Female geekiness (not what you’re thinking)

IMG_0096This is the age of the ‘nerd’ and the ‘geek’ — most probably thanks to Bill Gates, the Ultimate Geek, becoming the richest man in the world. Suddenly, ‘being geek’ started to make sense. For some, at least.

Geekiness was, for most of the past 4 decades, a strictly male thing. Books and movies have been extensively written about the subject; there is really nothing new I can write about it. The computer culture, most specially the online culture, promoted the computer geek — the solitary, overweight male that spends his time in front of an all-accepting computer, forgets to socialize unless he has a keyboard in front of him, and does incomprehensible things for everybody else except other geeks. The stereotype has expanded to include gadgetry: geeks buy gadgets (since they have nothing else to spend their money on), and that released a whole gadget industry.

Geeks even claim their own genetic diseases to explain their status. The true geek, these days, fights for his right to be diagnosed with Asperger’s or at least with Attention Deficit Syndrome. If all else fails, they’ll be happy to accept the label ‘sociopath’, and are rather proud of it. They invent their own culture, their own rituals, their own lore. It can go to extremes — like in the Japanese otaku culture, which spawned a whole industry catering to their needs worth 18 billion US$ — but the interesting aspect is that the stereotype is changing. A certain amount of ‘geekiness’ is expected of most males. They don’t need to focus on computers, computer games, mobile phones, or consoles. The geekiness can be towards cars, weapons, hunting, or, more widespread, all sorts of radical sports. Combinations are certainly possible: the ultimate ‘maleness’, as depicted in certain rural southern US areas, is the sports lover who collects guns, goes out hunting, tweaks his pickup truck or vintage convertible, and has a coin-operated arcade game of the 1980s still working on their living rooms. Most probably they’re also proud of having the latest smartphone, too.

The exclusivity of maleness in the geek world has certainly eroded. Geek is the new sexy, and girl gamers are about 47% of the overall gamer population. Unlike many stereotyped images of geek girls, most are actually not horrible-looking, overweight, smartass types. Rather the contrary. They tend to be true third wave feminists: just because they’re geeks, they cannot look — and be — sexy. There are even cosmetic companies designing products just for them. And unlike their male counterparts of the 1980s, geek girls do not hide themselves in deep basements. Just today, while having a coffee, there was a geek girl next to me — she was dressed in urban chic, with well-done makeup, rather good looking — even though one might disagree with her choices of clothing — and furiously typing on her mini-tablet, probably playing a game, just like any other geek male in the food court. They’re not shy, and not embarrassed of sporting their geekiness publicly.

However, my article today is not really about geek girls. I discovered very recently that geekiness, in females, assumes a completely different form — one that is unsuspected by most males. We who hop between the gender borders are able to unlock the secrets of true female geekiness, and how the industry really appeals to them.

But for that, we have to understand the origin of the word geek. The Wikipedia lists a simple definition: ‘an expert or enthusiast or a person obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit’. This covers a lot of ground! What matters to me, however, is that the ‘hobby or intellectual pursuit’ usually implies a certain degree of complexity. That doesn’t mean it has to be a high-brow thing like maths or computers. Tweaking cars is complex. Cooking is complex. One might shrug off a ‘car geek’ and assume they’re an example of male stupidity driven to extremes — until one’s own car breaks down and we have no clue what is wrong. When we open up a car’s bonnet (I had to look up the word!) and peers inside, it’s like a miniature city, with thousands of things subtly linked together, in ways that are absolutely impossible to figure out — unless you’re a car geek. Being a car geek might not make you the next billionaire, but it certainly requires dealing with insane degrees of complexity.

Gadgetry appeals to computer geeks because gadgets tend to be complex, even if they don’t look complex. The interesting thing is that geeks are getting so widespread that even simple things slowly, over time, get ‘geekified’. A TV set in the 1960s just had a button to turn it on and off, a volume dial, and a few knobs to tune in TV stations. Then came remote controllers. Today, a Korean TV set for €150 includes Ethernet adapters, several USB ports, some ports with 3 or 4-letter acronyms requiring special cables to connect to whatever strange things might be around your home, and programming just the TV set — never mind the set-up box next to it — almost requires a degree in electrical engineering. Most people stick to defaults, but TV geeks will always know what to tweak and what to do on their TV set to make sure it gives the ‘best’ image. I’ve read a few studies that show that most people cannot understand the full range of features that their home appliances actually have. But that’s ok. Most people don’t know how their cars work, either. Geeks, in both cases, nevertheless demand more and more complexity, and the industry is happy to comply.

