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
Occupation: Electrical Engineer
City: Westchester, NY
Born: USA (Second Generation Irish)
This interview was conducted before John was transformed into his new female identity.
Erin: So, we put out an ad looking for heterosexual men who have thought about or practiced dressing as women. Tell me a little bit about why you answered the ad.
John: I guess I’ve thought about it just real casually. I’m not exactly sure why it interested me. It’s just something I wanted to try. I’m not really sure why to be honest with you. It just appeals to me. It’s just one of those things.
Erin: Have you ever visualized yourself as a woman?
Erin: You’ve never thought about what kinds of things you would wear if you were going to do it?
John: Like, I guess high heels appeal to me. Hosiery, tights, that kind of stuff. Beyond that, you know, not too much.
Erin: So, it’s more like hosiery, tights, shoes, high heels … platforms?
John: Not specifically, but I’m not opposed to it either.
Erin: Okay (Laughing). Did you have any experiences when you were younger where you were dressed up?
John: No, No.
Erin: You never did that when you were young? Did you have sisters?
John: I have an older sister.
Erin: Did she wear those sort of things?
John: Not really, no. Just jeans and t-shirts for the most part. Pretty casual.
Erin: Who is a woman who dresses the way that you would want to dress? That you know of, even if I’ve never heard of her.
John: Nothing specific comes to mind.
Erin: Or, what’s a woman that you admire in the way that she appears physically?
John: That’s an interesting question.
Erin: Take your time, no rush.
John: Um… Let me think … Not a specific woman. But, like a business woman, you know? Basically, like balancing femininity with power, like that kind-of shit, you know?
Erin: I know exactly what you mean. So, kind-of a sophisticated sort-of powerful woman, but still feminine and beautiful.
John: Exactly, yeah.
Erin: OK. And do you have anyone like that in your life?
John: No, not really.
Erin: In your job… or in the past?
John: No, I work with all guys because my job sucks.
Erin: Because your job sucks… (Laughing). And what is your job exactly?
John: I’m an engineer. So, it’s like an exclusively male field for the most part. So, I don’t know … that’s pretty shit.
Erin: Exclusively male?
John: Almost entirely.
Erin: And you work in an office or out in the field?
John: It’s basically a mix between working in the office and working out on various construction sites.
Erin: Okay, so there’s not a lot of femininity within your career?
John: No. Plenty of douche bags though.
Erin: What is the most important thing in your life right now?
John: Well, probably my dog. Um, yeah. He had essentially a shit life before I took him home. And I just wanted to make sure it doesn’t happen to him again. I just want to make sure he has as good a life as possible.
Erin: You rescued him?
John: Yeah. He was homeless for about a year and then he was in a shelter for about a year, where it does seem that he was always treated very well. Um, so now he’s very comfortable living with me.
John: It makes me happy to see him happy.
Erin: That’s cool. And what are you most proud of in your life?
John: I’m not really sure. I guess I just want to build a life where it’s really relaxed and really comfortable. Basically, succeeded in doing that. So, I guess I’m pretty proud of that. I’m not much in the way of huge accomplishments, but it’s only because they never really appealed to me.
Erin: Huge accomplishments don’t appeal to you?
John: Yeah, like climbing Mt. Everest. No, I don’t give a fuck. That’s meaningless to me, I’m sorry.
Erin: Oh (Laughing)
John: That kind of stuff just never appealed to me, like going all out. I just wanna take it easy and be comfortable and I got that.
Erin: If you were to have an achievement that you could be proud of, could you imagine something, if there were unlimited options and you were not confined to the life or the way life is, what would you want to achieve?
John: You know, completely unrealistically, if I could prevent everyone from being a fucking asshole, I’d probably go for that.
Erin: Do you think you could do that as a woman? Better?
John: I don’t know if it’s realistic at all. I don’t know if anybody can do it.
Erin: True. That’s a good point … If you were a woman, what would you want to achieve?
