In a Gender Bender [St. Jane Archives]



When I was younger, (I couldn’t tell you how young, I don’t remember, maybe 8 or 9?) I took the phrase “tomboy” very, very seriously. I detested pink and swore I’d never love a boy. I collected Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and played X-Men during recess. I was always Cyclops.

As with almost everything in my life, I took the “tomboy” a step further. I asked my classmates to call me Kurt, apparently not realizing or just choosing to ignore the fact that I already had a unisex name. I peed while sitting on the toilet backwards after many failed attempts of doing the same while standing. I can’t tell you why I insisted that I wanted to be a boy so badly. I also can’t help but wonder if I was already aware of the patriarchy and the benefits of being a male, a riotgrrrl that didn’t know how to riot, although I doubt this. Maybe people kept calling me a tomboy and I kept hearing the boy.

The term “tomboy” is generally used when it’s being applied to adolescents. And, if you ask me, is fraught with negative connotations. One thing I am not is docile. Teachers would say that I had a large personality. Basically, I was aggressive.

Now, aggressiveness is not considered to be a feminine trait. I raised my hand for every question and I even (gasp!) had the audacity to correct my Catholic school teachers. I spent most of my elementary school years being told to put my hand down, to let the other kids answer, to be quiet, to “stop being a smart aleck,” a phrase that was thrown at me after I mastered and then demonstrated a Christmas song in American Sign Language to my classmates.

I was disqualified from a spelling bee because there was a chance I was going to beat my 8th grade peers. (Sorry for knowing how to spell sapphire, Mrs. S!) So I have to think, are these the qualities people associate with being a boy? How, in the 21st century, was I being called a tomboy over and over because I could name the state capitals? Perhaps I thought that by being a boy, my large personality would finally be in the correct body. A boy, after all, is allowed to be aggressive.

Kurt has since disappeared, but he took a casualty with him: my intelligence. I’m not considered smart anymore, by any means. I’m completely average in almost everything I do.

My teachers would be pleased to know that I no longer raise my hand to answer questions or take control over a group project, but I also lost my spirit. When I stopped being called a tomboy in my teenage years, I suddenly stopped fighting. I was still called a lesbian plenty of times; I hadn’t quite parted with the skater shoes and Hot Topic t-shirts.

I entered my late teens and was still cycling between cargo pants and ribbons in my hair. I started to try to fit in, something I thought I would never be doing. I tried to become a romantic, wearing floral skirts and reading Plath and Woolf in my spare time. (I was always drawn to tragedy, but that’s a story for a different day) I tried punk. I tried hippie. I changed groups of friends so frequently that I learned it was not wise to tell your secrets to anyone at all. I know that some of this is just adolescence. I have a feeling being called a tomboy did not help.

It didn’t bother me like it should have, being called a tomboy, I mean. I wore it proudly. I am not like other girls. I took pride in not doing “girly” things like playing Barbies. I didn’t realize that people were commenting on the fact that I was doing something wrong. (I am so sorry for the liberal use of underlining. I think I was Italian in a previous life.) I became Kurt so easily that it affected my childhood in a huge way, I found that I became a tangled mess of different identities, my own personal Fight Club except I didn’t end up shooting myself, I just changed myself. I think, over a decade later, I’m growing into myself. I fall in love with stupid boys every day and, in some strange turn of events, my favorite color is pink.

I don’t have much more to add about Kurt or my experience as a tomboy, but I do have a final word. For the love of god, do not call children tomboys, sissies, a girly girl, whatever. The results, I promise you, will not be pretty.