I didn’t really wear skirts until late high school, and generally only wear makeup to cover up acne. When my older cousin came to visit once, I ended up playing football outside with the guys instead of learning how to straighten my hair. Tomboys have so much more fun, but unfortunately we often receive so much more crap too. 2 of my previous boyfriends, upon finding out about how and why I was bullied as a child, decided that I was actually bisexual and just didn’t know it yet. My most recent ex believes I cheated on him with an old girl friend of mine. In high school, my first boyfriend brought about peer remarks like “Oh? You’re with —-? But, I thought you were… I mean… I just didn’t know.”  I guess I did fit the stereotype back then, if there is such a thing. Mostly jeans, theatre nerd, soccer player… It doesn’t really help that I’m better with tools and home repair than most guys I know. Within some Christian circles, this makes people assume that I’m anti-family, anti-men, and am acting against Scripture. I was once shunned by several men and their families on a mission trip for helping to carry debris. But enough rambling. There is a point to this: You see, most of the assumptions people make about my sexuality, beliefs, or hobbies based on my decisions to wear (or not wear) a floral dress don’t really bother me much. My childhood bully story has a relatively happy ending.
I transferred schools in second grade. My favorite sport was softball, I loved going camping, never let my mom comb my wild hair, and generally preferred boy friends to girl. Within the first week, the three main bullies in my class labeled me as gay. Any girl found talking to me was labeled my girlfriend, and therefore quickly stopped befriending me. I didn’t actually know what that word meant, and so at first all I cared about was how alone I felt. I didn’t learn till later that my prepubescent sexuality was being determined by my peers based on my hair and ability to throw a softball. I remember being asked if I wished I were a boy. I remember some of the girls refusing to go to the restroom with me. One boy would write “F*** you” in the dirt and point at me. Twice I can remember a group a boys trying to punch me in the face at recess. The one girl I did befriend was with me at the time, and slapped one of the kids. I ran. Finally, after several intervention attempts, my teacher brought the 2 boys most responsible for the hate campaign outside one by one. Then she brought me outside with them, one bully at a time. She told me to yell at them. She told me to tell them what they were saying, why it hurt, what I thought of them, and that I never wanted them to do that again. She told me to yell it as loud as I could, and that it was ok if the other classes heard me. So I did. First it was pretty soft, but eventually I was yelling with everything I had.
The yelling wasn’t really what empowered me though. It was the fact that they stopped bullying me afterwards. I could talk to everyone again. They left me alone. I felt so in charge of myself that what other people thought stopped mattering. Most girls in similar circumstances have had it much worse. People started up the same bullying crap again in middle school (heaven forbid a heterosexual girl not wear ribbons in her hair), only then I found it funny. Yeah, I still have insecurities, and the stuff I mentioned in the first paragraph still stings. But, thankfully, it’s not as bad as I suspect it would’ve been without that experience.


As a kid I didn’t even understand the whole tomboy thing. I mean, I got called that by my uncles and my aunts and all, but I was the only girl. I have 23 first cousins and I am 1 of 2 girls and the other one is so much older than me that I didn’t know her. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t just be whatever I wanted so I was always playing around and it only really became a problem when I got older- like middle school age when all the other people, all the other girls were wearing makeup and dresses and carrying purses and I still had my wallet in my back pocket. I remember my 8th grade teacher- she was like “So, Brandi (it was for some special event), you’re gonna fix yourself up?”.

I was just like “well… I’m dressed.” It was bad. I actually did end up wearing makeup and feeling really uncomfortable the whole time.

So really, it isn’t necessarily that I have a tomboy story- It’s more just that it’s how I lived, and it only became a problem later on. When you’re little it’s more or less the same. It’s whatever. I used to run out in my brother’s shorts and my rubber boots, without a shirt on- just running around the yard. It didn’t occur to me that you couldn’t do that as a girl. No one ever really cared what I did until I got older and then I wasn’t like wearing dresses (and I still don’t. I look super awkward and am really uncomfortable in a dress.) It was just my life. Your lingo- “Tomboy Stories”- my whole life is a tomboy story.

But this really weird thing that happened in middle school- I guess that’s really when you solidify who you are and you start the whole dating thing that it sort of became an issue. So there were 2 or 3 years that became really hard, because I wasn’t girly enough. But then when I got into high school and no more fucks were given it wasn’t really a problem because everyone was just like “oh yeah, that’s just Brandi”. And there were other people- other girls who played sports, and I played sports so it was more ok, and it became even more ok when I got more ok with it. I think playing sports and being smart and all helped. Though honestly, I was already set apart from my the rest of my class… because I wasn’t pregnant (that really helps). And the fact that I didn’t want to go out every single night to go to so-and-so’s house and sit on the back of their truck and drink beer all the time. That also set me apart. I wouldn’t say that I was cast out, but I was set apart anyway for reasons. Being a tomboy is probably one of them. But probably not as important as me not dating any guys in high school… and me hitting on my cousin’s girlfriend.


I played softball during the summer, as a kid. My friends and I would buy enormous bags of sunflower seeds (seriously, girls had their parents go to Sam’s to buy them in bulk), and have contests to see who could spit the shells the farthest. I was always one of the best, until we had to quit because the coaches were afraid that we would get dehydrated from all the salt.


So I played soccer for a large portion of my life, up until high school. But when I was 10 or 11 I played defense and when the ball would get kicked past me I would run at full speed- and I was thick… I was chunky, and I was working so hard- and I would be running and running, and my face was beet red. I wouldn’t care I was just going like “it’s for the game! for the gaaaaaame!!” Then when I would finally get to the ball I was huffing and puffing, because I was out of shape, because I was so fat… So I was still huffing and puffing once the game was over, because I would always be trying my hardest, but really I just had these bursts of sprints that were actually really unnecessary- just because I think the crowd really liked it. So at the end, my coach was like “Whoa! You’re like a tank out there!”, and I was so proud. He said that I was like a brick wall, because nobody could get past me.


Some early tomboy moments:

The first (of many) elementary school visits to the principal is triggered by a bag of marbles coming open and spilling onto the floor from my 1st grade desk.

Praying for below 32 degree weather so girls could wear PANTS to school.

Buying GI Joes and accoutrement with my weekly allowance, at the PX on Saturdays.

Scripting a romance between my cowboy and Indian dolls and somehow knowing I would be better off not telling anyone about it.

Playing mumbly-peg with my pocketknife.

Having my teenage brothers show me off to their friends because I could kick a football higher and further than they could. (That was fun!)

My mom was sick for awhile when I was about 8, maybe 9 – I think she had a really difficult menopause and was being treated for depression; don’t know why, but I find that an interesting contrast to thinking about my childhood tomboy awareness – anyway, my dad took me shopping for new tennis shoes in our little town’s shoestore, on Main Street. He insisted I get a pair of boy’s running shoes. This was 1968 or 1969; girls and boys tennis shoes weren’t as androgynous as they are now, in fact no one had running shoes, so these were particularly male. We all could wear Converse, or Keds, but these were different. I had already figured out that I didn’t fit the mold for little girls, and I resisted these mightily, knowing that they’d brand me as weird and I’d have nothing but trouble at school. Once my mom came home, she took me out for new ones, but those few weeks were spent finding reasons to avoid wearing those shoes. I have never figured out why my Dad did that. He’d raised two girls already, one of them a very girly girl, and the other kind of an egghead, but still femme. I must have confused him.

I remember feeling I’d found a friend when I first read Harriet the Spy. I saw myself in her hoodie, tennis shoes and tools. And her notebook.