It would be too easy to say that this feature of being in love — and obsessive — about complexity is eminently male. But I have to disagree. Females just have other complex things to be interested in: clothes. Accessories. Hair. And, most important, cosmetics.

Males have it simple. They just identify a limited amount of colours (see this old joke on a blog appropriately called Geek in Heels). Clothes have simple cuts, and just a simple selection of sizes. You can’t go wrong with a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and that has been true for the past 50 years. T-shirts, no matter the colour, will always ‘match’ with a pair of jeans. ‘Matching’, in fact, is rarely a worry for males. Except perhaps when they’re forced to wear business suits: then you can see those males sweating with the panic of figuring out what colour their ties should be, and if it’s ‘safe’ to wear a shirt in any colour except white. Still, for almost a century — at least, until spats went out of fashion — ‘classic’ shoe colours are just brown or black.

Obviously, male attire has evolved a lot, too (I know, I was being a bit stereotypical!), to the point that we still have the classification of metrosexual, and socially allowing males to (re)develop an interest in grooming themselves and shopping has been a change of the past decades.

In 1985 only 25 percent of all men’s apparel was bought by men, he said; 75 percent was bought by women for men. By 1998 men were buying 52 percent of apparel; in 2004 that number grew to 69 percent and shows no sign of slowing.

— Marshal Cohen, ‘Gay or Straight? Hard to Tell’, New York Times, 2005

My thesis is that the complexity of shopping appeals to the geek culture, and males are allowed to be ‘shopping geeks’ as well.

Females, however, have long been that. And yes, it is a complex world. Any beginning crossdresser will know that: unlike male clothing, size is not the only important issue when shopping for clothes. The cut is also important: depending on the cut, a dress will emphasize your best features while hiding the others. The colour is not only important by itself, but it has to be matched with the skin’s complexion, hair colour, and possibly makeup (or vice-versa). But even the small details are important. Wide shoulders? Avoid sleeveless dresses; or, if you really wish to wear them, use a shawl to cover your shoulders… or wear your hair long to cover them… It goes on and on, with many, many details to pay attention to: if there is shimmer in the fabric of your dress, don’t use glittery bangles (and maybe no glitter on the eyes, either… I don’t know, I’m just wildly guessing). Sandals are cute… but you can’t wear them if you plan to wear stockings… and you will have to paint your toes, too. What is appropriate for the day is not appropriate for the night; and most certainly neither is appropriate for a wedding, an official ceremony, or going out to have some fun with friends. While a T-shirt and jeans can be worn by males from 6 to 60 — or perhaps even beyond — females have to pay attention to dress their age, or at least, to dress the age they wish to look like (if they can pull it off).

You see my point. It’s insanely complex. Start adding accessories, and the complexity increases. How many rings are ‘too many’? Why can’t you use necklaces if you are big breasted — but it’s expected that you use them if you’re not? If you have earrings, don’t wear necklaces — and what about mixing bracelets and bangles, is it allowed or not? If so, when? What colours are allowed? Are you supposed to match them at all, or not? And why does ‘matching’ sometimes mean ‘a similar colour’ while most often it means ‘a contrasting colour’ — and by ‘contrast’ that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘red contrasts with green’, as we are taught in school. Why does beige and navy blue ‘go together’, while green and orange do not?

Not to mention, of course, that at least twice a year the fashion changes, and what was ‘correct’ last season, might be ‘completely outdated and wrong’ this season. And — guess what! — major brands now have four seasons per year, twice the trouble to figure things out!

But where female geekiness truly shines through is with cosmetics.

