Father and Oncology Nurse, Ernst Taylor, uses extravagant clothes and blurred gender lines as ritual in creating beauty, self-expression and therapeutic release. He says that his look, when dressing up, “developed over time. I've always liked wearing women's clothing, skirts, the material, the fabric, the way it feels [and] how it makes me feel.” But Ernst does not consider himself to be transgender, or a crossdresser. “I don't do it specifically to be female; I don't do it specifically to be male; I do it because it makes me happy. I feel beautiful.”

Ernst grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, surrounded by four siblings and religion. As a young adult, he came to the United States to attend Reform Bible College, in Michigan. “I went there originally with the idea of eventually becoming a pastor. It was mostly because my grandfather was a pastor. And he was the most amazingly sweet, wonderful person.” But he says that going to the school, “cured me of the desire to want that [religion] as something central.” Instead, he had started working as a Big Brother, mentoring a child, and realized that, “I need to work with people.” Since then, Ernst has worked a lot with children in social services, and later, in pediatrics as an oncology nurse. “I work with kids who have cancer so I deal with death in a much more intimate way than most people do.”

He says, “I really like it because of the relationships you form with people, getting to know the kids. I get along really [well] with a lot of kids that are not quite the same as everybody else. You just form connections. The downside is that you form connections, and then, sometimes they don't make it.”

Two years ago was a really difficult time for Ernst when he lost one of his closest patients. “They become a part of you, the people that you work with. I'd known this girl for ten years. The first time she came in she was six or seven. She passed away when she was seventeen; it was her third relapse. She was an amazing person. She was very aware of who she was, and what she was, and just lived as best she could all the time.”

Dressing up, and going out is his way to work through the heavy baggage that comes with his work. “Dancing is basically what I use therapeutically to balance my reality. It's a way to release energy. The whole thing is a ritual.” He says that he gets lost in himself while he dances, and while he does socialize when he goes out, that isn’t the main point. “It's much more a place to go, and let go completely.”

His looks vary based on his mood. “Some days I feel very much like a girl so I have to dress up like that, and other days, I'm feeling dark or miserable, so [I] dress really dark.” Sometimes he finishes getting ready, and realizes that he took too long, or the event has been cancelled. But it never feels like a loss because putting on the clothes, jewelry and makeup to create a look is, “almost as satisfying in it's own way.”

His extravagant presentations are a part of himself that he’s grown into as he gets to know himself. “It’s like when I got married. I think the expectation was that I’d settle down and become more normal, but over the years I just got stranger and stranger, and more myself. I think it was that I started accepting more and more who I was. It took time to accept that this is who I am, and that this, though not the whole of me, was a very significant and central part.”

Now that he has embraced himself, he can’t imagine going back. “Thinking about taking away the ritual of doing all this stuff, I couldn't even conceive of it. I imagine that when I'm eighty, I'll still be getting dressed up to go out, and getting dress up in general.”

Ernst no longer has a central religion like he did when he was a kid. Instead, he has created a personal spirituality centered around nature and beauty. “The biggest thing in life that I try to focus on is trying to create a sense of beauty in everything. That would be my religious philosophy. The philosophy that guides a lot of the things I do, and why I do them.”

“To me, beauty isn't just creating pretty things, it's creating things that are real. There's beauty in what I do at work; there's beauty in creating your space; there's beauty in meeting people and accepting them for who they are, no matter who they are. And they don't have to be beautiful to be beautiful. It's not an image thing; it's an emulation of reality.”

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