I hate the word tomboy. It lands on me like a blow. Sometimes I actually flinch. You’re so determined to tell me I’m not a girl that you have come up with a word that literally means male boy. You are redundantly doubling down on my absence of girl.
I fucking hate it. In that single word I see every old lady chasing me out of bathrooms since I turned six.
My wife loves the word tomboy. Today, in a swirly dress that hung down to her boot heels, she told me, “I am a tomboy! In my heart.” For her it’s a kind of rebellion against perception. She will climb a tree in a dress. She will put on makeup to go outside and fix the scooter.
She says the word with such pride that I sometimes find myself softening to it.
In my vocabulary, I’ve replaced tomboy with rough and tumble. My granddaughter is rough and tumble. She will launch at you in her adorable summer dress like a goddamned tsunami.
Tomboy holds so many of the difficulties and contradictions of my work to be out. To be comfortable shaving my head and dressing like my grandfather. To walk into the women’s bathroom casually singing to put every woman in there at ease. To save me having to assert who I am to strangers.
“Oh,” the woman said, appraising me at 7, “you’re the one who doesn’t like pink.”
Not anymore, man. Now I’m as comfortable with pink as I am with a wife who is tougher than I am.
Sometimes a word gets tied up with all your shame. With what it has cost to be the you that is most essential. I’ve given that word too much credit. It’s not as heavy as it used to be.