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Engendering beauty: How three non-binary Singaporeans are challenging stereotypes through makeup

Engendering beauty: How three non-binary Singaporeans are challenging stereotypes through makeup

Paint it on

Text: Emily Heng


An Instagram bio, as we understand it, is an abridgement of your social media presence. The intricacies of your story and experiences are relayed via a careful curation of photos and videos; the mainstays of your identity divulged in 150 words. These days, said descriptions often comprise one's name, age, and, most importantly: their preferred gender pronouns.

While it's far from a novel concept, the notion of choosing one's gender identity may come across as illogical to the masses. This is evidenced by the bevy of passive-aggressive TikToks and Twitter rants observed in response to the movement, with cries of "snowflakes" and "delicate flowers" running rampant. To some, it is unfathomable that a person's gender can differ from their assigned sex — let alone be able to wrap their heads around individuals who wish to be exempt from the system all together.

The term "non-binary" was borne from such desires. Loosely defined, it applies to anyone who doesn't feel that they fit neatly into the categories of "male" or "female". It also refers to folks who find that their gender changes over time depending on their preferences. Internationally, there has been traction in the form of celebrities speaking up as to what it entails — think Jonathan Van Ness and Sam Smith, to name a few. And while there has been some conversations about gender non-conformity in Singapore's sphere, there is hardly enough awareness and education surrounding the matter.

This is where we come in. We spoke to three non-binary and genderfluid individuals on coming out in Singapore; their thoughts on labels; and the relationship they have with feminine-coded items such as makeup, below — a tackling of what it means to be genderless while sporting cosmetics as a form of self-expression.

All makeup looks were crafted using Fenty Beauty products.


Chanel Yui, she/he

This makeup look was crafted exclusively using Fenty Beauty products.

Tell us about the makeup look you've created, and how it relates to your experience with identifying as non-binary.
I prefer my makeup looks loud and expressive. I chose to use primary colours to line and embolden my eyes and blue and red to create a "3D glasses" effect on the studs on my face. The square studs remind me of pixels. Combined with the technicolor shades I have used, it embodies my obsession with the digital new age and how quickly new tech evolves into "vintage" in our current times. I have always wanted to transcend norms and I felt that the digital world is a great place where you can escape to be whomever and whatever you want to be.

How did you first learn about the term 'non-binary', and when did you begin identifying as such?
I learnt about the term non-binary from browsing fashion icons a few years ago. I was heavily inspired by ambiguous and androgynous looks. I loved the surprise and sophistication juxtaposing the feminine with masculine elements created in such looks and discovered that the term felt the most comfortable to me as an answer to the question "What are you?".

Did you experience any pushback coming out to your friends and family?
I was always the weird one in the bunch so thankfully it did not feel out of place at all when I listed myself as non-binary. I think most people who know me do not take me seriously as I joke around often and am very unconventional upon first glance. Of course, there was genuine surprise when I did bring a girl home.


When did you begin to start using makeup, and what were some of your key influences when first starting out?
I started using makeup when I started working after I graduated post-secondary education. I learnt how to put on a face for a professional environment and my mother taught me the importance of looking presentable in an adult world. I have followed that advice in a very liberal manner. Attending art school after that released the reins of what I could do with makeup.

Makeup is previously thought to be feminine-coded. What would you say is your own definition of the power of makeup and what it is capable of?
Today many men wear makeup to look better and more presentable. I feel this should be encouraged and people should feel empowered and enabled by makeup as a tool and skill to change parts of themselves to be better and closer to their ideal self. If you can be more of who you are, why be less?


What do you hope to see with regard to people's understanding of gender and labels in the future?
I hope that people will grow to be able to see beyond dress, colour or biology. I hope that more people can be accepted and embraced for who they truly are and not have to resort to cutting parts of their life out just to be accepted in an archaic society.

 

Max Pasakorn, he/she/they in no particular order

Engendering beauty: How three non-binary Singaporeans are challenging stereotypes through makeup (фото 1)

Tell us about the makeup look you've created, and how it relates to your experience with identifying as genderfluid or non-binary.
With makeup, I love to play with colour, especially on my eyes. When thinking of genderfluidity, I immediately thought of the colour yellow, as it's one of the colours on the non-binary flag, and a colour that connotes joy, light and laughter. For my eyes, I created a large cut crease prominently featuring the colour. I kept the rest of the face quite simple to keep the emphasis on the eyes: scrumptious lip gloss, glowing foundation and a soft sculpting of the cheek. This would be a makeup look that I'd love to wear on a night out!

How did you first learn about the term 'genderfluid', and when did you begin identifying as such?
Growing up as a plus-sized queer person, I've always struggled with societal perceptions of masculinity. For someone assigned male at birth, I was expected to be fit and muscular, use words like "dude" and "bro", and fit in with the rest of the boys. I fulfilled none of those expectations. Instead, I realised that I was quite feminine, but I never really identified as wholly feminine either.

