The Tomgirl Profile: Commonalities among gender-variant or gender non-conforming boys

by Bedford Hope on September 29, 2009

eggs_adAs supportive parents find each other through mailing lists on the internet (see the CNMC and Transkidsfamily) we share stories about our kids, and the problems they face— and the problems we face being thier parents. Over the years a profile builds up, qualities that many of these boys seem to share.

We are astonished to find the same patterns, the same specific behaviors, popping up over and over again. List members collect their own lists of anecodotes.

Some of us have attended gender conferences and listened to presentations by clinicians and pyschiatrists working with these children. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent time talking with Edgardo J. Menvielle, MD, Catherine Tuerk, Greg K. Lehne, Ph.D. and Kim Pearson, all of whom I consider experts on gender non-conforming children. (Kim is an activist and mom, not a caregiver, but she has helped so many families navigate these waters.)

There are very few experts in this area, and very little research.

Some of the kids on our lists are trans; some are tomgirls; some are in flux; some are supressing these qualities and trying to fit in. The following list is not intended to subsitute for any professional opinion on the matter. My list is focused on gender variant boys who frequently do not end up identifying as transgender, though transgender children may share many of these qualities.

I have been told, and forgive the flakiness of the term, that Trans kids and GV boys give off a subtlety different vibe. Professionals working with them often have opinions as to who is really transgender (bound for SRS or a lifetime presenting as female) and who isn’t. But parents—not professionals—are the deciders when it comes to how to raise their children. These  professional opinions may never even be voiced, as they work to create the most supportive environment possible, given a family’s, or a community’s…limitations.

It’s important to note here, that even modest accommodations made for these children often have a huge impact on their later mental health and self-esteem.

Without further ado, here’s my list:

  • Barbies not Babies: tomgirls (i’ll use that term for GV children throughout this list) are more fascinated by dressing up barbies than nurturing babies.
  • Hyper feminine: the most extreme manifestations of femininity are embraced; sparkles; high-heels; make-up; rainbows; glitter; fashion, hair, nails, Jewelry.
  • The Princess: A fierce relationship with the barbie princess is almost universal.
  • The Drama Queen: volatility; extremes of emotion; blinding despair, giddy elation. All kids are like this; tomgirls often moreso. Favorite quote from despairing tomgirl: “I wish the human race had never existed!”
  • Character identification: Identifies exclusively with female characters, even when the story in question has almost no role for female characters. (My son was Bo Peep in Toy story.)
  • Averse to Rough & Tumble Play / Team sports: Almost forgot about this one. Obviously, some gender normative kids are like this as well.
  • Towel Hair: Many pretend to have long hair, using towels as props. It doesn’t matter if the child is, say, african american. They all want long flowing blonde hair.
  • Pink: You can have any color you like, as long as it is pink. In my case, pink and white has given way to pink and black as my son hit age 10. Fortunately, Hello Kitty stuff comes in both flavors.
  • Expresses desire to be a Girl: My son was sad he wasn’t born a girl when he was younger. He blamed his mother. Some  kids blame God. He cried himself to sleep when he was 3 or 4 a few times over it…that experience changed us.

Here are some anecdotes from our email lists; it’s possible the self-selected nature of our groups have yielded a certain kind of GV boy. Take these with a grain of salt.

  • Sociability: This may only manifest in situations that allow it, but far from being guarded introverts, many Tomgirls are ‘popular’ in early years, engaging a wide variety of both male and female friends; in places where boys are more rigorously gendered, these friendships may be exclusively feminine.
  • Unwillingness or inability to suppress / ‘fit in’: this might just be a sign of time and place, but many of these younger kids seem reluctant to hide, even when presenting has consequences.
  • Creativity: All kids are creative. Tomgirls seem to be very creative; the content, the subject matter, of course, may be limited to hyper-feminine content.  My son drew, sculpted, and assembled from recycled materials, approximately 3-400 iconic female figures from the ages of 3-6.
  • Unhappy with boy toys: Almost every parent of a tomgirl has a story of an unpleasant holiday moment, when the child unwraps some really butch toy, and bursts into tears—or rage. My child went on an ironically Hulk–like rampage when given a huge green rubber Incredible Hulk.

I welcome comments and additions to this list by Tomgirls, supportive families, professionals, and transgendered individuals. If I’m off-base on any of this, let me know.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle September 29, 2009 at 5:33 pm

First, I love the term tomgirl! As a lifelong tomboy, I think it’s time boys had a better label. Oh, and I’m a tomboy with four daughters – I may not be girly, but a couple of them are. I didn’t begin to explore my gender-related difficulties until I was 41. It took me a while to reconcile thinking like a boy, yet giving birth to 4 girls and being a nurturing parent.

I taught preschool in the late 80’s at a day care center. There was an adorable little boy in my class who hogged the My Little Ponies, and always played dress-up with the girls. I didn’t know anything about gender identity – not even my own – then. But I didn’t see what he was hurting. Some of the staff made a big deal of it, but the way I saw it, he was 4. He had preferences, and nobody was going to change that except him.

I can proudly say that my oldest doesn’t freak out when her boys decide to parade around in her high heels or make-up. It’s a form of expressing that other side so many boys have been taught to hide – the feminine side.

So, whatever the ultimate destination on the gender line, I applaud those of you who are accepting of your kids, however they express themselves, and whatever their preferences. I think kids need that freedom to make healthy choices.

Z March 6, 2010 at 7:40 am

Tomgirl is more realistic and acceptable… But I’ll always have a place in my heart for ‘queengirl’. (explanation- a male cat is a tom, a female cat is a queen, and I’ve always associated ‘tomboy’ with ‘tomcat’. There’s also ‘tom turkey’ but ‘hen girl’ sounds even weirder.)

It’s interesting seeing the ones of those I fit with and the ones of them I don’t. It would be interesting to see how things change as we get better at recognizing “signs your kid is trans” and “signs your kid is GV”.

Cultist of Vertigo October 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm

WOW. Way to make me feel like the girliest girl in girl class.

Let’s see, I checked off Hyper Feminine, Drama Queen, Pink, and everything in that second list except the boy toys thing.

But then, that’s what gender is, it’s completely supeficial. You need more than one to be more than a ridiculous characiture of a human being.

Elaine Slack June 4, 2014 at 9:22 pm

I have what I read is classified as a “pink boy”. This is not an issue to me as his mother, because my love for my children is unconditional. That being said, this was not the idea of parenting my husband and I had in mind when our son was born. My husband has been struggling since my son brought his first Barbie home with what is “right” to him and whats best for our son. I have always and will always encourage all my children to find their happiness, but how exactly can I get my husband to understand that the only “right” thing to do is to let our son wear his dresses and pink sparkly shoes? I keep pointing him towards blogs like yours to find help but he just doesn’t seem ready to accept that our son could be transgender. I need help. I worry constantly about how to best protect my son as he figures out who he really is but I am afraid that my husband is one of those that I must protect my son from. I know my husband loves his son but I’m so afraid of what the future will bring for their relationship. How did you come to accept this? Did you have the same initial reaction as my husband?… just not sure how to help my husband through this.

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