Green Nail Polish and Gay Marriage

July 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm , by

One day when I was about 16, my mom came into my bedroom and looked with horror at the skirt that was hanging on the back of my armchair. “Oh, no,” she said in a low voice that managed to communicate judgment and despair at the same time. “You’ve become one of those.”  She meant a hippie, druggie, unwashed alternative person. It was one of those wrap-around Indian-print skirts that, in the late ’70s, you could buy on streetcorners in New York. They were all the rage at my preppy, fairly conservative Southern high school. Having it in my bedroom meant I thought it was cool and wanted to fit in with the other girls. But my mom read an entire lifestyle into it.

I thought about that moment this week when a somewhat conservative male friend saw that my son’s toenails were Kermit the Frog green. I had gone to buy myself some shiny pink polish and my 5-year-old son had grabbed the green bottle and asked if he could have some, too. After pausing for a moment to calculate the risk factor, I’d said sure. It wasn’t a pink tutu. And given his current obsession with cars, trucks, guns, competing to see who’s fastest, and generally being stereotypically male in every way imaginable, I thought it was a nice change of pace.

“You let him wear nail polish?” my friend said, in a low voice, full of judgment. “A boy should not be wearing nail polish.”

“It’s just paint!” I said. “And it’s GREEN, for godsake. Don’t be silly.”

It was just after Gay Pride weekend in New York, where thousands were celebrating their new right to get legally married. And so my friend replied, “All those people in the street, representing their viewpoint. I gotta represent mine.”

Wow, back in the day, I became a drugged-out hippie with the purchase of one wrap-around skirt, and now, with just 10 swipes of a green brush, my  five-year-old son was on a path to get gay-married. (To Kermit, maybe?)

So I was interested to get, in my email inbox the next day, an article written by Stephanie Brill, the executive director of an organization called Gender Spectrum, which aims to get us all to chill out a bit about gender roles and let people be who they are, wear what they like, play the games they find fun, without making too many assumptions about what it all means. Let’s review some basic facts, she suggests: “Colors are colors, toys are toys, clothes are clothes, and hair is hair.”

Crazy talk! Though I might add, for my mom’s benefit, “and skirts are skirts,” as I sit here conservatively dressed, in a corporate office, drinking coffee, reflecting on the fact that apparently that wrap-around didn’t ruin me.

Brill feels that these kinds of superficial things are just about the joy self-expression—that they don’t necessarily have anything to do with deeper issues around gender identity or sexual orientation. She also feels that, by making kids put so much energy into policing their preferences to make sure they fit gender norms, we’re taking away energy they could be using to study, play sports or be good citizens.

This is a topic that’s come up a lot, lately, with the firestorm over the J. Crew ad showing fashion designer Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toenails neon pink, which I guess was part of the impetus for Brill’s essay.

“Should you allow your son to wear nail polish out of the house?” asks Brill. “If he likes it, why not? Wearing nail polish will not make him gay; it will not make him transgender. It just may make him happy!”

What do you think: Is nail polish just nail polish? Is a skirt just a skirt? Or do we really, sometimes, become what we wear?

22 Responses to “Green Nail Polish and Gay Marriage”

  1. Nail polish is just nail polish, it doesn’t matter who wears it. No amount of nail polish can make a child gay. I say let the kids do and be whatever they want to be. There should be no limitations.


  2. Is there a law that requires a skirt to be a drug-soaked hippie? Or a nail polish to be a woman maker? Come on, folks! Polish is just that. Polish. A skirt is just that. An article of clothing. If you see these and other things as something else, you just looked at a ROSE, and called it a CACTUS! Get real – a human being is who they are, not what you would wish they were. I know, I’ve been through the hell bigots cause. Including violent crime. Let the child be and learn to love themselves, and they will grow to be the HUMAN you would truly be proud of. The best man I ever knew, before a tainted blood transfusion, that I would trust with my first born, just happened to be gay. And one heck of a MARINE. Think about it.


  3. When my son wore nail polish to school in Kindergarten, one of the girls said “why is He wearing that?” I asked her if she liked to wear nail polish, and when she said “yes” I said that’s why, because it’s fun to wear. Trying to plant the idea that what’s fun for one person is just fun – not necessarily because of their gender, just something that anyone could/might like to do.


  4. I have a problem with my son wearing nail polish–he chews it off his fingers. I don’t want him eating it! Otherwise, I let my boys have nail polish, dolls, and, yes, even a pink tutu and, most recently, i carly pjs. Boys should be given the same freedom as girls to play with and wear what they like. I blog about the raising my boys at pinkisforboys, and I am always thrilled to find other stories of parents allowing their boys to be themselves. Thanks for sharing this story!


  5. When I hear someone say, “All those people in the street, representing their viewpoint. I gotta represent mine,” I think: if it’s your viewpoint that you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry another man. If you don’t like green nail polish, don’t paint your nails green. But don’t tell other people they can’t marry another person of the same gender, or that they can’t let their sons paint their nails green, or pink, or any color at all–that’s not expressing a viewpoint, that’s being bigoted.

