It’s not acted out for the sake of spectacle. It’s not a whimsical, gender-bending fuck-you to “the system”: Nor is it my way of saying, “I’m not afraid of what you think.” Because I am afraid of what you think. This matters to me. This femininity.
It matters because I’m not playing dress-up. To dress up means to pretend. But I am learning how not to pretend. It’s not fun for me, it’s terrifying; so if you laugh, it’s not a carnival sideshow you are laughing at; nor is it a straight actor considered “brave” for playing a queer role; nor a gay boy who put on high heels once for a party and thinks he’s earned the right to make drag jokes.
It is me: unadorned. My wild and tender heart beating as I am uncovered by make-up. At last I can reveal myself, and with a little flair. Because we can all use a little flair, after all (I pray for a little flair for you, too. A little glamor. Let’s pretend: We’re all wearing diamonds, and going to a grand party.)
One night this summer, I put on lipstick for the first time, and eyeliner; my turquoise ring, and my silk robe, covered in blooming peonies. I pulled a cigarette from the pack and held it in my hand, like Audrey Hepburn — always I had thought she was beautiful, but I did not know it was because inside me there was a woman just as beautiful waiting to be born. For a while, I simply sat. But soon, unable to help myself, I went to the mirror, and was bewitched by the woman I saw. She looked so natural.
I’m not here to tell you to refer to me as “they” or “he” or “she.” For now, I am paying attention to the flowers, not what pronoun you use. Because I have seen how they rise up in spring. And I know they are not gentle. In every flower is the violence of one who trusted her own beauty.
In high school, I was taught that sex is a reproductive act. That pleasure exists, like a peacock’s feathers, to aid in reproduction. But what if a peacock’s feathers were simply an act of meaningless beauty? For I cannot bear children. But oh, my feathers are lovely.
So when I walk outside with lipstick on, I won’t have a point to make. Already at the age of six, I was imagining that I was a Chinese princess. The only difference now is that you can imagine with me. (One day, maybe, we can all wake up inside my vision? And the visions of all those who know that inside them is a man, or a woman, or neither at all.) Because I dare to believe: there is nothing in this earth but our visions. When you close your eyes, isn’t it true that the flowers disappear? But if you keep your eyes closed, and imagine them, there they are again. (Though a little bit different—they have become more intimate. A private garden that none can enter unless you let them. Every flower in a garden becomes an orchid when I close my eyes. And with a certain pain, isn’t it true that I could help you see the orchids, too?) But do not be so naive as to think that we are accomplishing only an illusion. It’s only that reality takes a little flair to make properly. And then: open your eyes. Life is lush.
If only I could learn to know that I am loved. That is the greatest courage, isn’t it? To know without having to ask. But I am not courageous. I am a weak and frightened child and it is only in my visions that I can find my beauty. The world is heartless and beautiful and I cannot escape it. The escape is worse than to go on living. But someday the flowers will eat through my whole body and all that will be left of me is a garden. So inside the world I must create visions. And visions are a reality that cannot be denied and perhaps that is where I can find my courage — to believe in my visions until the end? But not all of them are complete, and so I share them with you. I invite you into them. I cannot keep my gardens to myself any longer: if you want lilies, I will plant lilies. If you want azaleas, I will plant azaleas. Together we must make visions for the world’s sake. Love is a grand and terrible tapestry and a vision too large for my small body to carry alone.
Later in the summer, I told the boy I was seeing that I had put on lipstick. I was so afraid that he would leave me. It’s not inconceivable. On Grindr alone you will find “masc4masc” or “real men only” or “not into fems” on many profiles. Femininity, to put it gently, is not de rigueur in the gay community. But this boy, this sweet, funny boy, wrote back to me: “As long as you don’t wear high heels because then you will be taller than me.” So some days I will walk out with lipstick on, and eyeliner, and a bow in my hair, and other days I will not. To realize with my whole body the vision it has been my duty to inherit. To become intimate with the world. This, at least, is my hope. I don’t know if I have the courage: I am afraid of walking into a seminar and breaking down in tears. I am afraid that my friends will find this eccentric, rather than brave, and that the boys I may love and who may love me will find it tolerable rather than desirable. I am afraid that my beauty will be lost in the spectacle of the act. I want to know: Can I entrust myself to the world? Myself: my most delicate vision.
Yet I must, because I love the world so much I do not need a meaning in order to live. To live is enough.(But only if I can live among the flowers. I wonder: are the flowers and I a “we”? Because I am no longer I and the flowers are no longer the flowers but I do not know what I am or what they are. I only know that it has not existed before. Maybe our name is simply: “the-flowers-and-I.” But even that I do not understand because I have never been anything other than a human. To be a “we” is something else — and maybe it is divine? Is “the-flowers-and-I” that which I have called god and all along I have been waiting for myself? Ah, I do not know. I do not know. “We” barely exists and has a meaning too delicate for me to understand. I even searched in the dictionary and found nothing. It must be that before today, “we” did not exist. Secretly we are the creators of a fragile kingdom. We proclaim us, and thereby inaugurate a new reality: The flowers inside my body and becoming even more extravagant. This reality which cannot be understood is called living. Living does not exist from what makes sense. Living exists from saying “yes” when no one asked a question.)
Last spring I wrote: “I exist beyond language.” But there was a time, too, when flowers had no names. And then we caressed them with words. Let our vision be a caress.
* * *
That night, when I put on lipstick for the first time, I recalled something Clarice Lispector wrote: “The beautiful orchid is exquisite and unpleasant. It isn’t spontaneous. It needs a glass dome. But it is a magnificent woman and that can’t be denied. I was lying when I said it was unpleasant. I adore orchids. They’re born artificial, they’re born art.”
And if a mask is my true face? So be it: I, too, am a magnificent woman.