Makeup & Male-To-Female Transition: A Look At How Beauty And Gender Coincide

Women trapped in men’s bodies is the standard narrative of men who become women. This is the ‘feminine essence narrative’ and represents what transexuals state publicly. This understanding has little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations. This article draws a parallel, a comparison between the standard narrative and the other side, Men trapped in femininity.

Marlyn Alarm is a singer from Miami, Fla., undergoing formal gender transition after  a full year living as a woman. But her struggle with identity is not a new one.

“Today I was asked when I realized I was in the wrong body. As much as it took me a really long time to come to terms with it, I think I have known since I can remember—since I could even think about gender or notice it. I was thinking about when I was in pre-K ,and I would dress up as Cinderella and do girl things. If I decided to wear a dress or roleplay as a princess, my teachers would tell me I couldn’t do it because I was a boy. So when you have everyone in your life telling you that you’re a boy, you kind of start to believe it, even though none of it comes naturally to you.

Art & Marilyn

My transition has been a very gradual, very cerebral process. For a lot of people, it’s very easy to reduce gender to bodies, and that’s terrible. So to answer that question that I was asked today, I realized I was a woman after I was already living as a woman for about a year or so. Before that, I had this platinum blond hair, acrylics, and would dress in skirts, and wear purses—but I still identified as male. I was open-minded enough, growing up, to think that even if my outward appearance was female, I could still be male. If you read enough queer theory, you realize any sort of conjunction is possible. There are boys who want to experience life as women but still be boys, and that’s valid.

I never understood why people would think that men couldn’t be as beautiful as women, so for a long time I didn’t have a word for myself. I was like, ‘I’m not a boy but I can’t let myself be a woman.’ So at the time I was like, ‘OK, I’ll be something else.’ It was weird for me, and in some ways, my thinking allowed me to keep putting off how I felt inside by just covering it up with this cerebral explanation.

‘There is a lot of psychological tension in trying to discuss anything with gender identity’, says Marlyn

Dr. J. Michael Bailey, Department of Psychology North Western University, says ‘A common understanding of male-to-female transsexualism is that all MtF transsexuals are, essentially, women trapped in men’s bodies. The standard narrative of men who become women goes something like this: “I have always felt that I was born in the wrong body. I have always been feminine in my interests and feelings. My desire to change sex is about my gender identity and not my sexuality.” This narrative, which has been termed the feminine essence narrative, represents both what most lay people believe to be true, as well as what transsexuals are likely to say publicly. The narrative has been extended to an etiological theory, which Lawrence (references below) has called the brain sex theory of transsexualism. The transsexual advocacy website,, puts this theory succinctly: “A transsexual is a person in which the sex-related structures of the brain that define gender identity are exactly opposite the physical sex organs of the body.”

This understanding has little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations.

Ray Blanchard has shown that there are two distinct subtypes of MtF transsexuals. Members of one subtype, homosexual transsexuals, are best understood as a type of homosexual male. The other subtype, autogynephilic transsexuals, are motivated by their erotic desire to become women. The latter are non-homosexual with respect to their birth sex. The persistence of the predominant cultural understanding, while explicable, is damaging to science and to many transsexuals’.

Marilyn continues to say, “I used to wear a lot more makeup. I fucking love Boy George, and I would put on that amount of makeup—like Boy George amounts of makeup. My eyeliner would like reach my hairline. I would go really crazy with it. I would try to overcompensate. Now I’m much more toned down, but I feel like all girls have that phase when experimenting with makeup for the first time. Though, if I started off putting on the amount of makeup I wear now, I knew I would just look like who I really am, and I think I was just not ready for that.”

Dr. Bailey adds, “Homosexual transsexuals are best understood as a subset of homosexual males who were very feminine from early childhood. In some ways, then, they do appear to fit the feminine essence narrative: they had male bodies as children, but behaviorally and psychologically they were different, in some respects, from typical boys and more similar to typical girls”.

