Made Up, conceived and executed collaboratively with Erin Vaughan, is an exploration of human transformation via play, the primary mode through which we learn to be human and form individual identities. The project began with an ad posted to Craigslist in New York, NY, seeking individuals who either had a secret feminine identity, or wished to cultivate one. Erin and I met with those who responded, and made a portrait of them as they self-present on aline daily basis, in the public sphere. Then, we conducted an interview based on their dreams and visions, and helped them to develop an idea of future fantasy play, which Erin and I would attempt to bring to reality. After helping the participants to craft a new physical, emotional, and spiritual feminine identity, we created a new portrait and conducted another interview, wishing to emphasize emotion over reason. Erin and I believe that identity is fluid and the practice of working closely with trusted others can have a positive impact upon one’s feelings regarding both their inward and outwardly perceived self. Made Up was motivated by both the nuances of humanity and the love of those who embrace their differences, while attempting to break down othering classification schemas. Our only hope was to help people to realize and embody their true ego and the feminized person they had always dreamt of becoming. Thank you to Erin Vaughan for your love and friendship, and to all who reached out and placed trust in us.
*Name changed to protect identity
City: New York, NY
Born: Midwest, US
This interview was conducted before Dan was transformed into his new female identity.
Football was on the TV while we were talking.
Erin: So, we ran an ad for basically an art project for heterosexual men who like to dress as women. So, what made you answer that ad?
Dan: Well, that’s what I am. So, I guess that’s one reason I answered.
Dan: That’s the main reason. That’s me. And it’s not something that you can share easily. So, if there’s someone that’s looking to talk about it … it’s not something you can share just generally with anybody.
Erin: So, it’s kind of interesting to find an opportunity to talk about it.
Dan: Yeah, yeah, I think so.
Erin: So, when did you start thinking about yourself in that way?
Dan: I would say since I was a teenager. Yeah, long ago. 12, 13, 14 years-old-ish.
Erin: Do you remember your first experience?
Dan: Not really, no. It was mostly about the humiliation of all this and so you know… It’s humiliating for guys, for me. I mean I’m originally athletic, you know, and it’s not something that is accepted.
Erin: It’s humiliating?
Erin: Is it the humiliation that you like about it. Or you like it and it’s also humiliating?
Dan: Both. Yeah.
Erin: That’s interesting. How often or how much time do you visualize yourself that way, as a woman. Like as a part of the whole person that you are, how does it fit in?
Dan: Well, it’s something that’s hidden from most people. You know, uh, but it does … I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I don’t really date anyone and I don’t …
Erin: You don’t date anyone?
Dan: No, not really. Because you can’t date someone and then tell them something like that, you know. So, I just don’t. And I’m not all that motivated to do that anyway, so … But, I think I have reasonable balance. It doesn’t get in the way. It doesn’t ruin my life. I go to work. I take care of myself.
Erin: Yeah, so you’re happy?
Dan: I’m not trying to change my gender. I don’t want to do anything too crazy.
Dan: So, at my age you find balance or you figure out how to make it work.
Erin: So, you’re not really interested in dating people.
Dan: Not really, no.
Erin: But if you were, you would consider yourself heterosexual.
Erin: Have you dated people and it didn’t work out? Or you just never tried.
Dan: Yeah, you can’t really share the whole part of yourself. It just fizzles out.
Dan: So, I’m pretty good on my own. There’s a lot of things I like about not having a partner, if you will.
Erin: You like to be alone?
Erin: What do you like about not having a partner?
Dan: I’m alone. (Laughing) Nobody’s in my face. Yeah, no, it’s … humans are wired to be with other people, but I’m off to the left on the distribution in terms of needing to be with someone and having a lot of friends. I can be on my own a lot, you know … not exclusively. I’m not a hermit or a recluse or anything. Just, certainly more so than most people. I can survive on my own.
Dan: Well, thrive maybe.
Erin: Yeah, you seem to be thriving.
Dan: I do pretty well.
Erin: Seems like you have a good life.
Dan: It’s very simple. It’s not cluttered with people and drama. I don’t know, maybe this is drama. I don’t know.
Erin: Maybe. Maybe you’re asking for drama.
Dan: Maybe I’m reaching out for drama; I don’t know. It’s pretty simple. I’ve kept things pretty simple. You know, sometimes, you live in New York and people think it’s complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. You know.
Erin: You can make it that way.
Dan: I mean, we walk to work, we come home. In the middle of this chaos, it’s reasonably peaceful right here. There’s no children. There’s no exes. I keep it simple.