I started playing around with cosmetics some 15 years ago. While a good observer can still (probably) figure out how to dress by observing carefully, when it comes to cosmetics, it’s like cooking — you can’t learn from a book. You have to engage in the alchemy (a reason why I cannot cook: it’s too much ‘chance’ for me). But things are getting hopelessly complicated, and let me give you a glimpse of it…

Having been raised a male, the art of cosmetics was obviously a sacred mystery to me. Of course anyone understands about lipstick, and even eyeshadows might, at least on casual observation, look easy enough: you just get a brush and some powder and paint it on. Lipstick seems even easier.

When I started crossdressing in earnest, it was clear there was much more to it. Makeup doesn’t stick too well on ungroomed skin. And quickly you learn the basics: get a foundation first. Here the problem starts — even 15 years ago, foundation would come in different colours (which one is right for me?), and different ways of application. When I was just starting to get the hang of using fingers to dab it from a small jar onto my face, here comes liquid foundation, which you can dab as well — but it’s different to apply — but usually use a brush, a wedge, or a whole selection of different tools, depending on what girly magazine you’re currently reading. Then, of course, foundation is not the simple kind of thing that you buy like toilet paper. Instead, you can get it with more pigment, less pigment, opaque, liquid, translucid, and all sorts of variations in-between. Traditionally, you finish it up with some compact power to ‘seal’ it, but then foundation started to come already with compact power in it. Compact power has been around for 80 years or so, and one might imagine that something so old and proven might just have one way of application. Not so! Here comes ‘transparent powder’ or similarly-named products, which come in jars (or perhaps bottles) and you apply it with a brush… or some sort of sponge.

Talk about brushes! My first makeup kit just had one brush for the eyes, and one brush for blush. That seemed simple enough, right? But clearly just two brushes isn’t enough — by far. Every makeup tutorial these days recommends at least a dozen brushes, but more likely close to twenty. Just for the eyes you might need some 5 or 6 different kinds, each to be used with its own technique, and each looking quite differently-shaped, as they are made for different purposes. I remembered that oil painters tend to have 2-3 different brushes and can produce masterpieces; the average woman who just needs to apply a little bit of makeup every day has to carry around a dozen brushes!

So here was my simple makeup routine 15 years ago: get a close shave. Apply after-shave. Wait. Apply red lipstick to cover the beard areas. Wait. Apply a thick foundation. Wait. Apply lipstick. Get one eyeshadow colour on the eyelids. Put on some mascara. Do some blush. Finish it all with some compact power. There! Finish! 2 brushes, 8 products, and your makeup is ready!

But clearly that wasn’t enough!

Firstly, you have to start covering up imperfections, and bring out the best of your features. That meant complexifying everything. Use some sort of concealer to cover black spots. Eye concealer to cover up dark circles. White eye pencil on the edge of the lower lid, as well as on the inner bits of the eyes, to make the eyes look larger. Then some eyeliner — either with a pencil, kohl, or, if you’re daring, liquid eyeliner. Mascara comes in different types, and up until recently, I tended to stick with two: one for increasing volume, let it dry a bit, and then add a different mascara to make the lashes look longer. If I wish to go extreme, then it means applying false eyelashes, liquid eyeliner to hide imperfections, and some mascara to make my real lashes the same colour as the falsies. Whew. But it doesn’t stop there!

My nose is too big, too wide, and slightly asymmetric. To correct that, I need to highlight the ridge of the nose, while making the sides darker. There are a gazillion products for doing that; I mostly used white eyeshadow (or a white pencil) as highlighter and merely a bit of blush on the sides. But there is more to it. Foundation can also be used to enhance the area around the eyes: so I’ve got two colours for my summer foundation (from Kryolan, which is thicker, hiding the pores, and resists to my constant sweating in the heat), and use the lighter foundation for those areas I wish to highlight. I use the fingers as my primary ‘painting tool’, which means constantly washing them!

One-tone eyeshadows? Blargh! That’s too amateurish! Real pros will use, at the very least, some three shades, and blend them together. But often you need more than that — way more. And each colour, depending on the spot it’s applied to, requires a different brush. I even have a brush to apply eyeshadow under the lower lid (a tricky spot to get there!), because sometimes it’s fashionable to do so (I haven’t checked up lately if it’s still in fashion or not).

