Post- Magazine

boyhood and me [feature]

grieving girlhood and finding truth

cw: homophobic slur, mentions of gender dysphoria

There’s a photo up on my fridge back home, so old it’s grown yellow at the edges. I try not to draw attention to it when people come over, but it’s always to no avail; it’s so uncharacteristic a photo of me that it sticks out like a sore thumb. 

I’m young in the picture, probably no more than three or four. I was a round kid, and it shows: My cheeks are full and limbs soft, baby fat folding into itself. I’m Cinderella, adorned in flowy, shimmery fabrics. The dress itself is much too large for me—I’m drowning in cloth and glitter, layers enveloping my figure. And yet, in some odd way, it fits just right. Even under the weight of it all, I’m grinning, carefree.

Beside me are two girls, dressed in the same extravagant costumes. Their arms are linked with mine. And they too are smiling in that same unrestrained way, traces of laughter still evident on their faces. 


We slot together in our girlhood. And it’s natural, as all friendships should be. 

For a time, I would have said gender was innate. In those early years, I was a girl, and unmistakably so. I did everything right: I wore bows in my hair and spun around in pleated, delicate skirts. I wore jelly sandals and Mary Janes, grew out my hair, and begged my parents for everything a girl should: plushies, dollhouses, jewelry. 

I played dress-up with my friends with an ease I knew only in childhood.

But that kid, that baby-blue Disney Princess in the making—was that really me? 

And if so, where did she go?


My mother was fiercely protective as I was growing up. Nowadays, she tells me that she must have sheltered me a little too much; she rarely, if ever, let me out of her sight. I didn’t hang out with many kids outside of school. And when I did, it was usually with my cousins.

My older cousin quickly became my idol—perhaps by proximity. He’s not so much older than I am; two years is nothing to me now. But back then, when all I knew were the confines of my youth, there were worlds between the ages of seven and nine, and those two years made all the difference.

I watched him like a hawk. In school, at home; there was something so incredibly refreshing about the way he lived, and the way people seemed to gravitate toward him. His boyhood charmed me—it made him likable and funny and, above all else, cool.

And I wanted to be cool, too!


His interests reinforced—no, determined—my own. I’d pirate all the Pokemon games so I could join him as he played (even when he’d bash on my starters), and I’d come over to his place with my fake Beyblades so I could play against him (even when I inevitably lost). 

I was a crude imitation, and I was proud of it. 

It wasn’t that I had no female friends growing up—because I certainly did. We’d come to school early in the morning, ganging up against the boys in a game of tag, spinning around on monkey bars and pushing one another on the swings. We doodled in our notebooks and passed them around in class, each of us eager to show off our own creations. And in the afternoons, once we’d all gone home, we’d clamber onto Moshi Monsters, leaving silly notes on each others’ virtual walls, telling ourselves we’d be friends forever.

But my interests naturally began to diverge from theirs as I spent more and more time with my cousin.

In childhood, girlhood was still mine—but my place within it was waning.


I was somewhere around 10 or 11 when I felt the shift. Seated next to the girl with soft curls and round lips, I felt something grow. It was the taste of something forbidden: a foreboding, warning sense of distance. 

I studied her, glanced at her in the breaks between schoolwork and play. I listened to her with my entire being whenever she spoke. I was enraptured by her, by the way she lived.

I wondered if my own hair looked as soft, if people saw me the same way I saw her, my features all delicate and dainty. Did my movements look as mangled as they felt? Did my words come out in flowers and swirls?

Did I want her, or did I want to be her? 


I never quite outgrew the things my cousin loved. As I grew older, my interests brought me closer to the boys around me. And slowly, I mirrored their actions, tussling and cussing and gossiping in the ways they did. I let myself speak in their tongue and embrace their dress; I weeded dresses and skirts out of my closet, whittling my selection down to a few well-worn pairs of jeans.

The adults called me a tomboy. I must have liked the term, because I remember adopting it for myself. The term was interesting, because it didn’t quite deem me a ‘boy’; I was still a girl, by this definition. But it was different, a wonderful, exciting third category.

I think, deep down, I’ve always wanted to be different; to prove my worth by defying what has been handed to me. A contrarian, maybe. And at this age, it was gender I contested. When teachers called on the boys to help with heavy lifting, I’d scramble to their side, eager to prove my worth. I rejected the demands of the adults around me, their calls for little girls to be dainty and soft and polite, to adorn themselves in soft pinks and painted nails and to play dress-up in the same ways I’d been taught to as a child.