Erin: Yeah. What is your daily routine? Do you dress as a woman every day?
Erin: When do you know that you are going to do it? I’m just trying to get the technical things, and I wanna go deeper, but I wanna know your daily routine.
Dan: I tend to wear undergarments pretty regularly.
Erin: So, you might partially wear women’s clothing under your male clothing to work?
Dan: I used to do that. I tend not to anymore. I don’t know why, but certainly at home all the time. Pretty much all the time. Weekends more, I guess. I’m only home and awake for an hour during the week.
Erin: So, you work a lot of hours?
Dan: Yeah, and I go to the gym so you get home and it’s 8:30 or 9:00 PM, and I’m probably in bed by 10 or so. It’s not like I’m at home during the week for even a couple hours a day. It doesn’t happen that way. If I am, I’m in the shower, or getting out of the shower, or getting dressed, or eating, or checking something, or paying bills. There’s just not a lot of down time until the weekend comes around, so …
Erin: Is this part of your sexuality? Like, do you feel this is a sexual thing as far as …
Dan: It is. I mean, it’s very interlinked.
Erin: Yeah. It turns you on sexually. I’m not trying to put words in your mouth.
Dan: Yeah, but it’s not necessarily sexual every time I do it now. It’s just a habit.
Erin: It’s a habit.
Dan: It’s just what I do. It’s easier to do it than not do it. It’s not like I’m aroused or anything every time I do this. It’s just not the way it is.
Erin: Yeah. What are some of the physical components that you use? I guess undergarments are one of the main things? What are the physical things that are important to that part of your identity? Is it the physical components? When you put them on, what happens?
Dan: Feminine, not masculine stuff, but not sexy feminine. More the retro stuff that I like.
Erin: The retro feminine? Like what?
Dan: I’ll wear briefs. I’ll wear more feminine, less … I don’t wear black. I’ll wear stuff that women wouldn’t wear. Women don’t wear what I wear.
Erin: They don’t?
Dan: I don’t think so because I don’t wear bikinis and G-strings.
Erin: So, you wear female clothing that’s not sexy.
Erin: So, stuff that your mother would wear?
Erin: What was your mother like? Who is it that wore clothes like that that you can recall?
Dan: No one in particular. It’s just maybe that the era that I was growing up in was that stuff.
Erin: What era was that?
Dan: It was more in the sixties/early seventies that I was growing up in. Late sixties.
Erin: Yeah, there was a difference. They are those giant underwear and really thick pantyhose.
Erin: Like, real corsets, uncomfortable. That was before spanks were invented.
Dan: Right. Big girdles rather than the fancy ones they have now. That’s really what they are right?
Erin: Yeah, girdles, that’s the word. And slips.
Dan: Yeah, exactly.
Erin: Just plain slips, layers. If you could just be a woman, which woman would you want to be? If it didn’t depend on the way you were born physically … if you could just be a woman physically. It could be someone famous or not.
Dan: It’s not a thought I have a lot. But, I think I would wanna be … if I had a choice you know, I’m attracted to classic, fit women. My attraction to women is pretty similar to most people. You know, movie stars, whoever is hot. You know, hot is hot. It’s not that complicated. I don’t find any particular … you know, I’m not into fat women or skinny women, I’m just … what most people find beautiful, I find beautiful too.
Erin: Right. So, the kind of woman that you would be attracted to is also the kind of woman that you would want to be? Is that what you mean?
Dan: Yeah, but I don’t really want to be a woman, so …
Erin: You don’t. Okay.
Dan: A feminized man is more the ideal.
Erin: You want to be a feminized man, not a woman?
Dan: Yeah, I don’t really want my gender changed. Although maybe for an hour. It might be fun.
Erin: If you could be a woman for an hour, just an imaginary question, for only one hour, who would it be?
Dan: I don’t know. Some hot singer, somebody who’s famous, probably.
Erin: Somebody famous … and then you could have a guarantee that you could go back to being your normal man self … There is no one in particular?
Dan: Not really.
Erin: Come on, you know you want to be Madonna! (Laughing)
Dan: Yeah, I guess, Madonna.
Erin: Well, you said a muscular and famous singer.
Dan: You know … fit. Maybe even an athlete or something, you know. Serena Williams. You know, she should be on the men’s tour. She’d probably win. She’s very built.
