I didn’t feel left out when she was scouring the local scene for someone to do her wedding day hair and make up. It didn’t shock anybody that I wasn’t freaking out about who might do my hair and more than likely no one even thought I might be wearing makeup. I have short hair, wear men’s clothes and don’t wear make up. Does being the more masculine partner preclude you from wearing make up? No. And yet, while the thought of wearing makeup made me cringe, neither did I like the idea of being in 800 wedding photographs looking washed out next to my professionally painted bride.
There is a certain toughness, roughness, and strength that is built into many a butch identity. It comes from being unable to hide, from being out all the time, and taking it on the chin day after day. This armor seems to be weakened when CoverGirl and Maybeline are involved.
And there are certain behaviors that butches do and don’t do – we open doors, we walk on the street side, we buy flowers for our girl… but we do not wear makeup. An intrusive memory of my parents forcing a young me to wear a dress and those 30 minutes of hell that followed for all of us is trigger. Oh don’t go down that rabbit hole, dude. Are you beginning to understand that this idea of wearing makeup, which may seem so mundane for you, may be a land mine for some masculine-of-center folks?
The outward expression of our gender identity, particularly in appearance and dress, plays a big role in who we are and who we are in relationship to our partners. For those of us in a butch-femme relationship, there is a polarity that we love, there is a sexual tension between partners that happens when there is one in a suit and one in a dress, one with short hair, one with long, one in boots and one in heels. It is this very dichotomy, the distance we create, that intensifies the yin-yang of our connection and makes the whole thing so damn hot. It’s almost palpable in some of the pictures on our “Steamy” Pinterest. So if I take a step that I perceive as diminishing that contrast, I have to know it has not taken anything away from that lovely tension that is part of the butch-femme dynamic.
I appreciate the expansion of the definition of butch in images such as those by Kanithea Powell in her new photo book Butch. I loved the Autostraddle essay on the queering of makeup, which takes the stance that makeup is not just a conversation between men and women and would be much richer if it included some queer perspective. While I don’t wear glittery eye shadow or paint my nails, just knowing that there are others who do gives me some breathing space.
I don’t know if cis men wear makeup to their weddings or not, but I do know that this was my James Bond moment, this wedding, my wedding, this grand commitment to the woman I love. I was taking this big leap and I wanted to feel and be and look my best. So in the end, volleying an endless ping pong of caveats – “No eye shadow! No lipstick! Definitely no blush!” – met by the unmatched patience of the stylist, I sat in the chair, facing the natural light from the window trying to control something I knew very little about. Though I had to run around the race track many times and pay the debt in mental laps, this was the work in order to be okay with it and own it so I would not feel like an impostor when I looked back at our wedding pictures. This is the very work that Helen and I often reflect on when we think about queer weddings. And 800+ pictures later, this stylishly conservative, middle aged butch can say, hey, it’s all cool, and I didn’t look half bad.
Where ever you land on the face painting spectrum, enjoy your queer wedding!
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