A recent J.Crew catalog featured creative director Jenna Lyons and her young son, whose toenails were painted neon pink. Naturally, this was the cue for all hell to break loose. A boy, wearing nail polish? This is a big deal! Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist writing for Fox News, suggests that her son may need therapy at some point because of this, and that it somehow signifies the collapse of various gender markers that distinguish men from women. But the only reason this kid, or anyone, might need therapy for this, is because of people like Keith Ablow who think they should be treated as abnormal for such trivial and irrelevant reasons. Would he have preferred a more manly color, like blood red?
Keith Ablow claims that “almost nothing is now honored as real and true”, and says it’s “unwise to encourage little boys to playact like little girls.” But what does it mean to act “like” a boy or a girl? There’s nothing about nail polish, for example, that makes it any more “real and true” for girls rather than boys. It’s just as artificial for either gender. Yet somehow, people have decided that it’s appropriate for girls, but inappropriate for boys. Why is that? Nothing defines it as inherently “feminine” beyond the collective agreement to regard it as such. He goes on to say, “how about one in which a little boy models a sundress? What could possibly be the problem with that?” But what makes him think a dress is, by definition, something for girls only? If boys did wear dresses, they wouldn’t just be for girls anymore! So what is the problem? You should see what Winston Churchill looked like when he was 4 years old, and then tell me gendered clothing is some kind of absolute.
Keith Ablow believes that “encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil – not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts? Why not make race the next frontier?”
For a psychiatrist, he apparently knows nothing about what gender identity is. This isn’t something that people choose for themselves. For all practical purposes, it does appear to be present from birth. But it doesn’t always match up with physical sex. And what he’s suggesting is anything but being comfortable with one’s gender identity. Those “grotesque” procedures are considered the standard of care by major medical associations, and for good reason: in most cases, they’re effectively curative and allow people to live a more normal, healthy and comfortable life. And as a doctor, he should at least be aware that there’s a process of sexual differentiation in the body and brain during fetal development, with no such analogue for race or ethnicity. Variations in this process are the reason why transgender people do genuinely exist.
Keith Ablow goes on to ask, “Why should we hold dear anything with which we were born? What’s the benefit of non-fiction over fiction?” Well, for one thing, that’s exactly what trans people are doing: being true to themselves and how they were born. But more than that, nail polish and dresses aren’t something that anyone is born with, male or female. It’s not any less of a fiction when it’s on women – just a socially agreed-upon fiction that’s completely arbitrary.
He later suggests that girls having earlier sexual relationships with boys is due to some kind of blurring of genders, as if to say that this is a masculine behavior. Yet earlier, he expresses concern over girls being prematurely dressed like adults, with halter tops and booty shorts. Is that something boys are known for now? Then he worries about young men with their perfect hair and their washboard abs. Was working out and getting buff supposed to be a feminine thing? What’s he complaining about? Perhaps most absurdly, he goes on to claim that this could lead to boys and girls losing interest in starting a family instead of “having great sex forever”, and “marching into combat against other men and risking their lives.” If nail polish can make people stop wanting to kill each other and start having awesome sex, maybe we should give it a chance!
Keith Ablow speaks of mothers “parading their sons through the streets in costumes”, as if it’s not a “costume” when girls are the ones wearing it. He accuses them of being “hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force in the universe.” It’s like he thinks nail polish must be a crucial and essential component of womanhood. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s mistaken his own limited notions for those of some “creative force”, one which apparently cares about how you paint your toes.
It’s not as though people are going to become any more feminine because of various accessories that are currently treated as such. People who feel more feminine might just be inclined to choose the things that are identified with it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So stop reifying the artifice of gender performance, and start recognizing how obviously manufactured it all is – no matter who’s painting their nails. The only ones who are going to lose their heads over this are people like Keith Ablow.