Hi. I’m Ferrett. I’m a guy, and my nails usually look like they do above.
Or like this:
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.
This piece originally appeared in slightly different form at TheFerrett.com.