My Personal Journey
The phenomenon of makeup for men is not a new one, and plenty of men buy and use makeup nowadays, making it part of a regular grooming and self care routine. My story is not one of buying concealer for under my eyes to cover up those inevitable dark circles, to hide pimples or accentuate my eyebrows for a more “masculine” look. No, my story is quite different: I’m a drag queen.
My name is Sam, aka Morgan Wood, and I’ve been getting in to drag and performing since summer of 2018 in Berlin, Germany where I live. I identify as a cis man and my drag is quite the typical drag you’d expect: very feminine, with big hair, big boobs and padded hips and butt (that I made myself, thank you very much). This means I wear quite a lot of makeup, to hide the fact that, you know, I am a man underneath it all.
I was first turned on to the idea of doing drag as a 13-year-old boy who saw the Australian film Priscilla Queen of the Desert. My immediate thought was “I want to be a drag queen when I grow up!” and then for 20 years I didn’t do anything with this idea, because I was too afraid. With the mainstreaming of drag thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race, I became interested again in my 30s and realising that this would be a good opportunity to face my internal fears around being “too feminine”, I finally took the plunge last year, trying out how to make myself up as a queen.
When I told friends and family that I was interested in doing drag, I got very positive and supportive responses, to the extent that people were offering me their unused makeup, brushes, wigs, dresses, tights and all kinds of other accoutrements I might find useful as a burgeoning drag queen. So right off the bat, I was armed with a basic set of tools to explore this newfound hobby, but I still needed to go out and actually buy makeup for myself to suit my skin tone and fill in the gaps of what I wasn’t already given in order to paint my face.
Now, this was the scary part. How would I walk in to a makeup store as a male-presenting person and buy makeup for myself, or heaven forbid, ask for help from a salesperson and walk out with my ego unscathed? It seemed impossible at first. I found myself frozen in the aisles of foundation, eye shadow and lipstick, not really knowing what I needed or wanted to buy. I was intensely uncomfortable, fearing other people’s judgement. And what must the people working in the shop be thinking? “Is he buying for his girlfriend? His mother? Is he lost?”
In actual fact, no one seemed to care that I was looking at makeup, and eventually I was able to try out some of the testers on the back of my hand, make some stabs in the dark at my first purchases, buy my products and get out without any glares of disapproval, disgust or confusion.
Later, I was able to see that in that act I was directly facing both the preconceptions I have about how other people view me and how I had been taught by society to view myself. Boys have to be masculine. Wearing makeup is for girls. Being feminine is something to be avoided at all costs. These were all the messages I’d been carrying around with me up until this point, and in confronting them in this way, I was able to acknowledge them and then let them go, Marie Kondo style. (“Does it spark joy?” “No. OK, thank you. Goodbye!”)
As I progressed in my drag journey, my makeup skills improved and my need for more professional tools and products grew, I had the experience of asking for help choosing the right products for me, specifically foundation, which is such an individual thing. I found that telling people working in makeup stores that I’m a drag queen was actually the easier, and more fun way of approaching the situation, and they were usually not phased by this information at all: surely, I was not the first drag queen they’d ever met buying professional makeup!
This made it easier and easier for me to approach buying makeup as an everyday activity: now, buying a new eyeshadow for myself feels no more insurmountable a task than picking up some toilet paper at the supermarket. Drag, and specifically my relationship to makeup, awoke in me my self love and allowed me to let go of needing other people to think well of me, or control their perceptions about me. And nowadays, this is something I’m quite proud of.