Torn sleeves and painted nails

(indulging in my inner MCR Fangirl)

The other week, for Straight Edge Day, I scrawled crosses on the backs of my hands and tore the sleeves off my Minor Threat shirt with my old army knife, creating my most straight edgiest outfit. This week, I’ve painted my toenails and fingernails an impressively shiny tone of black, considering all the gubbins cost about ten quid and is all cruelty-free. But while I took a knife to a shirt with no qualms, the nail-painting has been a much more drawn-out process; I’ve been thinking of doing this for months now, and the first coats of varnish to my fingers and toes were all prefaced with about ten minutes of ‘should I really be doing this?’ playing on repeat in my head.

Objectively, of course, the two actions are identical; they’re both efforts to alter one’s appearance purely for cosmetic purposes, at the slight detriment to practicality; my Minor Threat top now leaves me with colder arms, and painting my nails leaves my hands and feet immobilised for a bit while the varnish dries.

The only difference is that one action is vaguely ‘masculine’, while the other is vaguely ‘feminine’, and once we realise this we can embark down the rabbit-hole of needlessly gendered pastimes to our hearts’ content.

I’m not particularly feminine in my habits, and I don’t identify as female; yet I don’t really consider myself ‘masculine’, as a lot of the showy, back-slapping extravagance that makes up generalised notions of ‘masculinity’ are weird to me. Most of my hobbies and preferences occupy a kind of middle ground, where I’m more open with my friends than most insular lads would be, but nowhere near affectionate enough to be considered feminine. This, and a host of other examples, has led me to behave, or at least try to behave, in more gender-neutral ways than a cis person might be expected to; my hobbies are writing, hanging out with my friends and wearing t-shirts, none of which are excessively gendered.

It’s worth noting, at this point, that the idea of gendered habits or clothes is inherently stupid, and this became apparent when I decided to paint my nails. I’ve been living a kind of ‘masculinity by default’, veering closer to masculine stereotypes than feminine ones because I’ve been raised in a society that teaches me to behave based on my genitals, and I honestly don’t care enough about superficial constructs of gender to rally against my slightly-masculine-but-pretty-neutral position. But painting my nails for purely aesthetic, not gendered reasons – I want my nails to look nice, but I don’t want to be more feminine – made me wonder if it’s ever possible, or even a good idea, to try to distance oneself from gender at all. Certainly for transgender people the idea of not identifying with their preferred gender may be a horrific one, while I couldn’t care less if I look like a man or a woman.

These feelings depend on the person, and for me, painting my nails was a much bigger stumbling block than tearing the sleeves off a top. The latter, while unusual, doesn’t active push against my gender identity, and so can be seen as a bit of random angsty edginess that is thoroughly masculine. Yet painted nails do push against this masculinity that I don’t really care for but see no reason to oppose, which led to a lot of doubts; if I don’t care about my gender, why am I thinking so much about opposing it? Would people see my nails as a move against this gender, or take them as intended, as indicative of purely aesthetic changes?

In the end, I’ve kinda sunk into apathy on the subject; not a rejection of this debate at all, but a rejection of the misunderstood conclusions drawn from it. I am male, and a man, identities I am comfortable with but not particularly attached to; I have a home-torn vest and black nails, because I think these things look cool.

It took longer to follow through with one of those plans, sure, but I’m really glad I did it; I don’t know why, but I love my nails. And for me, that’s enough.


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