Posted by diagnosemylife
When most people hear the phrase “tomboy” or “tomgirl” they think of images like these:
But that can pose kind of a problem for people who look like this:
The phrase “tomboy” is complicated for many reasons. “Tomboy” can mean a behavior, like the stereotypical “tomboy” who enjoys playing sports and hangs out with guys. “Tomboy” can also describe a style of clothing, which is more masculine (but typically feminine enough to be socially acceptable, for example “boyfriend” jeans). And finally, you have a definition of “tomboy” as a personality…someone who would be considered a guy if they weren’t (by others’ definition) a girl. Personally, I detest all of these versions of “tomboy”, but the last is probably the most problematic, so I’ll divulge into that first. Get ready for some gender ranting, folks.
Back in the day before people really talked about transgender issues or the existence of non-binary people, gender non-conforming people were just lumped into the “gay” category. Granted, some of these people were gay, which seemed to confirm the stereotypes that gay men are feminine and lesbians are butch, but some weren’t. The femme lesbians and masculine, gay men were pushed under the rug because they didn’t fit the stereotypes or standards of queerness that society set up, and because they often could “pass” as straight since they maintain their appropriate gender roles. But they weren’t the only ones throwing the general public for a loop…there were feminine men and masculine women who were heterosexual. These other people, who were also unexplained by stereotypes, were dealt with in a different way.
Society made no room for feminine, heterosexual men. Often they were taught as children to be ashamed of this part of themselves, bullied into hiding their feminine interests, and/or ostracized. Being feminine is still viewed as a negative trait for men, and still associated with homosexuality. So many feminine men hide their true feelings in order to avoid ridicule, because society praises masculinity.
Which brings to light the masculine women. Women began to gradually expand their gender roles as they began joining the workforce, professional sports leagues, and other traditionally male-dominated spaces. With time it became okay for women to express masculinity, because they were in spaces that typically rewarded masculine traits (for example, as women climbed the corporate ladders they dressed more “professional” in blazers and pantsuits, as well as became more assertive and independent in their attitudes). So, in order to put a name to these new changes and differentiate from the traditional feminine woman, “tomboy” was born. Like the feminine men, as children most “tomboys” were encouraged to assimilate to society and often bullied. But this was more relaxed, because many girls just “grew out of it”. Hmm, I wonder why that is…maybe because “tomboys” didn’t attract men? Men, in the efforts to once again avoid ridicule (not to mention maintain their privilege), avoided pursuing masculine women because the affection for a masculine person would probably “look gay”. So during puberty, when earning the affection of the opposite gender is important, heterosexual “tomboys” would abandon their masculine inclinations in order to look attractive. Or, if you’re looking at today’s “tomboys” they try to find ways to glam it up…adding jewelry, keeping a feminine haircut, wearing makeup… Which brings me to the stylistic aspect of “tomboy”.
The fashion industry has broken ground for non-binary people and opposed gender roles, true, but in the name of commercial pursuit the industry tends to go back to restrictive gender roles. Clothes geared toward “tomboys” tend to still emphasize the feminine shape of a “tomboy”‘s body, they use sparkles or pinks and purples to make it more traditionally “girly”, and they ultimately try to break down the masculine aspect of the clothing to still look attractive to men. That’s where I get peeved…it’s still all about looking hot for men, and looking “girly” enough to protect the precious egos of many men.
As for the behavior part of “tomboy”, it seems that society is doing a bit better lately. For a long time, traditionally masculine interests like sports, hunting, and technology were seen as strange interests for women, but because more women have pursued these interests it has broken out of the boundaries of “tomboy”…now, a woman can be sporty or outdoorsy without getting some sort of bullshit label. Those interests are gradually expanding in their definitions to include women. It’s no where near egalitarian, but it’s a start. I still cringe when I see the pink hunting gear, the short skirts female players are required to wear in tennis, etc. but hopefully these efforts to maintain the subordinate female gender role will fade with time.
A lot of positive change will only occur when both gender roles are dismantled. It’s not enough to erase the term “tomboy”; we must work to expand manhood as more than masculine… Femininity will never be seen as equal to masculinity until men feel comfortable enough to express it, or acknowledge that it is not an indication of weakness.
With all of that being said, I can finally get to my reason for bringing up this predicament of “tomboy”: the existence of “tomboy” often delegitimizes the expression of non-binary people who happen to have female parts. This is why it’s not always seen as such a dramatic transition when someone who was female comes out as female-to-male transgender or non-binary/genderqueer…because maybe they were just a “tomboy” before, and don’t necessarily look that much different now. Because the difference is not always a big contrast, a lot of cisgender people don’t always realize the significance of this change. And that’s how they can so easily misgender someone again and again…
“Tomboy” is what a lot of people see when they look at me. And I understand why they would think that, since I am attracted to men. It’s like when they assume I’m a butch lesbian; I understand why people would make that assumption because it’s true that I’m attracted to women. But I’m not either of those things, which leaves me wondering how I am supposed to express myself. How does a pansexual, genderqueer person look? What do they wear? How can you correctly identify them? I never thought I’d miss having someone correctly assume my gender identity, but I do…it can be so frustrating to constantly be seen as something other than your true self.
