.

Tumblr and writing have done more than connect me to my community, or forge avenues of expression; it’s given me a voice and fostered a platform. If someone had asked me 5 years ago where I think I’d be today, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be advocating for other trans people. I didn’t really have dreams back then simply because I didn’t think I could have dreams as a trans person. Today, I’m modeling for Chromat at NYFW, writing for various magazines including Teen Vogue and Allure, and winning awards for my advocacy. Who is this person I’ve become? I’m am awestruck, but proud.

What do you like to do in your free time / a day off?

I like a variety of things. I really enjoy cultural history, art, or anything food-related. I love museums, immersive experiences like the Color Factory, or galleries like Beyond the Street in Williamsburg. I’m always down for a game of putt-putt golf as well. If it’s warm out, I really love getting up bright and early to spend time at the beach. The waves ut me right to sleep.

What’s your sign?

I’m an Aries. I’m not really sure what that implies, but the Instagram memes are extremely funny.

What role does makeup and beauty play into your life today? Do you have a favorite product?

I’ve never truly allowed myself a chance to dabble in makeup until I started working at Teen Vogue. I was seated next to the Allure team and both brands were steamrolled with makeup daily. Makeup has been crucial in exploring my masculinity. I love matching a good glitter beard with my favorite suits. Something subtle, like a cute eye shadow, goes a long way. I look forward to photoshoots because I can explore more playful looks than I’m capable of creating myself. Through makeup, possibilities are boundless. My favorite products are any of the Fenty highlighters. They look exceptionally great on my chest.

Who are some of your beauty inspirations?

I live for Alok V. Menon and their gender breaking looks on their Instagram feed. My friend Dee TrannyBear serves a savage, beat face that is unrivaled. I’ve proudly worn a t-shirt with their makeup smudges. I’ve also been learning some new makeup skills from the colorful and vibrant tutorials by Yaw.

What advice do you have for trans youth navigating themselves and their identity?

I came of age during the information age, and regret not seeking my community when I was younger. I think a huge part of me was just too ashamed of being trans. Today, social media has made it possible for people like me to live more openly, but still so many of us feel isolated. I would encourage those who experience this to find and reach out to their tribes. Having someone to talk makes such a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to reach out. We’re here to listen.

Is there something you would say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

I wish I could tell my younger self that everything would be ok. My biggest and deepest fear as a young trans person was losing my family and friends. My immediate family happened to be very unsupportive of anything LGBTQIA related. Today, my family remains mostly unsupportive, but I have found love and affirmation through my chosen family. I do not have to live in the shadows, I walk out loud and proudly. I wish I could tell my younger self that they would thrive as an adult, that they won’t have to live feeling ashamed, and that love would be possible, because the love they always hoped to find would be the love I found within me.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or creative endeavors?

I’m hoping to continue advocating through my writing. Next year, I’m consulting with various companies to conduct HR trainings and also helping to develop trans inclusive policies in schools both here and abroad. I am also relaunching my t-shirt line (formerly Trans Is Beautiful Apparel) that raises funds for other trans people. The funds are directed to the Bye Gender Trans Survival Fund, and redistributed to trans people throughout the year for their hormones, surgery, rent, bills, travel, and survival.  Of course, I’ll continue modeling on and off the runway. This past summer, I received a really exciting from The Matrix co-creator, Lilly Wachowski, and her team asked me to try out for a show she’s co-producing. I couldn’t believe it! While I didn’t get the part, I took this as a sign to pursue acting. I’m taking classes on and off. Now I dream of being on a TV or movie screen. It might be a distant dream, but at least I can finally say I have dreams.

ASHLEY

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about yourself?

Minnesota! I’m a byproduct of growing up with an affinity for WWE SmackDown, tater tots, and Stockard Channing as Betty Rizzo.

What do you like to do in your free time / a day off?

Sleep!

What’s your sign?

Capricorn Sun, Taurus Rising, and Capricorn Moon

What role does makeup and beauty play into your life today? Do you have a favorite product?

For me, it has nothing to do with gender. I don’t believe we have to orient ourselves to makeup in a gendered way just because that’s how it’s marketed to us. Honestly, makeup just serves as a way to stay connected to a kid’s sense of play. It helps me develop character studies for my dance-based performances.

Who are some of your beauty inspirations?

Annie Lenox in Sweet Dreams music video and Cindy Sherman’s edited Instagram photos.

What advice do you have for trans youth navigating themselves and their identity?

It’s important to remember that you’re not the first person to have a trans experience. Read and consume the literature, photos, and film of your trans ancestors. This will help treat loneliness and it is a great “meal” in addition to the “supplement” that is the internet.

Is there something you would say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

I forgive you.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or creative endeavors?

I’m the first trans artist to be awarded the Live Feed residency at New York Live Arts. I’ll be premiering my evening-length work CU*T C*NTEMPORARY in 2021.

ARTEMIS (He/Him)

Where are you from? Tell me a bit about yourself?

