I was never a tomboy

15 05 2008

When I read trans-related stuff, I often read things like: “Of course, I was more interested in (insert opposite-sex related activities here) than in (insert socially approved gendered activities here).” So, for example, many FTMs will comment about how they preferred climbing trees than playing house and many MTFs will comment about how they preferred wearing dresses rather than pants.

That’s fine. I can remember playing with Matchbox cars (I had a little carrying case for them!!) and toy trucks instead of dolls.

What bothers me is the “Of course . . . ” part of those statements, as if it went without saying that a gender variant person would have adopted all the attributes of the “opposite sex” in childhood. Yes, I played with cars and trucks and I didn’t like dolls. But I DID have stuffed animals, some of them with pink bows.


Anyway . . . even though I played with toys usually associated with boys, and I was already starting to “see” myself as a boy at a young age, I can’t say that I was ever a tomboy. I wasn’t very athletic. I played on the basketball team one year because I wanted to try something new but I would actually avoid catching the ball, unless it was on a rebound (I was good at that for some reason) because I didn’t really understand what to do with it. I was always the last kid to be picked for teams in gym or at recess. In my spare time at home, I read books from the library, especially sci-fi or astronomy stuff, or the encyclopedia.

But, oh, how I WANTED to be a tomboy, especially just before and during adolescence. I envied tomboys. They were spunky. They were boyish. They were cute. But they were still feminine somehow. By virtue of being girls doing boy things, in my mind at the time (although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it as such), they were female.

My problem, I thought, was that if I did boy things like the tomboys did, it would show that I wasn’t a REAL girl. Everytime I wore sneakers as a teen, I felt unfeminine. I wondered how it was that other girls could wear boyish clothes and still look feminine and sexy. I knew I couldn’t get away with it. This led me to largely exagerrate my femininity, with brief interludes of quasi-tomboyishness. I thought that the only way I could conceal that there was something wrong with me would be by concealing any hint of boyishness, or non-girlishness, that could possibly appear.

This lasted well into my 20s during which I felt like a big clutsy fool whenever I wore anything that wasn’t overtly feminine. However, I increasingly felt like a big clutsy fool even when I wore very feminine clothes! I would walk around with a fear that somehow, people would see me for what I was: someone pretending to be a girl. And then I not only exagerated the feminine look through clothes but through my behaviours and gestures. Every movement, every step, every glance,  was well thought out and planned to be as convincingly female as possible. EVERY thing. I wouldn’t let anything slip.

Boy was it tiring!

Ironically, the past few years of gender exploration have been spent undoing that damage. I had to unlearn all these subtle gestures, glances and postures. I had to unsuppress the reflexes that I had learned to supress because I had feared they were too masculine. And now I’m free.  

Now I don’t even care about gestures that may make me seem feminine to others. I don’t think about my movements, posture, expressions . . . anything. I just am. And it’s amazing how much I’ve been accomplishing now that all those parts of my brain that were occupied with presenting a false face to the world are free to do other things!



22 responses

15 05 2008

These are material things that society designates as masculine and feminine. I am a male and I had a barbie once, and I like the color pink and purple. Does that make me any less male? These are just silly things humans come up with.

15 05 2008
Jacky V.

Of course they are, thus my qualification of ” toys usually associated with boys” rather than boy’s toys. Regardless, these associations are so deeply engrained in the collective consciousness that the distinctions seem natural and unquestionable to most people, either cis or trans. And they become symbolic of masculinity and feminity.

As for them being silly . . .on one hand, I agree, especially if they are taken to an extreme. On the other hand, every society in the world associates a set of behaviours and things with each sex and gender (whether or not they recognise more than two is another issue). What those sets of behaviours and things are varies, but it is pretty much a universal human tendency to find ways of distinguishing between the sexes/genders. I don’t think that is inherently wrong or silly. It becomes problematic when the distinctions or associations become set in stone and unquestioned, and when there is no possibility for an individual to pry themselves out of a box.

15 05 2008

Yeah, the ‘of course’ bothers me too.

