Yes, I paint my nails. I started in my freshman year of college, where I began to develop my own sense of what I liked to wear.

As a freshly uncloseted freshman untangling an undetermined queer identity, style played a massive role in figuring out who I was.

And it still does.

My first fashion jaunt after I came out was colored nails. Today I am nonbinary, but during my first semester of college I identified as a male-presenting he/him, and, at the time, presenting as anything even slightly feminine was terrifying.

My suburb of Indiana was not brimming with barrel-chested, house-building he-men, but the pressures of gender still seeped in. Hair was cropped short in utilitarian visits to Great Clips. Angry yawps echoed in our house at the interception of a football. Church was attended in the same steady uniform of collar and khaki.

I slowly built up the nerves to explore expression outside of these suburbs, on the campus of my college.

It took several late-night hang-outs with friends who had the polish to become more comfortable breaking away from a masculine image.

As I returned from campus to the suburbs after my freshman year, the now comfortable expression began to feel strange again.

On campus, I was a member of a larger body of LGBT people, but home was an island of sorts.  

The same conservative pressures returned, and I felt heavy exhaustion in fighting these influences. I came to the realization that I was regressing, shoving myself back deep into the closet. Why draw any attention, right?

But in an air of desperation, anger and rebellion, one afternoon I painted.

I still remember the color: a deep, rich maroon. I only needed a single coat.

It felt as if I had taped flares to the end of my fingertips, bright flaming indicators that I was not straight.

To my parents, it was my first outward expression that I was queer, which frightened them slightly. To be honest, it frightened me too. But the nails reminded me of who I was, and where I wasn’t. It was worth the fear.

As I began to build my own collection of polish, the colors began to reflect my confidence. From unassuming black I warmed to maroon and pink 一 today I use rich greens and flashy yellows. 

I often ask myself why I kept painting even in such a conservative community, but I realized wearing the colors was a lesson in identity.

Being queer is not a show. It’s not for other people. My fashion is a reminder of who I am, and who I will always be.

Avraham Forrest is a writer from Indiana. They attend Indiana University. In their spare time they enjoy baking and jogging. Follow on Instagram @avraham_forrest.