I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but I was raised in Washington, D.C., I got roots everywhere. It’s always so weird to try to tell people about myself, I’m a 20-year-old Latinx trans masculine queer person. A whole mouthful. I love reading, especially poetry (I’m obsessed with Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez), I try to be active in advocacy and activism utilizing a reproductive justice framework specifically focusing on queer POC liberation, and my favorite animal is probably a frog or a sloth. I love clothes, I love dressing up extra as hell for no reason. I love my friends and my family, people are honestly the most valuable part of being alive for me, I’m an introvert but I just love all the people that I surround myself with. Oh, and I’m definitely a cat person.

What do you like to do in your free time / a day off?

In my free time, I feel like I mostly surround myself with my friends and loved ones, we get up to all kinds of stuff. Whether it’s dancing or making food or just watching tv, actually this is so weird but I feel like I honestly lip-sync with my best friends like 60-70% of the time we are together, just dramatically acting out songs and losing ourselves laughing. If not that then I’m probably reading something (I’m trying to finish Pleasure Activism by Andrienne Maree Brown, I’ve been putting it off because I’ve been so busy) or listening to music (I’ve been listening to Summer Walkers new joint for like two weeks now) or journaling, I kinda want to write a memoir because I feel like my life has been so weird, even if I’m only 20, haha! If not that, I’m definitely studying, there’s not that much free time, I’m a junior in college currently.

What’s your sign?

I’m a Scorpio! And I am definitely a Scorpio, through and through. I’m also an Aquarius moon and a Libra Venus. 

What role does makeup and beauty play into your life today? Do you have a favorite product?

Makeup and beauty play a huge role in my life, I consider myself pretty vain honestly. That’s been a new development for me though, I never felt very comfortable growing up, I could never figure out how to dress or act like myself and everything I wore or put on felt like a costume, after coming out I really processed a lot and could more easily dress and show up as myself. I think makeup and beauty to me is part of my freedom, my ability to be a man but still be deeply feminine and be trans and to feel right inside because of it. I think it took me a long time to accept that my gender representation would always be fluid, but once I did I dived headfirst into always looking exactly how I’ve always wanted to. Sometimes that’s a full face and a black slip dress to a midday coffee date and sometimes that’s ripped jeans and a cropped hoodie. I like doing whatever feels good when I’m getting ready in the morning, and that varies too, sometimes that’s just eyeliner or even just Carmex and moisturizer and other times is individual rhinestones surrounding my eye and full contour! I think my favorite product is probably the star stamp by Milk, it adds so much to my eye looks and I always get so many compliments, and red lipstick!

Who are some of your beauty inspirations?

Prince first probably, I love his soft curls and his heavy dark liner, the clothes and his perfectly groomed facial hair? Immaculate. Beyond that, Indiya Moore is such a fashion inspiration, they just look ethereal and I always want to look a little ethereal tbh. This is such a hard question for me, there are so many beautiful people out there that I just aspire to have the same impact with my appearance and presence, but those are the first two that come to mind. Nature also though, the sun, gold, stars, roses, clouds, pearls and water all influence the makeup and clothes I wear, art imitates life and all that.

What advice do you have for trans youth navigating themselves and their identity?

My advice is probably to be patient, sit in all your feelings about your transition, whatever it may look like. Gender is so strange, and where you fit into gender and how you present yourself and how you feel comfortable will come with time as you explore it, give yourself time to discover who you are and how you’re most comfortable. I feel like I see a lot of trans youth, including myself, just rushing to fit the mold of the binary gender that they are, which makes sense to some extent but if that doesn’t feel right that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, you’re trans enough, man enough, woman enough, human enough, non-binary enough, femme enough, masc enough, I could go on forever, but you are who you are, so invest yourself in figuring out who that is so you can stand by whoever that may be. That’s power honestly.

Is there something you would say to your younger self if you could go back in time?

I wish someone would’ve told me that there is no right way to be any gender, that being a man is being exactly who I am, whoever I am. I think I felt such confliction and pressure to be the right kind of guy to fit in and “pass” (a questionable notion, that reinforces gender roles and stereotypes but also provides a lot of trans folks some amount of social safety) or whatever else, always worrying about what others thought and feeling like an inconvenience for being myself. But I’m fully it, all that and a bag of chips, I don’t need to apologize for being myself or taking up space.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects or creative endeavors?

What’s next for me, hmmm, well I’m working on the possibility of some queering sexual education courses at my university right now because of the great gap in sexual health knowledge found in most queer youth communities. I wanna make sure all LGBTQIA+ individuals have the knowledge and tools and access to the care they need to make informed decisions about their bodies and their relationships. I’m also trying to finish up my degree! Getting more into modeling would be amazing honestly, I really enjoyed this shoot! Oh! My best friend, Diego and I want to start a 20-minute weekly podcast to talk about anything and everything, we were sitting around talking one day a couple weeks ago and he said “Damn, we should really record this shit, our minds!” At the time I was cracking up, but we fully are recording the first episode soon, so be on the lookout.

CREDITS:

PHOTOGRAPHY: Soraya Zaman

STYLIST: Jimi Urquiaga

MAKE-UP ARTIST: Shideh Kafei

INTERVIEW: Harshvardhan Shah 

Stay tuned to Milk for more artists we love.

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