Not transgender: a tomboy.

A mother writes in the New York Times of her daughter, who wears track pants and t-shirts, who aged seven affects a Luke Skywalker hair cut, and who, having been told she is a “tomboy” identifies as that, though she asks why it is a tomboy. She is quite sure she is a girl and not trans. Wanting freedom and respect for children who identify as trans, we surely want the same for children, however they identify.

The mother has read up on puberty blockers, and is quite willing to accept if her child decides she is a trans boy; but the child does not say that. The mother accepts her child’s decisions, as when aged three she wanted clothes like her father’s. By her own words she is the model parent for a trans child, accepting and backing up her child, though the child does not identify as trans; I believe her.

Why would a child identify as trans? Would a child who is reassured that they can behave as they like, as far as gender roles go, never consider that they were really trans? If a boy wants a princess dress from the Disney store, does that make him a girl? Would a boy imagine he was a girl, because he picks up from the culture that those things are for girls?

That is, is there a gender identity or just motivation towards certain behaviour?

Parental support needs to be self-sacrificial, like Billy Elliot’s father scabbing during the miner’s strike to support his son’s ballet ambitions. Even then, the family need some support and recognition from outside, or the child may go along with their peers’ ways. They have, after all, to know they can survive in the world.

The mother criticises the teacher in the after-school club, who asked, Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again? The implication of the article is that if the child is non-conforming, there is pressure on the family to transition. People understand transition now, and the mother implies some think it appropriate for non-conforming children. I hope a teacher or doctor would want to ensure that the parent was not moulding a child to prevent transition, and such moulding could be done subtly- of course the child can climb trees, or wear what s/he likes, but must never talk of being a boy. Children can read their parents, what is approved or disapproved.

The mother writes of her objection to the child being asked- but it is the child’s decision, and a question is not a demand. Properly used, questions can help a child understand the range of her/his options. They had not known it was possible until they heard of it.

More generally, if gender roles are not enforced on anyone, will anyone transition? Commenters talk of when they were girls, or children they know, in the 1950s or 1970s playing with a pedal car marked “Police” or feeding ants to spiders. Others talk of now. I am a woman; I love fashion and am considered attractive. And yet I am a scientist, an atheist, and a science-fiction nerd. I despise romances and chic lit. I am not warm, supportive or nurturing. Another says Speaking as a short-haired, slacks-wearing adult woman working in a male field who nevertheless feels feminine, I think it’s important to keep looks/roles separate from deeper identities. She feels the feminine makeup skirts heels look is expensive and uncomfortable.

Trans folk need freedom for everyone. In a society where gender roles are rigid, trans people will be excluded. It seems to me that adults are freer to express themselves as they wish; and yet the numbers transitioning increase. This is because trans is real for people, not just adjusting to circumstances.

New York Times article.

13 thoughts on “Not transgender: a tomboy.

  1. It’s funny – and I find it increasingly annoying – that society feels such a pressing need to require and enforce conformity, simply because it lacks the subtlety to allow differences without puzzlement. Of course, large groups of people seem to feel strangely insecure, as if they have to conform with each other in order to exist, and the only way to do that is to require everyone to be superficially the same. Very odd, for where is the threat?

    Small groups of individuals are typically far less judgemental and samey.

    I felt a pressing need to dress masculine as I grew up. In part this was due to my body shape, but also because of lack of encouragement towards any sort of femininity, and probably also, now I think about it, a way of hiding my femininity from attack by the medical profession. If I wore macho clothes, it wasn’t me they were attacking, but only the image I gave them to attack.

    Would that we could just allow people to be as they are, without the need to categorise. Sigh!

    Bless you, Clare. Wonderful article. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read the article this morning, and wrote immediately. Thinking further, it’s an article about how her daughter is so much a tomboy that she gets pushback, which would probably be not worth publishing except for the trans link: she gets pushback from people who think her daughter is really trans. So however friendly her words towards trans folk- a much-needed sensitivity to gender nonconformity and transgender issues is “considerate” and “wonderful”- this is an anti-trans article: people are more accepting of trans children than of her daughter. She wants acceptance for her child- as everyone does- and her solution is less consideration for others.

