To say that beauty saved my life may seem like an exaggerated statement, but in all honesty, nothing could be closer to the truth. As a child, I spent much of my life in the small, rural town of Upper Miramichi on the east coast of Canada, within an expanse of incredible sylvan beauty, but also within a great deal of loneliness. The town where I grew up was in many ways trapped in another time, a place with ideologies that were a great departure from those I would come to hold myself. I wasn’t like the other children, who seemed to easily into the roles that society had laid out for them. In my mind, there was only discomfort and a powerful sense that the male body I inhabited was not one I recognised as home.
I had few friends, but was fortunate to have found myself surrounded by a cast of dynamic and complex women, who employed the art of beauty rituals as means of self-care and expression. My grandmother, a resilient and positively astute woman, would fill the air with the scent of her resilient perfume, and enter the room with skin gleaming from the Oil of Olay she religiously applied each morning. Her grace never failed to leave me speechless, and I wanted nothing more in this world than to emulate such divinity. Like her, my mother also shared an incredible affection for beauty, but in her case, it was elevated to a realm of excess. The shelves of my childhood home were lined with glistening, ornate bottles of perfume, and jars of creams that from my perspective were akin to the rarest treasure.
I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old when, after months of begging, my mother gave me two small bottles to use all for myself — a large sample of Estée Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair she’d got as a gift with a purchase at a local department store, and a miniature flacon of Lancôme’s Trésor, the perfume after which I am now named. Of course, I had to keep this a secret from my father, who would have been furious at us. Back then, I could think of no greater gift, and revelled each night when I applied a small drop of each before bed. I felt so special in those moments because with them came the first bricks that would build the bridge between my physical form and who I was within. I credit those bottles as the true genesis of my love for beauty.
As I grew, so did my adoration for this form of self-care, and soon thereafter, I began to experiment with make-up. I was not allowed to buy fashion magazines; I was told that they were only for girls, and to the world, I was just a boy named Trevor. I would do my best to sneak them through the cash counter on grocery day, and read them by flashlight under my bedcover at night. With my mother’s make-up bag in tow, I would lock my bedroom door and try to recreate the looks that inspired me so profoundly. I remember one of the first times so clearly—I had smeared every inch of my face, lips and eyebrows included, in foundation so I could look like the model, Karen Elson, in the Prada campaign that season, with her alabaster skin and skinny, razor-thin brows. Though the application from my then unsteady hand was haphazard and crude, something about it felt so correct. Time passed and I began to explore everything I could, from the exquisite facial architecture that was late make-up genius Kevyn Aucoin’s signature, to the joyous colourful strokes of Diane Kendal, and subversive ebullience of François Nars. With a Russian Red lip and these guardians of the craft guiding my hands through their artistic spirit, I could connect with the person I was within, and bring them into a manifestation of the flesh. It was transformative, and made me feel as if I was not so alone. I thought that the ones who poured their creativity into all of these beautiful images must have, at some point, felt the very same way as I did. Beauty is a language, and through their art, it was being spoken to me—like precious sunlight feeding the leaves of a then delicate flower within a small bedroom in the evergreen woods of eastern Canada.
As I became more fluent in the expression of my gender identity, I faced ridicule and a further alienation from those I cared for most. At the time, I could think of few things more painful than to see those I loved pull themselves away, as I was coming into the most honest version of myself as a person. And as such, I was faced with a choice: was I to assimilate with their idea of who I should be and dampen my own name, or should I instead look inwards and nourish the tender bud on the verge of blooming? I chose the latter. And it was in beauty that I found the light to move on. During a time when isolation was all I knew, it gave me a passion in which to immerse myself. I fed myself with knowledge, both of the exquisite art and the excitement of the technology that gave the medium itself life. I would spend hours and hours each day reading skincare and beauty blogs, dermatological studies I had found online, and speaking to wonderful friends I had made along the way. I wanted to know it all—not just if something worked, but why, how and whom it would serve best. A deepened hunger to learn everything I possibly could was born and with it, a supreme desire to share that knowledge with those who wished to learn alongside me. That hunger lives on, and grows more powerful to this very day.
As much as the journey has been about what may seem superficial on the surface, the sincere value lies in us ending what sets our heart alight, and illuminating the world around us with that sacred glow. In that, we find true beauty, the very kind that has afforded me the opportunity to speak with you through these words, and the very kind that saves me to this day.
Photograph courtesy: Trésor Prijs