Tomboy! A Declaration 

When I began gender transition, like many other folks, I assumed I wanted to be the opposite gender from the one assigned to me at birth. I had spent so long feeling trapped by everything male that escaping it was my paramount concern. I declared to all who knew me “I am a woman!” and began seeking the sage advice of the transexual people who had come before me. As I absorbed their stories and ideas I was struck by one concept in particular and found myself so bowled over by it that it became my only goal in transition. I was moving away from assumptions and toward authenticity. I was leaving my maleness behind and becoming me. My transition was about one word, one embodiment of gender that had always held me in its grasp, from the instant I first heard it at five or six years old. Tomboy. I was becoming my true self, a trans tomboy.

All my life up until not too long ago the world was busy telling me what boys don’t do. I was a person of don’ts. Hemmed in and dying on the inside, constantly checking my every second against the norm and endlessly correcting myself. I was exhausted, fed up and depressed. So I accepted and declared my trans nature and began to face the opposite chorus that told me what women don’t do. The world still told me “no” but my life was becoming “yes!” The people I had looked to all along, through all of my years, who seemed to have the best grasp on their identities were this multifaceted gang of cis women who called themselves “tomboys”. They expressed a wide variety of styles, gender expressions and activities. Some were simply less conventionality feminine and others were outright masculine and every combination of those two expressions. They were every sexuality too. They were asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual and lesbian. The one common denominator was this deceleration of “no!” If there was a feminine or masculine role or expectation that agreed with them, they embraced it but if something didn’t fit, they rejected it. They were all so cool. I saw too that as a group they seemed to encompass the largest swath of women and girls.

During my first year of transition I have walked in many people’s shoes. I began 2015 being seen and treated by the world as a man. I had a shaved head, stubble on my face and dark utilitarian clothing. I was addressed as “sir, man” and “bro”. Then I slowly discarded my male clothing and replaced it with women’s clothes, I began to let my head hair grow out and shaved my face clean. I was becoming a queer man in the world’s eyes and I received the abuse reserved for them. I became a “faggot” or I was called “sir” in the most sarcastic tones. I began hormone replacement therapy and electrolysis on my facial hair and my body began to shift with my ever more feminine presentation. To the world I became an open ended question. I was stared at, mocked openly, jaws hung open at me, double takes were taken and fingers pointed while faces laughed. The world had no words for me. As my body shifted again I became feminine enough in appearance that the world began to see a woman or maybe a man, a perverse deceiver, this brought an end to my male privilege and I was threatened on the street. Attempted physical assault was followed by demonization. I was told that I was going to “burn in hell”. Next came the absolute assumption that I was either a very butch woman or a trans man. I was called “bitch, homo, buddy” and “dyke”. The epithets had returned. A month or two later and the hateful began to see an object of desire, a woman for them to own. I was gawped at by men and they tried to coral me and my attention. I was “ma’am, miss” and “girl”. When I ignored the cat calls I was again just some “bitch”. I realized too that all of those stages of humanity I had passed through could fit under the umbrella of tomboy. Effeminate men, androgynous folks, butch women and trans folk of every stripe embodied this concept. The word tomboy was central to so many of the stories of the people I had found empathetic siblinghood with.

Eventually I was a woman to the world. And I found myself hemmed in by that too. My body had changed but the way I walk and talk was still basically the same. The clothes I put on when I turned my back on maleness were the same ones I was still wearing. I was loving being able to express my femininity and I was finally able to embrace my masculinity. Nail polish on calloused hands. Having it presumed that I was a cis woman irked me though. I had been through a lot in my life and I wanted the world to recognize that and celebrate it with me. So I began to head back to a more androgynous style of dress. I began to enjoy when someone called me “sir” and then “ma’am” in the same breath. I wanted to be that obstinate question mark, that tomboy. I decided too that my birth name was too important for me to relinquish. Publicly I am Chris Jen but legally, and privately, I am still Christopher. I never did have legal dysphoria. I have too little respect for authority to care how I am seen by those who believe they have power. I saw at that point too that not only was my gender expression tomboyish but my gender identity was trans tomboy and that until my gender marker on legal documents could be changed to reflect that (a T perhaps) it did not matter if the system saw me as M or F. It gave me power too, which is something I have never really had. Sure, I was once offered the power of a white athletic man, but that felt so wrong on me it was no privilege, it felt like a burden. Now in the world I am seen as a woman, perhaps a questionable woman but a woman nonetheless. When I need to use a debit card or show some form of identification I get to find out who is a bigot and who is not. The cool folks shorten Christopher down to Chris without me asking. Some folks enter into conversations about gender with me and I get to learn from them and they sometimes learn from me. The bigots call me “sir” and refuse to look at me or speak to me. I have successfully challenged their assumptions and disrupted their view of the world forever. I have created change.

To me that is what being a tomboy is all about. Yes, there are the two binary genders. The girly girls in their hobbling footwear, skimpy clothes, caked in makeup basking in their weakness. There are the macho men too. All stubble, dirt and funk. Reveling in their power and prowess, dominating all comers. Those are well and good. They are reference points for the rest of us, the bulk of humanity. They help us define and explain our endless variations, subtractions and combinations of gender identities and expressions. Cis, genderqueer and trans. Binary and non-binary. Those who say “this is what I am” or “also this” and those who prefer to say “this is what I am not” The multitudes of different bodies and minds that experience the world in a way that no one else can. The tomboys. 

Tomboy! A Declaration 

Today I Mourn

Today I mourn

Today I mourn my fallen siblings

Killed by the hate that kept them trapped

In a world not kind

To those whose genders come from beyond

What cruel folks call

“Normal human”

Today I mourn

For my trans siblings

Who failed to meet 

Cis comprehension 

Whose lives were taken

In acts of hate

Today I mourn trans siblings killed

By those with whom 

They tried to share

Their hearts, their love

Today I mourn 

Those trans siblings lost

To their own hands

And to a violence

Made by the hate 

Of a world

That refused to understand

And bullied them

‘Till they could not stand

Another night, another day

Of ceaseless senseless pain

Today I mourn

Today I mourn

Today I mourn 

But I will not forget

The light that my trans siblings brought 

To this, our world

Today I mourn

But take what strength I have

And battle on against that tide

Of fearful retribution 

With my fire

I will turn that tide

To a glowing mist 

Of kaleidoscopic and multitudinous glory

Of gender claimed

And fought so hard for

I will try to share

With all who’ll listen

My tale of struggle

That is not mine alone

This valiant struggle to set all

Whose  gender strays

From what’s expected 

Free at last

So that this list of the dead that grows

Each passing year

Will one day end

And all human lives can be lived

In freedom and in peace

So that all humanity 

Can live unchained 

In celebration of one another’s glory

Today I mourn

But I will not forget

To do my part

To fix this world

So that none shall mourn

Like this again

Today I mourn

Those lights who shined

But all too briefly 

Today I mourn

My trans siblings

Whose souls fell like autumn’s leaves 

Sinking to cover

The graves of the lost

Today I mourn

But my hope grows

Out of the pain

And into the light

Today I mourn

Today I mourn

Today I mourn

But I will not cease to fight

Today I mourn

And today I remember 

All of my siblings killed

Because they were transgender

Today I Mourn