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: Bangalore, India
This interview was conducted while RJ was midway into his transformation into his female identity. He began two hours before our arrival with the aid of a makeup artist.
Erin: So, what is it that made you agree to do this photoshoot and interview?
RJ: Well, I love transformation. So, it’s an excuse to do it.
Erin: Transformation. So, this is fun for you then?
RJ: It is.
Erin: Good. I’m going to ask some questions about how this evolved in your life. How often do you fantasize or visualize yourself as a woman or is that 100% all of the time?
RJ: Actually 0%. I don’t fantasize about myself as a woman. I just do this for the glam.
Erin: For the glam.
RJ: Yeah, that’s why I take so much trouble in getting ready. To me, it’s about that. I just want to make it big. I want to do it and I want to do it perfect.
Erin: So, it’s the process?
RJ: It’s the process and it’s the end result that I’m after.
Erin: The ritual of getting ready …
RJ: Yeah, so if I see an outfit that I think I can pull off, I will definitely try it. I have seen a lot of outfits and I know they look great, but I don’t know if I could pull it off. I have the confidence, but I wouldn’t do it. But, if I can, then I’ll do it. That’s the real driver for me. It’s not about being a woman.
Erin: It’s not about being a woman … It’s about glamour?
RJ: Yeah, it’s about transforming myself, making myself look very different. But, with a fetish theme.
Erin: What do you mean?
RJ: Like, latex, you know, that’s a fetish.
Erin: Right. So, it’s a certain kind of woman?
RJ: It’s a certain kind of fetish, yeah.
Erin: When did you first start doing this? Dressing? Transforming?
RJ: First – 13 years old. But, not like this. This is brand new … in the last few years I have met a lot of great makeup artists … Aki…. and another guy, Picasso, that you met. Now, I really do it all the way, but it takes a lot of time and effort. So, it’s not like every day of my life that I can do this.
Erin: So, you’ve been doing it since you were 13, but in a less elaborate manner?
Erin: Tell me about what you used to do when you were 13.
RJ: I started at 13, but I never did it all the time, I did it maybe once or twice. And then for a good part of my life I never did it. And then in my late 30s, I started doing it again.
Erin: And how old are you now?
Erin: Okay, tell me in detail if you can remember, what did you do when you were 13. What was your first ritual transformation?
RJ: Oh, I just wore somebody’s bra and somebody’s panties that were lying around my home.
Erin: Just underwear …
RJ: That’s it.
Erin: And did you show people or was it a secret?
RJ: No, it was secret.
Erin: Do you remember whose it was?
RJ: My aunt’s.
This interview was conducted after RJ was transformed into his female identity.
Erin: You had a big family?
RJ: You know, my aunt must have been like 22 or something.
Erin: Did you live with a lot of women?
RJ: I had two sisters.
Erin: You said the word transformation… you don’t see this as a separate part of your personality? Do you have a name for this part of yourself or is it just you?
RJ: It’s just me, but I play the transformation. I will behave a little differently. I’ll do that, but that’s just part of the aura. In my regular job, I’m quite the opposite, you know. I’m not like this at all.
Erin: What’s your regular job?
RJ: I work on Wall Street, but that’s me. In my free time, I do this. If I’m at a party, I will dress up, but that’s about it.
Erin: How is your personality right now when you’re dressed different from your personality when you are at work on Wall Street?
RJ: Right now, while I’m talking to you, it’s absolutely the same.
Erin: The same?
RJ: It’s like when you’re taking pictures … I will change the way I look for the camera. That’s what I do.
Erin: Oh, so it’s about being seen then?
RJ: Very much.
Erin: And photographed?
RJ: Yes, but not so much. Just being seen.
Erin: Just being seen?
RJ: But I want the photograph to be great. I want the end result to be great because that’s why I’ve taken all this time and effort.
Erin: Do you ever do this when no one is looking?
RJ: Not really.
Erin: You never dress by yourself?
RJ: Very rarely. I don’t have the time usually to get into that headspace.
Erin: Would you ever dress like this and go to work on Wall Street?
Erin: Why not?
RJ: It’s not done. And I know who pays the bills, so …
Erin: Would you even want to?
Erin: What’s the most important thing in your life right now?
RJ: Happiness. Seriously.
Erin: Your happiness?
RJ: Yeah. I just want to be happy and I want to be around happy people. And I want … that’s all I want. I don’t like unhappy. I walk away from unhappy.
Erin: Are you happy?
RJ: I am yeah. Very.
Erin: What are you most proud of in your life?
RJ: I don’t know. I’ve done many things, but …
Erin: Name something you’ve done that you are proud of.
RJ: You know, where I am in life right now.
Erin: Like what?
RJ: I’ve done well for myself. I did it all by myself. I didn’t get anybody’s help to do it.
