Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. Before today’s story, I just want to do a quick plug for a show I’m doing, both as a live event for those in Sydney and as a livestream available internationally via Global Fringe. I’m hosting a cabaret variety hour of incredible local performers called Queers On The Fringe, September 23 to 26, with a pay-what-you-feel livestream on the Wednesday night. I’d love you all to tune in, I’ve got an incredible line-up of comedy, music, drag, movement, storytelling and more, with Jamaica Moana, Brendan Maclean, Victoria Zerbst, Nina Oyama, and Jojo Zaho.
Check it out and book your tickets on sydneyfringe.com
And now, Marlee Jane Ward is a writer living on Wurundjeri land. She is the author of the award-winning Orphancorp trilogy and is currently living her dream of being someone’s fabulous goth aunt.
My nail technician is fucking rad. I adore her. She’s kind, she listens to all my problems, she loves dogs as much as I do. She makes cute, explosive noises at random moments. Her nails, both personally and professionally, are totally fucking on it. Perfect every time. Plus, she’s so fucking queer that I bet she bleeds rainbows. She’s got parts of her head shaved that you’ve never even seen before.
She specializes in Hard Gel nails, the kind that can be sculpted all the way up into inch-long talons. I love to watch her craft them, brush in hand, dripping into a pot of clear gel and sculpting each extension just so, turning my hands this way and that. They grow long and sharp from nothing. Every so often, she’ll take my hands and shake them. ‘Relax!’ she says. And I laugh because I don’t know how, but I try to make my hands go as floppy as they can. I like the way she looks at them with such care and concentration, thick eyebrows furrowed. I like the tender way she holds my fingers, making each nail perfect.
I dig reasonably hectic nails – long and pointed, claw-like. I want my nails to say, ‘you fucken bet I’ll cut you,’ probably because I am the kind of person least likely to grievous-bodily-harm anyone, but I’d like to give the impression that I might. Look, I’m five-feet-zero: I need all the help that I can. I want to come across as sexy and dangerous instead of a teeny-tiny, roly-poly pumpkin who’s all tits and dimples and who often can’t be seen over the deli counter at Woolworths. You won’t be able to miss me if I’m drumming a set of thick, black stiletto claws on the glass countertop, now will you?
Hectic as my nails may be, I’m completely unimaginative when it comes to nail art. And also often too broke to get it. My first time in, I told my nail babe that I wanted, ‘your gothest goth dreamgirl nails, please.’ That meant black as black, black like every t-shirt I own, black like starless space, black like the void in Peter Dutton’s eyes. And then every follow up appointment, I’d just request the same.
‘Just black?’ she’d ask, and I’d go, ‘yeah, I guess,’ and she’d always try and find some way to make my black claws more interesting: maybe a chromed feature-finger or two, glitter, or pale half-moons at the cuticle. I don’t mind if they’re fancy or not fancy. It’s not just the fance I’m looking for really, I’m seeking something else from them, too.
See, long, sculpted black nails make me feel like a sexy witch. They make me feel like a glorious summer goth, a dark little spiky babe. They are the source from which I derive my power, the one pointy part of myself that is otherwise all curves and soft round hills.
When they’re long enough, my hands become almost useless, which feels like an amazing marker of status to me: I am so mysteriously special that I don’t even need to use my hands. I can have these talons render me unable to complete simple tasks because I am above simple tasks. How will I button my shirt? How will I pick up that two-dollar coin from the floor? How will I type? Never you mind. I’m a sexy witch, with magic and three centimeters of sculpted monomers at my fingertips.
So, I know that every person in here is clenching the delicate walls of their most intimate mucous membranes right now. Nails, right? Eeee! It’s okay, though, we can make it work. See: eight nails long and vicious. Two short and kind. It’s a pride manicure. I told you my nail technician was at peak queer! She introduced me to ‘utility fingers’. My mum saw my two shorties and she was like, ‘oh no, you broke two.’
But it’s not just that: they’re very important to me in other, non-sexy-witch ways. See, my body… I dunno, it’s unruly. It will not obey. It has been like this for a while. I’m bemused by its expanding size; besieged by its endless, unexplainable mid-level pain; alarmed by the way it acts out in extreme flashes.
I have headaches like thunderclaps and migraines with lights that send me blind. Sometimes I forget how to hold things and I drop them uncontrollably to the floor, or uncontrollably chuck them across the room. My weak ankle tendons snap in two, throwing a tantrum over a single step. The frequent and sudden pierce of an invisible knife into my lumbar spine, so swift and torturous, makes me cry when I try to put my underpants on in the morning. I haven’t been able to turn my neck to either side properly in seven years. I dunno, but I don’t think that’s usual?
I’m the girl you know who always has a bandaid on, who needs a Panadol or a Nurofen or a Valium or an Endone, if you’ve got one. Do you have one? Talk to me later. I’m always on day two of my period and breathing through the pain like it’s labour. My arm hurts. My hands hurt. My body even tries to cling onto youth through convoluted means: I’m 37 years old with terrible acne. You know what makes you feel fucking sexy as your hair greys and your bones grow spurs around your bulging discs? Pustules! All over your fucken face!
‘It’s always something with you,’ a colleague and a partner and my mother once said. Twice. A million times. I know! It is! Isn’t it awful? I’m not sure that’s what they meant. But I can’t control my body. It runs wild, it escapes me. It refuses to comply in so many ways. It expands, it explodes, it aches.
My ADHD specialist doctor once told me, ‘you’re my only patient on this high a dose of dexamphetamine that just keeps gaining weight. I’ve never seen it before!’ Lemme tell you, expensive doctor friend, I can gain weight through anything. Your ‘speed’ is no match for my metabolism. Watch me. Hand me that bowl of pasta and you can take notes for your medical journal. I had to find a new way to put my shoes on not long ago. My big, round tum and my bad back conspired so that the good old ‘bending over’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. As I multiply in size, I seek to sheath it in a parade of big, flowy tops.
They just keep getting bigger and flowier. Soon, I will find the biggest and flowiest of tops and it will subsume me, and we will become one.
But while my body insists on being unruly, there’s one thing I can control. There’s one way to show her who’s boss: I can have the most sharp-pointed, goth-babe, impossibly long fucking nails in all of Brunswick. Maybe in all of the north.
My body might disobey, but my nails make me feel in control: like a tough, hard-femme, hot goddamned bitch instead of a little round Russian matryoshka doll with all the smaller and thinner and painless versions of myself nestling inside.
They are my strength when I feel like I have none. I can’t rein in this body, but once every three weeks I can haul it to the salon and have my nail babe sculpt me a little bit of power over it with just a tiny brush and a pot of gel.
Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast, rate and review it, and follow Queerstories on Facebook for updates. Follow me, Maeve Marsden, on Twitter and Instagram, and please consider ordering a copy of the Queerstories book, a collection of the tales that I edited with beautiful stories by incredible writers such as Nayuka Gorrie, Benjamin Law, Candy Bowers, Candy Royalle, Simon Hunt, Liz Duck-Chong, and Rebecca Shaw.