Blurred (Gender) Lines

by Claire Smith
Originally Published: 

I have a daughter. She is eight. I just want to repeat that for the record – she is EIGHT.

The other day I was asked if I’m worried she is a lesbian. This question didn’t come out of the blue – it came after a ten-minute conversation with the lady doing my eyebrows. She’d asked me if I have any children and we got chatting about my daughter. I was waffling away and when I’d finished explaining what my daughter is like, the beauty therapist asked me.

At first I was speechless. Then I laughed. Then AWKWARD. Then I mumbled an “I don’t mind” and left.

Five minutes later, I’m in my car and I’m really annoyed. I’m annoyed at myself for my lack of articulation and I’m annoyed because the lady’s reaction is exactly the kind of reaction I have seen towards my daughter for the past four years. She was just more vocal about it than most people.

The thing is, my daughter is a tomboy. Not just a climbing trees, kicking a football around kind, but a 100% dedicated to EVERYTHING BOY kind.

From the minute she turned four, she refused to wear dresses. She joined Beavers when all her peers were joining Rainbows and her Christmas lists include skateboards, black skull duvet covers and Spiderman hoodies. She wears boys’ clothes, boys’ school uniform, boys’ shoes and tucks her long hair into a baseball cap. At our 10th wedding anniversary party, she wore a suit. Often, she wants to be called Sam or Ben. She doesn’t know Snow White or the Little Mermaid but some of her best friends are Batman characters.

I used to laugh because I thought it was just a phase. But here we are four years later and nothing has changed. Well, something has… I have.

The thing is, you see, people don’t really understand a girl who dresses like a boy and I have no right to get annoyed about that because, once, I was exactly the same. Oh yes, I used to laugh – but that laughter soon turned to worry. Worry that there was something wrong with her, worry that she had gender dysphoria and worry that people would think that I was forcing her to be this way. But worried most of all because she just wasn’t how I’d imagined my little girl to be and it was having an effect on our relationship. I didn’t understand her.

I was confused because all around me I saw daughters with ribbons in their hair, wearing Cinderella dresses and playing with Barbies. Then there was my daughter dressed in army camouflage, her face painted as a demon and her skull ‘n’ cross bones wellies – constantly being mistaken for a boy.

Her first teacher had a word with me once to say that she thought she had “issues with her self esteem”. The annual school dance was stressful because they couldn’t understand why she refused to wear a pretty dress. There were the odd comments from the girls in her class. She wanted to play with the boys, but although the boys were more accepting of her, at the end of the day she wasn’t a boy.

Then something happened which gave me the slap round the face I so needed. I was discussing her with a friend who cut me off mid-sentence and said “Claire. I’m not having this conversation with you now. She’s eight and she’s happy. If she’s a teenager with real issues, then we’ll have this discussion.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear. In those few moments I realized that my daughter is very special, indeed. She is unbelievably happy in her own skin and as for having “issues with her self esteem” well, hey, – she knows exactly who she is. I needed to concentrate on her, forget what other people think and sort out my own mistakes.

After all, even if she does turn out to be gay or want a sex change or damn, well anything else – what does it matter? Isn’t it better for a child to be open about what they want and who they are than to spend years hiding it away? I honestly don’t care as long as she’s happy and I’ll be there for her, no matter what.

The second I accepted who she is, is the second our whole relationship changed. No more battles over the baseball hat or clothes. No more me trying to get her into any girly activities. No more fights over her hair. In fact no more a mother being, in a way, disrespectful to a daughter who has a clear vision of who she is, even at age eight.

Recently, I’ve seen articles where people are complaining about their daughters being “clones” and “copycats.” I’ve read the Disney-Princesses-are-eating-my-daughter stuff and the complaints about pink-for-girls culture and marketing. Some people don’t want this for their daughters, it seems. They don’t want their daughters to conform, understandably, but of course it’s worrying if they DON’T. I’ve been there.

But here’s a thing – I have a daughter who doesn’t conform and who doesn’t even care about conforming, but it’s very rare that I see a reaction other than it’s bizarre. Like I said – she’s mistaken for a boy. Sometimes I correct people, sometimes I don’t, because she doesn’t care. If I do correct, I usually get a strange look or a “Weird, I thought that was a boy.” comment. I’ve been asked if she’s a lesbian, if I’m worried she’ll want a sex change, if I’m gutted about not having a girly girl.

A good comparison is Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. The media reaction to seeing Shiloh with short hair and wearing a suit was outrageous to the point where there was even talk that Brad & Angelina had wanted a boy. I tell you now, I might not have much in common with Angelina Jolie but I bet we share this – a history of battles trying to get our daughters into a dress and now a deep admiration for a girl who would rather take the stick than be something she’s not.

And I’m sure Angelina has come to realize exactly what I’ve realized – that at age eight it’s so much more important to have a healthy, secure and happy child.

Yesterday my daughter told me that sometimes she gets asked by the kids at school if she’s a boy or a girl. I asked her how this made her feel. Her reply was “I don’t mind. I’m not bothered. They’ll learn.”

Yes they will, kiddo, I thought. They will.

Then I went right out and bought her a Batman bag.

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