John: Um, probably just … I work in engineering. You know, there’s not many women in it. So, I guess if I was the same person, but a woman, I would just look to be taken as seriously.
Erin: So, you would be a feminist? You would want to kind-of fight the feminist fight?
John: I guess so, yeah.
Erin: That’s cool.
John: Yeah, like some people call me a feminist now. I don’t know about that because I don’t really like labels but … equality, it’s very important. I don’t understand why people shit on other people. Like on an individual level, like “that guys a fuck, let’s treat him differently.” Yeah, that’s fine. But, like, (judging) groups of people, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Erin: Yeah. What was your mother like?
John: Um, I don’t know. Strict I guess. Annoying.
Erin: Is she still alive?
John: Oh, yeah.
Erin: Is she still annoying?
John: Yeah. She’s still annoying.
Erin: Do you see her a lot?
John: I try not to. Like I said, she’s annoying. I mean she’s fine. I guess I’m probably neutral towards her. Like, she’s my mother, so I have familial love with her, but beyond that, she’s just like anyone.
Erin: Is she a feminist?
Erin: Or is she a powerful woman in your idea of what a powerful woman is?
John: I mean, she only operates within a microcosm. She never really went out of her way to change anyone else’s life. I mean, she’s an intelligent woman. She was a nurse. Would I call her a feminist? I don’t really know. She got taken seriously in her job and all, but she wasn’t really part of a cause or anything like that.
Erin: If you were a woman, what would you want to do? How would you spend your day differently or not differently? Do you think you would change?
John: I don’t know if I would do too much differently. Um, like I said, you know, my goal is just making a comfortable life, so I would probably have the same goal.
Erin: Is this part of your sexuality or would this change your sexuality in any way?
John: Probably not. I see guys and they are just utterly meaningless to me physically and then girls just like, they got all the cool bits. You know the good ones – the butt, the boobs and all that shit, and just like, soft skin and hair, you know, it’s everything. So, yeah. I’m pretty sure if I were a woman, I would be a lesbian.
Erin: Yeah, so it’s just what appeals to you sexually and also you would want to experience how it feels to be that? I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
John: I mean, yeah. It’s okay if you put words in my mouth because I’m not 100% sure myself, to be honest.
Erin: I’ll just answer for you (Laughing).
John: I mean, yeah, it’s just basically what you’re saying, yeah.
Erin: Do you have any rituals that you do through your day that make you feel feminine or are there any that you would want to have? Talk to me about rituals that you have. It could be private things. If it’s something you don’t want to talk about …
John: I mean, I’ll talk about anything.
John: I mean, obviously, there’s masturbation. That’s gender neutral. I mean fuck, everybody does that. But, it seems like women have a lot more upkeep than men and that doesn’t appeal to me at all. I mean, I shave like once a week. I’m just the laziest motherfucker. I shower once a day, like I’m clean. I’ve got good hygiene, but beyond that, I’m going for as little hassle as possible. If I had to shave my legs on any regular basis I would fucking lose my mind. So, you know. There’s no real rituals, it just seems like way too much of a hassle. I’m sorry. Like, I’m glad women do it; I appreciate that, but if I had to do it myself, good lord, no.
Erin: So, you appreciate that it’s a lot of work to look like that?
John: Oh yeah, I appreciate it a lot, like I said. But, it’s just not something I want a part of.
Erin: If you dressed up, can you see yourself going out in public like that?
John: Um, I guess it would depend … location is a big thing. If the community doesn’t have a problem with that kind of shit, yeah, that’d be a very big factor. Also, the fact that I’m pretty convinced that I won’t look like a woman. I’m just gonna look like a guy in women’s clothes and there are much fewer people that seem to be accepting of that. Like, if a guy dresses like a woman and he actually looks like a woman, he can blend in. He can pass and that’s fine. But, like, specifically standing out and kind-of challenging the idea of what people typically think is acceptable … people react with fear and violence. I really don’t wanna put up with that shit.
