How Kids React To My Pretty Pretty Princess Nails.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Hi. I’m Ferrett. I’m a guy, and my nails usually look like this:
My profile picture
Or this:
Untitled
And after last night’s lovely manicure , they look like this.
Untitled
What I find fascinating about my nails, however, is how little kids react to them.  Because when a six-year-old girl first sees my nails, her first reaction is almost inevitably disgust and/or suspicion.  “Why do you have painted nails?” they ask, circling about me warily.
“Because they’re pretty.”
“But you’re a boy.”
“Boys can be pretty.”
Sometimes they make the disgust-face and back away.  Other times they tell me, “Boys aren’t supposed to be pretty!” and we get into a brief argument that I inevitably lose.  Regardless of whether they’re a girl or a boy, I’ve had this conversation at least forty times – this angry violation of their world, this curt rejection.
If I see the child again, however, they invariably ask again.  It’s the same question: “Why do you have painted nails?”  They clearly remember me.  And I tell them, once again, it’s because I think painted nails are pretty, and this time their response is puzzlement.  You can see them scrunching up their faces as they process this new idea that maybe some boys have long, girly fingernails, and they’re sure that it’s weird, but is it wrong?  They’re now no longer sure.  And sometimes they grab my hand without permission to touch my nails, as if to confirm this is a Real Thing.
When they leave, they’re still deeply suspicious of the nails.
The third time, they’ve come to terms with it.  It’s no longer an issue; this is what Ferrett does, and this is how some people are.  But what happens next is often very telling: on subsequent visits, the kids become enthusiastic about my nails.  They start to show their nails off to me, asking about my color, and when I walk through the door the first thing some of them do is see what color Ferrett is wearing today.  These kids now think it’s cool that I wear pretty pretty princess nails.  In particular for little girls, it’s often an avenue of connectivity – hey, you have wild nails, see the color my Mommy let me get?
Yet each of them, at one point, had told me with disgust that boys did not wear painted nails.
And I think that’s a microcosm of humanity, really.  When presented with something new that’s against how society tells you things should be, whether that’s homosexuality or transgendered people or polyamory or cross-dressing or a thousand other things, the inevitable gut reaction from people is a sort of visceral “Eeyew.”  Which is often not them rejecting the idea itself, but rather a reaction to having their concept of normality violently jabbed.  People like knowing how things are supposed to be.  They like feeling like they’re on top of things.  And this reminder that whoah, maybe you don’t know how people behave, is a threatening and ferocious action.
Then they see it a few more times and, circling the idea carefully, they come to recognize that maybe this is just another puzzle piece in the vast number of ways that human beings can be, and they come to accept it. Then in some cases, once they move beyond that, they become fans.  And – this is the important bit – having become fans, they forget that they were once opposed.  That process of adjustment fades away, and I never remind them.  It’s better if they believe that this was always the way, really.
And I don’t like dealing with kids who reject me, making little “cuckoo” gestures with their fingers to their friends as they retreat.  It’s strangely stinging, being written off by an adorable seven-year-old moppet.  But I also know that this reaction fades more often than not.  It’s a thing that humans often do, and it’s a dumb thing, but it generally takes a few sharp shocks to the worldview before they arrive at acceptance and tolerance.  And if they’re lucky, that worldview expands enough that newer concepts don’t seem all that crazy – once you’ve absorbed the idea that people can be gay, and that gender can be fluid, then expanding to accept the idea of transgendered lesbians is but a little hop.
That rejection is immediate, and painful, and by no means am I saying you’re not correct to be hurt by it.  But what I am saying is that that rejection is often not the final word, if that person is lucky enough to encounter enough other people like you.  People are often staggeringly thoughtless as they evolve, and ideally they learn to get past this sort of ugly brutality as kids… but sometimes a kid can go through a whole adolescence without meeting Dude With Painted Nails, clinging tight to a tragically narrowed world.  When they finally encounter you, they’re as ill-prepared to deal with it as the six-year-old was.  The reason we’re tolerant of kids is that they don’t know any better, and while it’s comforting to think that everyone gets handed the Big Grown-Ups Manual when they turn sixteen, a tome that contains all the proper ways to respond to things, the sad truth is that kids become grownups by running head-first into experiences, and usually cocking them up.  If they aren’t lucky enough to have the right experiences at the right time, some portion of them remains a dumb kid even if they’re sixteen or sixty or a hundred.
I’ve gotten to see these kids evolve, live, right before my sparkly sparkly nails.  Now they love ’em.
That’s a good thing.

13 Comments

  1. Eric Wagoner
    Nov 21, 2013

    Wonderful! I’ve had the same experience with my kilts (or, as the kids always call them, “skirts”).

