The shopkeeper's words reached my seven-year-old brain, and went ZING! There's no doubt that I probably turned a bright shade of red, not quite knowing how to react, but I do remember giving him a big ol' grin, thinking,
"Wow! He thinks I'm a BOY! Yeah... how cool is that?!"
There has to be a ton of messed up reasons for my immediate reaction to his comment. You could blame our patriarchal society for one, especially back then. I mean, we’re talking 1960 here. At that time, there really were no clearly defined female role models for the average girl. Yes, they were around, they always had been, but they weren’t widely celebrated. OK, I had my mum, who was pretty awesome - she could fix my bike and was a lot of fun. All my friends loved her and would knock at our door asking if she could come out to play.
But boys were so much cooler than girly girls... Girls were just plain bloody silly. Most of them couldn't play soccer… or throw a ball. And I prided myself on my good throwing arm!
Yes, I was a tree-climbing, jeans-wearing, soccer-playing, jumping-off-roofs kinda girl… just a big ol' Tomboy. And as for wearing a dress, hah! Mum used to have to have to chase me around the house to get me into one!
I'd never heard of Ivan before, but as soon as I got in, I had to find out more. So began my internet journey exploring more of what this amazing human being has accomplished. There are lots of books... a TED talk, and then I found this super video on YouTube...
I've since read the book and absolutely loved it! It's very funny and has some incredibly poignant memories. It tells stories of the pleasures and difficulties growing up a tomboy in Canada's Yukon. Ivan’s journey from tomboy to adulthood, as a person who doesn’t fit neatly into boxes or identities or labels is a complex one… far more complicated than mine. Listening to the radio interview brought so much back to me. And those memories certainly made me give my gender identity some pretty serious thought as I explored the feelings I’d had as a young girl all those many years ago. It made me ponder if I had been born 50 years later, would things have turned out differently?
The book talks about many firsts: the first time Ivan was mistaken for a boy; or when a bikini top was discarded to join the boys at the local swimming pool..."
As I said, I related completely. That could have been me.
I remember the day that shopkeeper mistook me for a boy like it was yesterday. And, ok... I may not have discarded my bikini top to join the boys, because I never bothered actually wearing one! I don't think they were even available for a girl back then. But I never wore a top if we were out playing Cowboys and Indians, why the heck would I?! It wasn't until I was around 10 or 11 that my mum said that perhaps I shouldn't be doing that any more... that was a sad day for sure.
|Left to Right: Me age 10, brother Mike age 8, my dad and brother Ed, age 3|
Since puberty hit, I had honestly never questioned my gender, but the memories this book brought back to me, led me to want to do more research about the whole question of gender identity. How come I didn't end up like Ivan? After having the exact same thoughts and feelings as a child, was it merely a preconceived predestined journey for me to meet a guy, get married and have kids, never once questioning the journey I'd taken?
I came across many remarkable stories about some amazing people, who have grown up feeling the exact opposite of me. But I think it was this TED Talk by Norman Spack that really opened my eyes about the subject. And I realized after listening to it, just how lucky I had been when the doctor said, "It's a girl!" when I was born. It really isn't always that cut and dried, and not everyone is so fortunate.
My life journey was definitely not as complicated as Ivan's was, to live as "a predominantly estrogen based organism" but never being completely comfortable with body that came with it.
It makes me wonder about how different things are now with this new freedom of opportunity for the kids born in more recent times, who have the ability to make life choices, separating their sexuality and gender identity, sometimes at an incredibly young age.
If I hadn't have been so fortunate, my life could have been very different.
And as for that big ol’ Tomboy of years gone by? Well she hasn’t changed much. She’s still here, alive and kicking. And despite the osteoarthritis, She most definitely turned out to be the soccer playing grandma rather than the girly girl grandma who knits. And that makes me happy.