I thought about chronicling some of my earlier experiences, in coming out and exploring my gender variance, when I was still in my late twenties and early thirties. The following is one of those experiences.
It was 1979, and I had a two week vacation in late February. My gender identity dysphoria was hitting me very hard. I needed a release from the prison of my five day a week male oriented job, and I had just the ticket. There was something new and exciting happening in the world of beauty culture, and I wanted a piece of it. I'm talking about nail salons. That industry was in it's infancy back then, and as far as I knew there was only one in Richmond. It was called, Sculptured Nails by Roxanne. It was a franchise operation, started by the nail technician who used to do Cher's nails, back when she had her hit 1970's TV show.
I used to watch Sonny and Cher faithfully every week, and I was so envious of Cher's beauty and femininity. I loved her beautiful long nails. I thought they made her hands look so graceful, and when I saw an ad in the Women's section of the newspaper, saying that Roxanne, "nail tech to the the stars" had opened a salon in town, I couldn't resist. I had been using my annual vacations to get some much needed me time for a few years by then, and this was something I definitely wanted to explore.
I called them on the phone for an appointment, and told them right up front that I was a boy, but I preferred to dress as a girl. If I was going to be rejected, I wanted it to happen over the phone, and not in front of everyone at the receptionists desk. The woman I talked to on the phone couldn't have been nicer, and she accepted my request for an appointment with open arms. This gave my confidence a big boost, since I had only gone out in full femme a couple of times before.
My two week vacation started on a Friday, and my appointment at the nail salon was on the following Tuesday. I got up early on Tuesday, and depilated my hands, arms, and legs with Nair, then took a shower. While my beard was still soft from my shower, I shaved my face as smooth as a baby's bottom, and blew my longish hair dry. I dressed in a beige linen, mid calf length straight skirt, a black floral print polyester georgette blouse, with a ruffled neckline, and a pair of thin strapped, dark red snakeskin, quarter strap sandals, with three inch stacked heels. I had a make up lesson at a cosmetic studio the year before, so I had plenty of practice in applying tasteful make up. I was in the middle of doing my makeup when the phone rang. This posed me with a bit of a dilemma. No one that I was acquainted with, knew that I was on vacation. Who could possibly be calling me on a weekday morning? I thought it might possibly be the nail salon, since I gave them my number when I made the appointment. So the gamble was, do I answer the phone in my male voice, or my female voice. If it was someone I knew, how would I explain the female voice, which thanks to my youth was quite good at the time, but if I answered in my male voice, and it was the nail salon, they would be confused, because I made the appointment using my female voice. I decided to play it safe, and I answered in my male voice. It was the nail salon, and they were calling to confirm that I was coming in for my appointment. When they heard a male answer the phone, they asked to speak to Melissa. I said hold on for just a second, and I'll get her. Unfortunately when we are not completely out, a certain amount of subterfuge is necessary for self preservation. I put the phone down and walked into another room, then returned and answered in my female voice. They just wanted to make sure that I was coming as I had promised, and I assured them I would be there at the appointed time.
An hour later I arrived at the salon. I parked in the lot adjacent the salon, and got out of my car. As I was walking from my car to the front of the salon, a van passed on the road out front and I couldn't believe what happened! The driver actually gave me a very complimentary shout out! I can't remember his exact words, but I do remember it giving me a tremendous boost of confidence as I entered the salon. This had only happened to me once before a few years earlier, as I exited a beauty salon, and a guy at a gas station across the street gave me a wolf whistle! At first I thought he was whistling at someone else, but then I realized that I was the only one on the street. It felt weird being whistled at by a guy, since I have no interest in men at all, but the more I thought about it, the better it made me feel about my presentation. I've often wondered what those guy's reactions would have been, had they realized the girl they thought was so attractive, had the same equipment that they had? I don't think they would have been pleased!
Into the salon I went, where I was courteously greeted by the girl who would be doing my nails. Right away, I loved the atmosphere of the place. It was a small salon, with a small waiting area in front of the receptionists desk, furnished with a sofa, a coffee table well stocked with women's magazines, and a few cushioned arm chairs. Beyond the waiting area, there were four or five tables with lamps on them, and a chair on either side. My nail tech escorted me back to her table, where she asked me if I wanted my nails to be long, medium length, or short. I had always envied girls with pretty long nails, so my attitude was, in for penny, in for a pound, and I told her I wanted them long. Now mind you, this was in the days when one inch nails were considered very long. In some circles today, nails have gone to ridiculous lengths, like two inches. We are not talking about anything near that length. That would be truly bizarre! If you want to see weirdly long fingernails and toenails, just do a Google search. You will see some of the strangest sights you have ever seen.