      Where is the threat? In their own temptation to be themselves, which incurred the wrath of their parents when they were small, and so still terrifies them; and in the realisation that there is no point in conformity after all, and they have tortured themselves into conformity for nothing- the realisation that they have wasted so much of their lives. It is a terrible threat, unless they can accept freedom for themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Indeed. Looking at the article from my angle, I don’t see it as anti-trans. She makes the point, merely, that people make strange assumptions, as I read it. But that’s just me. ((xx))

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  3. “if gender roles are not enforced on anyone, will anyone transition?” – This is a truly important question, and one we will only truly know the answer for when children are allowed to do the following in the most comfortable way to their own minds; dressing, toys, playmates of choice, sports (or not) of choice, potential careers in any possible sector and choose the partners they wish based on this ideal too. And it is ideal all that to my mind. Pardon my wordage here dear – but the transition from what we as a society have been rigidly told to follow, to one where there is an understanding of trans people is going to be fraught with the questions you ask, and the best way through it is to do just that – ask the questions. The ultimate aim to my mind is for society to grasp that this absolute insistence on labels simply doesn’t work for one and all, because people range in all ways massively across a huge sliding scale. Acceptance of the way we wish to form our formative years would, I have no doubt mean that some people would never feel the need for surgery, whilst others may welcome it with open arms. Gender would be a part of growth within childhood just as much as learning how to write and spell, what is right and wrong and who’s party we absolutely aren’t going to because they copied your homework. I do not mean by any stretch of the imagination to appear as though I am trivialising the matter – au contraire, its so incredibly important it should just be on a par with everything else we at present deem ‘normal’.

    I was told I was a ‘Tom-boy’. I would not wear ‘pretty clothes’, I played football (albeit alone against a wall for hours), and I much preferred the company of boys to girls too. Looking back I never once wanted to be a boy. But I didn’t want to be a girl as I perceived them either. I just wanted to be. I liked me as me. I did not like being called a ‘Tom-boy’ at all. Eventually, my artistic side led me to the bright colours and joys of marvellously glamorous make-up, and I credit David Bowie and Sophia Loren for some of that leaning too. A man and a woman. Bowie was a beautiful creature in the most obvious sense; so are we, though it is far, far easier for me to be so than it is you. And that’s what I want to change. Let us all be the creatures we feel is right, not ones assumed on our behalf, and allow within that process the option for a potential huge amount of change.

    A large part of me is very angry and frustrated that I may not see the above occur within my lifetime. I bloody hope I do mind you. I have similar feelings about veganism. When I am an old toothless crone I hope to be eating the finest cruelty free food on the planet whilst my conciousness swans about in any kind of AI body I choose. Fingers crossed on every front.

    I know I don’t get round here much, bear with for I am very run down as organisms go, but whenever I do it’s always a pleasure and you often get more words out of me than anyone else!

    Esme giving Clare a hug and getting the tea cakes out upon the Cloud

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    • parchment

      I agree. I want no moulding of gender. It is quite consistent to go to work in slacks with no make-up, and out in the evening dressed and painted to the nines; to use different presentations for different circumstances, and to bring out different parts of your personality as the situation requires. So, we would have an endless palette to play with, and different people might prefer different colours but have the option of using any of them.

      We get there. Most people can find communities to tolerate or delight in our most outré eccentricities; as people loosen up, every community will.

      Until then there are buns and teacakes on the Cloud.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I saw this article too. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. On the one hand I hear Esme’s hurt and frustration and I empathize with her. On the other, I’m actually pleased to hear that transgender awareness is increasing to the point where the writer is asked if her daughter is trans. Also, and not to be minimized, that the writer is open to whatever her daughter finds herself to be. And last, that we increasingly read such stories in The New York Times!

    At 61 I wish I was younger. Less so because I’d then have my life to live over and more because today we do have so much more acceptance and awareness of what it is to be transgender. I think we’re at a tipping point, perhaps as we were in the 60s during the civil rights protests, and it will only get better over time for us. Sure, we have troubling fools like Trump and his ilk in office now and that is worrisome indeed. But this happens regularly and what we’ve seen is that positive change is impossible to reverse or halt in the face of real human need.

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  5. Smile, and the whole world smiles with you. Transition, and the whole world transitions behind you – way behind. Tolerance leads to acceptance, but acceptance is not understanding. So, I just keep smiling, without any more expectation than getting one in return. This is much more satisfying than is the condescending smirk that comes with acceptance through political correctness.

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