Well… you see a bit at what I’m aiming that. You’ll quickly start accumulating more and more products, more and more shades and colours of each product, and… more and more brushes and special tools. I even have bought a tool that supposedly helps putting on false eyelashes, but I can’t use it — the falsies always get stuck on the tool instead of getting stuck to my eyes, where they belong! But I still use at least three tools to apply them — my fingers :-), an orange stick, and sometimes a cotton swab. Not to mention the tiny brush to apply the glue, and the tiny metal comb to loosen up the individual lashes and remove excess mascara afterwards…

And I’ve just described about half of my makeup routine!

This definitely falls into the domain of geekiness. It requires obsession, persistence, patience, and mastering a huge amount of techniques — and, of course, you need a ton of products of all kinds, shapes, colours, and application methods. I wouldn’t be surprised if the arsenal of tools that the average woman uses for her makeup isn’t actually bigger than what a car geek has in his garage. The only difference is the size of the tools; not the amount of tools, or the different methods and techniques required to use all of them. Computer geeks just need to learn how to type on a keyboard!

But it gets even more complicated.

I’ve signed up on an online makeup course. I’m actually a fan of Lucille Sorella and her insane amount of material for crossdressers and MtF transgendered people. Lucille is an image stylist — she’s a genetic woman — who by mere chance stumbled upon the crossdressing and transgender communities, and found out that they were in desperate need of advice and help. The truth is that, even though the basics are pretty much the same, males need some slight adaptations for typical female tricks to work on them, too. For instance, no makeup tutorial designed for genetic women will tell you how to cover your beard shadow.

Besides the uncountable amounts of makeup tutorials out there, I also own a couple of books, bought 15 years ago, when such tutorials – especially those with quality images — were not common online. They already pointed out to the massive amount of products that were available back then. I sort of got ‘stuck in time’, influenced by the techniques used 15 years ago, and so decided to ‘catch up’ with the latest trends, techniques, and methods.

Curiously enough, I felt exactly like I felt back in 1986, when, as a computer-geek-in-training, I switched over from an old Sinclair ZX Spectrum to my first PC. Everything was new and surprisingly different! Of course some things were familiar, but just at the surface. Wow! How things have changed in 15 years!

The whole cosmetics industry has gone through an entire revolution, but I haven’t been paying close attention. Now the makeup geeks get familiar with a huge array of completely new products and different ways of applying them. ‘Highlighting’ is now a product, not merely a technique. Instead of merely moisturizing your skin before applying foundation, now you use a primer. While I’ve used eyeliners in the past, and even caught up with liquid eyeliners that come with their own self-applying brushes (instead of having to dip the tiny brushes inside a pot of liquid, like before), now liquid eyeliner comes as a gel — and, yes, you’ve guessed it, it gets a new kind of brush! But these are merely details. Things get much, much more complex than that. You get foundation without the need of using powder; foundation mixed with brozers; bronzers that are mixed separately but blend in; self-moisturizing foundation; a special liquid in an aerosol spray that ‘fixes’ makeup (therefore you don’t need compact power on top of it). And tons of varieties of products, all called ‘powder’, which are used for the strangest effects: translucent powder, setting powder, and who-knows-what-else powder. Besides brushes and sponges you also get wedges to apply makeup; some of which you’re supposed to cut down to weird-looking formats which ‘help’ you out to apply it ‘more correctly’.

Eyeshadows come in such a variety of types and kinds — not merely colours! — that half the counters on a typical makeup store might just carry eyeshadows. Most are still applied traditionally, from a palette with a brush, but there is also pencil-based eyeshadow (some of which come with a cap with its own pencil sharpener), tubes with liquid eyeshadow, extra glitter to be applied, self-glittering eyeshadow… and who knows what else: special powder or cream or ‘stuff’ which you apply instead of foundation (which might be too thick for eyelids), and more products that you put on top of everything to ‘seal’ it and avoid the mess of inadvertently rubbing off the shadow from your eyes… oh well. It seems endless. And the products get to be named with sexy, geekish designations. What is a bareMinerals Prime Time BB Primer-Cream Daily Defense SPF30? And what is the purpose of a Tinted Mineral Veil? Long gone are the days where males got geekish names for their products! These days, from a casual glance, you can’t even understand what the products are for, much less how to apply them, or where they’re supposed to go, or in which order they’re supposed to be applied!