Erin: Tell me about how you achieved that. Where did you come from and what was your goal, and how did you achieve what you achieved?
RJ: Well, growing up, I had no goals. I was just a happy kid. You know, very, very irresponsible to be honest.
RJ: Yes. And then I went to Columbia, studied economics.
Erin: That’s ambitious.
RJ: Yeah, I mean, it is.
Erin: So, you came from India to Columbia. Where in India are you from?
RJ: Bangalore, the South.
Erin: You came by yourself?
RJ: Came by myself. Didn’t know anybody in New York. Didn’t know which way was downtown, east or west.
Erin: Did you come from a wealthy family or not?
Erin: You don’t know?
Erin: You don’t want to say?
RJ: Yeah. And you know, here I am. And the thing is … I went to Columbia and I’ve been here since and I was married for a while.
Erin: Oh really … you were married to a woman?
RJ: Yeah, 8 1/2 years.
Erin: And did she share this fetish with you?
RJ: She could care less.
Erin: She couldn’t care less?
Erin: Meaning that you did it and she didn’t care? Or that she didn’t know.
RJ: Oh, she knew.
Erin: But she didn’t want or care either way. Did she like it or not like it?
RJ: She was indifferent.
Erin: How did that make you feel?
RJ: Well, I think that was the least of the problems. The problem was I married the wrong girl … it was just a mess. It wasn’t a mess. It was just the wrong person. Why do it? Eventually it unfolded the way it did. And that’s how it is.
Erin: Are you happier now that … ?
RJ: Way more. Yes.
Erin: More freedom?
RJ: It’s not even the freedom. I’m just happier because that drained a lot of my life.
And then, recently I met this guy and he had a very interesting way of putting things. He was like, “do you want to go through life carrying somebody on your back? Or do you want to go through life with somebody on your side?” And then I said, “well, I want somebody on my side.” I thought about my marriage and my marriage was carrying somebody on my back the whole time, which now I realize. That’s the way I looked at it.
Erin: So, you are looking for someone now to share your life with – by your side?
RJ: I wouldn’t say I’m looking because I don’t know what that means. You know, I put myself out there and see what happens. I just feel that if I do the things I like to do, and keep doing them, I might meet somebody or I might not. If that doesn’t happen, that’s fine. I’d rather just be happy. But, I feel that if you put yourself out there and attract the kind of things you want, it will come to you. You just gotta attract what you want.
Erin: Tell me a little about your spiritual practice and how this is related to that. What was your religious upbringing?
RJ: Well, I was Roman Catholic. I am Roman Catholic.
Erin: You are Roman Catholic?
RJ: Yeah. I am spiritual. I pray. I meditate every day. So, I always have that with me.
Erin: Tell me about how you meditate.
RJ: Well, I have that altar there. I don’t know if you guys saw it. I sit there for like 40 minutes and meditate every morning.
Erin: Tell me about your altar and what inspired that and how it came about.
RJ: The altar is … I want to keep it spiritual, but also sexual a little bit. It’s probably too sexual.
Erin: Too sexual?
RJ: Yeah. But, that’s how it came about.
Erin: Tell me what’s on it.
RJ: Well, I have the Nataraja.
Erin: The Nataraja…. but that’s not Roman Catholic.
RJ: I know it’s not.
Erin: Tell me about it.
RJ: Let me finish. I have the Shiva Lingam. Both of them Hindu. But then again, keep in mind, I came from India. So, those are not alien things to me. Most Hindu people have those in their home. It’s common. It’s nothing fancy … Shiva Lingam, Nataraja, Ganesh … they have a God for every day. So, you see all this when you are growing up.
Erin: You saw all that while you were growing up, but in your house, it was Roman Catholic.
RJ: Yeah, but I don’t know, in India, it’s a very different space. People are very religious there. If you go to anyone’s home, that’s the first thing you will notice. Whatever their religion is, they will have it proudly displayed. But, nobody cares about that. Everyone gets along. My best friend is Muslim, my other friends are Hindu. I don’t have too many Roman Catholic friends, but that’s what happens when you grow up in India. But, we digress. We were talking about my altar … I have a tray that’s got Jesus, Mary and Joseph on there. And, my most recent purchase is really out there … a dildo with a crucifix. I don’t know if you saw it.
Erin: I didn’t. A dildo with a crucifix?
RJ: It’s out of control.
Erin: And what attracts you to that?
RJ: I think it’s just so wrong that it’s right. It has to be right, it can’t be wrong.
Erin: Do you like to do things that sort-of create a dynamic?
Erin: Tell me how that works in your mind. You tell me you are Roman Catholic, but you want to do something that clearly you would call wrong … ?
RJ: I don’t really know if it’s wrong; I just find it very appealing.
