21 December 2017

Marilyn Misandry On Dysphoria, Beauty, & Frightening Femininity

Marilyn Misandry is standing shirtless on the front lawn of a house that looks like it belongs more in the stuffiest sector of Newport Beach than industrial Northern England. It's the kind of house that inspires one to fast, lest anything be spilled on rugs that probably cost more than four years of university education.

Her blue eyeshadow, red lipstick, and pearls catch the sunlight as her entire presence captures the attention of wandering suburbanites. This is not a neighborhood that feels especially welcoming of drag queens or nonbinary, transfeminine individuals.

Even so, Misandry — a Manchester drag queen and high femme — doesn't miss a beat. The moment the camera appears, she is ready to perform. She poses dramatically, vogueing, contorting, and smizing for every frame. The lady of the house and a friend sip Prosecco from a room inside, their eyebrows raising through the window when they don't seem to think anyone is looking.

Gently faded stretch marks adorning Misandry's belly add a certain something to the scene. They rest on a tummy that takes up space — on a queen who seems to own the space she consumes with both grace and a sense of righteous confrontation. Yet they also lie on Misandry's core: The area of her body that has been cause for the most discomfort and gender dysphoria for the 24-year-old. 
"I always think the things that identify me as being masculine — that make people go, 'That’s a man, Maury!' — are a big, protruding beer belly without the hips to match," she tells me later. "That’s what I call my dysphoria — 'That’s a man, Maury!' — because if I can fit in a really obscure pop culture reference into it, it makes me feel slightly better about the fact that there are parts of my body that make me slightly nauseous and angry."

"In terms of my chest, it’s never kind of filled out the way that I would like it to," she adds. "It's typically moobish, to be essentialist about it. Like you wouldn’t look at my chest and think like, 'Oh, she’s got nice, real tits.'”

Misandry would describe her present figure as a "Coke can" rather than an arguably curvier "Coke bottle." If she had to pick an "ideal" body type, she'd love to have a voluptuous, traditionally bombshell-esque figure, like that of the late Anna Nicole Smith.
While she may have dreams of an "ideal" body type, however, Misandry is still happy to challenge what it means to be femme, or to have a feminine body. "Part of my relationship with my body — and part of the reason I did this shoot — was because I’m quite a big believer in the idea that a lot of what we construct as dysphoria is very political and very socially motivated," she says. "I really like how in all of my outfits, and all of my looks — which are completely tied to performance for me, because everything I do is very performative — I’m very much into this idea that I’m going to call myself very feminine, and you’re going to accept that I’m very feminine, despite what I show you."

"A lot of the stuff I was doing [when I started drag], like corsetting or wearing stuff that was cinching me in, I kind of started to feel like, oh actually it’s fine to be a femme in a large body with mannish tits."
Looking back on her earliest memories of body image, Misandry confesses, "My relationship to my body has always been very linked to what other people have said about it."

"When I was a lot younger, I was quite carefree about my body image," she adds. "I didn’t give that much of a shit about my body until people started telling me to. It was in secondary school where it kind of went from 'you’re fine' to 'hey you’re fat.' And then it was like, 'Shit, I’m fat.'"

Being plus size was but one way in which her body didn't seem to fit into other people's ideas of acceptability. Dyspraxia — a condition Misandry describes as "a hand-eye coordination thing where I basically have no hand-eye coordination" — also made her feel like an "awkward fat-bodied person."

Later, around 15 or 16, came the dysphoria. "When I first started wanting to be desirable, that’s when I first started to become dysphoric," she adds. "Because it was about finding ways that I could be desirable in a context that I enjoyed within this body I had. When that kind of started, it felt a bit like, 'Oh actually, there are things about my body that are making me uncomfortable. There are things I don’t like. There are things that make me feel undesirable.'"
As an adult, Misandry notes that "drag and then being really, really femme" were the two greatest outlets she found for combatting dysphoria and feeling more at home in her body. "Especially with drag, it was that feeling of like, it doesn’t matter if you still look really weird and grotesque because that’s kind of the point. I think that was around the same time that I started identifying with high femme and presenting as high femme. And that was the first time I found a properly concrete gender identity that genuinely worked for me."

These days, Misandry feels one can be a nonbinary transfeminine person, a drag queen, a high femme, or a trans woman without meeting a predisposed standard for body types. What she does need in order to feel comfortable, however, is a hyper-feminine presentation. "I just prefer the way I look when I’m hyper-feminine," she says. "I like piling on the stuff. I like looking tacky. I like bright pink lipstick, blue eyeshadow, and wearing too much highlighter. I like how it makes me look and I like how it makes me feel."

"But I also don’t really see it as an achievement to not need it, if that makes sense," she adds. "I think often — especially with trans bodies, femininity, and transfemininity — we can talk about this idea that it’s somehow a success to not feel the need to present in a way that makes you feel completely comfortable. And I always think that’s something worth challenging. For me, it’s almost saying that the ways we present to make us feel comfortable are a coping mechanism. Whereas for me, it’s kind of the end result of understanding myself and understanding my body."
Understanding her body after 24 years of varying internal conflicts is quite a source of comfort, in and of itself. Even though her aesthetic — one inspired by Pee-wee Herman, Peg Bundy from Married With Children, Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, Divine, and Liberace — and her overall identity are still cause for daily heckling and harassment, Misandry has largely learned to tune it out.

"I would love there to be a world where cis people don’t act like fucking assholes," she says. "But I think when it happens to me, if I’m harassed on public transport for example, I have a lot of ways of dealing with it. If I’m not with people, I’ll always have music on. And I have like massive 'fuck off' headphones. They’re almost part of my aesthetic now."

She feels there’s also a sense of pleasure to be gained from scaring people. "Because I do present in such a strong way, I think a lot of the time, I’m not trying to sound arrogant, but I think I scare people," she laughs. "Which I like. A lot of the femmes who have inspired me scared people, too [...] anyway, I’m just kind of used to bullshit. Unless someone comes at me swinging, I’m not really fussed."
For now, though, it's Misandry who'll be doing the swinging. Her dream goal, at present, is "to become the first fat, trans social media influencer," and she's definitely ready. Misandry is beautifully, boldly, shaking up the shit — one drag show, one photoshoot, one pristinely-mowed, suburban neighborhood, at a time.

Photos by Paddy McClave. 

Styling, hair, and makeup by Marilyn herself.

Special thanks to Amanda Richards and Kara McGrath.

And most of all, to Marilyn for being not only an inspiration — an icon — but one of the most patient and understanding human beings I've ever encountered.
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