Northern Virginia, Friday evening: 21-year-old Nicole has just arrived at the club and is dancing her way from the entrance to the bar. She has lavishly made herself up, put on her highest high heels and a push-up bra under her tight-fitting dress. She introduces herself as Nicole to the people she meets that evening with the super feminine voice that she has practiced over the last few months. It is the first time that she has gone out as a woman and consciously uses the pronoun “you” instead of “he” for herself. What surprises her: People really believe in it.
So the story is not entirely true. At this point, “Nicole” is the 16-year-old trans woman and YouTube make-up artist Nikita Dragun. It is that moment in the club that she realizes that people believe she is of the gender with which she identifies herself. For many people who are on the threshold of their actual gender, this phase of transition is characterized by isolation and fear. All the more, the confirmation from the outside means relief and acceptance. But above all, it means bare survival. In 2017 alone, 300 trans people were killed out of hatred worldwide, most of them women.
“People are often afraid of things they don't understand. That's why they're attacking them, ”says Gabrielle Hermosa, a trans woman who appears in public as a public speaker and human rights lawyer. “If other people don't“ lose ”your gender, it can be stressful and extremely debilitating. It is a privilege to be identified by those around you with your perceived gender and not with your biological gender. Those of us who do not have this privilege attract unwanted public attention and condemnation from strangers. "
That is why the step of showing herself publicly as Nicole was so difficult for Nikita Dragun as well. “It took me a while to be ready. I was afraid that others would notice. That they assign me the wrong gender or "out" me. At some point I accepted that it is very likely that this will certainly happen at some point. That took some of the pressure off me. "
This is more than just a passing phase
For trans women, it's about much more than just wearing feminine clothes and make-up. Many have their body hair removed by laser, their breasts adjusted, their face operated on in a more feminine way, the Adam's apple made smaller, and hormone replacement therapy carried out. Many health insurance companies in the US do not cover all of the costs of a complete gender reassignment, so many trans people finance the majority themselves. Hermosa emphasizes that this can be an investment of up to 100,000 US dollars, so that the process takes many years and is associated with a large private debt.
In our segregated world, the first step towards identity for many trans women is to use makeup. But just walking into the nearest drugstore and buying make-up is not that easy, explains Jessica Blackler, who founded the cosmetics brand Jecca. “There is a huge stigma attached to makeup, namely that only one gender is allowed to use it. Many of my customers feel uncomfortable with buying make-up in stores because they do not correspond to the stereotypical image of people who use decorative cosmetics Addressing needs of trans people.
But that's not all, most makeup tutorials and tips are designed to highlight feminine attributes that are already there. Brooke Dangler is a trans woman in her first year of hormone replacement therapy. “For me, putting on makeup was a daunting experience at first because my face was so masculine. But with the therapy, my facial features become softer and softer, and so I was gradually able to create my own look with make-up. "
At first I wanted to make it very clear that I am a woman. Nothing could be feminine enough for me. I wore so much makeup back then, I was actually a drag queen.
One of the biggest problems facing trans women is facial hair, and how to remove and cover it before and during hormone replacement therapy. Even after several laser treatments and electro-epilation sessions, many still leave stubble or a beard shadow. Nicole, for example, uses orange concealer under her foundation in the beard area, which is supposed to compensate for the color difference. The trans woman Erin Kettl, managing director of TRANScending Barriers Atlanta, explains: “I kept walking around with a razor because I was afraid that my beard would“ reveal ”my gender. That's why I think it's so great that I don't have to deal with it anymore. So far, every man I've ever become intimate with has rubbed my cheek. I think that happens subconsciously to see how soft my skin is in this area. "
To be confronted with the “in between”
In the phase after the make-up and before the surgical interventions, many trans people have various fillers and botox injected to make their facial features appear more feminine or masculine. The cosmetic surgeon Dr. Alexander Rivkin explains: “A lot of transgender people don't want to look like they are in transition between the sexes. We use Botox to reduce the jaw muscles and a pronounced brow area, and fillers to change the shape of the cheeks, nose and chin and make a flat forehead appear rounder. All of these small adjustments make a huge difference. "
Brooke is currently undergoing non-surgical feminization at Dr. Rivkin. Only recently has she seen how all the tiny changes shape the overall picture piece by piece. “Sometimes I hardly recognize my face. Then I always have to start laughing reflexively, and this feeling of happiness cannot be compared to anything in the world. Because I know that I am doing what is right for me. "
Develop a feeling for who you are
Overcoming the hurdle between identifying characteristics traditionally perceived as “male” or “female” is always a particularly frustrating experience for many trans people on the way to the correct identity. As a result, once the threshold is crossed, many of them feel relieved of an incredible weight that was previously on their shoulders. Says Brooke, “I've been on hormone therapy for ten months and dress fairly androgynously. People still address me with 'Sir', but I notice more and more inquiring looks. That makes me happy."
People still address me with 'Sir', but I notice more and more inquiring looks. That makes me happy.
After countless painful conversations, doctor's appointments, operations, pills and injections, this turning point means for many trans people that they can finally begin to live their truth and even have a little fun doing it. After so many hairstyles, clothes and cosmetic products have been banned for so long, they are now becoming a way of expressing yourself and living your new freedom.
Nicole says: “At first I wanted to make it very clear that I am a woman. In my world at the time, that meant wearing extremely sexy outfits. I've experimented with wigs, push-ups, and different voices. The longest eyelashes, the most eye-catching lipstick, the highest high heels - nothing could be feminine enough for me. I wore so much make-up back then, I was actually a drag queen. "
Many people can identify with this type of self-discovery and the development of their own style through experiments, regardless of whether it takes place at the age of 15 or 30. Erin stopped wearing “unisex” clothes at some point. “I found that anything that wasn't feminine was simply working against me.” Instead, she developed a “less is more” approach to makeup. Nicole came to this conclusion at some point. "Now that I know that I am perceived as a woman by those around me, I can just go outside with some day cream, and it's okay too."
Making your gender identity visible to the outside world is only a goal if you make it one yourself. For me, being transgender means first and foremost knowing, accepting and loving yourself.
Being identified by society with one's gender makes everyday life a lot easier. But that's not the only reason so many trans people crave it. Gabrielle Hermosa explains: “The outside world only sees us for a certain time during the day. We ourselves have to spend 100% of our time with ourselves. You can't run away from yourself. "
The physical transformation and the surgical interventions are just the tip of the iceberg. The change takes place on the inside as well as on the outside. Erin says: “Making your gender identity visible to the outside world is only a goal if you make it one yourself. For me, being transgender primarily means knowing, accepting and loving yourself. "