Nail Transphobia is a pop up nail salon helmed by 23-year-old London-based activist Charlie Craggs. Travelling across the UK giving free manicures, Nail Transphobia aims to counter negative media strereotypes of trans people and humanize trans issues.
Through her work, Craggs has emerged as an immensely popular and positive figure. She was recently featured in a body positive Selfridge’s underwear ad (alongside WAH Nails’ amazing Sharmadean Reid), has spoken to the UK Parliament on trans issues, and was named one of the most influential LGBTI activists in the UK by the Independent.
Having recently written an article entitled "10 Things I Did to Feel Like a Girl When I Couldn’t Transition" which featured tips like painting your nails and moisturizing, Craggs is a proponent of beauty as an act of healing, saying “it changed my life, it’s more than just skincare and hair care, it’s about self care. The act of looking after yourself is an act of love, and learning to love myself saved my life.” With Nail Transphobia, Craggs is bringing this self care to the masses while breaking down stereotypes, creating allies, and just having a chat. We caught up with her to talk about ‘fabulous activism,’ why representation matters, and how to be an ally.
What led you to found Nail Transphobia?
CHARLIE CRAGGS: It took me a long time to accept myself as trans, but when I finally did it was a huge relief, however I soon realized that just because I was ready to accept myself as trans that didn’t mean the rest of the world was, and all of a sudden my life got a lot harder. Back then in 2013 there was much less social conversation around the subject, and it annoyed me that very few people were talking about transphobia so I decided to start the conversation myself and started travelling around the UK with my pop up salon to try and tackle the issue.
The campaign is all about tackling transphobia by creating allies. I know I’m not gonna be able to change the whole world with my campaign, I’m just doing my bit to change the world. If we all do our bit we really can change the world.
You’re not a nail technician, is there any particular reason why you chose to do nails for this project?
Everyone loves a free manicure, honey! I always shied away from traditional activism prior to starting the campaign because I never identified with it. Traditional activism is often very angry and aggressive, rightly so, but that’s just not me. I wanted to do activism, but I wanted to do it fabulously, so I started doing what I called fabulous activism. I can paint a nail but I’m no nail tech, for me it’s more about the conversation, nails are just the medium I use to instigate this conversation. Nails are my catalyst for change. I chose nails as my medium because of the intimate, one on one nature of the act. I’m able to touch people in the physical sense, but I’m also able to touch people on a deeper level, because it’s very personal. It’s just me and them, it’s a bonding experience.
What do you usually talk about?
I don’t have an agenda or a script or anything, usually it’s the other person who initiates the discussion on trans topics, they can ask me questions and I’m able to educate them. We’ll also talk about normal stuff like who we want to win The X Factor and that’s just as important for me.
You’ve stated before that Nail Transphobia is trying to counter the poor media representation of trans people, can you talk more about that?
Trans people’s lives and bodies are often so sensationalized in the media, I’m trying to combat this by humanizing the issue. The media is responsible for a lot of the misconceptions people have about trans people, and is also responsible for a lot of transphobia. The media has taught the public to a focus on things like our genitals, surgery, our old names, it’s taught people to call us trannies and shemales and taught people that they have a right to point us out when they see us in public in true “that’s a man, Maury” style. I’m trying to combat all of this with my campaign. It’s all about education.
You’ve often stressed your working class background, what role has your upbringing had on your activism?
Caitlyn Jenner said in an interview that the hardest part about being a woman is choosing what to wear… The hardest part about being a woman for me and 99% of trans girls is leaving the house every day knowing that there’s a good chance we might not come home. Google the trans murder statistics, Caitlyn, hun.
I stress the importance of positive media representation, but it’s also so important that the media and trans people with platforms highlight the struggles the more marginalized members of our community face everyday navigating the world as trans people — things like leaving the house, using public transport, using public bathrooms, seeking healthcare, seeking work — things that cisgender people take for granted, basic human rights, we as trans people are denied or have to fight for. Caitlyn doesn’t face these struggles because she is privileged, she has money, a chauffeur and bodyguards, there is only one Caitlyn Jenner though, the majority of us face a much harsher reality. Working class trans girls, trans girls of colour and particularly working class trans girls of colour have it so much harder. This is what we need to be talking about.
What role do you think allies have in the fight for trans rights?
Allies play a crucial part in both the fight for equal rights and legislation but also the fight that is our everyday lives as trans people. Every time I’ve been attacked in the street for being trans, if it hadn’t been for an ally stepping in there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here writing this now. When I do someone’s nails I’m hoping I’m sending them out into the world with more than just a manicure, I like to think I’m sending them out with a new perspective and that I’m sending them out as an ally. This doesn’t mean they have to get in fist fights with transphobes, it can be as simple as calling your friend out when they post a transphobic facebook status or calling your boyfriend out when he says “that’s a bloke” when you see a trans person in the street. Ripples make waves.
The Nail Transphobia website has a self defense tab which tells people to contact you for more information. Can you tell me about these classes?
Yeah! I’m just about to start running free self defence classes for trans and nonbinary femmes. Transphobia is a part of most trans people’s lived daily experience. Despite the progress we have made in the last few years, the trans murder epidemic is getting worse and worse every year. I was just on BBC news talking about the rise in transphobic hate crime in London, every trans person should know how to defend themselves. It really can be a matter of life and death.
What are your future plans for the project?
A fragrance, a clothing line, an album etc. You know the usual.