Brienne: and why presentation is so important

If you have a TV, social media, and live anywhere where you can get (or, ahem, otherwise not-legally-acquire) HBO programmes, you may well have come across the sprawling fantasy epic that is Game of Thrones. No, we’re not going to discuss the final season here, although I have thoughts on that. But this show is relevant to trans people, in a slightly tangential way, and I’m going to zoom in on one character to tell you why.

If you’ve watched the show for any length of time, you’ve probably come across the fan darling that is Brienne of Tarth. She’s a woman who trained to be a knight, who dedicated her service to protecting the daughters of Catelyn Stark, and who is simultaneously a real and lethal threat to her enemies, and an absolute sweetheart all at the same time.

Why is this relevant to you? Well, when Brienne’s hulking, six-foot-three character first appeared in Season Two, there was a lot of gossip on social media over whether the actor playing her, Gwendoline Christie, was in fact a trans woman. After all, there aren’t that many cis women who are six-foot-three… Spoilers, Christie is not, in fact, a trans woman. But the difference between the way she looks on Game of Thrones, and the way she looks out of character, or on a red carpet, provides a really useful object lesson in the importance of presentation and the difference it can make for trans people and cis people alike.

So, the comparison:

Here’s ya gal Gwendoline in character as Brienne of Tarth. She presents quite a square, imposing, austere figure. She’s got her hair swept back, revealing what could almost look like a very masculine ‘M’ or square shaped hairline. The screen make up she’s wearing flattens her face, making her look dour and unappealing (this is true to the character from the books too).

And then in comparison, you have Gwendoline in full red-carpet Glamour. Even though her hair is still in a short style, she’s got it falling in a more flattering way across her face, and the 1930s Cabaret-style finger waves also have a more feminine look. Plus, her make up softens and flatters her facial features, enhancing her natural beauty. The dress also flatters her figure, meaning that her shoulders don’t look as broad and square as they do in her knightly costume; the way the dress is cut emphasises her feminine shape rather than disguising it (or emphasising/creating a masculine build).

Let’s look at a close up comparison of how her make up and hair styling choices (or make up artist’s choices) create either a much more masculine or feminine impression:

Here as I mentioned earlier, you can see that the make up choices make her look quite gaunt – her eyebrows aren’t emphasised or shaped, and the hairline created here is a very masculine one – that swept back hair creates a square shape which is more typically male.

And again, that contrast:

Here you can see that while her hair is longer, it’s styled so as to fall slightly across her face and around her jaw, thus softening everything. Her make up picks up her cheeks and subtly emphasises her eyes, brows and lips, giving a much more flattering effect.

Cool, but what does that mean for me?

The point of this comparison isn’t to make anyone feel bad about how their ‘after’ isn’t as glamorous as Christie’s red carpet looks (after all, she’ll likely have had the support of make up artists and stylists to help). Nor am I trying to be shady about her appearance.

I just thought it was a pretty interesting way to illustrate how a few key lessons about presentation – predominantly how you style your hair, what clothes you wear, and how you do (or don’t do) make up – can have a huge impact on how masculine or feminine you look.

Even if you are pre-HRT, or at a very early stage in your transition, there are definitely a few things you can do to start nudging your way towards a more female-passing look. And if you’re further along in your journey but still feel a bit at sea, with a compassionate but critical eye, it’s fairly straightforward to start making some significant changes to improve how well you come across to outsiders.

Obviously, I could have used an example of a famous trans woman to make this point – but that’s not how I like to do things. I’d rather point out the impact that significant presentation choices can have on someone whose whole job (acting) is about embodying a role physically, and choosing how she physically appears on screen. I also wanted to make the point that we can really change how we look in significant ways, whether we’re cis or trans.

If you think I might be able to help you achieve your transition goals, please contact me to set up an initial consultation.

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