Erin: Yeah, she’s really tough. Strong. Okay. What about emotionally, psychologically, intellectually … a feminine part of yourself, since you don’t really want to be a woman, but is there a part of you that’s feminine? Or that needs to be expressed physically? As a woman, do you feel … that secret part of yourself is psychologically different? In terms of femininity, more compassionate, more vulnerable, more emotional … all of the typical feminine qualities.
Dan: I think just maybe a nicer person.
Dan: I think. Less competitive, less aggressive. It’s sort-of an escape from that. It’s an escape from having to be “on.” Sometimes you have to be aggressive, tough, whatever, sometimes you have to be that way.
Dan: You can just let things happen and do what you’re told rather than think too hard. Become a bimbo almost.
Erin: I like that. Awesome. You can just be like, “I have to put on my skirt now. I’m gonna paint my nails.”
Dan: And, that’s as complicated as it gets all day, right? It’s not so bad … you know, so you need variety and I like to use my brain and think, but sometimes I want my brain off. I think people watch TV to turn their brains off, and I don’t watch a lot of TV, so you gotta have a way to escape. You know, refresh yourself. This maybe helps.
Erin: You really live in an almost hyper masculine world, right?
Dan: Kind of, it’s all Wall Street.
Erin: Wall Street, sports, athletes …
Dan: Yeah, the sports stuff is, you know, it winds me up a lot. And I do it quite vigorously for any age, but for my age it’s pretty hard.
Erin: You mean working out?
Dan: Yeah. Pushing and continually trying to push myself beyond what I have done.
Erin: Do you compete athletically?
Dan: Not really, because then it even takes it up another notch. I mostly compete against myself and I’m perfectly happy doing that. If I’m faster than I was last week, then I win. I don’t really care how fast anyone else is, you know? There’s always somebody stronger, faster, whatever, so who cares? It’s not like I’m a world class athlete, so who cares? I just do it … it’s totally inside. It’s totally me against me. If I’m … whatever I’m doing, if I’m getting better, I’m happy. You know, I think more people ought to think that way. All you can do is better yourself. I have no control over how good you are. I only can control how good I am. And obviously what other people do helps you set your relative rank in the world, but I don’t care if you’re the worst person in the world. If you’re better than you were last week, you’re better.
Erin: Yeah, like healthy competition and discipline for yourself.
Dan: I don’t need to compete because it makes it less convenient because you gotta be in a certain place at a certain time. It complicates your life.
Erin: All those races are at 6:oo AM. It’s awful.
Dan: It’s never a 6:00 PM race, you know. I would win all of those. (Laughs)
Erin: Do you use anything besides clothing to make yourself feel feminine, like perfume or any of the other senses like music or, I don’t know, what else would there be?
Dan: Well, I don’t do a lot of makeup.
Erin: You don’t do makeup?
Dan: No. Lipstick sometimes because it’s easy. Other than clothing… perfume no.
Erin: Are you interested in that stuff and you just don’t bother with it?
Dan: Yeah, I’m kind-of lazy, I guess.
Erin: You’re lazy? Hardly.
Dan: Ha, well, in that regard.
Erin: You’re a lazy woman?
Dan: Yeah, I would say that’s true. I suppose that’s because I’m not sitting here looking in the mirror all the time, so what difference does it make? I don’t need it but, I would. It’s just that I don’t.
Erin: Would you ever go in public?
Dan: Probably not, out in the general public, right? Because I think that freaks people out and I don’t want to freak people out, you know.
Erin: Even in Chelsea? Does it really freak people out?
Dan: I don’t know. Nobody cares really, but … yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes people are out with their kids and people have weird. I’m not into other people’s reactions particularly if they are put off by it.
Erin: What if they admired it?
Dan: If I knew everyone would think it’s cool and high-five me, then at least I’d consider it, but I probably wouldn’t do it anyway.
Erin: You still wouldn’t do it?
Dan: Probably not. It’s just too blatant. If I could pass, maybe I would do it.
Erin: If you could pass as a woman, 100% guaranteed. What would you go do?
Dan: It would be fun just to see how a woman is treated in the world. I mean, it’s gotta be different, right? I mean, if I could be a black man for awhile, just to see. It would just be cool.
Erin: I would.
Dan: Yeah, you would. I know you would. (Laughing) You know, just to see how it is. You’d learn something.
Erin: That’s true. And you’re from far away?
Erin: And how was it different there from here, in terms of how you felt about that because certainly it is more acceptable here.
Dan: Yeah, but because I’m not part of the scene (in NYC) or whatever, it’s the same.
