Truth told, I feel so incredibly sexy in kinky lingerie topped with some lipstick. When I was younger, I experienced that being in contact with your feminine side was shamefacedly. I now see that I subconsciously oppressed that side of me. Today I find it hilarious to challenge people’s prejudices regarding what it means to be a “real man”. Especially because I work in a distinct male dominated craftsman environment where it isn’t a rarity meeting people who are afraid of the unknown and therefore have prejudices.
One of my colleges once discovered me on social media and saw a fun picture of me wearing ladies clothing. On the specific picture, I was standing in a public laundromat wearing nothing but a shirt, purple panties and some stockings. I was leaning sensually towards the washing machine while filling it up with my stained laundry. He saw the picture while we were on a working shift together. He totally panicked and had no clue of how to react. He was clearly uncomfortable seeing me in that scenery.
It’s easy to laugh at in the very moment, but in reality It’s a true shame that we haven't come further than that.
I feel fluid in my visual expression. One day I feel strong in red lipstick, the other I need to wrap myself into the most gender neutral clothing to feel comfortable.
Finding peace in the feminine visual expression has only found its place in the last couple of years. Before that I had always felt more balanced and most comfortable in the androgyne space. I think my height and boyish stature is the reason I feel more comfortable in the androgyne - but it also is affected by the fact that I’ve grown up in a society where the gender wearing the pants still are the ones in charge. No wonder young Karoline dresses herself in a less feminine uniform. She wants to be heard, too.
I found myself feeling too exposed in the feminine. Even though I’ve found the strength of femininity today, I could clearly feel the power game between those two in the photoshoot. I felt exposed and insecure when having taken pictures of my feminine self, while feeling strong and adamant in the androgynous look.
When I was exploring my feminine self, before the transformation, there was this thought that I had to be beautiful. I am a woman. I need to be beautiful.
After the androgyne transformation found place, the shoot was no longer about creating beautiful pictures. It was about creating powerful pictures.
My meeting with Marie was also my first meeting with a camera. For some reason I’ve always wanted to be photographed as a man. In my everyday life I’m very feminine and speckled. Besides from that, I’m very vain. I spend the most of my mornings doing my makeup and hair, all while drinking my morning coffee and eating my oatmeal in front of the mirror.
Overall it was damn hard standing in front of a camera. It really surprised me how uncomfortable I was. My whole body was tense and I couldn’t make my face and mimic collaborate the first, deathly long minutes. I had a much harder time being photographed as myself than I had portraying a man.
Getting rid of my makeup was a true process in itself. We started playing around with a bunch of mixed expressions, where both the masculine and feminine was presented. I noticed that it wasn’t until all the makeup was gone that I felt it. All of a sudden, while we sat close to each other on my balcony, I forgot myself for a moment and found the man in me, that I had wanted to represent. Dominating and filthy. It also helped listening to loud techno. It gave me a feeling of power and lust, that did me well for the rest of the day.
It wasn’t until the next day that I took off the male underwear, the shirt and washed off the beard.
I’ve always felt ‘male’ in some sense and yet never felt any sense of identity with traditional notions of masculinity. But I’ve become very comfortable with my own expression of maleness. People like Brian Molko, and Bowie’s alien androgyny, were a great source of comfort and inspiration for me as a young teenager, fearlessly blurring the lines along the classical gender binary.
The older I get, the happier I am to embrace and explore all sides of my personality, and to know that ‘maleness’ is whatever the hell I want it to be. That’s why I wanted to get involved in Marie’s project. Interestingly I felt more comfortable and confident lying naked in a bath with a stranger than I did just as my everyday self. I think that sense of liberation speaks volumes about how confining and limiting our binary gender categories can be - especially for people who don’t identify as either ‘male’ or ‘female’.
The world is unfortunately still a very dangerous place for trans and genderqueer people. That will only change when people realise that we don’t always have to perform the gender-traits expected of us, and that human identity can’t be slotted into neat binary boxes. We all need to accept this in order to be better allies to the queer community; it’s the least we can do to show gratitude for their bravery in daring to challenge the norms.
