On A Gender Bender, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 15 2011 @ 8:22am


A reader writes:

The whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. My wife and I have a lovely seven-year-old adopted son. He’s Hispanic and we're Caucasian, and I only bring that up because he gets asked by other students pretty regularly if he’s adopted. No biggie, but it can be hard for kids to fit in anyway, without having to deal with anything that creates a perception that he's somehow "different".

One thing our son loves to do is get his nails painted when my wife goes to the salon.

He enjoys the time with my wife, and as an extraverted kid he loves chatting it up with the women at the salon – and they love him. Typically, he gets his toenails painted, but sometimes gets his fingernails painted too. Just about a month ago he got his fingernails painted bright neon blue and was so happy to show them off to me when he got home. But he was nervous to go to school that Monday, worrying other kids would make fun of him. In fact, we even had some adults we know point out his painted nails and ask us, "What’s up with that?" My response: "He likes it and I think it looks pretty cool."

And now, to have media running some right-wing farce of a story, a totally media fabricated story (must be a slow news week) over something so ridiculous and simple as a kid painting his nails infuriates me! Who cares at all if someone paints their nails; it is a meaningless personal expression that suggests NOTHING about a child's "gender preferences". It expresses creativity, freedom, lightness of being and self-acceptance. It's not any different than a tattoo or piercing, just a way of decorating one's body.

Another writes:

I had to laugh at the freakout over pink polish on boys.  My son used to ask me to paint his toenails red while I was doing mine.  Since we was home with me most of the time, I never thought much of it and was happy to oblige.  He stopped the red polish shortly after he started kindergarten.  He will be 18 soon and I can assure you, with 100% confidence, that he is a red-blooded heterosexual male. 


I know so many little boys who like pink. And sparkles/glitter. And painting their nails. And putting on makeup. It's part of being a kid, unless the kids are shamed out of it or prevented from playing freely. I face-painted at a soup kitchen in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, and many of the younger boys wanted glitter on their faces, which I happily obliged.

My best friend's son was obsessed with pink, and luckily his parents didn't try to dissuade him … so he got the pink sparkly bike which was in the window of the toy store (the owner of the shop tried to bring out a more "masculine" color). He painted his nails all different colors. We went shopping for pink shoes (a LOT). He wore pink. Sometimes dresses. He was even into fishnets for awhile. His mother wore them when she was pregnant with his younger sister and he liked how they felt when he touched her leg. I gave him a couple of pairs of mine to wear one Thanksgiving. He promptly took off all of his clothes except his t-shirt and put on the fishnets and ran around, liberated. That was his Thanksgiving Dinner outfit. Watching his supposedly liberal, arts-loving relatives try to contain their freak out was hilarious.

He's now nine and is not as into pink. He still wears it occasionally but just as part of his wardrobe. No more fishnets. He outgrew them. He is a more conventional little boy now. I give dress-up things to his sister now. It was interesting, though, during the pink years, to observe and hear about the strong, not always nice messages that people in their community (and this is a progressive suburb of NYC) freely offered to him and his mother – judgmental comments in front of him about how she was raising a transvestite. Who would know that painted toenails were so threatening?

If the male members of Congress would feel free to paint their toenails, wear fishnets, and glitter on their faces, maybe they would be less cross and more productive. My guess is that a few of them probably do already and are ashamed of it. Too bad.


For my husband's birthday this year, my 6-year-old son and I took him for a pedicure. My husband's feet are truly gross and I was tired of having my own skin scraped by the merest touch of his dried callouses. Being a frugal man, he was determined to get his money's worth and had his toenails painted, as this was part of the pedicure package. The result is in the attached photo.

My husband is still straight, and I think my son probably is too, but I guess I put him at "risk" by bringing him into a nail salon. Maybe the aqua color will save him.