Tomboy and Gender Non-Conformity


I recently watched the French film Tomboy. If you’ve never seen it, I would highly recommend it as it is about a gender non-conforming child trying to navigate life.

It has gotten me thinking about how parents react to their children when they don’t conform to stereotypical gender roles. The mom in Tomboy annoys me. She is fairly accepting of her child, Laure, but she seems to make no attempt to understand Laure. Laure is biologically female, but lies to some new friends and claims to be male. When Laure’s mother finds out, she makes Laure wear a dress and tells everybody that Laure is a girl. There are a few things that disturb me about this. The first is that she never tries to ask Laure why Laure lied. If my child lied about some aspect of themself, I’d want to know why. After all, most people are proud to call themselves what ever gender they were labeled as at birth. Second, what if Laure isn’t a girl? The mother didn’t try to figure out if Laure felt more like a boy than a girl. She could have done serious psychological damage to her child by forcing Laure to be someone that they aren’t. And finally, Laure’s mother never explained anything to Laure. Just dragged the kid around trying to fix everything herself. How is Laure supposed to learn anything if nobody explains the moral implications of Laure’s actions? And how is Laure supposed to learn to solve their own problems if they are always fixed for them? Isn’t that one of the most important things for children to learn?

All of that got me thinking about what I’d do if I had a gender non-conforming child. Since I myself am gender non-conforming, I would be thrilled if my child was the same. However, I’m also worried about what that would mean for my child. But, if I do find myself in that position, I want to let my child lead. They are the ones who have to decide what their gender is. They have to navigate the world as a gender non-conforming individual. I can guide them. I can let them know what their options are. But I can’t tell them who they are. I can’t force them to be someone they aren’t. As such, our children will wear gender neutral clothes until they’re old enough to tell us what they want to wear. If the look silly, who cares? They’re kids. As long as they’re happy, that’s what matters. I will never force any of my kids into a dress. And if they lie about their gender, we’ll talk about it. And it will be up to them t tell the truth. After all, who am I to say they are actually lying?

There are so many examples of parents raising gender non-conforming children. So many of them do wonderful jobs, but they get so much criticism from people who have no way of understanding their situation. I hope that one day gender non-conforming children will be accepted as normal. But, in the meantime, I idolize the parents who raise this children with so much love and acceptance.

If your child was gender non-conforming, how would you react? How would you deal with a situation like the one in Tomboy?

Here is a link to a poem that I think does a great job of describing what it’s like to be gender non-conforming: http://stonetelling.com/issue5-sep2011/lipkin-changeling.html

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7 responses to “Tomboy and Gender Non-Conformity

  • adegrandis

    I have always been gender non-conforming and was lucky enough to be born into a family of eccentrics who simply let me get on with it and stood up for my right to be whatever I damn well liked. That didn’t mean it was easy because society puts enormous pressure on both genders to conform to stereotypes. What it did mean was that I always had the confidence to resist the pressure because I always knew that my family were behind me (or in some cases ahead of me in the non-conformity stakes)

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  • Judy Amy

    I’m glad I found this post. Well said! I am looking forward to watching the film. As the mom of a gender-fluid 6 year old, I am always amazed at how many people are bothered by our choices in letting our son wear and do what he wants.
    On my blog, I sometimes write about this issue. Without trying to be too presumptuous or arrogant, I think you might enjoy my posts on the subject from a parent’s perspective. Here’s a link to one of them: http://thinkdreamdo.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/w-is-for-why-boys-dont-cry-part-2-of-a-3-part-series/
    Also, thank you very much for the follow. I hope you enjoy the randomness that you encounter on my blog. Cheers!

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I think you’re doing a great job with your kids. When I was small my mom bought my brother a doll because I wouldn’t let him play with mine and, being that he was my little brother, he wanted to do everything that I did. She never told me how my dad reacted to the doll, but he was always far more concerned about following gender stereotypes than my mom was.

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  • Deanmcsmith

    My daughter (born male) was gender non conforming in only one way as a child. She had the most beautiful long blonde hair that she grew from the age of 4 until she was 11. At that point her step-father insisted it was cut off and my ex-wife agreed. Words cannot begin to describe the damage that one single act did to my daughters identity, forcing her to hide every aspect of her growing identification as female from them.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      That’s really sad. Not everybody who’s trans* is obvious about it from childhood. But it’s silly that we assume people must have short hair to be male and long to be female. It makes no sense. I hope her mother and step-father realize the damage they did to her.

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  • joatmon14

    Great post. I would like to say that I would handle it the way you describe handing it yourself, but it seems that people in that position don’t always follow what they know is the right thing to do. We do our best to allow our kids to be themselves and have to remind each other that what other people think is best for them, really doesn’t count. They are just suggestions that we can take or leave alone. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

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