Baffled, but decided to learn more about this New Era of Cosmetics, last Wednesday I went shopping.

Now let me add a small parenthesis here. I buy most of my cosmetics from popular brands on supermarkets. I tend to favour Maybelline (like all American brands, it has strong pigments, meaning that a little application will give you good results) and sometimes Nivea (my wife’s uncle works in the cosmetics industry, and although Nivea is one of their direct competitor, he swears that their products, in general, are better than most — they just have worse packaging, or less choices, or strange textures, but the quality is great). These are easily available. Supermarkets, even the largest ones, might not carry the whole range of products. I have never seen any supermarket selling a Tinted Mineral Veil, even if they might have several rows of lipsticks and nail polish. So, for the more usual bits of cosmetics, I’m happy with supermarkets. There I can get reasonable prices and average-to-good quality products in foundation, lipstick, lip liners, eyeliners, eyeshadows, blush, compact powder, bronzing powder… and, well, some brushes too.

But for the high-tech, ultra-geek cosmetics I admit I give up on supermarkets and go straight to Sephora. Sephora carries about hundred different brands, beyond their own, and, with 1750 stores in over 30 countries, they’re a safe bet that you’ll find anything you need in terms of cosmetics. Their own line of products is reasonably good — almost all my brushes were bought at Sephora, and, recently, I’ve been using their false eyelashes as well (they’re very reasonably priced, last a long time, and I’m always surprised at what kind of material they use, because they never irritate the eyes, even when wearing them for a long, long time). While there are tons of cosmetic shops in my country, I tend to like their sales reps — they’re always very friendly and very helpful. The shopping experience is also important for me — especially because I’m aware that I will be the only male person inside the whole shop and asking a lot of things and experimenting some products as well. So I need a certain degree of confidence; as a returning customer I also get some discounts, which is always nice, too. But the main thing for me is that, no matter how crazy the product might sound, Sephora will carry it, and they will explain how it works, how it is applied, and have no problem in doing some demonstrations.

Besides being male, I have an additional handicap: language. All the makeup tutorials I have ever followed were in English. Products are named completely differently in Portuguese; to make things worse, cosmetic product types tend to change over time. For instance, mascara had been known as rímel for many decades in my country, because the first mascara ever sold here was made by Rimmel; but these days, the word máscara is slowly replacing rímel. This gets confusing since the same name also applies to hair mask! So it depends on context! For two decades at least, hair conditioners were known as amaciadores (literally: softeners) because, well, the first generations made the hair more soft; but because conditioners go way beyond merely ‘making hair soft’, they usually translate it to the neologism condicionador, which makes it sometimes very confusing, as some shops might actually shelve them separately! Almost none of my female friends use makeup extensively (except perhaps my mother-in-law), and in any case I wouldn’t dare asking them for advice anyway, so figuring out how things are called in Portuguese is always a challenge to me. And no, these days, it’s not as if you can see a picture or a drawing of something and expect to find it on a shelf! The liquid eyeliner I currently use doesn’t look like an eyeliner at all. Kryolan’s foundations are sold in sticks, like oversized lipsticks; the liquid foundation I have (for cooler days) is a small bottle which could contain almost anything flesh-coloured.

So on Wednesday I tried to be as frank and honest as possible with the Sephora sales rep. I just told her that I was doing an online makeup course in English and had no idea how those products were called in Portuguese. Obviously she was more than glad to help me out! And what I bought definitely didn’t look anything like I had ever seen on makeup tutorials — while clearly being the correct product.

For instance, highlighters. What I see on pictures is that they’re usually sold in small, flat jars, very similar in appearance to eyeshadows. Sometimes they might come in tubes. They’re applied with a brush. What I got was a self-applying brush — the whole highlighting product comes as a liquid gel embedded inside a relatively thick brush, and you just need to squeeze a tiny bit to apply it. It’s very easy to use and practical — you don’t need to store the brush separately from the product. It’s similar to the liquid eyeliner I’ve got, but even easier in principle to apply (I haven’t tested it out yet!). Besides highlighting, I also needed some contouring. Again, usually that comes in semi-solid jars. In my case, I got them in small bottles which have a tiny dispenser at the top, shaped just like a miniature soap dispenser. Cool stuff! But, of course, it requires its own brush. Duh!

