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Mommas Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Cowboys

For most of my life I’ve felt hopelessly out of place in my own body.

As a kid I loved to play outside with the boys.  You couldn’t wrangle me into a dress if you tried… and oh, did my parents ever try.

They kept up the rule that I had to wear a dress on Sundays to church as long as they could.  Along with the general distraction that runs through the head of any kid after sitting still for several hours on a hard church pew, the knowledge that I was in dress would irritate me to no end, like the sound of a mosquito in a quiet bedroom. The minute we got home, I would change into my ragged play jeans and t-shirt and feel free again.

When I was around four, we went to a family reunion and my parents have several pictures of me, fresh from a crying tantrum. What had sent things downhill earlier was that my Mom, trying to please in-laws, had made me wear a one-piece floral jumpsuit, which I received as a gift and I HATED it!

While suffering through my embarrassment of wearing that frilly thing, I was distracted long enough to join my cousins to play a fishing game. It was the one where they have a sheet hanging over a clothesline and the kids have a fishing pole with a clothes pin or something on the end.

The line is cast over the sheet and some well-meaning adult on the other side ties on a gender and age appropriate treat.  The kid thinks they actually “caught something” and are delighted with whatever trinket they pull in.

Well I had just seen my two boy cousins pull in great shiny new toy cars and I was buzzing with excitement and expectation.  “Of course I would pull up a blue truck! I had to! That was my favourite colour and favourite type of vehicle.  There could be no other outcome!”

As if in slow motion, I was crushed and unable to articulate my utter despair when I pulled in a huge package of bright and colourful bows and barrettes.

My Dad – embarrassed and irritated – tried to shush me and scold off my ungratefulness. This was the precise moment when I learned that boys and girls were treated differently; regardless how I saw myself, I knew I would forever be treated based on being a “girl” and not “Terah”.

I had no idea before that moment.

I had been sure I would grow up to be a cowboy despite being consistently corrected, “You mean cowgirl my dear”.

NO! Before that moment I KNEW that someday I would be a cowboy like my hero the Lone Ranger.  I mean, I knew I was a little girl and that my one-and-a-half year old old brother/compatriot in kid-land, was a boy.  But somehow until this moment this was never an issue.

Little Terah in cowboy hat.

Cowboys had adventures and cool friends and pets.  They rode horses through mountains, hunted mountain lions and played harmonicas. They were the person everyone looked up to and called for help.

Why would I ever want to be a cowgirl?  They had to wear dresses and couldn’t run and fight as well as the boys.  They always ended up having to be saved.  That was bullshit as far as I was concerned.

Despite further awareness that I was a wimpy girl – hammered home by some older cousins when I couldn’t catch as many frogs as they could – this incongruity with my body continued on.

I played out in the ditches, climbed trees, ripped my pants, wore caps, played cars with the boys and did it all in opposition to anyone who tried convincing me that good girls did other-wise. I didn’t feel like a girl so what did it matter?

I have a distinct memory from a visit at my grandmother’s when I was around six or seven. I overheard my grandmother (meaning well) cautioning my mother that she had better start making me act more like a girl “or I would end up becoming a butch.”  At the time I had no idea what she had meant by the word “butch” but I do remember the shame and embarrassment on my mom’s face from that scolding from her mother.

I knew at that moment that she felt horrified at what that meant and embarrassed that she might have something to do with such a horrible outcome… embarrassed that I might be exhibiting any sort of tell-tale trait of this horrible malady called “butch.”

Things like that stick with you. Whether you completely understand the conversation or not, – it – along with constant chiding and advice from other well-meaning family members, church goers and friends, you start to falsely believe that there is something “different” or not right about you. Something you do sets you apart from the rest of your peers. You grow in the realization that you are not pretty unless you are dressed a certain way with a certain type of haircuts.

I’ll skip over the numerous Judy-Blume-like awkward occurrences that, strung together, make up my junior high and high-school years.

… to get to this:

Right now, I love my life.  For the most part I’m comfortable with my body. I identify as female.

A lot of times I dress more masculine or, preferably, gender-queer. Sometimes I feel sexy and love my curves. Sometimes I feel handsome and hide my “assets” and wear boxers…. and sometimes like everyone else I just judge my weight and looks and dislike what I see.

Good and bad, I’ll take it all.

A big part in feeling ok with who I am was learning that gender doesn’t have to be black and white. It is a spectrum.

You can express yourself in a myriad of ways and identify as however you want.  No one can determine that for you.

Do not LET anyone determine that for you!

Your successes and failures in life don’t correspond to how well you fit within a gender-norm.

BE who you are and love who you are to the best of your ability. Love the child who you were and, in doing this, love the kids that are in your life right now. Encourage them to be who they are and support them however you can. There can never be too much love in a kid’s life and you have no idea how much of what you do and say now, affects them later.

So now I’m back full spectrum, KNOWING, that if my city-fide ass ever feels the gumption to get up on a horse and ride out into the mountains on some grand cowboy adventure, well then, I can go and wrestle it in to a pair of boots and wranglers and be painfully on my way.  Just. Like. That.

Note: My parents were and are very loving people.  They were good in always telling me that I was beautiful, and I love them both more than words can say.

 Kate Reid – When I Was a Little Boy

3 replies to this post
  1. The girly-dress-as-buzzing-mosquito description is what struck me the most.  What an excellent way to describe that feeling.  I felt that way, too.

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