photo: frank wouters on flickr

Have you ever looked at your toes? Like, really looked at them?

No offense to anyone out there – or your precious toes – but I think toes are extremely strange.

Think about it: Stubby little pieces of flesh sticking out of a bigger piece of flesh at the bottom of our bodies. Why are they there? What are they for?

photo: D. Sharon Pruitt on flickr

To a pedicurist, toes are for painting. And why not? They’re not good for much else. Well, except to stopping us from tipping over, which is pretty important, actually. But besides that.

By nature, I am not a toe painter. I am not interested in painting my own toes or anyone else’s. The smell of toenail polish alone is enough to send me fleeing from the room, gasping for fresh air. What do they put in that stuff anyway? Toxic waste? I guess if you can’t dump it in a landfill, you might as well use it to decorate your toes.

Needless to say, the whole mani-pedi business is not my thang.

photo: bettyx1138 on flickr

Enter Melissa. For her last birthday, she wanted to get a pedicure. And she wanted me to come with her.

For those of you who know me – and for those who have viewed my wacky picture at the top of this blog – you know that my gender expression is of the flexible variety.

I look like a boy who looks like a girl. Who looks like a boy.

photo: Lillian Howan

It’s taken me a long time to own my unique gender expression. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had the courage to step outside of society’s ideas of what a woman should look like. To this day, I am on guard against messages from the world telling me I “should” be more feminine.

I am feminine. But I’m also masculine. That’s the thing about gender-flexibility. It’s, like, flexible.

And pedicures are, at least historically, the bastion of femininity. Pure femininity – like perfume and pantyhose and puffy, pink pillows.

photo: ellsea64 on flickr

Except things have changed. Guys get pedicures now too. It’s called being metrosexual.

photo: Bryce Giesler on flickr

So I decided to buck up, be a man, and get a pedi.

Melissa was thrilled that I agreed to come with her. And I’m always happy to make her happy. Still, I felt awkward in the salon.

It reminded me of being a teenager, surrounded by girls who wanted to talk about boys and clothes. Back in those days, all I wanted to do was hang out with my best friend and throw a frisbee.

photo: Don DeBold on flickr

Where was my frisbee now? Nowhere in sight, that’s where.

Armed with a People magazine and an attitude of adventure, I planted myself in a chair. A nice lady came over and slipped my feet into a tub of warm water.

So far, so good.

Then she pulled out my feet and started attacking them with a medieval torture device.

Actually, I think she was just filing off dead skin, but the sensation was like being tickled with sandpaper. My feet were twitching so badly in response, I’m surprised I didn’t knock out a few of her teeth.

When she’d had her fill of the sandpaper torture, she moved on to clipping my nails. That was pretty painless.

Or maybe my feet were just numb from the sandpaper.  

Last came the polish. In my case, I’d chosen an androgynous blue, to match my vibe. My toes came out nice and shiny and very very very blue.

I felt like a girl. Who looks like a boy. With sand-papered, painted-blue toes.

I walked out of that salon, holding hands with my sweetheart. My toes were sparkling in the mid-day sun. I felt a sense of both accomplishment and relief.

After Melissa and I got home from our adventure, I posted a picture of my toes on Facebook.

My friends went wild! Everyone was so excited!

I suspect some of this excitement had to do with me gussying myself, girly-style. This sort of enthusiasm can make me nervous, as it reminds me of being younger and being unable to fulfill the societal expectations of feminine beauty.

But that wasn’t what this was about. This was simply my friends being excited for me.

I was excited too, but for a different reason.

I was waiting for my toes to start looking cool. And by that I mean – chipped. Like, rock-star style. Like, toes that having been hanging out at the pool till 3 a.m., howling at the moon. Hearty, androgynous toes.

After a few months, I got my wish. I took another picture and posted it on Facebook, but the reaction was mixed.

Apparently, not everyone shares my androgynous, rock-star aesthetic. I didn’t mind. The study of my toes had turned into a kind of anthropological study.

Like observing chimps in the wild, except it was my toes. In captivity.

My toenails continued their slow cycle of ridding themselves of the polish. Today, some ten months after the sandpaper-torture, they still bear a tiny remnant of my day at the pedi palace.

Will I do it again? I don’t think so. I like my toes au natural. Plus, I’m not manly enough to go another round with the sandpaper lady.

But I did learn something from the experience.

I realized I’m secure enough in my free-floating gender expression to take a trip to Girl Land.

And I realized that sometimes you need to do something different. Just because.

Because the Universe gave us toes. And sandpaper. And pedicurists. And sometimes you just have to mix them all together and see what you get.

Even if there’s no Frisbee.

photo: popofatticus on flickr

When have you allowed yourself to indulge in something different? What did you learn from the experience?

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