Erin: It’s the same because there is a scene, but you’re not …
Dan: It’s forbidden there, it’s forbidden here. It’s generally forbidden. Yeah, you could certainly get into a scene, but I haven’t. There is just not enough of a connection to just do that.
Erin: It sounds like you don’t even have time anyway.
Dan: Probably not, I don’t know. I probably do, but …
Erin: Do you ever, just in your mind, fantasize about being a girl and not actually dressing up?
Dan: No no, the fantasies are more about the humiliation that goes along with it.
Erin: Really? The humiliation of being found out?
Dan: Yeah, that’s it.
Erin: Like … “we thought you were a man and look how funny it is …” Like that kind of thing?
Erin: But you don’t want that to really happen?
Dan: No, that’s not wise.
Erin: It’s not wise as far as your life? Keeping your life together and not drowning in the giant tidal wave of NYC?
Dan: Right. Yeah, you have to kinda know where reality and fantasy begin and end.
Erin: And what happens if you don’t know where fantasy and reality begin and end?
Dan: Oh, then you’ve got a problem.
Erin: What problem?
Dan: Well … I don’t know. But, I think I’ve done okay in that department so far. So, I don’t think I have a problem.
Erin: Oh, you mean you would be considered mentally ill?
Dan: No, you just don’t want it to become a part of your life that actually causes problems. Whether that be family members or a spouse, if you have a spouse.
Erin: Offending family members?
Dan: Or people at work. I just don’t want to freak people out.
Erin: So mainly, you just don’t want to offend people?
Erin: Is it offending them or…
Dan: I don’t know. People judge, they get offended by things that they shouldn’t get offended from, but if I choose only to hang out with people that are not offended by all the things that I am not offended by, then it’s just gonna be really limited who I can hang out with. People that know me will say, “I thought I knew you. Now, I don’t know you.” Yes, you know me! You just don’t know that part of me.
Erin: Right, or they will think that you were faking who you really are. Like, you were lying about everything just because you had this one thing that you didn’t show them.
Dan: Yeah… you’re one big lie.
Erin: Which is not really true.
Dan: I’m not hurting anybody, so…
Erin: You’re not hurting anybody. Yeah.
Dan: So, it’s not the end of the world what we do. It’s really not. It’s not really bothering anybody.
Erin: Do you consider yourself brave?
Dan: Not particularly. No. Pretty conservative actually. You know, there’s a lot of ways to be brave, I guess. But, you know, in this regard, no. No, I don’t have any statements to make. I’m not trying to change the world, so there’s nothing for me to be brave about. If I was trying to … I’m not advocating … I will say there’s nothing wrong with it. But, I’m not out to convince anybody of that. I don’t care. People are gonna… I have interesting views on what people think.
Erin: You do?
Dan: You can’t change a lot of people. I mean… this isn’t big enough fish for me to bog down on and I don’t feel constrained. So, I’m very open minded and I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t. But, it’s not my mission to change them. I do the best I can with the people I hang out with. I do argue about this stuff with the people I know.
Erin: You do argue about this?
Dan: Not this in particular, but stuff in general. People can do what they want in life.
Erin: About judging other people and being more open minded?
Dan: Could be transgender, could be gay, could be anything … racism … any of that. I’m not a fan of all that.
Erin: So, you try to defend other people.
Dan: And you know, I don’t really tolerate it that much. I wouldn’t hang around with somebody who had all those views. How could I possibly have anything in common with that person? It just doesn’t happen.
Erin: Do you think this experience and having a secret has made you more compassionate to other people?
Dan: Oh, I think so. No doubt.
Erin: With other people who are judged for whatever?
Dan: I haven’t killed any children. People immediately think that’s what you’ve done.
Erin: Oh, that you’re like a serial killer…? (Laughing)
Dan: Yeah, none this week… (Laughing)… It’s amazing.
Erin: Yeah, you’re like the standard serial killer. You’re white, your blue eyes.
Dan: No, not this week… (Laughing)
Erin: What is the thing that you are most proud of in your life or what is the most important thing?
Dan: Well, that’s a big question.
Erin: Too philosophical? What’s the most important thing in your life right now?
Dan: Just trying to stay grounded and stay healthy.
Erin: Physically, mentally?
Dan: Yeah, I just count my blessings every day that I don’t have a disease like my mom had … that I don’t have cancer.
Erin: What did your mom have?
Dan: She had ALS. That stuff, you know. I feel lucky that I’m able to live.
Erin: Yeah. Freedom.
