Learning to recognize the privilege I had as a young, well-liked tomboy who grew up to be trans
By: Tobey Tozier* / Trans Headlines
I didn’t always know I was trans. While a lot of trans masculine narratives begin with “I’ve known I was a boy since I was young” or “I always played with cars instead of dolls,” I discovered my desire to transition when I was 22 years old and a senior in college. This was the first time I felt wholeheartedly uncomfortable in my biological female body.
Childhood was everything I wanted it to be. I spent most of my time building bike ramps out of plywood and old tires, drawing 3-point lines in the sand and eating pizza rolls. Whatever a “normal” kid was in 1998; that was me. In all my graphic T-shirt and cargo pants glory, I wasn’t bullied or made to feel like I was different from other kids.
“Tomboy” was the first word I used to identify myself. Growing up with a male best friend, I never felt like one of the girls, but I didn’t necessarily want to be one of the boys, either. Being a tomboy made sense to me. It gave flexibility to the traditional female role and reinforced what my peers showed me with their acceptance of how I looked and how I acted: it’s okay to exist beyond the binary. According to my 13-year-old understanding of gender, being a tomboy gave me permission to cry while watching 7th Heaven and simultaneously obsessing over the X-Games. I was able to be who I was and I had the support that I needed. The word transgender wasn’t in my vocabulary then, and neither were the words gay or lesbian.
One of my favorite things to do was go clothes shopping with my mom. We were both equally disgusted by the amount of glitter and lace-covered clothing in girls’ sections and were happy to opt for boys’ clothes for the sake of appropriateness and simplicity. I cut my hair short “to keep it out of my eyes,” and covered it with a baseball hat most of the time. I’d be mistaken as a boy by hairstylists, waiters, and kids at school, which never bothered or excited me. I got used to it and didn’t think much of it.
I traded being a tomboy for being gay when I was 19. I was a freshman at the University of Maine at Farmington and had my heart stolen by the person I’m about to celebrate a nine-year anniversary with currently. We grew into adulthood together, made new friends together, and came out as lesbians together. It was a tough time for our relationship and for our families, but I discovered a part of my identity I had been missing up until that point. I felt like I had finally figured it out. I believed all lesbians were tomboys; and all tomboys were lesbians, right? This seemed to make sense.
Senior year of college was when everything clicked for me. I went to see a nonbinary speaker who shared their experience transitioning and identifying outside the traditional gender binary. Their story echoed in my head as I sat frozen in my chair. I could feel my throat closing and my heart sinking as my head filled first with euphoria and then with fear. I worried about how it would affect my relationship, which had made the previous 3 years the best years of my life. Even though I felt scared for what I could lose, I knew I was trans with absolute certainty.
As a trans adult, I see my childhood for the privileged experience that it was. So many kids are bullied – not just because of how they identify on the gender spectrum but for any trait that sets them apart from being “typical.” I was one of the lucky ones who was able to just be a kid.
*Tobey Tozier is a transgender designer and founder of Transcapsule, a transgender transition tracking app. He lives in Maine with his spouse, Mal, their two cats, and a senior beagle named Tuesday. Tobey has made it his life’s mission to help other people who are transgender live happier, more positive lives.