These days, when she gets ready for school, the hair will be done. Perhaps it will be a braid of some sort, perhaps it will be curled. Earrings will be selected. A light and subtle application of age-appropriate makeup usually follows. The only constant is that she will always put on a skirt.
It didn’t used to be this way. When younger, she was quite the tomboy. There were the fights over getting her hair cut short, fights she lost not because we’re that controlling, but because short hair has to be cut more frequently and we didn’t want to add monthly visits to the stylist to the calendar. The uniform was shorts or pants and a polo for school, nicer pants and tops for dressier occasions, and athletic gear for casual moments. Jewelry was a no-go, even the pearls and things that grandmothers like to give to be worn at church.
She never suffered from dysphoria. She always knew she was a girl. It bothered her how often she was mistaken for a boy, not connecting the dots between her preferred functional form of attire and how it was virtually indistinguishable from the clothing sported by little boys. She was horrified when a classmate exhorted her to “just get the surgery.” That was reading too much into the truth, which was that she just wanted to play, to roughhouse, and to get outside. Dresses and skirts didn’t lend themselves to such things.
Once puberty arrived, the interests largely remained, but the video tutorials on how to do different braids and requests for new earrings joined them. It’s also when she looked at me earnestly in the car one evening and said, “I’m glad you and Mom aren’t liberals. You would’ve tried to turn me into a boy.”
While there are people across the political spectrum who recognize the realities of biology, statistically speaking, she wasn’t necessarily wrong in her proclamation. If she’d been born to this mom, this mom, or this mom, things could have turned out much differently. Thankfully, she was born to us, and we don’t hold retrograde opinions about the imaginary relationship between preferred clothing, toys, activities, and sex.
Not everyone is so enlightened, though, instead preferring to categorize children based on rigid stereotypes about how superficial things define us as boys and girls, men and women. Countless stories, like those linked above, of parents realizing their daughter was “transgender,” start with “I knew my son [sic] was trans when…” and revolve around such stereotypical markers. She didn’t like the color pink (once hated in our house, now one of her favorites), dresses, or games associated with little girls. Ergo, she must be a boy!
All one has to do to make such a logical leap is ignore the fact that prepubescent kids are, by definition, not sexual creatures and, as such, not much thinking in terms of true masculinity and femininity. They are just thinking about what interests them, not how those interests align with or diverge from their sex. It’s misguided parents who swoop in and make those assumptions.
This viewpoint is especially incomprehensible when one realizes that tomboys have long been with us. They were once staples of literature and other entertainment, from Laura Ingalls to Jo in Little Women to Pippi Longstocking. That they enjoyed clothing or activities more typical of boys wasn’t reason to attempt to muck around with their biology, and it still isn’t reason now.
If you have a daughter, you have a daughter. Her preferred clothing and activities do not define her, particularly when she’s young. Maybe she just finds pants more comfortable or likes playing in the dirt more than playing with a Barbie. If you let her grow up as a girl, those preferences may stick or they may, as in our case, shift in more traditionally feminine ways. In either case, it is not our job as parents to guide them toward self-destruction, but toward self-fulfillment and flourishing.
Let your tomboy be a tomboy. As a father, enjoy that you can get out and do more rough-and-tumble things with her. As a mother, enjoy that she isn’t raiding your closet or makeup tray. To do otherwise, to make the destructive assumption that because she doesn’t fit a stereotype she must have been “born in the wrong body,” is to abdicate your responsibility as a parent, to punish her with pseudoscience, and to saddle her with a lifetime of legitimate suffering, not the imaginary kind that arises from preferring blue to pink.
This author is a regular Federalist contributor.