So that’s my “tomboy” rant. One thing I’d like to add to the discussion is that I’m not trying to imply that women with a “tomboy” style are wrong for doing so in any way—If that is what a person wants to wear, and it makes them feel good about themselves, then I have no room to tell them otherwise. I’m simply trying to express my frustration that society doesn’t always distinguish women with “tomboy” styles from non-binary people. And okay, I don’t always think the “tomboy” style is as feminist as it wants to portray itself, but that’s just my perception. If you think “tomboy” clothes are an expression of feminism, then you do you and wear them! My beef is with society and the meaning of “tomboy”, for all the complications it poses. However, it’s one situation that not going to resolve itself over night…
Posted by diagnosemylife
One of the big discussions of this generation’s 20-somethings is the discussion of gender identity. Everywhere on the media you see both triumphs and setbacks for people whose gender identities do not match the gender they were assigned at birth…from bathroom politics, to transgender characters on TV…and from this generation of twenty-somethings and younger we see more love and support than any other generation. The world is starting to swim with the possibilities surrounding these gender issues; where there was once just “boy” and “girl” there are terms like transgender, genderqueer, bigender, gender fluid, agender, etc. And even though not everyone knows what these terms mean or how to use them, people are beginning to understand that what is between your legs doesn’t dictate who you truly are.
I’ve had my own journey in learning about these identities, and issues in the LGBTQ community in general. It’s been almost a year since I’ve come out publicly as bisexual, and even longer since I’ve come out to friends and family. In this time span I’ve gone through so many personal changes…but perhaps the biggest is the realization that I can be more than just one thing.
Let me explain: by being bisexual, (really pansexual, but I use the term bisexual because just about everyone knows what that means) I no longer fit into the old “straight, white girl” box that I used to. Suddenly I became a part of this world of LGBTQ people, people who didn’t fit into the “straight” box and people who struggled with being a bit less traditional than what conservative America strives for. I was gay! Except that I wasn’t…stigma against bisexuals and pansexuals in the LGBTQ community pushed back against me, and I became outside both groups of people. And then there was my presentation…before I came out, I dressed exclusively feminine. I wasn’t exactly girly in my T-shirts and jeans, but I would have never fathomed venturing into the guys department of stores. But then when I came out, I realized that part of expressing my bisexuality came from how I dressed, how I did my hair, and which people I hung out with. So I experimented. I cut off all my hair and styled it like a mohawk, I traded some of my push-up bras for sports bras, and I started seeing clothing as pieces of cloth instead of boy/girl boundaries. Granted, most of these changes were unconsciously made…I had never realized before how much of my appearance was to attract men until I started wanting to attract women. “Guys like long hair,” “Guys like big boobs,” “Guys like girls who show off their legs in dresses and skirts,” “Guys like everything to be shaved,” Once I started ignoring these social messages I realized what I liked. And I liked short hair, not shaving my armpits, warm legs in the winter and boobs that people stare at less. For the first time since I was 14, I felt like my job wasn’t to be sexually appealing to men. So I became more than one thing, more than “butch”, more than “fem”, more than “straight”, and more than “bi”…I became myself.
Which brings me to now. In a culture that is rapidly asking questions about gender identity (what it is, what it means), I find my decisions under a microscope. I’ve started asking myself questions about why I prefer the things I do…why somedays I hate the idea of putting on a dress and makeup, wish people would call me “bro” or “dude” instead of “her” or “girl”, and want to hold open doors for pretty girls and pay for dinner….and then other days I don’t mind “ma’am” and love the feel of the breeze against my dress and shaved legs… Being allowed to cross gender boundaries in the LGBTQ community has opened up a world of experiences for me that I love. But what does it mean? I’m not a guy—that I know—but am I just a girl?
I just like being referred to as a person. All people love to lump together men and women like their gender determines if they play dating games or will forget your anniversary, and I am guilty of this too. But some days it really bugs me that guys see me as something to fuck rather than a peer to hang out with. And it bugs me that girls talk to me about my boyfriend like he owns me or I own him, instead of us working together. Maybe these little annoyances don’t mean anything as a collective whole, or maybe they do. All I know is that if I am genderqueer, or not simply a girl, than that is a whole other set of hoops life will make me jump through…and I’m not sure if it’s worth the energy.