Gender Policing and Why I Paint My Nails

Gender Policing and Why I Paint My Nails

I paint my nails. I just think it looks cool. I’m not gender-queer or transgendered. I don’t want to be or act like a girl. I just always thought it was kind of punk rock, as lame as that sounds. However, over time, I came to realize that my simple fashion choice was a pretty strong political message on a local level. By spitting in the face of gender policing and having the occasional side-eye or stank face, I was doing my part to try and make change. As a victim of gender policing, I hope to live in a world where young LGBTQQIAA folks can grow up without the baggage of being ostracized for being themselves.

Gender policing is so ingrained in our culture we hardly notice it. That doesn’t make it hurt any less. Gender policing is the enforcement of normative gender expressions on an individual who is perceived as not adequately performing, through appearance or behavior, the sex that was assigned to them at birth. To put it less clinically, it’s parents that yell at their sons for wanting to play with Barbie dolls and their daughters pushing toy trucks around. There are teenagers picking on kids for being a little feminine or butch. Grown gay men put a premium on acting like frat boys or closeted jocks and attack and tease despite having already been victims of the same shenanigans. But when you attack people at the core of their being by questioning their validity for being a little different … that’s what cuts deep. You can force yourself to try and fit the mold or risk always feeling a little bit alienated.


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I went to a Catholic all-boys high school. I had a friend who was in a band. Well, the word “band” might be a bit too generous. He was a good friend and part of our group of well-intentioned, yet ostracized intellectuals. We got picked on for not being basketball stars or butch burnouts. The irony is that everyone in the school was a dork for having to wear Dockers and study religion rather than economics or geography. My friend had the courage to stick a toe out of line. He only painted his thumbnail. Given the pecking order of high school, he was teased mercilessly. I, struggling with being able to express my sexuality, even joined in on the taunting.

But why should he be emasculated for being an individual? I think of him and all the other children out there struggling to be OK with themselves. I may rock some navy-blue nail polish, but I feel like I’m doing my part in showing some people that it’s OK to do that. It also shows people who have a problem with it that I don’t give a flying fuck what they think. It may cost me a guy who might want to hookup, but wearing nail polish doesn’t make me any less of a man. I’m still aggressive, territorial and will defend me and mine. Plus, if we’re being honest, there are no frat boys in the animal kingdom to prove that is a healthy way to define masculinity. It takes a lot of courage to be who you are without being ashamed or allowing yourself to be questioned. I’m glad that after some time (and therapy) I’m finally able to be myself, albeit a little late. I hope that when people see my nail polish, it gives them a little more courage to let their own hair down.


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The world is changing. More high-profile gay and lesbian figures are coming out. Transgender people are getting more public acceptance. Hell, in our more-liberal society, more people are experiencing same-sex relationships and hookups and finding themselves on the spectrum. But the battle for true equality is going to be fought locally. When we stop telling children what’s appropriate gender-wise, stop letting teenagers bully each other and stop trying to define gender by such myopic terms, maybe we’ll find happier, healthier, more-stable adults.


Plus, maybe we’ll get more color options for nail enamel.

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