15 August 2008

Talk to Me; Make Me Pretty

Today I took a break from electrolysis. Three days in a row...I didn't think I'd get through the first session. But I'm going for more next week.

So what did I do today besides my laundry, cleaning my apartment, surfing the web or feeling upset about that new teaching position that everyone else seems to think is so wonderful? I went for a haircut and facial. I figured I might not have time for them--or at least the facial, anyway--for a while.

I've been going to the same place for the past five years--Zoe's Beauty in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Until April, Toni had been cutting and coloring my hair. But she's left to pursue other interests: According to her mother (who looks a bit like Diane Keaton), she's going to Paris, where she's going to attend a school for theatrical make-up. I loved the work she did on me, but somehow I always had the sense she'd want to at least try other things.

So how did I find her, and the shop? One Sunday, a few weeks after Tammy and I split up and I moved into the neighborhood where I live now, I was riding my bike. Back then--six years ago--I was presenting as female a couple of times a week but was still a year away from living full-time as a woman. And it would be months before I'd begin to take hormones. Anyway, on that Sunday--rather hot, as I remember--I'd been out riding for a while in my bike-guy clothes and was sweaty and probably grungy. The neon sign and neo-Victorian/hippie chotchkes in the window streamed into view. I crossed the street to check it out.

I lingered over shelves full of nail colorings and eye make-up when a voice intoned, "Can I help you?"

I turned around. There was Toni, looking at me even more quizzically than she sounded.

"Make me as pretty as you are," I deadpanned.

Now, if you saw Toni and you saw me, you'd know that was quite the request! But she didn't back down or try to talk me out of the store. Instead, she asked, "Where would you like to start?"

The rest, as they say, is history. I proceeded from buying nail polish and lip gloss to facial creams and powders. She always seemed to know what would work for me: not only what would look good on me, but what my sensitive skin could handle. I don't know whether she'd ever worked with a transgender before she met me, but she even recommended some lotions for shaving.

Then, when she started cutting and coloring my hair, I learned about the mystique of the hairdresser. In those days before I'd begun to live full-time--before I was even "out" to any of my family or friends--she became a sort of second therapist to me. In fact, she was the first to encourage me to find a guy--at a time when I wondered whether I "passed" and before I realized just how horny guys actually are. (Was I like that?)

I don't recall having those kinds of conversations with a barber. Then again, that may have had more to do with me than the barbers.

To top everything off, Toni was only twenty years old when I first met her. Most barbers I'd seen were about three times that age.

Anna does just about as nice a job on my hair as Toni did. I like. And I like talking with her. Imagine crossing Rachael Ray with Rosie, without Rosie's anger. And, because Anna is a Brooklyn Italian-American, the roots of mine she touches aren't only in my hair! (Toni, who's half-Italian, grew up in Queens.) Still, I miss Toni. I guess we miss a lot of the "firsts" in our lives.

And then there's Ella, a slender Polish woman of my age who always refers to me as "my lady." I have had about half a dozen facials, so far, and I am convinced that even more important than the techniques or the products used are the person who's using them and the atmosphere she (or he) creates. I mean, except for those few minutes when she plucks my eyebrows (something I don't think I'll ever get down no matter how adept I become with brushes and powder-puffs), I am totally relaxed. Maybe that is the point of getting the treatment.

So let's see--Anna cut some of my hairs. Ella pulled a few hairs and scraped and washed away old skin and other things from my face. I guess, in some way, they're doing similar work to the electrologist. Or to my therapist and social worker. It's all about peeling something away to get to the essence of what I am. And--this is something that really would have suprised me earlier in my life--sometimes I actually like, no, love what I find. I think it's what people see when they tell me I look radiant or--ready for this?--pretty. And sometimes I really feel like I am.

Well, I guess everyone is, or can be made, attractive to someone. The key, I believe, is to be attractive to one's self. That's not as narcissitic as it sounds. It's really nothing more than a belief in one's self: having the same confidence that one has a rightful place in this world that one's mother (well, at least the mother one should have) has. I think that's what was expressed in one of my favorite sculptures: Rodin's Je suis belle.

Je suis belle. Thanks to everyone who helped me learn that.

Next week, I resume souffrance to be belle. It's worth it. ;-)