Shape Shiftless

I don’t wear nail polish.

It’s not that I don’t like nail polish.  I do like it very much.   I love shine and colour.   And being a transperson with big hands, nail polish can help them look better proportioned.

Nail polish takes time and practice to do properly.   A manicure isn’t something you can just toss off quickly and make it look good.   When done well, it should look like the paint on a luxury car, smooth and solid, shining and deep.

When done poorly, though, a manicure can look like a badly painted trailer that someone has bodged up with old, cheap enamel and left out in the rain.  Not a good, professional, classy or stylish look.

I always hated having to take off my nail polish at the end of the night so I could try to look like a guy again the next day.   People did note that I left traces on my face, tiny signs of what I wanted to claim.    But putting my finger into that foam sponge soaked with remover and seeing it come out merely tinged with pink rather than bright and shiny always made me sad.

My nails today, even though I haven’t had polish on them since April, are just a frayed mess.   I don’t eat a lot of dairy products and I do have physical work to do, like moving boxes and such.

I never know when I am going to have to deal with my family or neighbourhood and make my trans invisible.   A lovely, colourful  manicure just doesn’t work with my androgynous camouflage, the one I use to keep my head down and stay small.   And taking my time to do my nails just to have to take it off again is seriously depressing.

Jared Leto has been doing the press for “Dallas Buyers Club” where his role as Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS has been widely praised.    Much of the chat has been about him staying in character throughout the filming.   In other words, he didn’t have to take the nail polish off every night.

Leto has been quoted as saying he couldn’t imagine any other way to do the role, that switching back and forth would require more effort than he could muster.  His director said that he wasn’t sure to expect when Leto got off the plane in a dress, but that they soon figured out that he was a she, and that she was nice.

Immersion is magical.   Context switching always has a price, multitasking always demands a cost in overhead and loss of focus.  It may create a shimmering image that the sophisticated can see as beautiful, but one that also confuses people who expect a normative kind of solidity.

The ability to become invisible, like Burt had on Soap, is impressive but eventually very costly.  Focus is the hidden driver of excellence, as Daniel Goleman reminds us, and switching states — the natural habit of a shape shifter — tends to make us lose focus and momentum.

How important is holding onto the ability to be ephemeral, to shape-shift?  How much does it cost?

Every organization from six to 60000 people
needs a Brahma, a Vishnu, and a Shiva
– a creator, a preserver, and a destroyer.
And you need those tensions simultaneously….
The problem with the average-size corporation
is that eventually the preservers take over and stagnation sets in.
You need to protect the Shivas, the destroyers.
Tom Peters

When all of those roles fall to one person, things can get flippy fast.

I have learned to live off the grid, away from having a fixed public persona, and so I shy away from anything that ties me one way or the other, like nail polish, a beautiful manicure.

When you lock down a shape-shifter, do you kill her?   Or does becoming manifest make her even more powerful, able to lift objects and lead possibilities?  Does losing the ability to vanish take away her power of the surprise magic, or does it allow her new potency? How important is misdirection and camouflage, and how important is standing and solidity?

These are hard questions for someone trained as a guerrilla and chameleon, for someone who fears the cage to answer.

But damn, I do love great, beautiful painted fingernails.