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Kenny wears shirt and trousers Acne StudiosPhotography Nikola Lamburov, styling Justin Hamilton

Tattoos and testosterone: the beauty routines of three trans men


TextTed StansfieldPhotographyNikola LamburovStylingJustin Hamilton

Tayler, Kenny, and June share the difficulties of their personal beauty rituals after transitioning

Welcome to Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity, a campaign dedicated to exploring what ‘masculinity’ means in 2019. With photo stories shot in Tokyo, India, New York, and London and in-depth features exploring mental health, older bodybuilders, and myths around masculinity – we present all the ways people around the world are redefining traditional tropes.

What is your relationship to beauty like? If someone were to ask you that question, what would you say? Perhaps your relationship to beauty is straightforward: maybe you love it and view it as a vehicle for your self-expression and creativity. Or perhaps it’s a little more complicated and that coming to love beauty has been more of a journey for you.

This was true of the three trans men we spoke to for this article. While their experiences, as you will soon read, are different, their relationships to beauty have all been shaped by gender; both in terms of roles and expectations on a social level and their own experiences on a personal level, too. Two of the guys, for example, said that prior to transitioning, they shirked away from beauty, seeing it as feminine, and it’s only now they’re more comfortable in their gender identity, they feel more able to explore and have fun with it.

They also spoke about the specific challenges they face as trans men when it comes to beauty and grooming – whether it’s the pressure of conforming to cis-normative male beauty ideals, or dealing with the skin troubles that come as the result of taking testosterone, or simply finding a safe space to get your hair cut. 

Here, Tayler, Kenny and June discuss their experiences and relationships with gender and beauty. 

KENNY

“Transitioning definitely altered my relationship with beauty because I had always seen it as something that was feminine, which is nonsense. When I was younger, I had absolutely no routine – I would wash my face with soap and water and avoided trying out new products as I didn’t want to question my masculinity. For years I continued with this approach and it wasn’t until last year – and I’m 25 now – that I finally started to integrate a routine.

None of my male friends had a routine. It was hard enough to get them to discuss their feelings. Point being, I had no channel of information for how to handle self-care. My older sister is a dancer and wearing make-up is a part of her day-to-day, so I remember watching her use fancy wipes and moisturisers and thinking – not me. I made an assumption, I associated simple self-care rituals with femininity. Nobody taught me this, but nobody educated me otherwise, it all boiled down to two things – a lack of male representation when it came to beauty products and a lack of self-confidence.

Although I had this fight with beauty, I had similar battles with clothing and general grooming. At one point in my life, I refused to line up or shave my facial hair because looking too ‘perfect’ would diminish my masculine vibe. 

Skin troubles are an inherent issue with taking testosterone; skincare is so important at this point. You need to ensure you use the correct products for your skin otherwise you can trigger a breakout. Obviously, it differs from person to person, so you have to ensure you do your due diligence. Among this the first few changes I noticed was my skin became thicker, my voice deepened and I started to develop facial hair as well as body hair.

I feel able to explore femininity now. You reach a point in your transition where you have this ‘who really cares’ realisation and just become at one with everything that you are, you are the perfect mixture of both masculinity and femininity. If you’d have asked the Kenny five years ago to explore any of this, he would have said no. The reason being, I wasn’t confident in who I was. I felt like I had to be more masculine to make up for the fact that I wasn’t born genetically male. As I got older I became exposed to the idea of more genderless concepts, particularly androgynous – playing into the narrative of both binary genders.

I came to the realisation that not only was I hurting myself but I wasn’t practicing good self-care by not exploring who I truly was. I had to reach a point of self-acceptance, my well being depended on it. General beauty standards can cause you to have dysphoria and being transgender making everything so much harder to navigate. 

It’s upsetting to see how products are marketed in order to be bought by the consumer. Companies are exploiting people’s insecurities to sell them products that they don’t need. You should buy something to enhance your beauty. But, most purchases nowadays are a result of manipulation or shame. I get it – we live in a capitalist society – but I don’t think it’s right. 

Make the decision to fall in love with the process of loving yourself and not the ‘ideal beauty standards’ and you’ll spend the rest of your life fulfilled.”

JUNE

“I think my relationship to beauty is quite complicated because, being a trans guy, people just don’t expect you to know anything about skincare. Before, I was a cis woman and was actually pretty into makeup and looking nice. It’s taken me a while to feel like I can actually still have that part of myself and I can still care about these things.

I used to use a lot of different potions and stuff and have a six-step skincare regime, and now it’s gone down to four or five steps but I’m still doing a lot. I think taking T, my skin got oiler, so it’s more salicylic acid and glycogenic acid toners and stuff like that. It’s a really common thing for trans guys and it’s actually I think a bit sad that a lot of guys don’t have that knowledge base to draw from because it’s mostly cis women that have access to this information or what we should be doing when we’ve got oily skin.

It’s been super important to me to not fall into this trap of, ‘OK, I want to pass’ and wear boat shoes and chinos. That’s not me and also it’s this very white kind of normative version of masculinity as well and as a person of colour, that’s not going to emphasise my best qualities as a man of colour. Going to the gym quite a lot and putting on muscle has been really beneficial to my sense of self and what makes me feel more comfortable and what helps me alleviate my dysphoria, and I’ve kinda fallen into a bit of a 90s jock aesthetic which I’m really into.

As a trans guy, I find barbershops can still be really oppressive and transphobic; I’ve had quite a few bad experiences in barbershops, where they’re like, ‘er, are you here for a male haircut?’ and I’ll be like, ‘yes, because I’m a man’. It’s been quite tricky to find safe spaces and especially because I’m invested in that, it feels really good to have my hair cut – it should be an experience I can partake in without feeling like I have to misgender myself by going to a particular kind of salon. I found this really amazing barbershop near my place in Homerton called The Alchemist Barbers – but it feels challenging and that shouldn’t be the case.”

TAYLER 

“My relationship to beauty has been difficult because, as a transmasculine-person, I found it triggering to think people would see me as feminine because I care about how I look. But, with time, I’ve come to accept that it doesn’t relate to that at all; it’s more about feeling a certain way. Now, I practice grooming more because I like feeling good about myself. It’s something I enjoy doing.

For me, beauty is less about telling others who I am and more about telling myself who I am and allowing myself to be me. So the fact that I can, for example, change my hair whenever I want, or wear make-up if I want, makes me feel good about myself which is so important.

(My daily beauty routine is) mainly skincare because, like most people who have hormones raging through their body, it’s a real issue. Every day I wash my face with water and every other day I use a really light cleanser which doesn’t have any alcohol. Then, every other time I use the cleanser, I’ll also use a face scrub. Then I moisturise.

Growing up, I never had any problems with my skin. It was completely clear and had absolutely no concerns with it. But then, two months into starting hormones, my skin started to get blemishes and small amounts of acne. It’s been difficult to get accustomed to this new skin. Of course, over time, facial hair comes in. Genetically, I don’t have the capacity to grow strong facial hair, but there’s been enough of it that I have to maintain it so I don’t look like a prepubescent teen!

I want to see more and more people being represented (in the beauty industry). There has been an improvement but we can’t become complacent – it’s so important to keep pushing forward for change. I want to see more non-binary icons, trans icons, and just more people with a whole host of different looks, skin tones – the lot.”

Read more from Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity here.

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