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Nails Paperback – September 18, 2017
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From the Author
I'm not going to lie. This book is rough. It is not positive. There is no happy ending, not in these pages at least.
It took me a long time to accept who I am, to accept that I am a transwoman. Along the way, I tried to convince myself that I was a crossdresser, that all I needed to do was put on women's clothes once in a while and I would be okay.
Eventually, staying at home and crossdressing started to feel confining, not to mention lonely. I needed more time, more space. I started taking weekend trips to give myself the time and space I needed to be me, away from family and friends who I thought this would hurt, who I thought would hate me if they knew.
I always planned these weekends carefully, hoping they would be fun and triumphant, while also hoping they might let me get this nagging feeling that I was a woman out of my system. The reality is that they ended up being sad, desperate and awkward affairs that involved me doing things that were just not me in the hopes of somehow finding the real me, and someone who could see me.
Nails is a lightly fictionalized take on one of these weekends. It's not a rah-rah-rah go trans! book. This book is not about how it gets better. This book is about the messy parts that happen along the way, about the BS that me and many other trans ladies put ourselves through because we didn't know what to do, because there was no roadmap, because we were convinced that we were wrong and that the world didn't want us.
This one goes out to all my sisters in the closet, and all those who have fucking fought their way out.
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In Nails, Johnson presents a semi-fictional (at least I get this impression knowing a little about Johnson herself) slice of reality, and search for self, compacted into 77 pages and a few days of vacation time in LA, where our narrator attempts to cram his secret (feminine/masculine) life with as many searching experiences as his courage will allow--all symbolically linked with manicured nails--before he must go home to the false reality he must preform back in Minnesota.
All of this is achieved without Bizarro. The protagonist exists in our world, but is forced to negotiate many. What comes through in Johnson's work, is again, the stark poignancy, the darkly comic humor (which her voice commands so well), the heart shots of emotion laid bare, and the rolling turmoil of an individuals struggle with identity.
Johnson captures this pain of this unrest, when she writes, "Not only am I a freak, but I'm a freak with no friends, a freak that nobody cares about. Nobody does care about me, I realize. At least they wouldn't care about me if they knew this me. They care about the me I present, the fake, one hundred percent masculine me. But that's not really me. Nobody knows me. I have no body. I am nobody."
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.
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.
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.
Nails is a lot of fun, actually and funny. MP Johnson is a veteran of zines and genre fiction and her honest, intimate voice makes this book work as an entertaining story and not just a confessional or plea for a cause.
Come in the interest of social justice; stay for the tragic comedy; remember it for the rare humanity.
(Also, if you share MP's fingernail fetish, this one's an automatic home run.)