Why Painting My Nails And Wearing Women’s Clothing Makes Me Feel Like A Man

I’m a straight man who loves women and sports. But I also love sparkly fingernails and wearing eyeliner. Why is that so confusing?

For my 26th birthday, I took my cousin and my roommate out for manicures. This has become a part of my life: going for drinks and manicures. We bought cosmos and I had my nails painted blue with sparkles, because I wanted something festive.

I had lost all of my nail stamps, and most of my nail polishes, and, worst of all, my matte top coat when my girlfriend and I broke up, her taking custody of the stash. I regretted my blue, sparkly decision only because my cousin had hers painted gold and silver and my roommate had his in a simple navy, both of which seemed better for some reason or another. Still, as our nails dried and we kept drinking, I felt more complete than I had an hour before.

This, for a lot of people, would be a meaningless story without the fact that I am a male, with a beard. I get into fights, drink a lot of cheap beer, religiously follow sports—all of the things that “masculine men” are supposed to do.

But then comes my unabashed love for pop music, the painting of my nails, and the long history of wearing women’s clothing. Things that I am told to eschew, told to not talk about because they take away from my masculinity. Because if I’m not beating my chest and swinging my junk around, how would you know that I am a man?

After my 26th birthday, with my nails sparkling blue, I met up with my family. By this point, they had grown used to the colors, the pants, the tops, the occasional eye-makeup—though not in a long time. We were at a restaurant in suburban Illinois, unreasonably cock-themed—roosters covered every surface of the restaurant from the coffee mugs to the plastic tablecloths to the walls, and the conversation turned, as it often did when I didn’t meet the manly quota, to my love life.

“So, are you and Samantha still seeing each other?” My dad asked, looking at my hands.

“We still hang out, yeah.” I didn’t tell him about the string of dates—with women—I had recently been on. Didn’t try to reassure him that I only am sexually attracted to women, though I try to keep an open mind. Because that’s my one fleeting moment of power over the world. Letting my dad think that my painting my nails or wearing women’s clothes has anything to do at all with my sexual identity.

We ate, talked about what we planned on doing that day, my mom told a story about work, I told a story about school—just normal, boring family conversations. But my dad, as he is wont to do, spent most of his time checking out my nails. Sure, they were fly, but that wasn’t what he was thinking about.

And this is the sticking point that I have with a lot of people. The idea that because I don’t follow the rigid, specific gender norms, I am somehow an outsider. That there is something wrong with me. That I am something to be nervous about, afraid of, an oddity, a specimen. People want to ask questions about things that don’t exist. The main question is “Why?” And my usual answer is “Why not?” but that never feels real. Because there is a why.

There always is.

When I was very young, I started thinking that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a boy. That the girls got all of the cool toys. Fake kitchens you could manipulate in whatever way you pleased. Dolls that needed you, that needed feeding or changing or fake cried, instead of action figures that didn’t have joints and were severely lacking in action.

As I got older, I grew tired with men’s fashion, getting bored with the limited shirt/pants combinations. Every time I went shopping, I would mutter to myself, I wish I could buy girls’ clothes. They’re so much better.

And the older I got, I just felt…wrong. Like I was born broken, that I needed to be returned and traded in for a new model. The right model.

And one day, thanks to a childhood role model—Conor Oberst from the band Bright Eyes—I figured I might as well just wear women’s pants if I wanted to wear women’s pants. That I might as well paint my nails if I wanted to paint my nails. That pink is a good color on me. That eyeliner, when applied well, makes my eyes look great. And when I was done up, when I was dressed how I wanted, that nagging sense of being wrong, of being born wrong, fell away. And surprisingly for me, I started feeling more like a man than I ever had before.

Gender Dysphoria is the feeling that you were born into the wrong gender. It’s a feeling that can be masked or embraced, that people, when they decide to transition, are heralded as heroes for overcoming. And they should be. But with me, it didn’t reach that level. It wasn’t that I wished more than anything that I was a woman. I just thought that being a woman would have been easier in regards to the things I like. A woman watching sports makes for a cool woman who can be one of the guys. A guy singing along to Taylor Swift is called a “sissy.”

But for me, I just wanted to like what I liked. And I as I sat there, talking to my parents with my sparkly nails, I felt right. Goddamn, I felt right.

Wyl Villacres is from Chicago. His work has been published in WhiskeyPaper, Wyvern Lit, and Time Out Chicago. Find him a twylvillacres.net or on Twitter: @wyllinois.

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