Manicurists, like hairdressers, have this unrivaled ability to spark the kinds of conversations you'd never dream of having with your cab driver, barista, or doorman. It's the reason you have probably, at one point or another, found yourself discussing the intimate details of your failed relationship or your fears about speaking up at work — after just 15 minutes of sitting in their salon chair.
When you're physically close — as in, holding hands in between coats of polish — it's easier to get closer emotionally, too. That's something trans rights activist Charlie Craggs, who founded the national campaign Nail Transphobia, uses to her advantage. Since 2013, she has been setting up pop-up salons in different museums, galleries, and festivals throughout the U.K. (and, most recently, in New York City), and does her nail art for free. The goal: Give the public a chance to sit down face-to-face with a trans person — something she admits most people have never had the opportunity to do — to be a support system for others transitioning, break down stereotypes, or to just... talk.
So when Craggs came to Refinery29 for a recent Facebook Live, that's exactly what we did. "I set up [Nail Transphobia] just before the whole trans tipping point, when the only time you heard about trans people was on Jerry Springer," she says. "Our lives and stories were sensationalized and people had a lot of misconceptions and questions about us."
Her aim with the pop-up shops is to be the public's archetypical "trans best friend." Craggs says, "You know how everyone has the gay best friend, who helps people understand the gay thing? I’m trying to do that with the trans thing. I’m just trying to break it down for people in the nicest, friendliest — and most accessible — way. Nails are just my catalyst for conversation."
Her clientele spans race, sexuality, gender, and age, too. In fact, even straight, cisgender men have popped into the events to see what they were all about. "They’ll come to get one nail done, and then once I start talking to them, they’re like 'Oh actually, you can do all of my nails — I want to hear [your story],'" Craggs says.
At a time when violence against the LGBTQ community is at an all-time high, these kinds of conversations have never been more important. And Craggs ensures she won't be slowing down any time soon.
"I want to take it to the next level," she says. "I’ve just gone global, with [a salon in] New York, but I want to go more places and spread the love. I’ve been really lucky that what I do gives me a voice in the media — I’m able to shout about important things that matter. So that’s what I want to do: Keep shouting."