  2. Yosiel
    Nov 21, 2013

    Alongside with MaRo, you were one of the few columns I read on the mothership back in the day, with this article I can see why you are still one of my favorite person in this community.

  3. Leslie
    Nov 21, 2013

    I love this, as I do all your writings, it seems (long time lurker, here and on Fet).
    My 15-year-old son came out to me in July. I had suspected he was gay since he was 4 or 5 years old, so I was not surprised. My main concern was that we live in a conservative, military town, and I was afraid for his safety, especially at school.
    He has been embraced by his peers, at least the ones he has told. Most were also not surprised. It has been such a relief for me, and for him. He is growing into such a great person, because he has the freedom to be himself. Kids, at least in my experience, have definitely changed since I was in high school in the late 80s.

  4. Kim D
    Nov 21, 2013

    I always tell our son not to judge people by their looks, beliefs, or abilities. Just because they look different, have different beliefs, or may not be as “smart” as you are does NOT mean they won’t make a great friend. 🙂 fyi – eww is not a word I would use to describe your nails (or piercings, hair color, kilts, or even makeup – should you have any of those going for you). eccentric maybe or possibly just “your personality” thus it is YOU, and there is nothing wrong with that. 🙂

  5. Sean Kelly
    Nov 21, 2013

    Hah! I sometimes garner similar reactions with my psychedelically colored hair. Sometimes—but not often. It’s as if bizarre hair is somehow more acceptable from any gender than painted nails.
    (PS: Your nails look fantastic.)

  6. Megan
    Nov 21, 2013

    So I teach preschool. And let me tell you, I don’t know what age you’re asking, but if you check in with four year olds, many of them will not only accept your nails, but compliment you on it. I’ve had several boys come in with painted toenails or fingernails. Always, the mother or father says, in an apologetic tone, “He let his sister do that.” or “He wanted me to do it, is it going to be a problem? With the other kids make fun of him?”
    And I smile and tell them it’ll be ok. And you know what? The other kids either don’t notice, or are envious.
    Somewhere along the line, they learn how to stereotype. I’m glad I get them before that happens.

    • TheFerrett
      Nov 22, 2013

      Yup, and it’s usually kids around six to ten. So maybe it does set in there.

  7. sak
    Nov 23, 2013

    Wow, I loved this post and I adore your nails! People like you, who put color and diversity into the world, make me happy <3

  8. TxCat
    Nov 26, 2013

    My Vandy is three and we’ve known since much younger that he’s either gay or transgendered. Vandy wears girls’ clothing (he throws a fit if we put him in anything else) and he paints his nails…just like daddy.
    Now if the six foot seven lethally trained FBI guy can wear nail polish (and I wouldn’t be brave enough to tell him he can’t!) it’s good enough for a little boy and anyone else who wants to wear it.
    We’re sensual beings and whether we admit it or not everyone likes that touch of color a simple act like painting nails brings.

  9. Mrs. Chili
    Dec 3, 2013

    I love this essay. As a loudmouthed, insistent advocate/ally (and teacher and mother), I make a big deal about accepting – and of teaching acceptance. Tolerance is insufficient. I love your pretty princess nails, and I love that you use them to make a difference. Thank you.

  10. mark
    Dec 11, 2013

    I just “discovered” something really interesting. Most negative feedback from people about guys wearing polish or color is saying things like I’d think you were gay, or only gay guys do this or you’re not a manly man- crap like that.
    So I did a search and found lots of currently trending sites that are about men coloring their nails. All are basically straight guys. There is not one, not one, search that came up on a gay focus of coloring your nails! Not one! And I searched a lot. Not to say gay fellows don’t color their nails but one would think that at least one site, if you aren’t a drag queen or cross dresser would be up on the board. But not one.
    Therefore, based on stats, the if you polish you must be gay, or wanna be, or wanna be a girl, or at least cross dress or even further are deeply closeted must, by definition be absolutely false! So where in the world did that idea come from??? And since it did, based on results why does it stick?
    So since it appears that it is straight fellows who mainly jump into that pond, could it be that the reason is simply color, and perhaps most tend to be highly educated and also artistic individualists in nature as the most likely denominator, and that there really is no correlation between what girls traditionally do and being gay when a guy does it??? Or vice versa really. That is what needs to be out there to clear the air.
    Why is it when women play with gender they are seen as strong and powerful, but when a guy plays with gender he loses his masculinity and power? The answer MUST be in the way we view, and think of women. It has to be. There can be no other logical conclusion.
    This was also posted at good men. And yes, I polish mine too, and am straight too. I wrote a rather extensive post there also that delved as bit into the history of nail coloring. Interesting stuff.

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