Erin: But what if you could look like a real woman?
John: If I could pass? Yeah sure, yeah.
Erin: And would you want people to admire you?
John: I mean, I guess it ties back to sexuality … women, yeah…. guys, not so much.
Erin: You would want women to admire you as a woman?
John: Oh yeah, sure. Yeah.
Erin: I mean if you could really look like a woman… Just forget about the fact that you are tall and large and whatever… and that you don’t like to shave. If you could just instantly, “poof,” look like that…
John: Oh yeah, definitely!
Erin: Then, what would you do? What would be your ideal day?
John: Jesus. Well, my ideal day number one would be just playing with myself all day and that’s that.
Erin: You would play with yourself all day? (Laughing)
John: Oh yeah, absolutely. I would assume that if it happened with some regularity, if it just becomes like the norm, then probably not too different, like I said, not too different than what I do every other day.
Erin: Just hang out with your dog, watch tv?
John: Exactly, yeah.
Erin: … go to work … I don’t know what you do, I am just making stuff up. (Laughing)
John: Yeah, and just go to the park and shit. You know, just a typical day.
Erin: OK. But, when I said that about the ideal woman, that you could just “poof” look like that, tell me about what she looked like.
John: Um, I guess when I fantasize about it, it’s fairly similar to … I mean I won’t say I am looking for an ideal woman because the general concept is a bit ridiculous. But, it’s similar to what I have envisioned as a physically attractive girl. You know, shorter, I prefer shorter girls, about 5’4. You know, small, cute, petite girl … just that kind of thing, you know. Basically, the exact opposite of me.
Erin: So, you would want to be smaller like that too?
Erin: Do you consider yourself unusually brave or open minded?
John: Um, I’d say I’m open minded. I would not say unusually so because I’m not really sure how open minded everyone else is, but I’m pretty open minded with a lot of stuff. Generally, I just don’t like to be hassled. I really don’t like to be hassled. But, I’m mostly not a hypocrite, so I’m not gonna hassle anyone else for whatever the fuck they wanna do. I’m not gonna criticize anyone else’s opinions as long as it doesn’t negatively impact anyone else. Um bravery? … I guess I’ve done brave things here and there. Typically, like I said, I don’t like to be hassled, so I don’t go picking fights but if I see something that needs to be done and nobody else will do it… yeah, I’ll pick it up.
Erin: Have you ever shared or talked about this with anyone else?
Erin: Do you have any sort-of internet communities or websites that you visit? You don’t have to tell me which ones unless you want to.
John: Um, it’s more of a mental thing. The way my mind works, I’m really good at visualizing stuff, so I don’t really need outward stimulation for it. It’s just always internal. That was enough.
Erin: You have a good imagination?
Erin: What other questions… what do you think I should ask?
John: I don’t really know. Your questions are pretty good so far. They’re pretty in-depth. Um, I don’t really know. Like I said, I’ve never really done this before. So, it’s new to me as well. So, I don’t really know.
Erin: Are you excited to do this?
John: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
Erin: And see what it feels like?
John: Yeah, yeah.
Erin: Maybe we can ask a few more questions after we get you ready.
This interview was conducted after John was transformed into his new female identity.
Erin: How do you feel right now?
John: Different. Definitely different. I don’t know. It’s an interesting process. The wigs feel hot and the earrings (clip-on) hurt. Other than that, it’s fine.
Erin: You can take them off.
John: No, it’s fine, it’s fine …
Erin: Do you like the way that you look now? Is this what you had in mind?
John: Well, like I was saying before, ideally, I am a completely different person, but it’s nice.
Erin: You look pretty amazing, actually. I feel like I am with a different person now.
Erin: Do you feel like a different person now?
John: Yeah, yeah.
Erin: It was a long process. It took us how long … like 45 minutes? So, would you want to rename yourself? Would that help with the process if you had a different character name?