    Why, really, should a boy not wear nail polish? We know that allowing girls to wear pants does not make them lesbians, and most of us know that even a tutu on a boy won’t make him gay. We have many social rules that make a great deal of sense, that prevent people from hurting other people, or themselves, or property. But arbitrary rules based on outmoded bias don’t actually make sense at all, and they make people feel bad about themselves. It’s hurtful to shame a boy for cross-gender play that is acceptable in girls, and it’s time to let boys—whether they like trucks or tutus—be boys.

    I write about raising my gender-nonconforming son at sarahhoffmanwriter.com.


  6. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, this was no big deal. I am baffled by the recent surge in aggressive gender policing for all kids, but especially for boys. The most ridiculous example I have comes from a few years back, when I worked in a fabric store. A harried young mother, with a toddler in tow and quite pregnant with her second kid, was shopping with her mother-in-law for fabric for the new baby’s nursery. She kept choosing things, only to have the mother-in-law nix them as “too feminine.” The most appalling case was a flannel printed with a plaid that was mostly navy blue, with touches of green and yellow. Too feminine!

    I suppose the increased visibility of people who reject the heterosexual gender binary has led to a measure of moral panic in some of those who don’t. However, there are not more of those people than there used to be; what’s different these days is that they have less need to be fearful of assault and murder if they express their authentic selves. Most people would say that’s a good thing.


  7. I would not only let my son wear green nail polish, but I would let him wear a pink tutu! The restrictions that we put on children in this culture are so limiting to their self expression. Let’s just let kids be who they are and we will all benefit from society being more accepting.


  8. Thank god for all of you people-we are the start of a revolution. Its okay to be who you want to be. I love whats being said here!


  9. My daughter was born in 1984 and my son in 1989. I used to get flack from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher because she liked to wear 2 different color socks; I let her decide what to wear as long as she was appropriately covered and dressed for the season. Her favorite color has always been green. She went thru the girlie stage, the tomboy stage, and she refused to play softball because that was for girls – so she played Little League – only girl on our local team. She is now extremely conservative. My son’s kindergarten teacher called me because his “when I grow up picture” was holding a dead boyd over a grave (he didn’t know what it was called but wanted to be a moritician – they referred me to a counselor). He went with the goth look as a teenager. He’s a lot more accepting. As parents we can do as much as we can but when they get out there in society, too often they succomb to fitting into the “norm” due to other influences.


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  12. After raising 4 contributing, voting every election,local and national, newspaper reading, employed, wonderful children I feel I have the experience to say…DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!! Pick your battles, Finger nail polish, yes. Crack, NO!


  13. the tomboy stage, and she refused to play softball because that was for girls – so she played Little League – only girl on our local team. She is now extremely conservative. My son’s kindergarten teacher called me because his “when I grow up picture” was holding a dead boyd over a grave


  14. voting every election,local and national, newspaper reading, employed, wonderful children I feel I have the experience to say…DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!! Pick your battles, Finger nail polish, yes. Crack, NO!

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  15. admonition, must have been overwhelming in its effects upon the minds of the officers. We are


  16. I’m a guy and I where nail polish (but I’m gay) but I think It’s just paint and who decided nail polish was for girls. Mabie he is gay mabie he’s not gay but who cares and who decides what’s for girls and what’s for boys


  17. Person will be down-to-earth, step by step, I found that you are right, life is good, we should continue to try hard!


  18. I agree with the majority of the comments above. Color is just color. Paint is paint. My sis in law who claims to be so cosmopolitan and defends her gay friends vociferously flipped out when she saw my straight 56 year old toes painted. How hypocritical is that???? I was just experimenting with something I found fun. Big deal. Yet even my wife was all about what will people say. People say slot and most of it is meritless. As someone said you see a rose and call it a cactus them you’re really just being a bigot. It’s all about appropriateness. A woman would not wear a cocktail gown to her job, nor would I wear a tuxedo to my office. But folks make up all sorts of nonsens


  19. I agree with the majority of the comments above. Color is just color. Paint is paint. My sis in law who claims to be so cosmopolitan and defends her gay friends vociferously flipped out when she saw my straight 56 year old toes painted. How hypocritical is that???? I was just experimenting with something I found fun. Big deal. Yet even my wife was all about what will people say. People say slot and most of it is meritless. So out of deference to her feelings I took the color off and wear clear. Relationships are all about compromise and my wearing color says a lot that I don’t care about her feelings, which is decidedly not true. As someone said you see a rose and call it a cactus them you’re really just being a bigot. It’s all about appropriateness. A woman would not wear a cocktail gown to her job, nor would I wear a tuxedo to my office. But folks make up all sorts of nonsense and act as if their opinion is my reality. Let people do what they want, as long as they don’t hurt themselves or others, then you can like or not like what they do, but making up what they mean by it is not acceptable.


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