We had, for some reason, a fairly regimented approach to makeup menarche in the Ortberg household. Permitted to get our ears pierced at or around the age of 12, which was coincidentally also the minimum age for baptism at church (I did both in the same year). Before that we used to play around with Mom’s Mary Kay compacts, although I’m fairly sure I was put on restriction after my best friend Nicole and I wasted half her lipsticks writing all over each other’s faces. Each year from roughly 11 to 14 a new item was unlocked, as if progressing through a video game. The first wasn’t strictly makeup at all – it was a pink powder puff my mom bought me from Nordstrom’s (Holy of Holies) that coughed glitter over one’s décolletage when lightly pressed against the collarbone.
I very rarely wore shirts that revealed much of anything in the décolletage department in the sixth grade, but I still applied it most mornings with a grave delight. Just like Edward in Twilight, I was secretly all a-glitter. And what the glitter lacked in practicality it more than made up for in fussiness. I had a dim but decided idea of what female glamour looked like, and it had to do with borrowing my grandmother’s old silk nursing gowns and sitting in front of her vanity pretending to dial her old ivory-and-gold rotary phone. This powder puff fit the bill perfectly.
The next year it was lip gloss, I think, which didn’t quite land with me, and after that mascara. By freshman year I was joining the other girls in the bathroom during passing periods to pull out my green Clinique powder-foundation compact in Porcelain 00 and carefully, viciously, dab the little off-white pad against every inch of my skin.
The goal was to reapply your foundation every 50 minutes (we were 14! My God! What kind of Blanche DuBois compulsion was this?) so that the face was covered in a consistent, obvious layering of powder at all times. I swear to you, this was the look! For white girls, the idea was to tan often but keep the foundation on the face as pale as possible, for maximum dissonance (also, to make sure your eyeshadow matched the color of the tank top under your denim jacket).
Eventually I upgraded my makeup kit from drugstore-only purchases to the results of a Bobbi-Brown-counter makeover I got for sophomore prom, and I became a committed Bobbi Brown girl. If Bobbi Brown made it, I would eventually purchase it. The work had already been done for me; I had only to re-up my Instant Full Cover Liquid Concealer in Full Ivory every two months (I was for years to come an inveterate abuser of concealer and foundation) and let Bobbi do the rest.
What came after? Nothing that ever lived up to the glamorous promise of the powder-puff. I learned the secret of keeping a pair of tweezers in the car because the light is better there for catching rogue facial hairs that popped up in between waxing appointments. I lost my mind for a year or two when I learned what Sephora was and had not yet learned to apply discernment in the face of plenty. Most of my Nars blush sticks melted in the car. I tried to marry a cat’s-eye with the hygienically-questionable practice of tightlining such that I ended up looking like that unseelie mirrored picture of Miley Cyrus –
And, of course, I’m afraid that I was rather given to blue and green high-gloss lip stains in the year before coming out, as if to say, “See, my lips are blue: You get it, right?” A venial sin, in hindsight, I think. I had rather anticipated I’d be one of those fun, kicky trans guys who do a lot of high-concept makeup looks. I’m not; I think at least part of that dream rested on the idea that I’d be 5’9 and sylphlike and look like an androgynous Deviantart prince when I in fact look like Ron Weasley, but like 15% a Viking. There are a number of ways to feel strange about makeup, as it turns out, from dozens of different vantage points. One day I hope to have experienced them all.
I’ve just spent the last hour or so on the phone to various laser-hair removal clinics in Berkeley pretending, alternately, to be either Grace herself, Grace’s assistant (Grace does not have an assistant), and in one memorable voicemail, “a friend” looking to book an appointment on Grace’s behalf. I never pass over the phone, so I never want to call myself her boyfriend in my capacity as a laser-appointment-scheduler, although of course I’m more than happy to call myself her boyfriend in any other situation. There are days, of course, when everything falls just a little bit apart, and I don’t see myself as much of a man as a much hairier, squatter version of the woman I used to be, and my beard doesn’t feel like a beard but a thousand little chin hairs I forgot to tweeze in the car, and those days it’s usually better not to answer the phone at all, lest I get ma’amed directly into hell. Those days it’s better to haul out the old glitter-puff and pretend to dial a rotary phone, and to find a particularly transmasculine approach to getting lost in Glamour.
One year, I was anticipating receiving a new installment of the Elfquest graphic novels. I was handed a large box and gleefully unwrapped it, only to find an enormous Merle Norman powder tub. I mean, I remember going in for a Consultation, but I never knew they'd follow through!