Candy Darling by Aimee Armstrong
Illustration by Fernando Monroy
Aimee is a South London based writer who contributes to The Quietus, Loud and Quiet and the 405. Aimee mainly covers music and occasionally trans issues.
Trans role-models, in art, film and music come few and far between. Sure, they exist, however as a child I had no outlet. I had conflicted feelings. I knew I was different. I felt detached from my body and had no means of articulating that. I had grown up in a household which wasn't anti-gay but, there was certainly no notion of queer positivity. On top of this, trans women were somewhat a figure of ridicule. I found no solace in celebrities. While I admired the gender subversion of figures like David Bowie, Grace Jones, Pete Burns, they weren’t transgender. I had no-one to project myself onto.
My introduction to Lou Reed’s musical oeuvre changed this, the aura of queer subculture in 60s New York fascinated me. It had this air of seediness, appealing to my reclusive psyche. It was the songs of Reed and The Velvet Underground that captivated me most, the bizarre sounds and stories of songs like Sister Ray and Venus in Furs, exciting my brain perhaps more than my ears.
“Plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she”, is a lyric that has been met with criticisms that it trivialized the trans experience. I found this upsetting- it was probably my first notion of self-discovery in terms of gender. It was Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ which lead me into a deep fascination with the Warhol superstars described, and in particular, Candy Darling.
The most famous image of Candy is her last; shot by Peter Hujar in 1974 on her he death bed, she maintains the beauty she dedicated her life to achieving - smoke eyed with ice white skin. The shot also serves as the artwork for Antony and The Johnsons' 2005 record ‘I am a Bird Now’ - 10 tracks agonisingly and beautifully dissecting the transition from male to female.
Raised in a damaging environment, a violent alcoholic father created a need for escapism. Candy developed an infatuation with the glossy golden age of Hollywood and its beautiful icons, in particular Kim Novak. This led candy to exemplify a more self-true persona, presenting as female and frequenting Manhattan gay bars in under various names: Hope Slattery, Hope Dahl, Candy Dahl and eventually Candy Darling.
In 1967, Candy met Andy Warhol and became a regular at his ‘Factory’, along with fellow Warhol superstars Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis. She would go on to be cast in Warhol films Flesh and Women in Revolt. Delivering a wonderfully histrionic performance as a lead role in the latter which is perhaps a modern day relevant satire of trans exclusionary feminists.
At first Candy was an aspiration for me- a benchmark in terms of self-expression. I bleached my hair blonde and caked on layers of pale foundation as a to homage her image. Over time these mere aesthetic ambitions eroded. Candy was more to me than that striking final portrait which adorns the cover of ‘I Am a Bird Now’, she was more than the glamorous tragedy she’s so often painted as.
Candy embodies strength in femininity. She commands attention in every scene and embodies the alluring power of a femme fatale. Her melodramatic and instantaneously charming delivery calls to mind the starlets of 1940s and 50s Hollywood.
Throughout my early social transition I began to draw parallels between myself and Darling. We both had typical macho fathers bludgeoning out femininity, leading us to tip-toe in and out of the house in eyeshadow and mascara. Throughout these times lyrics like, “Candy says I’ve come to hate my body and all it requires in this world”, constantly replayed in my mind. We always had a longing to escape and live out an idealised life, and die a successful woman, unfortunately for Candy this wouldn’t be the case.
Like so many of Warhol’s muses, Darling was shelved. Andy “didn’t want to use chicks with dicks anymore”, he wanted ‘real women.' The primitive form of hormone replacement therapy Candy used tragically caused her development of blood cancer, which lead to a death at 29. She never became the Monroe she wanted, instead becoming much more important- a transgender women deeply embed within the most important avant-garde scenes of all time. A trailblazer for trans women’s representation in culture. An indispensable queer icon.
Fernando Monroy is a Mexican illustrator currently studying in México city. His work references pop culture, reflecting the work of photographers, designers and fashion. Out Magazine named him one of twenty young queer artists to watch.