Pragmaticism vs. Shame: on Self-Censorship

Today, for the first time in about three weeks, my nails aren’t painted.

You have to understand, I love painting my nails. I give myself manicures themed around superheroes, pokemon, figure skaters–whatever strikes my fancy. I have well over a dozen different colours and types of nail polish. I own a separate nail art brush and dotting tool. I have three polish apps on my iPod.

But today my nails are bare. Scrubbed my most recent polish  (a Pacific Rim-inspired manicure featuring three different glitters in blue and black) off this morning, and didn’t put anything on to replace them. Why? It’s not as though I’m afraid to go out in public with nail polish on–I do so regularly, just as I often wear daisy-duke style shorts, or even dresses. My gender presentation is very frequently, very visibly non-normative, and I’m okay with that. In fact, I had planned out a new nail display for this morning, but when it came time to put it on, I hesitated.

You see, today I have my second appointment with my psychiatrist. And it’s an important one–I need to update him on medication and how that’s going (well, thank you for asking), but also I need to seek referrals; I am moving to a new city in the fall and will need medical care there. It’s a lot to cover and I want to be sure there’s time for it.

I stopped myself from painting my nails this morning because I was scared. I was worried that my psychiatrist–who I don’t know that well–would see them and be given pause. That he’d want to make our appointment about my gender, about how I understand it and present it. That deflecting those questions would take more time than we had to spare, and would distract from the real issues I want to discuss.

So that’s practical, right? I made a decision based on objective factors rather than on anxiety or uncertainty. Or so I’d like to tell myself.

But I don’t know. I can be pretty weak-willed sometimes, though I’m teaching myself not to. And I think the reason I want to avoid having a gender conversation with my psychiatrist is more than a time concern. I don’t know if I want to talk about gender head-on right now. I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m worried that he could talk me into viewing things about myself in a way that isn’t true, that isn’t right for me.

I’m worried that if I give him the opportunity he can talk me into feeling ashamed, even though I’m not, generally. My self-confidence is constantly in a delicate equilibrium, and I’m always afraid that if I subject it to scrutiny it’ll crumble. 

But the practicality aspect is part of it too–time is important. I can’t separate out the two. I wish I was in a place where I could just slap on the polish, psychiatrist’s opinion be damned. But I can’t. I made the choice not to, for several reasons combined.

This post doesn’t have a tidy ending; I just have a lot of thoughts about this morning’s decision and the factors contributing to it tangled up in my head. Can pragmaticism be a mask for insecurity? Can the two coexist? Where does one end and the other begin?

I’m painting my nails when I get home tonight. But in the meantime, every time I look at them they’ll remind me just how little I still understand about myself.



One thought on “Pragmaticism vs. Shame: on Self-Censorship

  1. I think when dealing with gatekeeping (or even just the possibility of gatekeeping) even insecurity can be pragmatic. I think for many people who are dealing with exploring the edges of enforced binaries, especially ones that challenge white systems of identity, insecurity and pragmatism become intertwined in ways so complex that it can’t really be said that one ends and the other begins at a specific place.

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