When Makeup Blends Gender

goldie embedPhoto: Courtesy of Steven Paul.
Recently, we noticed a popular thread on Reddit titled "I turned myself into a guy! ...Using makeup!" The comments that follow are positive, thanking the makeup artist for sharing and trading tips and tricks for similar looks. After seeing the forum, though, we felt there was some deeper digging to be done. The skills involved in the photographed transformation are undeniably impressive, but there's more here than just a quick makeup tutorial.
People who use cosmetics and clothes to perform masculinity — otherwise known as drag kings — have their own subculture and history. They are also uniquely positioned to play with the complexity of how we understand what it means to be a man. It's more than just some well-placed stubble (though that can help). So, to get a better understanding of what goes into a drag performance and how makeup is used, we talked to Goldie Peacock, a professional drag king.

How would you describe your performances?
"I'll give you an example. In one of my pieces, set to Britney Spears' 'Stronger,' I portray a circus-style strongman who fails to lift a phallic-shaped weight — until I shoot myself up with a giant syringe of steroids and succeed, easily lifting the weight in all kinds of suggestive ways. The piece touches on homo-eroticism and gender expectations, and because I choose to dress in red, white, and blue and wear an American-flag bandana around my neck, it also addresses the American obsession with things that are 'bigger, faster, stronger.' Sometimes, though, I just want to dance around with enthusiasm and make people feel good, and it's not that deep."

What role does makeup play in your performance?
"I use eyeliner to darken my eyebrows and draw on facial hair and sideburns, which are current symbols of masculinity in our society. Sometimes I choose to don both facial hair and, say, pink glitter — which, during this cultural moment, is strongly associated with femininity. I hope that when people see me wearing a gender-blending look like that, they feel inspired and like they have permission to be creative and not so rigidly adhere to the gender binary."

How do you feel when you have the drag makeup on?
"I feel ready for my close-up. If I'm wearing more than usual, like lots of glitter, glitter on my lips, fake eyelashes, a facial-hair piece or glued-on stubble, it can feel kind of heavy at the end of the night. But, I don't usually take it off until the very last minute before bed, because I like how I look."

What does makeup mean to you outside of your performances?
"I have always gravitated toward makeup and enjoy playing with it, not only in a performance environment. I like that it can help people express themselves and feel good. I wear it several times a week just because I feel like it. I have a makeup drawer at home — sometimes I'll open it up and see some beautiful product and want to put it on right then and there, so I do."

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