By Julian Gavino
My mornings are sacred, and my room is my safe space. Every morning, the light from the 20 foot windows rouses me. They look out onto West Philadelphia, reaching for Center City. The sun chases the buildings until it rolls into my room and creates a soft amber glow.
I used to dread mornings; I could not wrap my head around rising early. Now, this feeling has been replaced with open space that I can use to nourish my mind, body, and soul. Practicing my morning ritual takes a couple of hours, so I purposefully leave myself enough time. Tending to my environment comes first: candles, cleansing, tarot cards, and cleaning. Setting the mood first allows me to emerge, when I am ready, to a peaceful space.
Retreating to my bathroom, I am seated in my wheelchair. I tie up my hair and remove my clothing. I am in no rush. This is my time alone, with me and only me. As a disabled person, I am rarely alone. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, an inherited connective tissue disorder that affects skin, joints, and blood vessel walls.
Days like today, when my partner is at work, are for myself. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be cared for; however, years of doctors’, nurses’, family members’, and friends' hands on your body can leave you feeling stripped of your autonomy.
Due to the nature of my condition, skincare is especially important. Growing up, I spent countless after-school hours in the makeup and skincare shop my grandma owned. My parents were also entrepreneurs. We won a twisted genetic lottery of sorts; me, my mom, and grandma all share this condition. Because it is a connective tissue disorder, the skin tends to be fragile and prone to tearing, eczema, stretching, bruising, and wrinkling early on. Living in Florida meant taking extra precautions with the sweltering sun.
Every day my grandma taught me a new lesson, a new technique to care for this delicate skin and all of its quirks. My mind wanders back to these memories, which play like reruns, every morning. They leap from my mind and into my fingertips, applying the lessons in real time. She taught them in a way that insinuated they were passed down. It makes me imagine this long lineage of tiny Portuguese women—I picture them going through immense trial and error until settling on the perfect formula for their unique skin. Dressed in colorful flowy dresses, they would sit at their vanities with daughters and granddaughters who would soak up their knowledge.
I will never know for sure, but it fascinates me to imagine it. The three of us alone suffered enough abuse from the medical care system. All the gaslighting, misdiagnosis, and lack of answers...I often wonder how much harder it was for my ancestors.
A lot of things, understandably, shifted in my universe when I transitioned from female to male. Skincare was one of them. Buried under the pressures of toxic masculinity, I stopped wearing makeup and even stopped caring for my skin. Others projected their need for me to assimilate into cisgender male culture. I saw this in the media, family, friends, and even other transgender folx. I needed to blend.
Soon my feelings of connection and nostalgia to skincare became almost… shameful.
I knew on a deeper level that my feelings around skincare remained the same; I wanted this to remain a part of my life. But I just did not feel like it was allowed.
It took years to dismantle and sift through these feelings. Little by little, I let go. But it wasn’t just the feelings I needed to shed—any naysayers in my circle had to go, too. Shedding these binaries of beauty was like slowly peeling off paint, and over time, the shedding revealed a canvas that had been sitting there all along. I started to repaint my life, my body, and most importantly, my skin. My cleansed canvas was now colored with a life that reflected my internal light.
I reclaimed my skin. And it had missed me. It had suffered in the time that I abandoned it for enforced gender roles.
Over the years, skincare has made big strides in the realm of inclusion. When we overtly and unnecessarily gender products, we intentionally leave some people out. This creates boxes that encourage people to fit certain expectations, or on the contrary, to not do a particular thing. What has been created is this cycle that feeds itself. But including everyone is actually a lot easier. It makes skincare more accessible to people who might otherwise avoid it due to these societal standards.
Youth To The People embodies this welcoming energy. Nobody has to sit on the bench. I found solace in YTTP’s rich but neutral aesthetic and abundance of clean ingredients. Many of the lessons passed down to me required ingredients from Mother Nature, and not having to compromise that meant a lot to me. These qualities working in tandem have granted me back my sacred space in the mornings.
A space where I can be alone with my skin. Where I can be delicate.
Photo courtesy of Lior Allay
Written by Julian Gavino for Youth To The People