Two days before Christmas, something awful happened: one of my nails broke.
You may be laughing, but this was no joke. I had a dilemma on my hands. After weeks of careful care, my nails were the longest they’d ever been. They were painted a beautiful black matte to match my #SpookyFemme aesthetic, and they were glorious. And the worst part? I was headed to New York City two days later, and now I’d have to galavant around as a glamorous femme with… a broken nail. Nice.
One broken nail was easy enough to hide. But then, on Christmas day, a second nail broke, because of course it did. (And a third the next day.) Dejected and disappointed, I resolved to cut all of my nails when I returned from vacation.
• • •
If you had told me even six months ago that I’d be mourning the loss of three nails, I wouldn’t have believed you.
When I was just beginning to understand my queerness and learn about queer culture, one of the most popular things I heard time and time again was that queer women don’t have long nails. That sounds ridiculous to me now, but it really stuck when I was a young, impressionable 18-year-old baby queer surrounded by femmephobia.
Femmephobia is heartbreakingly rampant in the queer community, and so much of it manifests in policing femmes’ choices of clothing, makeup, and overall presentation. (It’s worth mentioning here that femme is a great many wondrous things! Just because someone is femme doesn’t automatically mean they wear makeup, for example. One of the beautiful things about being femme is the many radical forms it takes.)
The assumption that long-nailed femmes can’t have sex with people with vulvas is absurd, but it’s what we learn from queer popular culture, especially in iconic women and femme-centric shows like The L Word. These stereotypes trickled down into my everyday interactions: I can’t count the number of times someone from my college friend group judged a femme-presenting person’s potential queerness on their nail length, or how often I heard “If you want to find out if a woman is queer, look at her nails!” come out of someone’s mouth.
It pains me to say I bought into all of this too: without knowing it, I had internalized femmephobia and projected it onto people I didn’t know, and then turned it on myself.
• • •
It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I began to befriend queer femmes who wear their nails long and painted, like Artemisia and Caitlin. Slowly but surely, I drew femme energy and strength from them and started to experiment with my nails, too – and I’m never going back.
I adore my long, natural nails. I adore how powerful I feel when I flaunt them. I adore the compliments I receive when people see them. I adore the looks on men’s faces when they notice them, as though my nails alone are intimidating. I adore the tapping sound they make whenever I type. I adore the intricate care that goes into maintaining them; the precise brush strokes I use to create the perfect coat of color. I adore that they have become an integral part of my femmeness.
What I find so magical about my nail revolution is that my femme is ever-evolving. My femme opens doors for me and allows me to break down social constructs. It’s dynamic, subversive, formidable, radical, and so much more than what you can see from the outside. My femme is always teaching me new ways to be myself.
• • •
Right now, my nails are the shortest they’ve been in months (and that’s still longer than they were a year ago). They’re painted a mauve matte color, and I’m enjoying my search for the perfect lipstick to match them.
In just a month or so, my nails will be as long as they were at Christmas. When they are, I’ll paint them black matte again and revel in my glamorous spooky aesthetic, defying femmephobia as I do.