I think back on my childhood a lot as a part of making sense of myself in the here and now, all the times that stuck into me, little and big splinters, shallow and deep splinters. All the times when things felt uncomfortable, and as a child I'm sure I would produce a ripper frown, which no doubt made the adults think I was "cute" and spirited. Or maybe I just held those words and recalibrated myself, fine tuning by balance of independence and social acceptability.
"Tomboy" came along at a time when those adults just could not ignore or wait for me to grow out of climbing trees, buildings, anything; riding skateboards at breakneck speeds; playing every ball sport ever invented at a higher level than the boys all around me and refusing to wear anything other than shorts and t-shirt. I even rejected footwear other than my school shoes or my dunlop volley tennis shoes, barefoot I was me, sandals I was in hell.
My earliest memory is attached to a photograph of my friend Grant and I playing in the front yard of the neighbours house, aged about three, dressed in our closest approximation of "workwear". There were council workers in the street that day, filling potholes and standing all manly with their cotton drill standard issue shorts (guts out) and shirts, smoking, slick back hair leaning on shovels, laughing, being aussie blokes. I wanted to be one of them, I convinced Grant to play along with me, and we convinced our parents to find the clothes we could wear, and little suitcases filled with our "smoko" were also provided. I can't imagine as a parent that this would raise any concerns, it was after all 1974, and gender was, well, a non issue. Except it wasn't of course.
I can't count the amount of times I was called a cute little girl, or a cute little boy, or a cute little tomboy (usually with a "she'll grow out of it", or "its just a phase" caveat applied), and I can honestly say that each time this happened it has stuck, like a splinter in my side. Many years later, the old splinters have softened, their pain a dull ache, but new one's keep coming, everyday new splinters come. I hated being called "girl" and I equally hated being called "boy", and I didn't know what those feeling were or why i had them, other than a deep knowing that I was different, and different was not good.
Maybe my parents had some idea, because at four years of age I was sent to the local all girls private school instead of the local primary where all the other kids in my street went. Most oft kids in my street were boys, which worked out just fine for me, I was closer in my interests to them than the two girls in my street. I did try, at my mothers insistence to play with them, but it just didn't work out...I didn't like playing with dolls, and I might have ripped the head off one of them to show how dolls could become soccer balls really easily, and kicked the head across the floor to have my friend wailing and howling and her mother eject me from the house, no further invitations were issued.