Like a good sales rep, the girl, seeing that I was not simply going to buy one product and run to the exit, offered not only to demonstrate how the products worked, picked up the right shades by applying them on my face, and suggested a whole array of new products. She asked me, ‘how do you clean your brushes?’ A good question! My own wife never cleans brushes, for example; most people I asked about that just clean them every now and then. In my case, I always wash them in hot water and soap after usage and remove the remainder with a makeup removing tissue: the point being that there is often some residue left. Well, the shop rep pointed out to me that brushes are a source of bacteria, and while washing them in hot water and soap is definitely a good idea, it might not be enough. And, of course, it takes time and requires some patience. So nowadays they sell a small bottle with a cleaning agent which also acts as anti-bacterial. You just spray your brushes and use a bit of paper tissue to wipe it away. No washing, no rinsing. That simple! I love everything that saves me time — after all, I take almost three hours to get myself dressed, and at least one hour to get undressed and have everything cleaned up.

She also suggested to apply a primer before the foundation, and, guess what, there are tons of different primers… but I resisted the urge. Next time perhaps! Well, the sales rep tried to show me something else instead. Because I have large pores — a sad consequence of genetics, all males have much larger pores than females — the cosmetics industry has come up with a ‘pore concealer‘. She demonstrated the product on her own hand: it was truly uncanny. A single swipe with the finger, and the pores disappear as if by magic! I was truly astonished. Apparently, there are two kinds of products in the market (or at least that’s what Sephora had for sale). One kind is meant to be used temporarily, i.e. only when wearing makeup, and just works by ‘filling in’ the pores, and you’re supposed to remove every tiny little bit of makeup before going to sleep anyway. The other kind is a long-term ‘treatment’, which will shrink the pores. Amazing! Again, I was tempted, but my budget was limited, and I was already spending twice what I originally had intended (because, well, I also needed new eyeshadows… you’re not supposed to use the same ones for years after years, even if they’re still good, mostly due to bacteria build-up… and I think that I have my colour palette for four years now! Add to that some more brushes, false eyelashes, and, well… all these things might individually be cheap, but they tend to add up!), so I gave it a pass. Maybe when I finish the laser treatment on the face I’ll give it a try: the largest pores actually come from the follicles, and, once the laser kills them, they will naturally close on their own or at least shrink. Still, n the areas where I perspire the most — like on the nose! — the large pores are very noticeable, even under foundation and powder, so this product might be useful on the ‘problem areas’. You usually can’t see them with the bad lighting and at the resolution I take my pictures, but I know they’re there!

Anyway… the extension of this article should give you an idea of what I’m hinting at. Pretty much everything related to females, from attire to accessories to daily health care products, not to mention all the things you can do to your hair, and, of course, cosmetics in general: all of those belong to an immensely complex world, requiring an insane amount of time to get familiar with, have tons of methods and techniques to learn, which are constantly changing, as new products come out and old products get unfamiliar formats or application techniques, and women are supposed to learn all that and become proficient in them. Not all women, of course — most, in my country, couldn’t care less — but it’s astonishing to see that a huge proportion definitely takes an interest in all this. In fact, I even think that the proportion of women interested in the whole world of female appearance — the cosmetic geeks, the fashion geeks — is probably the same proportion of male geeks. The difference is not in the gender; it’s what they apply their geekiness to. Males usually apply geekiness towards tech things (but not necessarily only that; think about stamp collectors, for instance!) and that’s what usually people think about when they hear the word ‘geek’. But women, by contrast, although they might scorn ‘tech geeks’, they’re actually their own kind of geeks. It’s just that the word is never applied to their context.