John: I guess so, but I haven’t given it much thought. So, I don’t have anything in mind.
Erin: If you think about it for a minute, would you come up with something?
John: I don’t know any name. I just think of names of people I already know. It’s hard.
Erin: Something business sounding?
John: I don’t know.
Erin: We will think of it later, or you can.
John: I trust your judgement.
Erin: I think Carol.
Erin: Is that bad, do you know somebody named that?
John: I do.
Erin: Is that not good then?
Erin: You want to use Carolyn?
Erin: So, when you see yourself dressed this way, does it make you want to stand or sit differently too?
John: Um, I suppose stand a little differently just because of the shoes. And sit differently just because women are taught to cross their legs. I can’t because my quads are fucking huge. I can’t actually do that.
Erin: But you can cross your ankles.
John: Yeah, I can cross my ankles.
Erin: Do you feel powerful as a woman?
John: It’s hard to say. You know, I’ve only really been in that room and this room (kitchen and living room). I haven’t really done much. It’s kind-of hard to say because I haven’t done anything to verify it.
Erin: Yeah. It’s like a seed was planted and it might take time for you to experience.
John: Exactly, yeah.
Erin: I hope we will get a chance to do this again if you’d like to.
John: Sure, I’d like to do that.
Erin: So, what do you think that Carolyn would have to say – this image that you see that maybe you feel is not really you – but just imagine that Carolyn was a person, what do you think she would want to say?
John: Probably like, “My god I’m hairy, like what the fuck happened to me?”
Erin: (Laughing) Like, “what happened to me?”
John: “I’ve let myself go.”
Erin: What do you think she would want to go do right now?
John: I don’t know, go drinking probably. It’s Saturday.
Erin: Go drinking? What would she drink? And where would she go?
John: Well, I usually don’t go drink wine myself, so probably wine.
Erin: Drink a glass of wine?
John: Yeah, wherever there are just hot lesbians. Let’s go.
Erin: Yes! The hot lesbian bar. And then drink some wine … who would you talk to? What would it be like?
John: I don’t know. I’m shit picking up girls as a guy, so I would probably be shit picking up girls as a girl. So, I don’t know.
Erin: But you would go there like, “let’s go talk to hot lesbians?”
Erin: There are some hot lesbians in NYC.
John: Oh yeah, definitely. I’m sure I would still come to the crushing realization that I still can’t pick girls up. But, alright, I’ll still give it a shot.
Erin: What do you want to ask?
John: I don’t know. How do my eyes look? They look good?
Erin: Your eyes look amazing.
John: Oh good – my best feature.
Erin: Your eyes are beautiful any way and they look amazing right now.
Erin: Yeah, I like the way that the eyebrow is highlighted. I am gonna look up how to do your eye, but I think I did a pretty good job. I think you could definitely pick up a lesbian. How do you feel in this outfit? Would you want to wear this again? I think it’s great. It fits you perfectly. And I love the pearls.
John: I would wear it again, yeah. It still feels a little foreign, but yeah.
Erin: But that’s the kind of woman that you are as Carolyn?
John: Yeah, definitely.
Erin: We need to get you some rings, and nails. Don’t you think Carolyn would wear nails?
John: I would think so, yeah.
Gray: What color?
John: I have no idea. My ability to detect color is poor at best. No, the easiest explanation I give is that color just doesn’t interest me that much. So, I’d just say “ah, whatever. They are basically the same.”
Erin: But how does Carolyn feel about it?
John: I don’t know. I guess I’d have to see different colors of nail polish.
Erin: Yeah, we should do that sometime, look at colors.
It is the day before John’s birthday and Verónica is over to meet him and do his makeup professionally. John has acquired a new pair of purple shoes and a gorgeous suit. He has requested a shorter wig. He has shaved his body. We are all planning to go to dinner in Chinatown, where the chances of being recognized are slim. Erin is sick and stays in bed talking to everyone from another room. She does not go out.
