My Child is a Tomboy, Trans, Cis… Okay a Child

Not a Tomboy

Yesterday’s New York Time’s saw the publication of “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy” by Lisa Selin Davis. In the piece, Davis argues that her daughter is not trans, but rather a masculine-identifying girl, one who prefers shaggy short hair and track pants to dresses and ponytails. Despite her daughter’s identity as a girl, the institutional gatekeepers at school and the pediatrician’s keep trying to label her a boy. Instead, Davis argues, she wants her daughter to know

You are an awesome girl for not giving in to pressure to be and look a certain way. I want her to be proud to be a girl… And she is starting to be. She is already vigilant about women’s rights. She does not understand why there are separate men’s and women’s sports teams, why women earn less and why they don’t run our country.

Many people- probably those of us who were tomboys and those of us who are raising tomboys to be kick-ass feminists- liked the article for we too have felt this new societal pressure.

Of course, many people pointed out immediately that Davis’s insistence on the “cis” felt like a pushing away from the “trans.” Here on Medium, Chase Strangio published an open letter to those of us praising the the New York Times piece. According to Strangio, Davis’s piece

is being framed and defined in relation to “not trans-ness”: “My daughter is not transgender.” Why do we need to know that and why do we need to have a conversation about the harms of gender norms that does so through the lens of affirming one’s not-trans-ness? This is the animating theme of the piece — the harms of the gender binary and how they take on meaning in relation to being a person who is not trans.

Okay, fair enough. But what seems horribly unfair is the gender policing we do of children in the first place. Put yourself into a binary- male or female, cis or trans. But what if kids want to play with gender? What if kids — and maybe adults too- would be happier if they could not feel like they need to fit themselves into binaries and once located there, stay there?

Now instead of picking between male or female we are coerced into picking between cis and trans. But sometimes the answer is neither/nor or either/or or I can’t decide quite yet or ever.

I think of my own daughter at 7. She woke up one day and decided to identify as he. That made sense. My child was surrounded by people who had transitioned so this was one of many possibilities. For a year, my son went to school with a boy’s name, wore boys’ clothes, and for reasons I still do not fully understand, colored his eyebrows in every morning to look more like a boy. Then one day he announced that he was going back to being a girl. That made sense too.

Why should a seven-year-old have to choose between trans or cis, male or female other than social and parental coercion? What difference does it make if my child identified for a while as trans, for a while as cis, and now as a pansexual feminist young adult, feels all binaries should be smashed?

I too wanted to grow up to not have breasts, not have to be sexually harassed, and had no desire to occupy the debased and demeaned state of “feminine.” I ran around without a shirt, cut my hair short, and only ever wore cut off jeans and converse sneakers.

As I grew older, a set of gendered habits settled onto my body, slowly, and in fits and starts, sometimes getting sir, sometimes ma’am. But my lack of commitment to either remains. I happen to find gender trouble, far more trouble than it’s worth and certainly a lot of children feel the same.

The current insistence that we acknowledge trans as a real and abiding site of gender makes total sense given the horrible history and present of transphobia.

But acknowledging that trans is real should not mean we disavow the realness of gender “meh” for many of us.

I am no longer ten years old. I wear a shirt and many signifiers of “cis female” unless it’s the weekend. But I do this for social convenience, not some deep and abiding commitment to the gender binary or a deeply felt sense of cisness.

And it seems recognizing that many children feel the same- deeply and really feel the same- can be said aloud without diminishing the realness of trans (and cis) identities for many other children.

To say there’s a lot of us who just don’t deeply feel gender is not the same as saying no one does. It is to say we’re gender agnostics in a world of believers.