I found my color.
Saturday I went to Sephora (for the first time in my life). It was dizzying. The number of brands and product. Nervous as hell, I wandered the entire store. There were plenty customers sitting in front of the many make up vanity mirrors with lights, set up throughout the store. There were lines. I came here for one simple thing: find my foundation color.
A quick question. In. Out.
I found an employee arranging something on the wall, not engaged with a customer. I approached her and asked if she could help me with my quest. She told me that she’d be happy to, but she’s the fragrance expert (that’s when I realized what she was doing—restocking fragrance sticks) so she cannot help me. She radioed for someone to assist me. I could look around the store and they’ll find me.
Once more I braved deeper into the store, this time better able to check out the products. As I wandered around a woman with the body radio approached me. “Did you need any help, dear?” (She didn’t call me “sir.” My anxiety began to dissipate at the way she welcomed me and addressed me in an inclusive way.) I told her I hoped that she was the one they flagged down to help me. She said she was. But to my consternation she steered me toward one of those makeup stations where most of the customers were congregating.
I wanted this experience to be as simple, quick, and private as possible. She introduced me to a man, whom she said was exactly the expert who could help me.
Victor was a middle-aged gay man of Latin descent. When I told him I simply needed to know what color foundation I should be using, he immediately began with a question that caught me off guard: “What is this for?” Was I looking for product to wear on stage to perform or every day?
I answered with yes-no-maybe-i-dont-know-can-you-repeat-the-question.
Victor steered me to a chair at the makeup station, putting me in the vicinity of at least five other customers. Two occupying the closely put chairs to my left. Three occupying the remaining stations just on the other side of my mirror.
“Are you looking for full coverage?” Huh? He was using jargon. I said I think so. He left me (alone and vulnerable) at the station to go get some product. He came back with Marc Jacobs. He immediately began to apply the foundation to the left half of my face.
This. Was. Going. To. Take. Longer than I thought. And in full view and within earshot of other customers.
I checked myself out in the mirror. My hair was still too short, but it did flair out behind my ears a bit. Subtle hints of my femininity asserting itself. It felt good sitting in front of this mirror (that sense of being exposed before the world notwithstanding.)
After some back and forth he asked me if the purpose of my seeking foundation was for a drag show performance. I stammered, no. “You’re a cross dresser,” he tried. I stammered a very noncommittal yes. I wasn’t a cross dresser nor a drag queen. I’m a trans woman in boy mode never having been out as myself anywhere yet. Victor disappeared then came back with a bottle of Make Up Forever Ultra HD liquid foundation. He applied this to the right half of my face and said, “This is your color.”
I stared into my face. Half painted. It was a bizarre look.
“Is this for everyday or for a performance?” I told him I wasn’t sure. Eventually it could turn into everyday. I don’t know. I’m still experimenting. Figuring things out.
Then Victor said something to me which I don’t remember except one of the words he used was “transgender.” With my heart skipping a beat, thinking how does he know, I peeked over at the customer in front of me sitting on the opposite side of the mirror. I was exposed. But I couldn’t deny it. Then something quite amazing happened.
Victor “saw” me. And he took very good care. Instead of handing me any product to purchase on the spot, he filled a tiny sample container of the foundation and wrote down the color code that I had ventured here for: Y345.
He escorted me to a computer screen. Helped me sign up for their “Beauty Insider” program. Then told me about upcoming makeup classes, and that I should attend.
Buoyed by Victor’s matter-of-fact treatment of me; his ability to see me as trans, and his making me feel a fellow queer person, I left the store with a secret smile.
I went home, logged onto Sephora.com and ordered my first proper full makeup stuff. All the required basics I needed to attend a makeup class for trans women offered by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, hosted by a professional makeup artist. Four years into this journey of discovery, I’m finally finding some kind of footing.
After this class, I’ll have opportunity to be out in the world for the first time as Sophia while at The Reformation Project’s Chicago Conference on Bible-Based LGBTQ Inclusion, later this fall. It’ll be my first outing. And it’ll be my first opportunity to meet other LGBTQ Christians in real life.
This shopping experience at Sephora triggered some latent memories:
Memories Tucked Away
- Second grade. I tagged along on my brother’s debut as a child actor in a feature film with a famed comedian very popular during the 90s. I was put in the movie as a background player. They put me in full costume in this period piece. And I was (randomly, mind you) assigned the wig that had the long braided pony tail reaching down to my back. Wearing that wig I felt so free. After the movie was done, I begged my parents to get me that wig. I wanted to wear it. “When and where would you wear it?” they asked. “I don’t know. At home. Just. I really would like one.” After finding out that the wig would be too expensive, and more importantly had to be braided ourselves, my parents explained it was impossible.
- Third grade. I was in a musical. My peers hated getting makeup on. But, I loved it. The whole sensory experience of it. When my peers tried to make fun, I told them, “Hey, I like stage acting and it’s a part of it.”
- Twenties. I was a background player on a major science fiction franchise film that would release in Summer 2009. Again. My favorite part of that experience was sitting in that makeup chair. It felt good. After lunch the PA’s were instructing all of us to visit the makeup chair to get fixed up. Many tried to play it cool by ignoring these instructions, but I jumped at the chance. While sitting in the chair I could hear some of the other players talking about how lame I was. “Totally unnecessary. Make up isn’t messed up. And as background players it wouldn’t even make a difference.” Assholes. I sat there, enjoyed getting made up.
Memories Buried Deep
- Pre-school/Kindergarten. One day I sat next to my mom as she was putting on her makeup. I watched her with keen interest. I asked her what she was doing. She was very dismissive. But, I wanted to be let in and invited into the process. It looked like so much fun.
- Pre-school/Kindergarten. I remember asking mom if I could have her used compact. She also gave me her used makeup bag for me to play with. I loved that compact, playing at putting on makeup.
In Chicago, I won’t be playing at anything.