Gray: So, it’s day two and you are going out for the first time.
John: Yeah. Technically the first time was when I walked up to the building.
Gray: Yes. How did that feel?
John: A little scary.
John: Just because people have different reactions to it. Occasionally, you meet an asshole. They have a bad reaction to it.
Verónica: It’s always men.
John: Almost always, yeah.
Verónica: Women too?
John: I think so, yeah.
Verónica: Women too? React violently?
John: Some of them, it’s rare, yeah. I have never had that experience, but I imagine so.
Verónica: So, you started having these fantasies when you were like 12?
John: Yeah, 13.
Verónica: But, you never acted upon it or did anything?
John: No. It was never that strong that I did anything. It was never a driving urge or anything.
Verónica: When did it really become a thing that you needed to explore for sure.
John: Even now, I don’t know if I needed to explore it. I just figured, you know, why not?
Verónica: But, it’s a lot of maintenance for a “why not?”
John: Yeah, fuck it. Why not. Guess I’ll do it while I can.
Erin: How did it feel? Something in you changed since the last time you were here, because …
Verónica: Did it? Did it change?
Gray: Well, you shaved. That’s a big step.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Erin: Why? Why did you do that now and never before.
John: Well, it’s something… the prospect of something I wanted to try. I figured I might as well put a big effort into it.
Erin: But, why now?
John: Not 100% sure, to be honest.
John: Alright, take it easy. Let me think. (His makeup is being done.) I mean, I guess it was something I wanted to try for a while. Then when I found the ad, it seemed like a good opportunity. Not everyone is supportive of this kind of stuff.
Erin: We are.
John: Exactly. So, I met you guys and you seem like fun. So, here we are.
Erin: We are extremely happy to have found you.
Gray: Yeah, for sure. What was your gut reaction after you finished shaving?
John: I guess initially, it was just, “Jesus, that was a pain in the ass.” I mean the whole thing took 2 hours maybe.
Gray: Oh wow.
John: Yeah, a lot of fuckin’ hair.
Erin: It gets easier.
John: It couldn’t get much harder. Jesus.
Erin: Did you like the way it felt?
John: I did, yeah. I mean, like, wearing pants at first … it was just weird. But, wearing pantyhose and stockings, those felt good.
Gray: Are you going to continue?
John: What, shaving?
John: I don’t know. I kinda like the hairy legs sometimes as well.
John: Yeah. Especially in the winter. You know, for insulation.
Verónica: You need to shave your arms.
John: The arm hair is staying. I like it too much.
Verónica: Oh, you like it?
John: Yeah, it intimidates people at work. Makes my job easier.
Verónica: So, you are aware of the conveniences of men …
John: Oh, yeah yeah, for sure.
Verónica: So, you have no intention of becoming a woman?
Erin: Unless I make you into one. (In reference to his written fantasies to her about a dominatrix making him into a woman.)
Verónica: You like scaring people?
John: Me? No, no. Not scaring people, but I suppose if intimidation can make my job easier from time to time … I’m down with that. Only at my job though. I’m really nice everywhere else.
Gray: Have you put any more thought into your name?
John: Not really, no. I was telling Erin it’s a little difficult for me to craft a persona, you know.
Gray: Yeah, I guess that’s what we’re for. Helping with all of that … But, you are still drawn to the business persona?
John: Yeah, yeah.
Erin: How did you pick out your clothes?
John: Well, the suit is kind-of a business suit … I talked to you all about it. You said I needed a top to go with it and suggested this one. (cowl neck)
John: The shoes, I just thought they looked cute.
Gray: Yeah, they are.
Erin: Did you have fun with the shopping?
John: I did. I did. Yeah.
Verónica: What are we gonna do with his hair? Does he have a wig?
Gray: Yeah, this one.
Verónica: That one?
Verónica: That’s a good one.
