What do I do to present femme in a men’s prison?
A fairly obvious question that didn’t even occur to me until it was pointed out that people might just be curious. However, I would be remiss if I did not first address the danger of presenting femme in such a hyper-masculine setting.
Society already has a (false) narrative of trans women being promiscuous thanks to years of discrimination forcing many to engage in survival sex, then to compound that daytime television’s use of trans people as a common act for their 5 in 1.
These cultural/societal constructs have primed anyone whom the American education system has failed (like say, a majority of people in prison) to believe that all trans people a sexual deviants. Compound this with a subculture that abhors homosexuality and objectifies women out of hand and you have an environment where, regardless of how I am perceived, my very existence is under constant threat.
To say that I am very careful about my presentation would be an epic understatement.
There are some things I used to do until I realized that my image was not saying what I wanted it to. I would grind graphite from pencils and mix in a little petroleum jelly and use it as kohl, or melt lip balm to add fruit punch powder to it for lip gloss, but the very act of wearing cosmetics like that reinforced that (false) narrative. I would love to have the ability to follow the feminist precept of “we shouldn’t be teaching people how to not be raped, but teaching people not to rape.” I, however, am only one girl surrounded by hundreds of boys. So it’s something I worry about. Thus, I make a point to not dress or act provocatively.
That being said, there are a few things I still do to make myself feel more feminine that I believe don’t increase my risk of being victimized beyond what it currently is just for being trans in the first place.
I pluck my eyebrows, and all my nose hairs. I shave my arms, legs, and belly every 3 to 4 days (I’ve been blessed with a nearly complete lack of chest and back hair). I shave my face every day (though, I am getting close to the point that I can cut back to every other day). After shaving and plucking I moisturize. Shaving is rough on my skin so I make a point to be nice to it after.
I’ve grown my fingernails out to 3/8 inch because that is the maximum length allowed by DoC policy. I cut my own hair so that I can keep it long (the only other option is a military style high and tight) and often style it in a braid, high ponytail, or loose and parted down the center. I used to use a pair of pencils to put my hair into a chopstick bun until one of the officers threatened to write me up. When I pointed out that there was no rule against it, he told me that he didn’t say what the infraction would officially be for, only that I would be infracted.
Anyway, as for wardrobe, there is no personal clothing allowed in prison with the exception of shoes and a watch, both of which must be bought from Union Supply. I can, in theory, get woman’s running shoes, sports watch, electric razor, and other similar items but I’m kinda poor and so I don’t.
About a year ago the Wa DoC finally started issuing bras and panties to trans woman, and boxers to trans men, so there’s that. They give us the cheapest garbage sports bras money can find, made in Bangladesh according to the label. They’re not comfortable in the least, but they get the job done.
And that’s the extent of my “feminine attire”.
Up until a year or so ago, people would assume I was a gay effeminate male and I would have to correct them. Now that I have grown boobs and don’t use any DYI cosmetics any more, people are reading me as being trans more often than not, though they don’t necessarily refer to me as trans. It’s oddly affirming that strangers are finally using the correct slurs to insult me.
I’m only half joking. It’s just as insulting when a heckler uses homophobic slurs, but I find it easier to deal with when they take the time to to insult me properly. In a perfect world they wouldn’t say such things, but in a perfect world a lot of far more important things than middle school-esque bullying in prison would be different.
Most of presenting femme has, for me, involved relaxing the social habits I forced my self into in order to be able to pass a an effeminate male. I am singularity lacking in the ability to “butch it up” so there was no way I could pull off anything more heteronormitive than that.
For example, in conversation, femme/neutral people will often make an “mm-hm” noise affirming that “we’re listening and we get it” kinda thing. Masculine, even effeminate masculine people, don’t do that. When they make an “mm-hm” sound they usually mean “I agree”. So I’ve gotten to relax my vigilance that I had to maintain in order not “mm-hm” without thinking about it. However, due to having so many years of forcing myself to not do that I’ll be “mm-hm”ing along without realizing I’m doing it, then I’ll notice and think “Oh! Crap!” followed by “no, wait. I don’t have to worry about that any more.” It’s freeing, and it’s a process, and I don’t let myself give myself a hard time about it. I lived in such a state of constant fear of discovery for so long it’s natural for it to take some time to let the habits that kept me safe fade.
I know it doesn’t sound like I do much to make myself look “girly,” but on the other hand the only person I do these things for is me and if something doesn’t give me the effect that I want or is more trouble than it’s worth, then I don’t do it. I could spend four hours a day on my beauty routine, but instead I choose to sleep an extra hour and get two hours of homework done, leaving an hour for shaving, plucking, moisturizing, doing my hair and all that jazz.
See photo of me for end result.
I don’t care if I’m pretty enough for other people, I’m pretty enough for me.