I started learning more about non-binary identities as I met more LGBTQ+ friends, and thought the term genderfluid was a good representation of how I felt about my gender: neither completely masculine, nor completely feminine. And I love existing in that in-between space because I would basically no longer care about how others perceive my gender. This is reflected in my choice of pronouns too: call me "he", call me "she", call me "they" ... as long as you call me!

Did you experience any pushback coming out to your friends and family?
Fortunately, many of my friends know about my gender identity and they're generally very accepting!


When did you begin to start using makeup, and what were some of your key influences when first starting out?
Ironically, my makeup journey started when I was serving my National Service. It was a way for me to get away from the toxic masculinity that was ever-present in the military environment. In my bedroom, I practiced painting my face: redrawing my eyes; creating illusions with light and shadow; feeling myself with gloss daintily dabbed onto my lips. Makeup was a channel for me to escape the current world and reimagine the person I could be, one who exemplifies the ideal that we don't need to fit neatly into the boxes "male" and "female". We can be whoever we want and be happy living our lives. Some of my biggest influences when I started out were drag queens like Kim Chi, and makeup YouTubers like Nikkie Tutorials.

Makeup is previously thought to be feminine-coded. What would you say is your own definition of the power of makeup and what it is capable of?
Don't underestimate the power of makeup! We often see makeup portrayed as tools of vanity, for correcting imperfection. But, instead, I think that makeup is a tool of revealing perfection and a tool for us to realise our imagination. When I look at myself in the mirror with a finished look, I see a different part of me coming to life, whether that's the skilled artist, the punk rebel, the soft-spoken dame, or the Among Us character sadly thrown off the spaceship. Makeup keeps me thinking of the possibilities with my face as a canvas. And, the best part — I can always change up my makeup, so I'll never get board of expressing and re-expressing myself!


What do you hope to see with regard to people's understanding of gender and labels in the future?
I hope that everyone realizes that, instead of judging us for our differences, we should enjoy the diversity of the people around us. When you see someone go out of their way to look different, don't stare awkwardly. Tell them they look great (because a compliment goes a long way in making someone's day) and admire their courage to stand out and be different. At the end of the day, everyone should be free to be whoever we want to be, regardless of how society expects us to conform to gender norms. Hopefully, Singaporeans realise this, and we can create a wonderful future for everyone!



Kansh, they/them

Engendering beauty: How three non-binary Singaporeans are challenging stereotypes through makeup (фото 2)

Tell us about the makeup look you've created, and how it relates to your experience with identifying as non-binary.
I tried to explore further out of the usual, natural look and used the opportunity to try something different. I added pearls and black eyeliner to show different styles that still come together. It relates to my gender identity and the way I express myself as I try to explore different styles rather than sticking to one.

How did you first learn about the term 'non-binary', and when did you begin identifying as such?
I was about 17 when I first learned about the term 'non-binary' when I was reading up and learning more about intersectional feminism and what it all means. It felt like it really fit who I am as a person and it felt nice to feel a term that feels comfortable.

Did you experience any pushback coming out to your friends and family?
It still is a struggle now actually. Some people didn't believe non-binary was a thing or didn't believe in they/ them pronouns or alternative pronouns. A lot of people still get pronouns wrong, especially strangers. I still feel trans/ non-binary people always have to the emotional labour of explaining / feeling misunderstood and also get misgendered along the way. Hopefully more people do their part to help the community too.


When did you begin to start using makeup, and what were some of your key influences when first starting out?
I don't really use makeup a lot. Makeup was used for performances or special occasions, my sister and mom would do very slight makeup. But I personally used makeup when I was 16. I didn't try out  experimental or new ways to do makeup much until only a few years ago.

Makeup is previously thought to be feminine-coded. What would you say is your own definition of the power of makeup and what it is capable of?
Just like fashion, makeup is definitely an extension of you and the way you choose to express yourself. It helped me with expressing my androgyny at first and now it helps to express more than just that. I get to be creative and sometimes do drag or cosplay (for fun or for Halloween) as well. It's just so limiting, how we're told to be, and using makeup is such a great way to live through your fantasy, ideas and your mind. For people who experience dysphoria, it's such a great tool to help us alleviate it, especially when you're just an elf living amongst humans.


What do you hope to see with regard to people's understanding of gender and labels in the future?
I hope that people realise they don't actually need to force a label upon themselves or others, a label at the end of the day is just a way for others to understand you in a one-dimensional way, you're more than just that. There's no need to come out either unless that's what you want. People who are not public about their identities are so valid and I see you! Just because you identify with one thing now does not mean you're tied down to it, we are meant to evolve and learn new things about ourselves, that's the whole point, it's a spectrum!