As a former football player, I have, for as long as I remember been raised in a macho culture. This said, I do believe that all men contain femininity, just like all women contain masculinity. The presence of those traits make it possible for us to empathize and understand the patterns of acting and thinking of the opposite sex.
Shooting with Marie, I felt extremely awkward maneuvering in my own body, exploring my feminine self. But there were also moments where the whole situation hit some kind of flow-state. That the state of flow was even possible has helped me accept the existence of my feminine self. Even more important, the hours with Marie have helped me towards broader realizations; how difficult I found it, and how much controI I had to refrain to let go of my masculinity for just a few minutes.
This has made me realize two things. How much power women achieve by acquiring a masculine look and expression - and even more how much power men dismisses by expressing something feminine. Huge respect for everybody daring to be true to themselves and daring to be just as feminine or masculine as they like.
I learned so much about myself and social programming from this experience. When I saw the picture of myself exploring femininity, my first thought was “fuck, that’s gay”. I was uncomfortable with it and it unsettled me to see myself in this light. I have blush, lipstick and mascara on - I look feminine. ‘I look gay’, I thought to myself.
Wait. Hold on. Why do I associate the feminine with homosexuality? Why do I think about the word “gay” as a negative? And why am I uncomfortable and ashamed at the idea of people back home seeing this picture? Homosexuality doesn’t exclude masculinity. ‘Gay’ as a sexual preference isn’t a negative. And besides that - who cares what other people think!
I realized I had the voice of my social upbringing in my head. The voice telling me that looking and acting differently is bad. That people will judge you. That feminine qualities in a man are seen as a weakness. I then realized that all this indoctrinated bullshit needed to change. So I began untangling the mass of programming in my brain.
I learned that I shouldn’t care about the opinion of those who judge.
I learned that just because expressing yourself in a certain way makes someone uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s bad - it means that the judger has some problems to work on.
I learned that being afraid of expressing anything classified as feminine can be toxic and hold back males from really being themselves.
I learned that the feminine is beautiful and powerful.
For every thing it has taught me. For every bit of social programming it has helped me undo. For the beauty of it. I learned to LOVE this picture.
There are many reasons for me participating in Marie’s project. The primary reason for me was to explore my own masculinity. For a long time, I’ve perceived parts of my expression and characteristics as masculine - and I wanted to let it unfold.
Linked to that of course followed an exploration of the way that I express my own femininity and identity as a woman.
During the photoshoot, I experienced a sudden change in my emotions regarding the project and my identity - in the transition from “myself” to being my masculine counterpart. I felt completely free to play around with different expressions in the masculine role. My vanity no longer had a hold on me.
As a woman I constantly feel that I am being defined by the outside world. I feel measured and weighed not only by my appearance - but also by my choices. What I wear, what I do, how I manufacture myself. I strongly feel that I am being judged by how I adapt and differentiate from feminine gender roles. I get objectified and reduced to the extent that my own personal characteristics are no longer important. I’m not recognized as a person with nuanced thoughts, feelings and goals that I’m actively expressing. Instead of this, I feel like a mirror for the - often contradictory and unattainable - demands set for women and femininity.
Conversely, I felt more present in my mind and body as my masculine self. I felt good showing myself off. I felt physically and mentally strong, attractive and interesting - not because I connect this to masculinity - but because I actually am those things. Even being a woman. Even being “feminine”.
The liquid boundaries between the masculine and feminine. The outer worlds influence on one's “need” to act a certain way contraindicated a feeling of one’s self.
The whole idea behind Tortuous resonated strongly with thought processes that I have had for a long time. These thoughts not only dealt with gender, masculinity or femininity - but generally about being a human being. The natural human being. The one you really are. Nietzsche was responsible for intellectual headaches in my teenage-years, as I first read the sentence:” become the one that you are”.
