“Each morning, eyeshadow was carefully applied, and each afternoon it was shamefully rubbed off in the school bathroom. The florescent light harshly illuminated my differences.”
How does one exist safely in an environment designed to eradicate diversity?
I grew up in a right-wing town. However, this didn’t become apparent to me until last year. Suddenly, I found myself suffocated by close mindedness. The school was especially bad, it was a school of pickup trucks, Trump, and fear. It’s difficult to want to own your differences when your environment threatens everything but conformity. This was the context in which I staged my small rebellions, more for myself than for the act of defiance.
My first rebellion was facilitated by my friend. I was drawn to her gold glitter polish and carefully painted my thumb. I picked it because it looked like the easiest to remove, I was testing the waters of both my gender identity and the climate around me. The next morning, it was hastily picked off with nervous energy.
My second rebellion was almost insignificant. In CVS, I gravitated to the health and beauty section yet again and I found a plum color that was hypnotizing. I carefully coated my pointer finger yet ultimately decided against it. I knew I wasn’t ready for the baggage that came with it. I would be straying from the typical male role, something that didn’t feel safe in my environment.
One afternoon at Marshalls I found myself drawn to a deep-almost-black-navy polish. It felt heavier than it looked because of the baggage it carried- personally, societally, culturally. The cool glass was at odds with my sticky, nervous hands. I ended up stealing because I didn’t want to face the cashier. My first gem was hidden from view. It was my first fuck you to the suffocation. A fuck you that I owned and made its home in my bathroom cabinet. That night I painted all ten of my fingers and prepared myself for the emotional ordeal the next day.
Thanks to my parents, I was sheltered from a large portion of the negativity that society felt I deserved due to my identity. Discrimination felt like an intangible concept because of it. That changed quickly. My confidence was slowly growing, and I chose to wear my freshly painted nails to work. I worked in a coffee shop run by typical residents of Long Valley, shockingly conservative individuals. I was pulled aside by my boss early into my shift: “Your nail polish makes the manager and customers uncomfortable.” This was definitely the truth, but I didn’t appreciate her acting like she didn’t feel the same. I spent the rest of my shift with cheeks hot from embarrassment. In hindsight, I should’ve expected this earlier. Suddenly, all the odd comments (which I now realize were trying to find out my sexuality) from my employers made sense. I ended up as a janitor- freshly demoted. I shouldn’t be seen serving customers. This was a harsh reminder that I didn’t deserve to feel safe.
I learned that my existence is resistance.
Each morning, eyeshadow was carefully applied, and each afternoon it was shamefully rubbed off in the school bathroom. The florescent light harshly illuminated my differences.
As soon as I moved to New York, my slowly-expanding collection of makeup and jewelry was finally put to use. Now, every morning is a chance to experiment. My differences that felt so stark and apparent in high school dissolved and were replaced with a drive to push myself farther. I don’t feel ashamed anymore, I can dress and look the way I want and the only thing stopping me is my personal insecurities.
Out of the art school bubble is a world that is designed to eliminate outliers- including those who don’t have a home in male or female gender roles. Nail polish and makeup have no place in the portrayal of masculinity. My existence and the way I choose to present myself is an act of resistance in the current political climate. Ever since the election revealed those who fear differences, being yourself feels much more dangerous. This is only amplified by the news. I’ve stopped reading it because each article inspires more and more fear in me. I don’t feel at home in America and I haven’t for a while. Nail polish doesn’t seem like it would have such high stakes, but from my personal experience, portraying your true self is often met with negativity and discrimination. My differences were glaring at home, how can I exist safely in a climate designed to stifle me? I don’t think I can safely, but I believe I have a responsibility to live as myself. Instead of being stifled by fear, I am fueled by anger and resistance.