I was such a book worm too…

16 05 2008
Nick Kiddle

I don’t remember being particularly interested in “boy stuff” until I was about eleven. That was when I decided to “be a boy” as hard as I possibly could, in the hopes that the universe would somehow let me off getting periods. And what a strange idea of what boys did I had in those days too.

I also played with dolls throughout my childhood. Of course, the dolls were often the crew of HMS Cardboard Box, but it was still Playing with Dolls. And then there was the barbie doll that transitioned…

16 05 2008

To throw a wrench in it all, traditionally some countries/cultures have assigned pink to boys and blue to girls!

According to Jean Heifetz, for centuries, all European children were dressed in blue because the color was associated with the Virgin Mary. The use of pink and blue emerged at the turn of the century, the rule being pink for boys, blue for girls. Since pink was a stronger color it was best suited for boys; blue was more delicate and dainty and best for girls. And in 1921, the Women’s Institute for Domestic Science in Pennsylvania endorsed pink for boys, blue for girls. (When Blue Meant Yellow. pp. 20 -21)

One could argue that contemporary color symbolism confirms these associations. Blue is considered a calm, passive color, hence feminine. Red (pink derived from red) is considered active hence masculine.

In Belgium they dress boys in pink and girls in blue.

(Source: ColorMatters.com)

I just am.

Exactly, strip aside all labels and the expectations that come with them, and all that’s left is a Human.

To quote RuPaul: “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.”

17 05 2008

But, oh, how I WANTED to be a tomboy, especially just before and during adolescence.

I was a bit like that, but the only tomboy we really had, Jenna, always struck me as only being a girl in name. She dressed like the boys, played wtih the boys, acted like the boys, and to a degree talked like them. I never understood how she could be like that, and really envied it. Didn’t try, though, mom’s spent 17 years trying to get me to act/look like a girl and I’m still learning how to get my way on these things.

The “of course” is really annoying, though. It makes it seem as if you had to be like that, and if you weren’t you aren’t as much of a boy/girl. It’s also annoying because they’re upholding gender stereotypes and roles. I’d rather we get rid of them than keep them. Maybe I’m just weird for that.

18 05 2008
Jacky V.

Nick wrote: “And then there was the barbie doll that transitioned…”

Oh, man, you can’t just tease me like that!!! I MUST know . . . sounds like there’s a heck of a story behind that!

Ryan: Why doesn’t it surprise me that you were a bookworm : )

G.O.: Thanks for the reference. I had read something like that before but I didn’t know the details or the symbolism behind other colour assignments.

Ry: Yes, I can relate to what you say. The stereotypes get on my nerves too, regardless of who propagates them. If people feel comfortable with them because they feel that it applies to them, great! But I wish they wouldn’t make sweeping generalisations since so many of us find those inapplicable. Thanks for writing!

19 05 2008

Agreed, we need more details about TransBarbie!

20 05 2008

Even when young I was pretty balanced in my gender-associated activities and such. I played with barbies at home and GI Joes at friends’. Sis got mad when I gave her barbie a mega-haircut. My room used to look like peptobismal but I thought I was Evil Kenevil on my blue bikes. I spent as much time reading as I did outside. Though fairly good at sports (unlike my sis I’m not a natural athlete) I was often picked last and one coach had to be coerced by another before taking me onto the team.

There were periods when I tried somewhat to fit into society’s standards, but my first year of college said “screw it”. I’d had enough of feeling like a stage character. Only reason I let mum talk me into wearing a dress to senior prom and not a tux was because I was taking a marine.

I was sort of a weird girl for a lot of different reasons – I was too smart, I talked too much and I beat up boys. ~Pat Califia

It’s the first thing people ask: is it a boy? Is it a girl? Well – what the fuck! Why should you care? It’s a baby! Give it a rest, it’s five minutes old! ~Pat Califia

20 05 2008

I had a Cabbage Patch doll as a kid that came with a birth certificate. It had some girl’s name. I told my parents, matter of factly, that the doll was named “Fred” and was most certainly not a girl.

They–grudgingly–sent some kind of request to Mattel to have them send a new birth certificate with Fred’s name on it. That was one happy day when that piece of paper arrived.