Dan: It’s that simple. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing. That’s it. Really simple. Sometimes I walk around and I’m really happy that I don’t have a broken ankle.
Erin: Is there nothing else that you want to share? I know you’re not out to say anything or prove anything. If you were me, what question would you ask?
Dan: The question … and I can’t answer it …you know… “why why why why do people do this?” … So, um, I don’t dwell on why so much. I don’t really care why. That’s for the shrinks of the world, whatever. Or, for the people who are trying to be cured. I’ve never really dwelled on “how did I turn out this way,” because it’s not something that I think is a real problem. So, I don’t dwell on why. But everyone else wants to know why! why! why! … you know … I don’t know why. Who cares? “Why do I want to work out?” Nobody asks me that because it’s not weird. This is weird, so everybody wants to know why. Who cares! I don’t know why.
Erin: “Why are you different is basically what they are asking” … “Why are you not like me?”
Dan: Yeah, “why aren’t you normal?” I don’t want to be normal. Normal people are weird.
Erin: You don’t want to be normal?
Dan: I don’t know. It’s like getting a C in school.
Erin: Like mediocre.
Dan: I don’t want a C. I’d rather get an F.
Erin: You’d rather totally fail …
Dan: I want an A or an F. I don’t want a C. You’re just like an average person. That doesn’t seem very interesting to me. But, when you step outside, you gotta be within the norms. But, in here I can do whatever I want.
Erin: And here we are.
Dan: Doing whatever we want.
This interview was conducted after Dan was transformed into his new female identity.
Erin: How do you feel now?
Dan: I feel fine. I don’t think you guys are axe murderers so…
Erin: So, you like the wig?
Dan: Well, you know….
Erin: It’s annoying?
Dan: Yeah, but I’m sure it changes the look a lot.
Erin: Did you look in the mirror?
Dan: I did.
Erin: And what did you feel like when you looked in the mirror?
Dan: Drag queen.
Erin: Does it make you happy? What is the immediate emotion?
Dan: Just very different. It’s interesting. It’s an interesting look.
Erin: Is it weird to have people look at you now because you usually do it alone?
Dan: Right. It’s different, but it’s ok. It’s cool.
Erin: We’re weird too. Weirder than you, possibly.
Dan: I’m weird too.
Erin: How do you feel as a woman right now – the woman character of you? Do you have a name?
Dan: No, not really.
Erin: What name do you want to have?
Dan: I’m happy with whatever you want to call me. Really. I don’t have a pet name or
Erin: You mentioned the word bimbo and that sounds kind-of like …
Dan: Bambi the Bimbo?
Erin: Bambi would be a good name for you. Do you want to be that?
Dan: Yeah, that’s fine.
Erin: Because then it’s like a relaxing … it has that result, right?
Erin: I mean if you’re going to be a bimbo you should definitely have blonde hair, right?
Dan: Come on, you have blonde hair …
Erin: Do you feel attractive like this? Or relaxed?
Dan: I’m fine. I feel relaxed, other than the hair, but I don’t feel like I’m sexy or anything.
Erin: Do you still think it’s too much trouble to do all of that?
Dan: Well, if you have to do that makeup every day, that would be a lot of work.
Dan: And you wouldn’t do that and just watch TV. If you were gonna be with someone, then you might make the effort.
Erin: Right. You would be doing that for someone else, not just so you could …
Dan: … Stand in front of the mirror.
Erin: Right. What do you want to ask? What does Bambi have to say to me? Does she have anything to say.
Dan: Bambi’s not smart enough to say anything. She just sits there.
Erin: What does she think about while she’s just sitting there?
Dan: Hmmm, the weather.
Erin: The weather? Like what does she want to go do? Everyone’s brain is doing something? What’s she doing?
Dan: I don’t know … I’m at a loss for words. Bambi might need a drink.
Erin: What does she drink?
Dan: A martini.
Erin: She definitely needs a martini … and then what would she do?
Dan: She would drool.
Erin: What if she had two Martinis?
Dan: That’s truth serum.
Erin: And then what would happen?
Dan: The truth comes out.
Erin: Which is? No seriously. What would she do? Where would she go? A Chelsea wine bar? Which bar would you go to if you were Bambi?
Dan: Like really? Something quiet.
Erin: Bimbos like quiet?
Dan: So, I could just sit and sip my wine … or my martini.
Erin: You would just go by yourself and drink a martini?
Dan: I’ve done that.
Erin: As Bambi?
Dan: No, not as Bambi. She would get in trouble.