Gray: What’s the scenario of the shopping? Is it online? In stores?
Verónica: Did it hurt? (Applying eye liner)
John: A little bit. It was online (the shopping) … online.
Gray: It hurts to be a woman sometimes.
John: I don’t encounter to0 many situations with sharp objects in my eyeballs (eye liner). I try to avoid them.
Erin: Did you tell anyone else about meeting us or doing any of this?
John: Uh, no no.
Verónica: Oh. So, it’s kind-of confidential. Do you have any friends that you would share this with?
John: I mean, a couple people online talk about it. But, I’ve never met them in real life… just online.
Gray: So, it’s like an online forum?
John: No, I guess we met there, but then we talk offline.
Gray: What was the forum?
John: Reddit, I guess.
Erin: I need to get on that….
John: No, you don’t.
John: It’s an addiction. Steer clear of it.
Verónica: What are we going to do with his eyebrows? Because we can’t shave them. We can’t… put anything weird…
Erin: I have the brow highlighter if you want it.
Verónica: Okay, where are they…. And also, I need a little powder. Are we gonna put earrings on you?
John: I guess clip-ons, yeah.
Verónica: Open your mouth a little bit … (applying lip liner and lipstick) Do you eat a lot of meat?
John: No. Why?
Verónica: Because it makes the process of feminization a little harder. But, fish…. you eat fish… and chicken…
John: I like chicken. Protein I guess.
Gray: (Brings eyebrow pencil) I think this is the right color for him.
Verónica: Yes, perfect color.
Gray: It’s really nice.
Verónica: Are you on any medication?
John: Medication? No.
Verónica: So, you are calm by nature.
John: Yeah. Very calm.
Verónica: Interesting. What’s your sign?
Verónica: Oh! Me too. It’s your birthday?
John: Tomorrow, yeah.
Verónica: Oh, we are having a little birthday party.
Gray: The powder looks really good.
Verónica: Oh, the powder is what we needed. Without powder, life is miserable. Scorpio is a sexually complicated sign. And, do I know about that! Do we do mascara?
Verónica: I know you don’t want to look slutty, but I can’t help myself! Just a tiny.
Gray: Just a little.
Verónica: Just a little sparkle. You can see it when he closes his eyes.
John: Look good?
John: (He is standing in front of a full-length mirror) Wow, that’s even more crazy than last time.
Gray: What do you think?
Gray: Yeah? Does it make you happy?
John: Shit, yeah.
Gray: That’s awesome.
Verónica: How do you like that makeup?
John: Oh, it’s very good. Thank you.
Verónica: I think I went in the right direction.
John: Oh definitely, yeah.
Gray: That sweater is really nice too.
John: Thank you.
Gray: What’s your favorite part?
John: The whole thing. I like the 80s hair too. Good call!
Gray: Yeah, it’s great, right?
Verónica: Yeah, I knew that hair was gonna be good on you.
Gray: Let’s take a sneaky picture and then we can head out …
John: God, it’s hot as hell in here.
Verónica: You need to be really aware of your posture (as he is being photographed). Chest up. Yeah.
Gray: She’s good. (Referencing Verónica as feminization coach)
Verónica: Squeeze the buttocks. And the arms always on the back. Try to arch your back. Yeah. That’s it! A tall girl you are!
Gray: He’s so much taller than me…
John: Are these better than last time?
Gray: The ones from last time were amazing, just different. The pictures last time were perfect. They looked so good. Before and after was remarkable.
John: Yeah, it was crazy, I know.
Gray: Perfect. Where shall we go?
John: I don’t want to stray too far because I’ve still got a dog to go home to.
John: He’s missing me.
Verónica: Do you need to go somewhere? Because I feel like you want to, but you don’t want to.
Erin: No! He has to go out!
Verónica: Maybe we can go for a walk …
Erin: Go for a walk and have a tea …
John: That sounds fun. Let’s do that.