Marilyn fits right in this category as she relates, “I was 14 years old when I got my first taste of makeup. I was in a band as the lead singer and we were playing one of our first shows. At that point all I could get away with was straightening my hair maybe once a month. So yeah, I was at my first show, and I remember finding a Revlon retractable black eyeliner in the bathroom. I put it on my waterline, not even thinking about the fact that I could get an eye infection as I picked it up off the floor—it was disgusting. I guess the cool thing about being in a band is that there is so much more freedom”.

Dr. Bailey goes on to distinguish, “One common manifestation of autogynephilia is fetishistic cross-dressing, which is an extremely common antecedent to seeking sex reassignment among non-homosexual (but not homosexual) transsexuals”.

In simple terms the non-homosexual male (autogynephilic) does it for a stiffy but for Marlyn it was always limp.

For Marilyn makeup is an artform, she continues to say “There’s the classic ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)‘-feel. I felt like I could wear the eyeliner, and no one would care because I was at a rock show. Then I wore it again to a crowd that was more of a hardcore scene, and it wasn’t a cool experience. They were screaming at me to get off the stage and calling me the F word. I was just like, ‘Wow, OK.’ I was just 15 at that point. It was a terrible wake up call to me, all because I was wearing eyeliner—it’s not that big of a deal, and yet, people are already policing me for not performing this gender that I’m pretending to be. Obviously I was doing a shitty job at performing male. Sometimes I tell people that I really feel like I was in drag for over a decade, in the sense of performing male gender roles. I’d end the night and make sure to wipe off my eyeliner before I got home”.

While for Marlyn applying make up comes as a natural progression on her route to womanhood for the  autogynephilic male it appears to be a paraphilia. Paraphilias are unusual, intense, and persistent erotic interests. Most antecedents of this type claim to be trapped in femininity. Some paraphilias like pedophilia and sadism are harmful to others. Whereas in this type the person portraying the characteristic is helplessly and hopelessly motivated by their arousal. That is, they really want to be male and are heterosexual but because its so arousing, their thoughts become compulsive and their stimuli obsessive as they struggle against the currents drawing them into womanhood. Needless to say, once they transition the phenomenon ceases to exist, they may in essence conclude that they caused harm to themselves.

Marilyn Alarm

I had really bad acne in high school, so I’d get away with wearing coverall and that’s it. Still, my mother would look at me from her bed—I did, and still do, my makeup in her room because it has the best lighting—and be like, ‘What are you doing?’ I used to tell my mom like, ‘Don’t worry! I’ll never wear mascara!’ But it all happens…100 YouTube tutorials later you emerge in full face [Laughs].

The feminine essence narrative of persons like Marlyn usually resonate a Barbie doll to make up and dresses theme whereas the autogynephilic narrative usually depicts entrapment especially initiated through school plays, Halloween costuming, dreams etc. That one episode they experienced such an erotic rush that it meanders their lives forever as they struggle against the changes it endorses. Worse still is that most straight autogynephilic males who have not yet been initiated, do not know they are autogynephilic, and are unaware of the peril that looms over them. They’re just normal guys now with no interest whatsoever in makeup or dresses.

The feminine essence narrative always depicts an overtly makeup driven obsession.

Marilyn says, “I always admired makeup. I’d watch my grandma doing her makeup, and she’d always be put together. She would tell me that photos are forever, you can’t take it lightly, and you have to perfect it. Little things like that really stuck with me. Without my mother’s permission, I dyed my hair platinum blonde as a teenager. Having white hair changes your life, regardless of gender identity. It is a really crazy experience. You learn about so many different sides of people and how they perceive you—it’s crazy. It was motivation, I guess, and it was the first instance of feeling like I can’t hide myself”.

On the other hand, Autogynephilia  appears to be correlated with other paraphilias, especially masochism. Advertisements of dominatrixes frequently offer services to cross-dressers, and autogynephilic males are more likely than other males to become sexually aroused to stimuli depicting masochistic themes. The more they feed their passions the more likely they are to be helplessly drawn from one stage to the next, on one hand feeling humiliated and on the other aroused. In classical contexts this has been portrayed as a black magic like art by women in the know to trap male autogynephiles.

