When I was a kid I dressed like a boy, acted like a boy, hung around with boys and at primary school (ages 7-11) played on the boys’ football team. I was a tomboy. I don’t know if I actually wanted to *be* a boy. All I really wanted was to be myself. And that meant being able to choose to do all the things that boys could do. There were certainly many times that I thought or said “I wish I was a boy” or even presented myself as a boy (I went by the name Stephen for a while). That wasn’t because I really wanted to be a boy, it was because it would have made doing the things I wanted to do, e.g. wear trousers to school, play any sport I wanted, or kiss girls, so much easier.
At secondary school (ages 11-18) things changed. The boys I played with previously didn’t want to know anymore and I didn’t really know how to be friends with girls. Subsequently I didn’t really feel like I belonged or fitted in anywhere. What I wasn’t prepared to do however was to compromise and change who I was just to fit in. I just got used to spending a lot time by myself and feeling happy in my own company.
As an adult I’m not sure I would call myself a tomboy any more. I don’t know if that’s because to me being a tomboy sounds like a very childish thing. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve got other words to identify as – lesbian, queer, masculine of centre, etc.
Something I have struggled with both as a child and as an adult is how I dress. It is both the easiest and most difficult way I have of expressing myself. It’s easy, because I know exactly what clothes make me feel like me and feel comfortable. It’s difficult because that doesn’t match the majority of the world’s perception of how a woman should look.
I think I’ve finally found my style, and this is something I’ve been searching for for a long time. I’ve struggled against the idea that finding something to wear that is flattering necessarily means finding something that is feminine. I therefore went through many years of wearing clothes that were far too big for me, I thought that by avoiding flattering I was avoiding feminine. Wrong. To find the kinds of clothes that I feel comfortable in I shop mainly in the men’s section.
My style brings with it challenges. There are a lot of people out there for whose perceptions of gender are very fixed: men have short hair and wear trousers, women have long hair and wear frocks. I face the challenge of these perceptions on a daily basis. Not a week goes by when I am not mistaken for a man at least once. This can be as small as being referred to as “Sir” at the supermarket checkout, or as big as being confronted in a public toilet by someone who thinks I’ve walked into the wrong one. The former I tend to ignore. The latter hurts me, has happened on too many occasions and leaves me with a fear of any situation where I have to follow a gendered route. I’m yet to work out a standard response to either situation, that makes me feel good, challenges the other person and hopefully makes them rethink their ideas about gender.