I try not to get personal on this site too often. When I do, though, I try to make an important point that others can learn from. That’s not easy, since everyone’s personal experiences are different. When one of those stories resonates, though, it’s a beautiful thing.
With that beauty in mind, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate a certain female persona that tends to evoke mixed emotions in people. For me, though, that persona has a special place in my heart because certain women have influenced me in a major way. That persona, in this case, is that of the female tomboy.
I know the stereotypical tomboy isn’t known for her sex appeal. She doesn’t come off like the kind of person who would inspire an aspiring erotica/romance writer. However, I think the appeal of a tomboy goes far beyond how little she has in common with the cast of “Mean Girls.”
I’m guessing that most people knew someone growing up who fit the mold of a tomboy. She was a girl, but she didn’t have “girly” interest. She liked sports. She liked cars. She liked to hang out with boys, didn’t care for makeup, and didn’t mind getting her nails dirty. Whether she was a friend, relative, or classmate, she probably stood out more than most.
There’s all sorts of social and psychological insights into what makes a girl a tomboy. I don’t want to get too much into that. For this, I want to keep things personal. I want to tell a short story about how a very special tomboy influenced me in a positive way, one that I still feel to this day.
Out of respect for her privacy, as well as the fact that I haven’t kept in touch with her, I won’t use her real name. From here on out, I’m just going to call her Carly. If, by some remote chance she ever reads this, she’ll probably recognize the importance of that name. She may even recognize me. I hope that happens because I don’t think she knows what a profound impact she had on me.
I knew Carly from grade school. We met when we were in the third grade and we shared the same classes until grade six. That’s a pretty critical time because we were both still kids, but were on the edge of puberty. While I don’t think it played too great a role at the time, I think it influenced the context of our friendship and our connection.
What made Carly stand out, even for a kid like me, was the fact that she didn’t look like the kind of hardcore tomboy you’d imagine after seeing “Little Giants.” If you randomly met her in public, you wouldn’t know she was a tomboy, but you would probably expect it. While she did look feminine, she never wore dresses, skirts, or makeup.
If you spent any amount of time with her, you learned quickly that Carly wasn’t a typical girl. She didn’t conduct herself like the other girls I knew. Whenever we did group projects, she worked with boys. Whenever we had lunch at the cafeteria, she sat with the boys. It wasn’t that she hated other girls. She just preferred being around boys, myself included.
I didn’t think too much of that until I saw her doing more than just being around boys. What made Carly special was how she went out of her way to match other boys in terms of skill, grit, and strength. While the other girls hung out on the playground, Carly was playing basketball and football. While those same girls talked about boy bands, she talked about who won on Monday Night Football.
I remember multiple instances where the boys got together to play touch football and she would be the only girl who wanted to play. We let her too. None of the other boys joked about it. There was this unspoken rule that Carly was one of the guys. She proved that she belonged. Anyone who gave her crap about it was not welcome.
Keep in mind, these are pre-teen boys who still think cooties are a thing. These are boys whose maturity level is limited by the amount of cartoons they watched that same morning. The fact that none of them gave Carly a second look, nor did they question her ability, says as much about them as it does about her.
More than any other girl, at that time, Carly fascinated me. I watched as she ran alongside other boys during gym class, playing sports like football and baseball better than some of the other boys I knew. Being so young, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I just knew I had to go out of my way to hang out with her and be friends with her.
While I won’t say we were close friends, we did know each other. We recognized each other outside of class. That eventually culminated in a moment that would both solidify Carly’s place in my memory and inspire me in ways I didn’t appreciate until later in life. That moment occurred when I was in little league one year.
From the time I was in first grade until the time I went to middle school, I played little league baseball. I loved baseball as a kid and it was the only sport I ever felt passionate enough about to play seriously. In all those years of playing little league, I played with a lot of other boys, some more memorable than others. However, through those same years, only one girl ever dared to play little league with boys and that was Carly.
I still remember the day when I saw her run out onto the field, a dirty old hat and a new baseball glove in hand. I had no idea she would be on my team, but when I saw her, I remember smiling. I even watched as she fielded pop flies and practiced batting with the coach. While I wouldn’t say she was our best player, she held her own. She could throw, run, hit, and catch. She wasn’t just a tomboy. She was an athlete.
In later years, that memory has taken on far greater meaning. Remember, I was a kid at the time. I was still at an age where girls might as well have been another species. Since pre-school, boys hung out with boys. Girls hung out with girls. We didn’t question it. We just separated ourselves, as though it had been ordained.
Carly showed that those unwritten rules weren’t really rules. She showed that girls didn’t have to be that different. Girls could still like boyish things. They could also be tough, play sports, and relate to boys just as well as they did with girls. Carly embodied that spirit better than anyone I’d known before or since. She was like a kid version of Rhonda Rousey.
That may not sound like much on the surface, but I can’t overstate the importance of that influence. The fact that I knew a girl who could so comfortably embrace boyish things made me question whether the divide between genders really mattered that much. The older I got, the more I realized how arbitrary that divide truly was. Carly was living proof of that.
It was because of Carly that I began interacting more with girls. This did make me a bit weird in the eyes of other boys. I started seeking out female company before it was considered cool for a kid. I like to think that gave me a head start on puberty in that it prepared me to appreciate female company better than most.
It’s also through my interactions with Carly that I stopped trying to talk to girls as though they were so radically different. In doing so, I realized that girls can talk about things like sports, cartoons, and even comics. While these girls might not have been tomboys like Carly, we were capable of sharing the same interests.
Conversely, it showed me that boys can share girls’ interests as well. To me, that was a big deal because it’s through dealing with girls that I developed a fondness for romance. Whereas boys may look at movie, comic, or TV show and appreciate the action, I often found myself appreciating the romantic sub-plots. I don’t think I would’ve had the mind to appreciate those things without Carly.
For that, I’ll always be grateful to her. At the same time, I regret not being a closer friend with her or keeping in touch with her. In my defense, we ended up going to different middle schools so we never got a chance. I would still love to know what came of her. She struck me as the kind of girl who would go far in life.
I don’t know if she outgrew her tomboy persona, as many girls do. Even if she did, Carly’s influence on me was a turning point. I may have been a kid when I knew her, but she inspired in me the kinds of ideas that shaped me into the man I am today. I like to think I’m a better overall person because of it.
Dealing with Carly helped me interact better with girls and people who were different from me, in general. Carly also proved to me that girls and boys weren’t so different after all. We could relate to one another, work together, and grow together. As a kid, that’s a radical concept. As an adult, that’s an important life lesson that helps men and women alike appreciate each other.