My best friend, besides being a paragon of natural beauty inside and out, is a make-up genius.
This, and the fact we were living together in lockdown, made her the optimal teacher to help me navigate this complicated element of womanhood. She approached instructing me in a similar fashion as my grandmother had when I was learning to tie my shoes: “I’ll show you once, and then you’ve got to do it yourself”. I think by the time I was done, I looked more like a man than when I started, but that’s part of the journey. Make-up, for me, isn’t just a new skill, it’s a tool for survival – not just a key to womanhood, but also something just as important: sisterhood.
I’m terrified to write this piece. I am very often uncertain about when and where to use my voice, what to say, how boldly to say it, and which way to respond if I’m met with conflict. This is a familiar sensation to many, if not most, women. And there is a great deal of conflict at the moment regarding the place of trans women amongst women’s groups, spaces and opportunities.
I first told someone I was a girl at age five, and had shared my gender turmoil to trusted friends several times since, but didn’t have the courage to face my womanhood and take that first declarative step. Something that clicked for me when I finally transitioned was that I had been wrong all along in my belief that to be a woman meant I had to meet every facet of femininity. The feminine stereotype felt like a series of boxes I had to tick, evidence I had to provide, but I looked at the women in my life, my family, friends, colleagues, all the women I admire, and NONE OF THEM were stereotypically feminine. They showed me womanhood is in strength, intellect, courage, an infinite diversity of interests and expressions. It was like a trick I had played on my brain, a loophole of logic to protect me from the challenges that were sure to come once I acknowledged who I really was.
My first real trans sister didn’t come into my life until about a year into my journey, and she was the one who gave me my second real lesson in makeup. She taught me how to work with what I have, how to enhance my own features and appreciate my natural self above all. She bestowed me brushes, palettes and sprays, and left me with a belief that make-up wasn’t just a shield, it was a sword. We talked all night about our career goals, finding love, and the women who inspired us. We felt like two teenage girls at a sleepover, and technically (hormonally) we were. I treasure that night because for even a short time, we weren’t feeling the threat of the forces hell-bent on destroying our spirits, our futures, our lives.
The power that women (cisgender and transgender alike) have worked, fought, died for particularly in the last seventy years has amassed to a degree deemed intolerable to patriarchal power structures, and the responding violence from the Supreme Court of the United States of America to the streets of Iran to the newspaper front pages in England to the clinics in Africa is extreme. The primary tactic of this beat-back is to divide women who were once united, by sowing fear and anger. The battle for equality is complicated, but we must remember it is a battle against inequality, not against each other. I get the sense, as I watch women participate in these disputes and discrepancies, that we are all of us being played.
The world is burning up, politics is becoming more corrupt, global wealth is unsustainably imbalanced, women are being killed every day, and all the while we’re still squabbling over pronouns. Sure there is a great deal more respect trans women could show cis women, particularly when it comes to being better allies around menstrual hygiene, abortion access, gender bias in healthcare and equal pay. Similarly, there is a great deal more respect cis women could show trans women who are also struggling with receiving adequate healthcare, severely reduced life expectancy (especially trans women of colour), homelessness, social discrimination preventing us from finding work or housing, exclusion from public amenities and relationship prejudices. We have so much to learn and gain from each other. We need each other, we need to remind each other who we are. We are the descendants of the women who started the suffragette movement, disciples of the women who started Stonewall, daughters of the women who burned their bras, devotees of the women who started #MeToo, defenders of the women who started the protests in India.
We are effing sisters.
Bayley Turner (she/her) is a proud queer trans woman, writer, performer, and consent educator living on Wurundjeri country. She has been published by Archer magazine, Mamamia and queer spiritual edited collection ‘Heaven Bent’, and was one of the winners of the Empower H*r Voice 2021 Creative Writing Contest. Bayley is currently working on her second poetry collection Ulysses’. bayleyturner.com/
This piece was commission by Fluff, at Bayley’s request for payment to be donated to Djirra, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation supporting first nations women.