And he didn’t have to go on T or anything! 🙂

21 05 2008
Nick Kiddle

sounds like there’s a heck of a story behind that!

Not so much, I’m afraid, we just didn’t have any kens so I decided one of the female dolls should be a boy. He was a cheap knock-off rather than an actual barbie, and his body was hollow, so it was fairly simple to push his boobs in. His hair was also pretty short, which may have been why he was the one to transition. I also drew some stubble on his face with black felt pen (his hair was yellow!) and later made him a plasticine penis so he could have sex with my sister’s barbie…

21 05 2008

I’m so happy for you that you are now free

21 05 2008
Jacky V.

Nick: Well, that is a fun story to me : ) Has some commonality with Malcolm’s story too. hehehe

Mish: Thanks for sharing your story!

Jace: Thanks for the comment.

21 05 2008
Jacky V.

LOL. Malcolm and Nick – I’m picturing a whole line of Mattel Toys with genderqueer/trans action going on.

12 11 2008
50th post! « Tboy Jacky

[…] I was never a tomboy […]

22 02 2009
P-Easy, K-Shizzeh [PenaltyKillah]

Masculinity has many shades now. Not just macho GI Joe… heck, being a skinny geek with a gadget blog gives you just as much respect. (Name about five of them. Well, maybe not THAT difficult)

The problem with femininity is that it is too one-dimensional. All too evident in history – women somehow fell off the imperial lineages of ancient Egypt, only to be relegated as the “drawing room” wives of male pioneer explorers who discovered the world beyond the West. Over time, the aim of pleasing her (or a) man (when he is back from a trip or a war) quickly paved the way for the glamour/beauty concept in judging a woman’s ‘quality’. (Marilyn Monroe and Playboy magazine greatly attributed to this.)

23 02 2009
Jacky V.


Welcome to my blog and thanks for leaving a comment.

I’m not sure that I agree that femininity, in the mainstream sense, is one-dimensional. Even in the media, we are increasingly seeing various brands of “femininity”. They have a uniting tie, though . . .the physique is nearly always slender and there is something sexy about them, in the sense of pleasing men. So, yes, that element is there but it seems to be extended to various means, or dimensions, of being feminine.

Also, I remember that as a female, I had a lot more leeway for a lot of things. I could get away with saying and doing things that now get me branded as “effeminate” or “gay.” I don’t really care, personally, but I find it interesting to notice.

Thanks again for commenting!

22 12 2009
100th post! « Tboy Jacky

[…] I was never a tomboy […]

2 06 2010
Faggot Boi

I was a girl imposter throughout high school. I did a bad job, slipped up a couple times, and was constantly worried that someone would call me out on it. But I watched and I copied as best I could. I didn’t know there was anything else I could be at the time.

3 06 2010
Jacky V.

Hey there! Thanks for the comments! From this one and the other one, I can see that our experience was similar. That whole thing of not knowing there was an alternative to being female or an alternative to the traditional trans story.

17 03 2016

I know this post is old as balls but I used to be sure I was trans (FTM) and now I am currently going through a phase of uncertainty for multiple reasons but I just wanted to say that it’s always good to read stories I can relate to.

While in my uncertainty I’ve been looking back at my childhood for stereotypical masculine traits that may help for me personally to point in the direction that I am right about being trans, reading that other FTM or FTM-leaning people had a period in their lives (usually the teen years) where they were repressing masculine traits really comforts me. I used to think I was crazy and fake for having had that experience, but I’ve also been thinking (since a lot of my uncertainty may be a result of repressing that I am trans) was me subconsciously worrying that anything that made me seem masculine would out me.

Internalized transphobia and the fear of not fitting neatly into either of the ‘male’/’female’ boxes sure is a pain in the ass

18 03 2016
Jacky V.

I’m glad you can relate! I also used to think that I couldn’t possibly be trans because I had so successfully achieved some way to present “femininity”. As you said, this post is really old
Since I wrote it, I’ve come to realize I’m neither female nor male and have found a comfortable place as gender fluid. At the time I identified as FTM, I didn’t really know there were options outside the binary. I just thought I was a weird FTM LOL

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