Heracles was to serve as her (Omphale’s) slave for a year. He was forced to do women’s work and to wear women’s clothes, while she wore the skin of the Nemean Lion

For Marilyn, however, things were not so complex,  as she says, “I was really obsessed with Final Fantasy at the time, especially the Final Fantasy villains. If you really look at a Final Fantasy villain and analyze it, it’s a female head on a male body. I felt connected to the possibility of being really pretty, even if my body didn’t match up—there was a chance for the head portion to be on-point and consistent with how I view myself. After that, I started really diving into makeup as identity. Beauty can be a big deal for all girls, but beauty for a trans girl could be life-or-death. There’s moments when you could be placed in danger for not passing as a woman convincingly enough. One time I was walking with my friend and a guy was trying to holler at me, then he took out a knife. Makeup is much more serious to trans women. Even cis girls can relate—they get attacked and bullied in schools, growing up, because they’re not pretty enough”.

“Most males who begin life as extremely feminine boys, even those whose femininity includes the wish to become girls, do not become transsexual. In the contemporary United States, most become homosexual men”, says Dr. Bailey.

“I really feel bad for a lot of trans people and trans women who don’t have the experience [with makeup] before they come into themselves and have to learn to do their makeup in no time. They’re 35, they have kids, and they need to transition then—that’s the bravest thing ever. That’s not to say that I think people transitioning later in life necessarily need to wear makeup to be who they are. I just identified with it. The way I did it was just like how every girl picks up makeup skills—where your mom is like, You can only put on lipgloss.”,says Marlyn.

While for persons like Marilyn being a woman is a full time affair, autogynephilic persons take the time off about once a year to express their femininity by crossdressing in plays or religious rituals. Softer forms of autogynephilic portrayal were found in men who participated in classically stereotyped feminine activities like knitting. Sexual activity include masturbation and sexual intercourse in this mtf subgroup. They find orgasm sexually satisfying if it is associated with a self imagery of femininity. This self imagery is played out in the mind and does not require crossdressing to experience arousal. Crossdressing comes about as the natural progression to manifest the self imagery in order to experience the next level of arousal. It is often thought to be a sexual orientation in itself wherein a man is in Love with an inner woman, the latter being formed through self imagery. 

In extreme cases, especially religious, stimulation is not required for orgasm as the autogynephile depicts spontaneous auto orgasm. The latter, in several third world countries are revered as being espoused to the Goddesses, living an ascetic life cross-dressed as women in their places of worship. Whereas, the homosexual sub-group  castrate themselves and are said to be espoused to the Gods, whilst continuing homosexual relationships with other persons.

The difference between the inner woman and the woman trapped within is that the former is brought about through eroticism and lasts only in the erotic setting whereas the latter is a continued dysphoria with the male body.

But for Marilyn, her world revolves around makeup as she states, “You need time to practice, so it looks good. I used to just have these Zen three-hour makeup sessions. Of course, during the day I just wear tinted moisturizer, concealer, and maybe mascara. Sometimes I’ll do a wig, but just a little bit on the outer edge. But at night…at night is when I’d really take my time. I’d do my makeup from 7pm to 10pm and go out at midnight”.

The next time I’m fixing my lipstick and I notice some guy helplessly staring at me, I’m going to gesture and offer him my lipstick. He might act perplexed but if I so much as see a bulge, I’d know that I have trapped my victim.- Tracy Harju

Note: As their label implies, homosexual MtF transsexuals are homosexual with respect to their birth sex. That is, they are attracted exclusively to men. Although some writers have objected to the use of the word homosexual to refer to individuals who have sex with men as women, we retain the terminology because it emphasizes the fact that homosexual MtFs are a subset of, and developmentally related to, other homosexual males. Furthermore, it emphasizes the most efficient and practical way of distinguishing homosexual and autogynephilic transsexuals.

Who has the last laugh?


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