Home Against gender norms: Confessions of a reformed or not-so-reformed tomboy

Against gender norms: Confessions of a reformed or not-so-reformed tomboy

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I grew up in the 1980s watching TV shows and cartoons my younger brother chose to watch.

Perhaps I would have been a tomboy anyway, but I did not like wearing dresses and skirts.

I hated the color pink.

The only feminine aspects about me were the fact I enjoyed jewelry, perfume and purses.

I was never interested in shoes like most girls.

I wore baggy clothes and kept my long hair in braids or a ponytail.

I was often mistaken for a boy. Once, someone referred to my dad having two sons.

As a teenager, I became interested in hair and makeup, so much so that I thought of pursuing a career as a makeup artist and hair stylist.

By my early 20s, I had begun to reflect on why my choices were either gender-neutral or what society viewed as masculine.

I was heterosexual, but did not want to give in to the constraints society placed on girls and women about what we were supposed to be interested in or how we were supposed to look.

I always tended to get along better with guys and became “one of the guys.” I didn’t have many gal friends until college, and even then tended to be friends with gals who would eventually tell me they were usually “one of the guys” also.

The truth is it took having a crush on a boy at college for me to consider changing my appearance. I realized maybe a boy I was interested in would not be interested in a girl who dressed like a boy.

I suddenly developed an ability to enjoy wearing dresses and skirts. Half of my closet in my 20s and 30s was dresses and skirts.

I continued to enjoy makeup, jewelry, perfume and purses. My outward appearance changed so much that even my grandfather commented a few months before he died in 2009 that he was glad I was “finally dressing and acting like a girl.”

I still enjoy holding on to my tomboy ways sometimes. In recent years, I’ve added a couple of shorts and shirts to my wardrobe that remind me of my less feminine choices in life. It’s kind of fun to still feel like how I dress does not define me as feminine or masculine. Just human. I’m also wearing dresses and skirts less often in recent years.

I’ve thought of my journey as a tomboy while trying to learn and understand more about LGBTQ+ in the 21st Century. I came to the conclusion I will never understand what it is like to be transgendered, bisexual or homosexual because none of that has been my journey. But I know what it is to be judged by what is on the outside.

In college, I learned that gender is a societal construct. Society decides that boys should like the color blue and play with trucks and girls like the color pink and play with dolls.

Did I mention I hated dolls as a child? I had a few Barbies and enjoyed doing their hair and making clothes for them.

But the traditional path of feminine was not for me, much to the dismay of both of my grandmothers who expected a girly girl as their first grandchild, who was also the only granddaughter on both sides of the family for a long time.

As I get older, however, I make myself laugh as my likes and choices evolve.

Now I love the color pink and, this summer, I have been obsessed with buying shoes.

The point is that I have made the choices of what I like and how I dress. Society did not. And I cannot imagine living in a world where society or anyone else would be permitted to dictate my choices and my appearance.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.