Erin: So, it’s fun … you know I like it, so it’s not coming from a place of judgement …
RJ: I hope you’re not judging me because I’m crazy.
Erin: I just want you to tell me how does all of that fit into your mind.
RJ: It’s just a space for me.
Erin: Because you say proudly that you are Roman Catholic.
RJ: Well, that’s because that’s who I am. I don’t want to hide it. I am who I am. Yeah, that’s my space – in the morning, I am sitting there all by myself.
Erin: So, you have the Shiva, the Nataraja, the dildo crucifix … and what else is on there?
RJ: I have a chastity device … and some money.
RJ: Yeah, and it’s also, in a way, things that I want to attract in my life. It’s the money, it’s the sexual thing. Oh, and I forgot the most important thing of that space. It’s to attract the things I want. It’s for money, for this, for that, but the big thing behind it is to attract a Divine Goddess into my life.
Erin: A Divine Goddess?
RJ: Yes. And that’s what it’s really about there.
Erin: Do you mean a human that you would see as a Divine Goddess?
RJ: Correct, yeah. Sorry, I should have started with that. That’s what the space is. Those are the things that I want to attract in my life. Maybe they come, maybe they don’t. You do what you do.
Erin: Tell me about the chastity device and what that represents.
RJ: Well, I wrote this big article on it, actually.
Erin: Oh, you did? Maybe you can show it to me …
RJ: It’s on Fetlife … I have all kinds of reasons. I have scientific reasons.
Erin: What are those?
RJ: It’s to do with dopamine and other hormones …
Erin: So, you practice chastity?
RJ: I did. I don’t do it anymore.
Erin: But you still have the device on your altar.
Erin: When did you start practicing chastity?
RJ: 3 years ago.
Erin: And that means that you don’t have sex or masturbate?
RJ: For long periods of time.
Erin: And when did you stop?
RJ: Well, I did it when I had … when I was with somebody. She locked me up.
Erin: Oh … so, a woman locked you into chastity? And for how long?
RJ: It was on and off for 2 years.
Erin: What was the longest that you went?
RJ: It was never more than 2 weeks.
Erin: And you wore that device?
RJ: Yeah. Never more than 2 or 3 weeks at a time. But, keep in mind that I travelled then too. So, that interferes with all of that.
Erin: And how does that relate to your femininity? Do you see that as an aspect of your masculine side or your feminine side? Or something else?
RJ: I don’t see it as feminine or masculine. I just see it as something that you give up for somebody that you have a great relationship with. It’s a control thing, actually. You’re giving somebody else control over your sex and that’s pretty crazy to do. It’s a big thing.
Erin: I would say.
RJ: Yeah, so. It’s a control, trust kind-of thing.
Erin: You mentioned latex, but tell me about your process of transformation. How does it start? What do you do first? What is your process?
RJ: Usually, it’s the makeup.
Erin: Start with the makeup…
RJ: And that can be usually an hour, hour and a half.
RJ: Yeah, this guy, Picasso, was here from like 12:45 PM.
Erin: And you have a couple makeup artists that you work with? And sometimes it takes an hour and a half …
RJ: Yeah, it just depends.
Erin: And you enjoy that?
RJ: Yeah, I do. I like watching myself change and change and change and it’s really cool.
Erin: What’s your favorite part of the makeup process?
RJ: Everything about it.
Erin: Your eyelashes are amazing.
RJ: He put two sets. He put one and when he was putting another one I said, “did you just put?” He said, “no, I’m gonna double it up.” So …
Erin: What else do you do? What comes after the makeup?
RJ: The makeup, then putting an outfit together. Sometimes I have it already in my head and I stick to the plan. Today, I’m all over the place. Because you know, I’m in the candy store. I have hundreds of things I can try …
Erin: The candy store is your closet?
RJ: Yeah, so there are a lot of things I can try and a lot of times I will mix and match things and I’ll put it together in my head. I mean, all these pictures you see, and I have more (pointing at multiple framed photos of himself as a woman on the walls), I come up with that.
Erin: So, you do the makeup and then you put on an outfit. Do you wear perfume or anything like that? Jewelry? Is that important?
Erin: And then what comes after the outfit? The hair?
RJ: The hair.
Erin: And then you’re done?
RJ: And then I’m done. And then I’m somebody different. But a lot of times I do all that and I don’t feel any different. But, I know people are looking at me very differently. Because, I did go to a party once and, you know Picasso, my makeup artist, he usually only does my makeup. He never sees me when I’m finished dressing. Never ever. Very rarely does he. So, one time he did and we went out together. And, you now, we had a great time and then we went home. The next day, he was telling me, “by the way, you are really clueless.” I said, “about what?” He said, “people were just staring at you the whole night. I mean it’s like ridiculous. The thing with you is that you have no idea. You’re just doing your thing.” And then I met a guy, a gay guy. He was very attracted to me. He was asking me the same kind of questions about how I get ready. He was very intrigued. He said, “is this very sexual for you?” I busted his bubble and said, “this is not at all sexual.”