I would say that it’s not unusual for a male tech geek, as a crossdresser, to quickly fall in love in this wonderfully complex world of cosmetic/fashion female geekiness. Once a geek, always a geek, even if your object of geekiness changes. So it’s the same mindset — getting obsessed with products, techniques, methods, trying to achieve something out of them — but just that the actual context is totally different. But, on the other side, the new kind of ‘female tech geeks’ shouldn’t be surprising at all. A good-looking female cosmetics geek, who delights in all these tools and products, might easily understand the appeal of ‘tech’ geekiness — since the same mindset will definitely work as well, with similar results. Geekiness is self-fulfilling. A geek is happy when the techniques, methods, tools and products that they use actually result in something pleasurable. The whole process is pleasurable in itself. This is perhaps very surprising to the non-geeks, who scorn both at computer geeks spending hours programming obscure applications, as well as women spending hours doing their makeup. As a crossdresser, I get to hear both complains from my wife (she’s slightly geeky, but only towards her own area of interest) — she can’t understand either my fascination with computer programming or with doing my makeup routine…

Still, there is one thing that every geek enjoys: learning new things. This is the advice I try to give to all my crossdressing friends (and a few transgendered ones beginning transition), who complain that they’re absolutely unable to do their makeup: don’t despair. It’s not a question of talent, but one of persistence and patience. I’m the most untalented person in the world regarding anything ‘artistic’, to my great disappointment in my teens. I cannot draw a straight line, much less paint anything. I can’t sculpt, I can’t even use software applications that require any artistic skill. Even though I might be handicapped as a male in terms of colour perception, most of the great painters in history were males, so my gender is no excuse: I simply lack any talent. When people point out that this is not true, since they see my pictures and videos, I point out that I have only start posting them in the past decade, and, even so, I deleted most of the images and videos before 2009 or so — they were simply atrociously bad! What you’re looking at, even though I still have a lot to learn, is the result of some 15 years of practice, and, of those, only the past decade has been very regular. Of course you won’t achieve perfect results on your first try! The biggest hurdle to overcome is the huge disappointment that you can’t get your makeup look like it has come out of a professional makeup artist that does supermodels. Of course it’s also easier if you can get a teacher — a wife, a partner, a crossdressing friend — but that will just give your a good kickstart. The rest has to be done by yourself, alone, in front of a mirror, and try everything you can, over and over again, until finally some things will click into place. It’s not easy but possible! Nobody taught me, and I had to learn from textual descriptions first, then came some images, and only recently some videos. Still, it’s completely different to see a professional makeup artist doing their makeup on a video, and try to replicate, on the first try, exactly what they’re doing.

Of course I’m constantly doing things wrong! You cannot imagine how many jars of foundation I’ve bought, both online and on supermarkets, without ever hitting on the ‘right’ shade. These days I know that all that effort was futile: the only way to find out the right shade is to try it out, and that’s why cosmetics shops have testers. Naturally enough, a makeup teacher might look at your face and probably guess the shade correctly after a few tries, but they will still apply it first to make sure they guessed correctly — applied makeup looks different from what is in the bottle or jar, because your own skin will absorb part of the colour as well. So don’t despair if you ‘never get the right shade’ — you will, even if you’re scared to shop on a physical shop, by trial-and-error, it just takes longer (and will probably be quite more expensive).

Always remember that genetic females, or transexuals after starting transition, are free to experiment every day. Crossdressers like me only have a few hours per week to do experiments. That means that the trial-and-error period will take much longer. Girls in their teens, when first starting out using makeup, will get a lot of help from friends and family; after a few months they’ll know what will work on their face, and, even so, they will constantly experiment with new looks. We casual crossdressers, in order to achieve the same effect, will naturally take years, not months. But we’ll get there, eventually, even if our artistic talent is zero — which is my case.

It’s small things that start to click into place. I think that in my case the first thing that worked towards building some self-confidence that achieving some makeup skills was possible came from getting lipstick applied correctly; the trick, in my case, was to learn to use lip liner correctly, even though I needed several more years to understand that the correct shade is actually lighter than the lipstick colour, and not darker! But once I got the lips fixed, I moved to other areas. There is still a lot I don’t know how to do, like disguising my nose better, or enhancing the cheekbones. And believe me, I’ve tried a lot of different techniques, but I’m still willing to try new ones. And that, I think, is what makes applying makeup so fun. It’s true that it can be daunting and frustrating at the beginning, but it gets better all the time, and, the better it gets, the more enjoyable it becomes. As a side effect, the more confidence you have in your skills, the more daring you get, and the more crazy things you’re willing to try out on your face!

