My Life as a Girl, Experiment 1: Lipstick

Kelly Cogswell in Wet n Wild Megalast HyperPink. | KELLY COGSWELL

Kelly Cogswell in Wet n Wild Megalast HyperPink. | KELLY COGSWELL

BY KELLY COGSWELL | Last Saturday, I decided to put on some lipstick for the first time in yonks, partly in solidarity with the drag performers who were recently banned from a Scottish alternative pride event, and then re-allowed, but mostly because I've been hearing so much about women lately I've been wondering what it is like to be one.

After all, I have the equipment and the resume: a decade or two of hating my thighs, all those delicious high school times getting my butt grabbed in the hallway and being followed home by creepy guys in cars, the years of harassment on the street by sullen men demanding I smile, and the fortune I've paid out in feminine hygiene products to keep from smearing my offensive blood on the seats of the subway.

But I'm also a lesbian. A word that's so bright it's like a small sun, blinding many women to my membership in the club. Women of color, too, have struggled to get in — from Sojourner Truth to Serena Williams, the poor things neither sufficiently delicate nor pale to be “real” members of the weaker, fairer sex. Almost like they were trans. Though Serena at least gets a pass sometimes for accessorizing with some good-looking guy.

I proceeded to the make-up area at K-Mart and stared at the pretty shimmering colors like a toddler stares at her blocks before knocking them over. I would have preferred to be alone. You aren't just choosing a shade, but a persona. Who did I want to be? A matron? A girly-girl? An artiste? My options were limited by my paint-stained cutoffs, my tank, my imagination. I tried to concentrate, but there was the salesperson staring at me from the nearby women's section as she explained the American sizing system to some South Asian man — “Twelve is not the age.”

There were other female customers, too. Who ignored me, granted, but I found them distracting anyway. How they all seemed to be experts in the make-up field, decked out in blusher and eye shadow, lipstick, the eye liner that I considered buying, but don't really know how to put on. In general, I try to avoid sharpish objects near my eyes, which are already magnets for every piece of construction debris along Houston.

I also didn't know how they could afford to be real women. Even at K-Mart you could pay 20 bucks for one tiny colorful tube. God knows what you could spend at Macy's, which isn't even the high end.

I found the cheapest shelf in the place, then grabbed some Wet n Wild Megalast, a liquid lip color for $2.99 in a thick Pepto-Bismol shade called HyperPink, which kind of matched my tank top. I wasn't sure if matching was good or not, so I decided to wait to put it on until I was safely home. Which turned out to be a really good idea.

It seemed easy enough at first. I removed the tiny wand, smeared the color around, then tried to blot. But it was so impossibly thick and sticky all I did was adhere tissue to my lips that I had to scrape off with my fingernails. I checked the label to make sure I didn't grab nail polish by mistake. No, it was liquid lip color all right. Which apparently didn't need to be blotted. Fine.

I took a step back and stared at myself in the mirror. My face was so pink from the sun it almost matched my new lips. This was not how I pictured it, that disappointment, too, an authentic womanly experience, but not the desired effect. The color that was nice in the tube made me look weird and really old. Who knew I had lines emerging from my lips? That my lips themselves had lines? Had shrunk, become thin. I looked like Andy Warhol's Mao with his Pepto smirk, all I needed was rounder cheeks. I took a couple of selfies to record the horrible, horrible mistake. Then got more tissue. Blotted. Rubbed.

It didn't come off.

I tried scrubbing at my fucking lips with hand soap, but that didn't help either, or not much. The pink substance stuck in strange patches, took refuge in all the tiny crevasses. By then my thin, aging lips had swollen from all the rubbing. They looked practically bee-stung, an illusion women pay good money for. But my girlfriend stared at me like I was a freak. “It won't come off,” I announced. I wondered if turpentine would work. Or nail polish remover. We didn't have either.

I had to go out again, in public, and for a moment considered a bag on the head, like when I was 16. But then I shrugged, laughed. Wotever. It's not like I'm a real woman, anyway.