Navigating Uncertainty in the Flow of Transition

Riley Black
6 min readMay 20, 2020
Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

Every morning, after I adequately dry myself off from the shower, I put on eyeliner. Most days I daub on some lipstick, too, although sometimes I skip the shading — my girlfriend says my lips are softer without the purples and deep reds.

I used to be afraid of getting made up. Halloween was a good excuse — “What? I want to be a werewolf.” — but, in the early days of my transition, I feared that even a dark, thin line above my eyelashes would practically scream what I wasn’t ready to reveal to the world yet.

At home, I’d stick to basics. It was mostly a matter of seeing if I could color within the lines. I sent photos to my girlfriend, who loved the look, but I didn’t go out like that for a while. When I finally did, made-up and in a black dress that hugged my hips, I bustled from apartment to car to therapist’s office before doing a test run at a hipster bar that was mercifully dead. Nothing like a quiet Tuesday night to try something terrifying.

More than a year after that night, a few strokes with eyeliner pencil and lip paint are just another step in a morning routine that’s grown a little more complicated as my hair’s grown out and I scan my face for any persistent hairs that need to be pulled up by the roots. But almost every time I stand in front of the mirror, I hear a friend’s question in my head.

“Why do you feel like you have to wear makeup at all?”

Every identity is political, whether we like it or not. Who we choose to be — and who we present ourselves as — relates to our beliefs, how we were raised, the choices we make, and a litany of other factors.

When I thought I was a cisgender man, it was easy to ignore this point. I didn’t have to think about why. I just was, and putting in the minimum effort to not be shitty got me cookies.

Now I identify as non-binary and am a transfemme. Seemingly every decision I make, from the time I get up to when sleep snaps in, is charged. What I do with my body can be seen as liberating and reinforcing toxic norms. Protesting conformity sometimes feels like reinforcing it, just like when I wanted to express myself as punk but still bought band tees and a chain wallet from Hot Topic.



Riley Black

Distant cousin of T. rex. Author of Skeleton Keys, My Beloved Brontosaurus, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Laelaps.