I find the way that social construction plays an active role in shaping people fascinating. Since I was four years old, I have been playing football. In that world I have experienced that deviations from the masculine is known as being solidly wrong. The whole team buzzes of masculine energy, ensuring that everybody is held chess for not to float their way out of the tight, masculine form. Here, the word “gay” is a strong negative. If anybody at that team should find themselves with a nature deviating from the classical masculine, they would be hiding well in the crowd - and with good reason. Fear and shame are strong opponents.
I personally am getting more open and free in thoughts and action. I’m not as frightened as I have been. It’s a part of process where I have been working with myself. I’ve found a more nuanced side to myself where the masculine and feminine no longer exclude each other.
Luckily the development towards free expression is moving in the right direction today, where diversity to a certain degree is welcomed. But there’s still a long way to go - and that is why I wanted to participate in Marie’s project. To help show people that things don’t have to be a certain way. That there are multiple ways for them to be and that that’s normal. I believe that is important to hear for the ones feeling wrong. Also to see and read for the judging.
The doors get kicked in and the pace and atmosphere is high. I’m the very first girl attending in the project, and we’re walking around the apartment to find a good spot, all while brainstorming and throwing my clothes around.
Everything kind of occurs in the moment - one idea takes the other. Marie makes me up and I end up in a tank top and a pair of boxer shorts. We agree on cigarettes and beer cans. She rapidly snaps pictures of me standing with a huge bulge made of a sock in my pants and pretty much just looks like something from a trailer park.
It’s hilarious and extremely difficult for me to keep a straight face. Everything is so fast paced, that I don’t get to analyze my feelings and thoughts while taking photographs. As we were done, Marie quickly disappears out my front door, and I find myself totally dazed.
I almost fell onto the couch as my thoughts began to wander. I found myself rejoicing the fact that there’s freedom and space to play around with one's expression today. That you no longer have to fit into a certain box. Even though there’s still a lot of outrage to be found and fights to take, I think that it’s truly amazing that so many people dare to step into character and stand by who, what and how they are.
I find myself forever fascinated by people downgrading others’ expectations to the way they should act. People who dare to brawl as the human beings they are - whatever balance of feminine and masculine qualities they may contain. They are like artworks exuding the freedom that you can only long for.
Coco (woman): Born and raised with a single mother in the dance- and theater business, I’ve always had an interest for dressing up and experimenting with different roles. I’ve especially enjoyed playing around in the masculine.
As a child I always wanted to be the man when dressing up with my girlfriends. Sometimes I wonder If the absence of my father in my upbringing has made a bigger impact regarding my dress up-inspiration. Affecting me in a way that I felt the dress up as a kind of free place, where I could find the masculine side of myself, that my dad couldn’t give me.
But mostly I’m affected by my mother, as I have been following her and therefore hung out with drag queens and quirky types in the dance-environment. This has given me a very nuanced picture of how sex and sexuality can look.
I clearly recall the first time I saw to men kiss (my tapdance teacher and his boyfriend). I was 6 year old. I laughed foolishly and asked my mother why they were kissing. “It’s because they’re in a relationship together”, she said. “but, a man can’t be in a relationship with a man?”, I asked. “yeah, you can easily be. You can be in a relationship with anyone, no matter the gender”. The day after that, I asked my best girlfriend if she wanted to be in a relationship with me… it lasted two days. But since then, I’m pretty sure that I’d always known, that I was bisexual.
Kir (man): My relationship to gender norms and norms in general is very open and casual - why I feel this way might erupt from something deeper and explicable.
But my first guess is that norms have rarely done anything good for me. However, breaking the norms has always helped me move towards the direction that I wanted to go.
As a result of many years carelessness towards norms and gender norms, I therefore find it very natural to be the little spoon in my girlfriend's arms. Luckily we’re very alike at that point.
I can recall a situation from my childhood, that may have been affecting my open and relaxed relationship to gender norms. It finds place in room of a girl from my class. In that room, the girls loved to make me up, and I loved everything that that process involved. The makeup play was certainly fun - but mostly important it gave me, as a boy, a priceless opportunity to experience the social psychological mechanisms essential to the adult woman.