The Relationship With My Hands

May 11 2021

1996

I’m 10 years old watching Seinfeld on NBC, and clearly, I’m their exact target audience. The episode’s title is The Bizarro Jerry”, and the plot circles around Elaine. She’s dating a guy who’s the opposite of Jerry, but I remember nothing from that plot.

However, I vividly remember the subplot. Jerry is on a date with Gillian, an attractive blonde woman who has man hands.” Describing his date, he tells Elaine It’s like a creature out of Greek mythology. I mean, she was like part woman, part horrible beast.” 

I stare down at my hands, and that’s when I become aware of my own man hands.” 15 years later, my therapist points out that this feeling is dysphoria. 

These are not the actress’s hands. They’re the hands of a male crew member.

2000

I’m a 90lb freshmen in high school, and testosterone is wreaking havoc on my body. My dad is encouraging me to try out for football in the spring, and he’s telling me the story of how he and his brother tried out for spring training. They played on the defensive line, and in my imagination, they became the equivalent of the Bash Brothers.

He tells me that I should try out, and the worst thing that could happen is that I wouldn’t make the team. I never tell him that making the team would be the worst thing that could happen, but I have fun imagining my best friend and I having the same experience.

Which position would I even try out for?” I ask. He holds up his calloused, muscular right hand and spreads apart his fingers. Pointing to his palm he says, Look here, you have my hands. Hold up your hand.”

In the ritual between many fathers and their kids assigned male at birth, we compare hand sizes. Though mine are much less broken in, they are nearly the same size as his 43 year old hands. 

With those hands,” he pauses, “…wide receiver. You can catch.”

I don’t think I would like being tackled.”

He snorts and jokes Well, maybe the kicker then.”

Ok, that works.”

I try out for marching band instead, and I play trumpet through high school and college. My dad shows up every time.

Louisiana Tech marching band

2008

My girlfriend calls me insisting that I come to her house, even though I don’t want to. I feel like I’m being manipulated again, and I say ok, fine I’m coming over.” I hang up angry, depressed, and resigned, and and on the way out of my bedroom, I punch the wall with my left hand without breaking my stride.

My hand goes through the unfinished drywall leaving a Loony Toon-esque fist-shaped hole. I don’t feel as angry as the hole looks, but there’s no debating that my fist went squarely through it. I’d severely underestimated my strength, my self-control, and my emotional regulation. Soon I would intentionally seek out therapy and learn positive coping mechanisms.

The hole stays there for over a decade, as well as the drawings all around it. 

This was the last time this happened.

2012

Rachel and I are celebrating two years of marriage. We’re both 25 and happy to be living our lives together even though we’re out of money. 

We discuss tattooing our wedding bands onto our hands so we don’t lose our rings, and we want something that feels more like us than a simple thin black line. We choose a stylized rainbow using the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue which gives the impression of a rainbow, but without misrepresenting ourselves. In other words, we don’t want our fellow straight-laced, Bible-reading, church-going evangelical friends to think we’re gay. 

Extremely straight. Definitely not gay.

2017

I’m working on a sign-painting commission using metallic gold and silver enamel, iridescent pearl paint, and 24k gold leaf. 

The painting takes about three weeks, and over that time I grow to love how the iridescent pearl refracts light revealing a subtle rainbow. I wonder what it would be like to have iridescent nails, because after all, my nails are relatively smooth like the glass I’m painting on. I dab a bit on my thumbnail, softly blow on it to help it dry, and I feel a dash of euphoria knowing that my thumbnail has a secret.

I go to work, give a presentation, and immediately before my first slide, a coworker asks Is…is your nail painted?”

Oh… uh, yeah looks like I got paint on my thumb from painting this morning.” Drenched in shame, I mumble I dunno, I kinda like it.” 

I go to the restroom after the presentation and I make sure to scrub the paint off when I wash my hands in the bathroom. 

Painting this piece

2019

I’m 33, and my wife is taking me to a nail salon for the first time because I never develop the courage to schedule the appointment. I don’t know any of the vocabulary or anything about the process, and honestly, thinking about someone else touching my hands for an hour is anxiety-inducing.

I sit down at the counter next to a Black woman who’s laughing with the nail technician across the counter. I notice the impressive control as she paints a thin black line down the center of two-inch nails, and I say my goodness that’s beautiful.”

Both women thank me simultaneously, and the woman with the long nails casually asks me what I was getting. I don’t know the term stiletto nails,” so I say I just really want the pointy ones.”

Yes, do it!” the Black woman says without missing a beat. 

My own nail tech comes to my station and asks an obviously nervous, masculine-presenting person, ok, what are we doing for you today?” My new friend jumps in and says the pointy stiletto nails, super sharp!” 

To make sure, my nail tech asks, Really?”

Is that ok?” I ask.

Yeah totally! Want glitter too?”

More confidently this time, I say, Absolutely!”

I would come out as trans 18 months later.

I trim these later because they slid across my keys when typing.

2020

We’re in lockdown, fostering a year old puppy, and doing everything we can to prepare her for her forever home.

The primary issue with Nebula is that she does not get along with our other dogs, so we find a great trainer who takes her for six weeks to teach her dog manners. Eventually Nebula comes back to us, and she’s made a lot of progress.

One day I decide to take all the dogs on a walk together, which is something they finally know how to do. Usually my wife is with me, but this time she’s at work. Taking all three dogs by myself was a new experience, but given how much they’ve improved, I hope it’ll be fine. 

Despite a dozen red flags in the course of 60 seconds, I press forward, but I cannot control them. I manage to put the greyhound in his crate, but the two furry tornadoes jump at each other from either side of me, and they start fighting while I’m in the middle. 

One of them bites the middle finger on my right hand, crushes the bone, and I’m rushed to the emergency room with a fingertip that’s on the verge of the doctor implementing the Five-Second Rule. 

I’m crying in the hospital bed and telling the attending physician that I’m a calligrapher and artist, and that I need my finger. I can tell she’s trying to remain composed, but I see her eyes welling up. 

A few weeks later I have surgery to repair the damage, and the hand surgeon breathes relief into my soul by telling me that my finger is in great shape and will not fall off. 

The nail grows back differently now, and every time I run my fingers through my hair, I feel each individual hair that drags between my virgin nail bed and the nail itself. 

My hands today.

My hands are living maps of my life, marked with battle scars and tattoos of my complicated relationship with them. They are important tools for me to express love, make art, and write. 

Just like with family members and close friends, there are times where our relationship is rocky, but even still, I wouldn’t trade my hands — the weathered hands of a woman — for anything.