tomboy: explained


1 november 2017

This is literally not a joke.


At primary school, marking the edge of the playground there was a shrubbery with a small hole in the corner - convenient enough to fit eyes in.


Every so often, an around-eight year old SIM would dare to look up at that corner to find the intrusive eyes of her Dadi. She was patrolling to see if I was playing with boys. It’s ironically amusing now, because I have always been a girl’s girl. But she was never to know this, so it was blasphemy. 


I’m sure to this day it hasn’t even crossed her mind.


That said, it’s heartbreaking to think about now. The innocence of a child stolen by constraints put on an ageless brown female body. It was just boys catch girlsor knock offor anything else involving running. Just games, man. 


It wasn’t any better in the playground itself. I was always labelled a tomboy, and that would have been fine if it wasn’t associated with such negativity. Being a tomboymeant not being girl enough. Not being girl enough for a cis-female child meant not being good enough full stop.


Add this to starting a new school, the expectations of brown home-life, the intimidations of whiteness the second you step outside of comfort. 


Around eleven now, and Year 7 is in full swing. Puberty is properly kicking in, but I still cannot help the way I walk or talk or what my interests are or my ever-confusing, dormant feelings about other girls especially in an all-girls school. Secondary school spewed the same opinions primary did - people just used tomboyless. 


It was here that I slowly began to realise the wafer thin line between tomboyand lesbian. Whenever a conversation about short hair or straighteners was involved, that line could snap at any second.


(Ever since I cut my hair short, it is now widely believed that I suddenly realised I was a lesbian and so had to cut my hair just to confirm)

tomboy (2017)

I’m an adult woman now, and my first lesbian relationship starts. This is actually happening. She was South-East Asian and naturally, her mother spoke mainly in Tagalog. Obviously, the lesbo life was on observation the majority of the time. One day I understood her gestures and watched her ask if that person on the TV was a tomboy. She meant lesbian. 


There was no apology, misunderstanding or even a flinch. That was literally it - for them, lesbiansare referred to as tomboys. 


I’m not sure if this is something that spans across South-East Asia but I found it fascinating. 


Two separate damaging labels (at the time for a brown kid who had a lot of soul searching to do yet) combined into a dismissive, ignorant but also culturally rife noun used to describe what it means to be me.


I never found it offensive. In fact, it was quite the accurate critique. I never knew that I had always been searching for someone to confirm that actually all of my experiences of lesbianand tomboynever really differed from one another. According to ignorance, these labels were homogeneous. 


It’s been all of two weeks since founding TOMBOY - and I named it as such because that’s what I am. I’m at a secure stage in my lesbo life where I can actually claim both terms and take them back from the people that stole them from me. From the opinions that made being a tomboy negative - less of a woman, a challenge to being a cis-female.


Twenty-four in the seconds I write this:


I’m a lesbian. I’m a tomboy. I don't care what they mean, those words are now mine.