Last week I introduced the wonderful film ‘Tomboy’ at Cinema City. The place was packed (much to my consternation…I really thought when they said they’d sold out that they were joking). I wanted to share the talk I gave on here, as I feel that the issues raised should be shared with as wide an audience as possible. Plus if I write it down I can include all the bits I forgot to say last week!

As human beings, we have a very powerful need to label things. In the spirit of labelling, let me introduce you to a few of the labels I have – my name is Mark, and I’m a queer transgender Sagittarius.

From the moment we are named by our parents, we are given a label, and as a baby and toddler the people around us seek to help us label our world. Think about the interactions you have with young children – a significant amount of time is spent naming things. Once a child has grasped the importance of this exercise, and has developed the capacity to ask, they spend almost all their time asking what things are. My own daughter spent a good year or so asking ‘What’s that?’ ALL THE TIME.

It is natural (if not necessarily desirable) for us to make assumptions about people and things by the labels that we first learn to allot them. We assume that if someone acts a certain way, then they must be a certain type of person. As a child grows up, and behaves in a certain way, we immediately ascribe certain personality traits to them, and even start anticipating their future.

To a great extent this process varies through culture and decade. In the 40s, if a ten year old girl ‘acted the tomboy’, the assumption might have been ‘she’ll get over it, grow into a woman, marry’…and so on. In the 70s, that same behaviour might have been met with ‘do you think she’ll grow up to be a lesbian??’ Now, in this and similar countries, more and more people have heard of people identifying as transgender. So our ten year old tomboy might find that people think ‘do you think she’s transgender?’ I am no gender historian, nor sociologist, so please forgive my simplification of a hugely complex issue. I think you get what I’m driving at.

Chaz Bono [yes, he’s finally made it into my blog] was interviewed by E! News about Shiloh Jolie Pitt – he was asked what he thought about her. He replied “I would love to talk to [Brad and Angelina] at some point. To at least let them know we have this resource for them if they ever need it.” Chaz is not my favourite guy, for lots of reasons, but despite his rather crass attempt at implying Shiloh may be transgender, even I don’t think he deserved the flack he caught for this statement. What should have been questionned by all the media types who pounced on this is that the child’s gender-identity should ever have been up for discussion in the first place. E! News asked a loaded and inappropriate question; Bono, clutz that he often is, fell right into it. Rather than all of us sitting round discussing Shiloh’s identity, it is up to that child, and that child alone, to grow up as they feel right.

As a transman, and before that, in my days of identifying as an ever-so-slightly butch lesbian, many people made the assumption that as a child I “must” have been a tomboy. Just for the record, I was never a tomboy. I had girl toys (the only red-haired Sindy in my primary school…beat THAT!) as well as what might be seen as less gender-specific things. Most of all, I had my books [which may not surprise you] from which I voraciously sought to understand a world that I found very bizarre. I still do find the world very bizarre, but at least I’m reasonably well read. My clothes were a mixture – it’s fair to say that I never leaned particularly towards ‘very female’ or ‘very male’. I skated along somewhere in the middle. Though I did cry when I discovered I had grown out of my silver party shoes. See how stupid those labels are?

Making assumptions about our children based on the labels which we have given them is dangerous, and presumptuous. You just cannot tell, based on how a child is, what they feel inside, and what beautiful person they are destined to blossom into. And I use the word destined in its loosest, least spiritual sense.

If anyone reading this has ever seen ‘Tomboy’, or if you ever have the opportunity to see it, you may understand that the director, Céline Sciamma, seeks to deliver a message about identity that allows us freedom to make our own judgements…hopefully not based on the label ‘Tomboy’, but on the character themselves.

On a final note, I read a comment under the YouTube trailer for ‘Tomboy’, describing the lead character as ‘creepy’, because the commenter could not tell if the actor was male or female. I find this very much reflects my own experience, in that when people are not immediately able to assign you a label, they become very uneasy, and this lack of ease often results in animosity. All the more reason to re-think a lot of the labels we assign people, as they rarely allow for diversity or movement.

Do try to catch ‘Tomboy’ at some point, wherever you are. It is a beautifully filmed piece. I tend to avoid films on the ‘gender exploration’ theme, because they can be so ‘black and white’ and almost inevitably end with the person exploring their gender either changing their mind, or being killed. ‘Tomboy’, thankfully, simply presents us with a carefully painted picture of a time in a child’s life, and leaves us to make of it what we will, without forcing ‘an ending’ to tie up the loose ends. This is 86 minutes of your life you will not regret handing over to a film.

And if anybody would ever like to discuss being queer, transgender or Sagittarius, do get in touch.

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