I want to discuss something with you which is very important. It concerns our society of which you are a member. How we view and treat each other affects everyone.
The question I pose is this: is it okay for me, when out in public dressed as a man, to sport colored nail-polish on my fingers?
They also appealed to me by claiming to be acting in my best interests. They explained that no one would accept me as female and my acting as such (through dress, posture and behavior) would trigger opprobrium. They said I'd be ridiculed, criticized and attacked.
I've chosen to test that prediction. Repeatedly, throughout my life.
I've spent all of my life pushing boundaries. I transgressed gender restrictions in my teens, twenties, adulthood and as recently as this year when, armed and encouraged by my friend Suzanne, I appeared in public presenting as female. (We got mani-pedis, walked in a park and dined in a nice restaurant.)
I note feedback to my social experiments with the precision of a researcher. In high school I wore clothes that were sold in men's departments but flamboyantly colored; during the Seventies men could get away with wild colors. Even so, I was still attacked for wearing such (male) clothes. One teacher called me over in a school hall and threatened to send me home if I didn't cover up a floral crop-top with a sweater. Sports team-mates routinely disparaged my sexual orientation -- and I'm not gay. "Not that there's anything wrong with that," as "Seinfeld" later said.
My recent experience with Suzanne unlocked something new in me -- a sense of pride in who I am. Walking around that weekend with painted fingernails, I felt my true identity was finally on display. Even in male clothing, when I have painted fingernails, I reveal who I am in a manifest way. That feeling is intoxicating.
Nonetheless the teachings of my parents and prior experiences still caution me against flouting gender restrictions. I know, as certain as the sun will rise, that breaking the rules will cause social turmoil. How much, I wonder? That is what I'm now questioning. Can I wear colored nail-polish on my fingernails when out in public dressed as a man? If I do, what will be the reaction. The cost?
I've started conducting field research on the subject. Appearing this way has yielded early findings. First, most people of both genders pay little attention to old folks and, when they do, few notice their fingers. So often this question is moot.
When someone does see my painted nails, I get these reactions:
- Men (of all ages) give me dirty looks. Some make nasty remarks, again slurring my sexuality (of which they know nothing; it's just the "go-to" male insult). Honestly, however, their reactions mean nothing to me: male masculinity is fragile and the personal insecurity of strangers is not my concern.
- Women over 40 tend to get perplexed; incomprehension is evident on their faces. None say a peep to me, although I wish they would so I could explain myself.
- Women under 40 are the most interesting: their reactions vary. Some smile, some turn away, some applaud me verbally and a cherished few engage me in conversation to learn more. I love having the opportunity to talk about this but I never approach women in public without their invitation.
What is your reaction to this? How acceptable or unacceptable do you find this choice?
I guess what I'm really asking is -- am I "free" to do this? Am I able to wear nail-polish on my fingers without getting disapproval from people whose opinions matter? Your thoughts?