Monday, September 25, 2017

Nails by MP Johnson (#trans #memoir)

Nails is not a happy book. It is not exactly what you would call a feel-good story. It is a sad and anxious read, a story that is full of sorrow, doubt, and pain. More importantly, it is a powerful read, one that I could not put down, even after I finished it.

Such brutal honesty does not come easy, but MP Johnson makes it seem effortless. Like a breathless confession, her story echoes across the page with the sound of acrylic nails tapping out every emotion.
I hate going out in drag when the sun is still shining, but the nail salon is only open until seven, and I need acrylic nails. Need. Need. Need.
Part fetish, part anchor, and part accessory, Nails serve as our entry into Emma's word. It is their memory from which her femininity begins, and their reality from which it continues to blossom. Here we have a woman who flies across the country and stays in a seedy motel, just so she can visit a particular salon to get her nails done - not to impress anybody, but so she can feel like herself. They are her foundation, and their extravagance is a fitting match for the strength of her personality.
I want dramatic. I want over-the-top. I want fucking nails, not nubs.
There is so much I want to say about this, so many scenes and sentiments that were hauntingly familiar, but I do not want to steal Emma's story out from under her. It is not that she has dark thoughts that matters, it how she frames them, how she shares them, and how she navigates them. Similarly, it is not the brevity of her happy moments that matters most, but the fact that she continues seeking them out, acknowledging the darkness, but never allowing it to win.
I look at her, surprised. I want to tell her what I had to do to get these nails, everything I’ve gone through for these fucking nails, and then ask her why she can’t. Instead, I smile and accept the compliment with a “thank you.”
Nails is not a story of coming out, but a prequel to that life-changing act. This is the story of Emma exploring herself, understanding herself, and beginning to accept herself . . . so that she can invite the world to do the same. The final act, with Emma's catharsis at the hands of Mistress Jillian may shock some readers, but the story's final six words bring it all home.

MP Johnson recognizes that long nails are basically the most unreasonable, unwieldy style choice a woman can make, but she rocks them anyway. So what if she can’t use ATMs? She can still write. She is the Wonderland Book Awardwinning author of Dungeons & Drag Queens and several other books. Her short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Dark Discoveries and many other publications. She has created a variety of zines, including Trans Mess and the long running Freak Tension. She is the founder of Weirdpunk Books, a press devoted to merging punk rock and genre fiction.

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