Erin: Not at all sexual?
RJ: No! And he was like “well, when I dress up, I feel very sexual.” And I said to him, “it’s not sexual.” I know I look different, but a lot of times I just forget it. Like, when I’m talking to you guys, I just have to keep remembering. Because of the hair, I remember I’ve got something on. Otherwise I forget.
Erin: You just feel like your normal self?
RJ: I feel like my normal self. Yeah. But, in front of the camera, I try to work the camera because I want to get a good shot.
Erin: Does it make you happy when people look at you? How do people look at you differently when …
RJ: They look at my very sexually. They look at me like a sexual object.
Erin: They see you as an object?
RJ: Oh yeah. Picasso told me that I don’t notice that.
Erin: And how do they look at you when you’re not dressed up?
RJ: Who the hell knows? I didn’t ask them.
RJ: I don’t know.
Erin: Do they look at you? Do they see you?
RJ: Yes, they see me.
Erin: How do they see you?
RJ: They just look at me.
Erin: How do you imagine that people see you when you are not dressed up? When you’re going to work…
RJ: They see me as an average Joe going to work, I guess. I don’t know.
Erin: But, when you’re dressed up, they see you as …
A: It can be sexual. But when I think about it, I look at my pictures like that, and (pointing) I know it’s sexual. But, me standing there, taking that picture, I don’t feel sexual at all.
Erin: It doesn’t turn you on?
RJ: It turns me on when I see the after … you know, the result. But, while I’m doing it, I’m trying to get the best shot. I’m listening to instructions.
Erin: Does it turn you on to see yourself as a sexual object?
RJ: I wouldn’t use the words “turned on.” I just look at it and say, “wow, that looks good.”
Erin: What does turn you on?
RJ: The mind.
Erin: The mind? Your mind? Whose mind?
RJ: People’s minds. Because I think that’s where it all is.
Erin: What is the dynamic that turns you on? Is that the submissiveness, the control of the sexual energy?
RJ: Well, I think that people who are into fetish, the kinky stuff … I think they are more intelligent people. And … that’s why I probably get along with them.
Erin: What female do you most admire physically and strive to emulate if at all?
RJ: There are so many.
Erin: For example?
RJ: Right now, it’s Gwen Stefani. I think she’s hot. She’s got it together, she dresses impeccably. She’s got style. You know, she’s got it together. She’s talented. That’s because now she’s on the news. She’s on The Voice, the show. That’s why I say Gwen Stefani is coming to me, but there are so many others. I think Megan Fox is hot, but she’s no longer on the scene. There are so many … you can pick.
Erin: What about psychological or emotionally … the female mind… Whose mind do you respect?
RJ: It doesn’t have anything to do with the sex of a person. I respect anybody’s mind, intelligence.
Erin: For example, a woman? What’s one woman whose mind you respect intellectually right now?
RJ: Don’t know. Never thought of it.
Erin: What do you think it would be like to be a female? If you were really a female?
RJ: It would be a pain in the ass.
RJ: Doing this shit every day! I think it’s a lot easier being a guy. I don’t know.
Erin: Yeah. You don’t want to be a female?
Erin: Do you consider yourself brave?
RJ: I’m not afraid.
Erin: You were never afraid of anything? Did you overcome fear?
RJ: Well, I …
Erin: Did you used to be afraid?
RJ: Not really.
Erin: What about when you were 13 and maybe you didn’t want anybody to find out about what you were doing?
RJ: Oh yeah. That way, yeah.
Erin: And how did you overcome that fear?
RJ: I don’t know.
Erin: Do you remember the first time you went out about it?
RJ: Like I said, I only started again in my late thirties.
Erin: In your culture, where you were when you were 13 – you were in Bangalore. Is it more acceptable here, say in Manhattan?
RJ: Of course, yeah.
Erin: How would your behavior be different if you had stayed in Bangalore? Or how did it change when you came here?
RJ: First of all, I’d be bored out of my mind in Bangalore.
Erin: And how old were you when you came here? 18?
Erin: Do you share this at all with your family now?
Erin: How does that affect you emotionally?
RJ: It doesn’t at all.
Erin: It doesn’t affect you at all? What if they found out accidentally?
RJ: That’s fine. I’ll deal with it when I have to deal with it.
Erin: What would you ask if you were me?
RJ: Well, you asked me a lot of questions.
Erin: What’s the last thing that I forgot to ask?
RJ: I’m thinking … nothing.