I had no idea what was about to happen, or how long it would take, but she began by taking a very rough file, and scouring the surface of my nails with it. I was quite shocked at first, and she must have noticed the alarm in my eyes, because she explained that she needed to create a rough textured surface for the acrylic to adhere to. "Don't worry" , she said, "they will look beautiful." She then took a spray bottle filled with alcohol and sprayed my fingers until they were thoroughly saturated. She said that was to prevent any fungus or bacteria from growing under the acrylic, and infecting my nails. We waited for a few minutes for the alcohol to dry, and we talked....she and I.......and the nail tech and customer next to us. Just four girls, engaged in friendly casual conversation. It felt so right!
When the alcohol finally dried, she placed special paper forms under the tips of my natural nails. She then took a small artist's paint brush, and first dipped it into a solvent, then into an acrylic powder, until she had a ball of viscous acrylic on the tip of the brush. She then began to transfer that ball of acrylic onto the surface of my nail, artfully shaping it, and extending it out beyond my natural nail tip onto the paper form. She repeated this process over and over on each one of my nails. Within minutes of applying the acrylic to each nail, it hardened. When she had all ten nails done, she removed the paper forms, and began the long process of "sculpting" each nail with files, and an electric rotary tool with an emery head. When she was finished shaping and smoothing all ten of my nails, she told me I had to go and wash my hands, and that there was a ladies room just around the corner and down the hall that I could use. I followed her instructions, and found the ladies room. The building they were in, was apparently shared by several businesses, and so were the facilities. I had never been inside of a ladies room before, and it felt so validating to walk in there, and see my reflection in the mirror as I washed my hands in the sink and then dried them. Before I returned to the salon however, my confidence suffered a blow, when I noticed that in my haste to leave my apartment on time, I forgot to zip up the back of my skirt! I was horrified! I thought I had noticed an unusual cool draft on my lower back, as I was getting my nails worked on! I quickly zipped up, and hoped that no one had noticed. If they did, they were far too polite to say anything to me.
I returned to my nail tech's table and she asked me to pick out a shade of nail polish from the display next to her table. Since it was winter, I wanted a muted red, so I chose a pretty deep russet. She smiled at my selection, and agree that it was a pretty color. She put a clear base coat on them first, then she put three coats of the russet on them and followed that up with a clear top coat. Now this was in the days before quick dry top coats, that set all layers of polish within a minute or two. With five coats of wet polish on my nails, I knew it was going to be quite a while before I could leave the nail salon. The trouble was I didn't realize it was going to take so long, and I had scheduled an appointment at another salon to have my hair done that same day. It was obvious that I wasn't going to be able to make it to that appointment on time. I voiced my concern to the the girl who did my nails that I was going to be late for my hair appointment, and she was so nice about it. She asked me where it was, and I told her the name of the salon. She had a phone at her table, but because my nails were wet, she offered to dial the number of the salon, so I could tell them I was going to be late. She dialed the number, and then waring me to be careful of my wet nails, handed me the phone. I told them I was having my nails done, and would be late for my appointment. They thanked me for calling, and said to take my time , as they weren't very busy that day.
I thanked my nail tech, and because my nails were wet, I told her she could go into my purse and take the appropriate amount of cash, plus a 15% tip out of my wallet, as payment for her services. I then went out to the waiting area and took a seat on the sofa among several other women. No one gave me a second look, except for one woman standing by the receptionists desk. I don't know if it was my height, or if she detected a shadow under my foundation, but she gave me a disproving look. Since my experience with everyone else up to that point had been so good, I quickly dismissed her as a sour puss, and ignored her. I spent the next half hour sitting there with the other women, carefully thumbing through fashion magazines, while waiting for my nails to dry.
After about thirty minutes, even though they told me to take my time, I began to worry about being so late for my hair appointment. I figured that surely my nails must be dry enough to leave now. I tested them, by lightly touching the edge of one nail. It felt dry and no polish transferred to my finger, so I got up and got my long gray woolen coat, and started to put it on. Immediately after inserting my left arm through the sleeve, I knew I had made a horrible miscalculation. I looked at the nails on my left hand, and the polish that had seemed dry, was only dry on the surface, and I had smudged them something awful! I was so embarrassed when I walked back to my nail tech, and showed her what I had done. Of course there was no time for her to remove my polish and do them all over again, besides, she was working on another customer by then. I asked her if she could just let me have some cotton balls and polish remover, and I would take off my polish there and redo it when I got home. Very graciously, she gave me a bunch of cottons balls and a bottle of polish remover, and I took off all of the polish she so painstakingly applied just a half an hour earlier. I felt so humiliated. Other than my little "wardrobe malfunction", everything went perfectly right up to when I got ready to leave! I had planned to show up at my hair appointment, with ten pretty long red nails to justify being an hour late, and instead I showed up with ten long, but bare nails. Fortunately, the bottle of polish my nail tech used, was included in the price of the nails, so when I got home I was able to restore them to their beautiful russet splendor!