Overconfidence, of course, can be frustrating at the beginning. I remember that I started doing the eye lining with a pencil, and, at the beginning, possibly because of a combination of factors — I had picked a rather lousy brand, which made the line very blurry, and I also cannot draw a straight line, which only made things worse — I was a bit disappointed. Then I read about liquid eyeliner, and how much more defined the lines become. That’s certainly true, but… applying eyeliner is very hard, if you have never done it before. My first experiences with liquid eyeliner, 15 years ago or so, were an absolute catastrophe! So, well, I gave up on the liquid eyeliner — shrugging it off as some ‘professional’ product that a beginner like me should never waste any money and time on. I stuck to pencils, then to kohl (in pencil format, although I’ve also tried, much later, to use powdered kohl — you guessed it, that requires another special brush!), and, slowly, over time, I learned a bit better how to apply it. So it was well over a decade until I dared to use liquid eyeliner again. Now I find it as easy to use as a pencil — the technology, as said, also has improved a lot! — even though I still can’t draw a straight line. But I know how to disguise that fact! That’s the whole point of the learning process: you not only learn how to use things, but how to compensate for your lack of talent.

I’ve also mentioned before how I progressed to paint my own nails. First, of course, I started with stick-on false nails, but soon I wanted to experiment to paint my natural nails as well. That took years to get minimally acceptable results. I thought I’d never achieve ‘salon-class’ nail painting, that seemed to be impossible — I simply don’t have the talent, especially when doing the right hand (since I’m right-handed!). But over time — and by practicing first on false nails for years and years! — I learned how to compensate for the lack of talent. At the beginning, I might take half an hour or more to do my own nails, constantly wiping it off, attempt after attempt. I secretly envied my mother-in-law, who took 2 to 3 minutes to do her own nails, in the living room, with two coatings, without hesitation! Then I started to understand a few important things. First, the cuticles must be in pristine condition — and mine weren’t, they were too dry, and so they would ‘flake’ or become irregular, and that meant the nail polish will get ‘stuck’ on it and ‘bleed’ to everywhere except where I wished it to be. Well, treating the cuticles was the first step. Then I learned that it’s much easier to apply polish if you have a base coat first. Gah! And the good news is that the base coat is transparent, so it’s easy to apply, even if you make mistakes, it will not show. Then I learned that the cheap nail polish brands usually have awful brushes, and this makes it much harder to apply polish properly; similarly, low-quality polish will either be too runny or too thick, and you need it in the perfect consistency to make it easy. Once I learned all that, and after years of practice, I just take some five minutes or so to apply the polish, and, most of the time, I don’t even need to do any corrections. It was at that point where I started to notice that my sister-in-law, who paints her nails once a week or so, actually does them far worse than I do; and I’ve also noticed how professional estheticians at the beauty salon also make mistakes all the time, but they are just very good at covering them up quickly! So, these days, although I still feel tempted to just stick on some false nails, the truth is that I enjoy painting my own nails so much, that I never went back to the false nails. I just groom my nails better and let them grow way, way longer than I did a decade ago.

The list, fortunately, is extensive — all small things, here and there, that take ages to get ‘perfect’, but, once mastered, they’re not only easy to do, but I’m willing to experiment further, with new techniques. I’m not afraid of ‘doing it wrong’ any more, I just see it all as part of a learning experience which is enjoyable. Sure, one day I would delight in having all my makeup and hairdo done by a professional in a salon, just to enjoy the ‘perfect’ result for a change. But I would see that mostly as a challenge: paying good attention to understand what exactly they’re doing, how they apply things, and try to replicate them as best as possible.

I still get frustrated with my hair, though. The only thing I’ve learned about hair is how to use curl rollers. That’s easy enough and gives a good impact. But I can’t do more than that. But I’m also willing to try. Unfortunately, you can’t do many experiences on synthetic fibre, and, as it happens, I finally persuaded myself that my current wig, no matter how much the company claims the contrary, is not made of human hair, or, if it is, it’s a mix with good quality synthetic hair… which means that a lot of hair techniques, all of them involving hear, are simply not possible. Ah well. Fortunately, it’s just a question of money! I’ve already lined up a list of retailers who will most definitely sell human hair. Unfortunately, money is one of the things that I lack…