So: tomboy. Still girl enough to maintain to girls that I was one of them, that it made sense that I stood in women’s bathrooms and played on their teams in PE, that I could still be an object of their affection in the same way as before. Still boy enough to become everything I’d been told a boy could be, to move beyond the confines of girlhood: strong, brave, cool. The man of the house, the leader of the pack. 


I became increasingly averse to anything I deemed feminine. But as I stumbled into puberty and my body changed, I could no longer deny what being a girl meant, especially as I made it to the point of no return.

My mother, seeing these changes, sought to transition me into womanhood. But the woman she saw in her head, the image she had for me—it was so far removed from the way I’d always been. It was time, as she said, to be cleaner, neater, more put-together. Defiant as I always was, I refused her requests to dress better and cried if she so much as applied blush to my cheeks.

It came to a peak one night, right before a performance. The prescribed dress code had me in a too-tight blouse, tapered right around the waist, its fabric ever-so-sheer. As I wailed and moaned about how girly I looked, she snapped.

“You can’t always look like a d*ke.”

If I wasn’t enough of a girl to my own mother, how could I be one at all?

At 14, girlhood felt so incredibly wrong. Staring at myself was hell; my hair was too long and my features too soft and my body was curved in too many places. I hated who I was in the mirror—not because I believed she looked bad, but because this woman I was meant to be simply wasn’t me. 

It clicked there, in my childhood bedroom, as I cried over a word I’d never been called in my life. I couldn’t be a girl. I clearly hadn’t lived up to the standards of girlhood; I could feel the stares of those around me, the judgment that came with being wrong—with being an ‘other’. And if girlhood rejected me, then I would reject it in turn.

Gender, at 14, was a choice, a process of rejecting one and turning to the other. And if I couldn’t have girlhood, I’d take boyhood as my own.

Boyhood enveloped me, its momentum all-consuming. I deepened my voice and my slouch; my breasts cave in when my shoulders round out, and I am more like them when I am hunched and formless, aloof in that poised, boyish way. My humor became crass, but forced. I spoke of women as if their bodies were not my own, as if their words, at some point, were not the same as mine—as if I didn’t watch the flow of hair along the napes of their necks, the flutter of their eyelashes, the glints of light reflected on the moisture of their lips.

Boyhood took me in, but it was conditional. I pretended the boys didn’t give me the same weird stares the girls did in my adolescence, that they didn’t see me as the token ‘girl’ in their dynamics. I wasn’t truly one of them—but what could I do? If girlhood had rejected me, then this boyhood, cold and crude, was all I had left. 


At 16, a friend showed me a girl in our year. “What do you think?” he asked. 

“She’s pretty,” I told him—because she was. I envied her, the ease with which she moved; every jostle betrayed the strength of a swimmer’s build. My eyes traced over the length of her hair, catching on hues of blue and green. They complemented a natural black. “Really pretty.”

To my surprise, his expression contorted to one of disgust. “No way,” he said, cackling. “Her?”

I didn’t see what I could have done wrong. “I like her smile,” I said. She smiled with a refreshing earnestness—with her whole face. “There’s nothing wrong with her.”

He paused, but only for a moment. “I’d fuck her with a paper bag over her head.”

Guilt swarmed my mouth. I wondered, then, if they would always be like this, these men; if everything they’d been taught about women was irreversible.

Maybe they’d always see me the same.


I am an imposter among men and a traitor to my flesh. 

What does my authenticity entail? 

Gender doesn’t feel like a choice anymore. Suddenly, it’s exclusion—this odd, third category where I can no longer claim to be one or the other. Neither see themselves in me, nor can I see myself in them. 

I cut my hair.

I reject boyhood, and all of gender along with it.


I miss my girlhood at times. I miss being Cinderella, twirling around, playing in plastic glass slippers, hosting plushie tea parties.

But what does it mean to be her again? 

Neither boyhood nor girlhood have rung true for me, nor do I think they ever will. I’m stuck, precariously toeing the line between the two, splitting my personality in messy halves and assigning each piece to a side.

Whatever gender is will come to me one day. 

Until then, I’ll keep searching.

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