Makeup is key to the success of Sparkles’s client transformations. (Photo: Adrian Acosta)
Amnesia Sparkles is a drag queen with a wicked sense of humor and an earnest mission: to help men with a desire to cross-dress live out that fantasy.
“They literally transform before your eyes — a switch turns on and their shame is gone, and for the first time they are in the moment and happy,” Sparkles, the alter ego of photographer Adrian Acosta, 36, tells Yahoo Beauty about the male-to-female makeovers she offers to clients out of her Brooklyn home. “And, oh, my God, it’s magic.”
Now Sparkles wants to take her transformational services on the road for a brief national tour, and she’s launched a GoFundMe effort to try to make it happen.
“We’ve been helping girls in the New York City area explore their gender identity through the art of makeup and photography for the past three years. This can be a scary endeavor for many individuals, especially in a society that tells boys to ‘MAN UP,’” she explains on the fundraising site, adding that she’ll hit Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago between Apr. 16 and May 1.
Acosta, left, as Sparkles is “in that gray area” between cross-dressing and drag. (Photo: Adrian Acosta)
Sparkles, whose whirlwind tour will be through a combination of plane and train, will use a lottery system to pick just one lucky winner for each city. They’ll get transformed at a discount or free (services typically range from $200 to $450, depending on whether you want outfits, photo shoots, or simply hanging out for some “femme time”) and then treated to a girls’ night out.
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“It’s my dream to travel all around the United States giving MTF transformations to girls who simply can’t afford a trip to the Big Apple but have always dreamed of someone dolling them up,” the GoFundMe continues. “I’m hoping you can find it in your heart to help us make this dream come true.”
That may be a tough sell for some. (The site, after being up for 12 days, had raised $1,280 of its $5,000 goal.) But for Sparkles’s clients — straight men who have a deep desire to cross-dress, which is something they’ve typically done only in secret — the experience can be life-changing. “If you’ve ever been in the closet about anything, you know there’s shame attached to that part of yourself you just can’t change,” she explains. “The first barrier is to overcome this shame. And I’ve been there myself, on several levels.”
Three of Sparkles’s clients. (Photo: Adrian Acosta)
Winning a drag competition in high school kicked off a gender-bending journey for Acosta, who came out as a gay man in his 20s, went to beauty school, and soon became entrenched in New York City’s gay and drag nightlife scene through his character of Amnesia Sparkles — who even tried out for American Idol (and planted a kiss on Simon Cowell’s cheek) in 2002. (“It was intense,” she says of that experience.)
“I went with the drag idea because I thought, I’m not sure who I am, but at least I can put on my persona. But then I realized it’s deeper than that — like, you’re not faking it, it’s not like a performance,” Sparkles explains, highlighting the idea that drag is an over-the-top, character-driven part of LGBT culture, while cross-dressing tends to come out of a deeply felt need. Still, because of the Gender Fun drag videos she makes for a loyal YouTube following, “I’m in that gray area between cross-dressing and the performing aspect.” And regarding sexual identity, notes Sparkles, “I’m ‘gender-fluid’ and more of a pansexual. I’m attracted to femininity and masculinity, but genitalia is not important to me.”
Practically all her transformation clients, meanwhile, identify as straight and are in relationships with women. “Some of their wives and girlfriends know [that they cross-dress], some don’t. And some wives have come to see them get transformed,” she says, explaining that such an experience can be a real eye opener.
Sparkles and Acosta. (Photo: Adrian Acosta)
“One of the biggest fears the wife has is that he will want to transition [to full-time female],” she says, adding that while attending a transition, the female partners “start seeing their husbands in a different light. Sometimes they don’t know there was an identity behind it — I’ll ask what their girl name is, and the wife will say, ‘I didn’t know this was such a deep part of you that you have this name.’”
During each transformation session — which is also somewhat of a “therapy session,” Sparkles notes — clients can opt for wigs, shoes, and corsets from Sparkles’s fully stocked closet. But Sparkles expertly chooses the makeup, which always includes a stock of her three must-have products: Almay One-Coat Lengthening mascara ($7); Kryolan cake eyeliner ($10), also used as eyeshadow; and Ben Nye Five O’Sharp Beard Cover ($9.50), which uses orange tones to neutralize the bluish hues of facial stubble. The entire process can take two hours or more, depending on the size and masculinity level of her subject.
“It’s working with whatever energy the person is bringing into the room,” says Sparkles, who recently completed a lengthy makeover for a first-time client who presented a bit of a challenge: being over 6 feet tall and 250 pounds. “So we had a belly to work with,” she explains, noting that a corset, fake breasts, and hip padding were all employed. “And, not to toot my own horn, but she looked amazing in the end.”