‘Don’t blend in’: Manchester trans make-up artist urges LGBT people to ‘be confident and proud of your journey’

A Manchester transgender woman is on a mission to boost the confidence of the city’s LGBT community and acceptance of others so nobody suffers the same ‘horrific bullying’ she did while at school.

Grace Oni Smith, 26, is a performance artist and the style director at Born, a confidence consultancy for trans people based in the city centre.

Born offers a wide range of treatments to help support people through every stage of their transition, including make-up, voice therapy and fashion tips, as well as business focus and awareness training to help unlock their clients’ confidence.

It is through such schemes that the LGBT community as a whole is beginning to see improvement in the way in which they are treated.

Talking to MM, Grace insisted that the onus was on the wider public to change their attitudes towards trans people, not the other way around.

“I think awareness, even in the last twelve months, has really risen and being involved in Born we are getting a lot of media attention,” she said.

“I don’t really think it’s down to the trans community to improve, I think it’s down to the people outside of the trans community to make the effort and improve.

“The change has come within the space of a couple of generations, as when I was in school I had a horrific time.

“I was beaten up every day and I was bullied. I didn’t have any friends and I was very much isolated because of the way I was.

“There’s always going to be transphobia and homophobia and kids can be very cruel, but now you see young gay kids, young trans kids going to school and just getting on with their education.

“Things are changing, people are starting to understand how to approach trans people to ask questions.

“But I still think there’s a very long way to go for us.”

Since those days, Grace has become the leading make-up artist in the trans community.

And she cites Pat McGrath – labelled the most influential make-up artist in the world by Vogue – as a major influence.

Born has gotten a lot of media attention and is raising awareness for the community but it is also there to create a safe place for people who just want to enjoy themselves.

Its mantra is ‘turning heads and changing minds’, and Grace told MM that she wants to help people in their ‘search for happiness’.

“We recommend treatments that are going to make people feel really good about themselves, our focus isn’t about changing people, are focus is about bringing out confidence,” she said.

“We want to change the minds of society and show people we’re not strange. We’re just normal people who are ultimately searching for our happiness.

“The stigma that has existed in the past and is still around means there are a lot of transgender people who feel the need to hide themselves away, mask themselves or try and blend in.

“I feel this is counterproductive as I honestly believe that the key to things changing for us is for us to live our lives with confidence and have pride in our journey.”

Those creative influences initially started when she was 17 in her punk days where she loved transformative and dramatic looks.

Creativity is an important  aspect of her character, and she described herself as being ‘like a sponge’ when it comes to the influences around her.

“I think she’s what sparked my imagination and got me excited about make up because it showed me the abilities of it,” she said.

“I’m inspired by music and life in general.

“As an artist you’re like a sponge that absorbs the world around you and then filters it back out.

“I think fashion is about movement, emotion and creating a fantasy, and that has always been close to my heart.”

Events are held every month by Born to encourage people to socialise and have fun with their transition.

Every Saturday a trans tea party is held, while they often participate in a trans-takeover, where shops open especially for Born, giving them the opportunity to help style their clients.

Their most recent event was a trans feminine make-up workshop on February 23 at Taurus on Canal St, where Grace shared some of her top tips.

There are a variety of techniques used within trans make-up but Grace stresses that it is more about the individual and their preference, with no strict set of rules.

“The event was a real success we had a great turn out with lots of new faces which was great to see,” she said.

“As it was in a bar there was a nice relaxed atmosphere.

“It was a great opportunity to socialise and I made some new connections and answered lots of questions about makeup.”

These events are open to everyone and are great opportunities for trans people to socialise and for trans allies to come and show their support.

To find out more, click here.

Image courtesy of Pete, via Flickr, with thanks

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