'My daughter is not transgender! She's a tomboy'

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:14 pm on 2 May 2017

A New York mother who wrote an article expressing concern that so many adults assume that her tomboy daughter wants to be transgender says she was not expecting the backlash she has received.

Lisa Selina Davis wrote a piece for the New York Times, in which she argues that as we have broadened our awareness of and support for gender nonconformity, we've narrowed what we think a boy or a girl can look like.

Speaking to RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan, she says kids get it and it’s adults who need to catch up. 

Davis says her daughter started dressing as a boy when she was around three years old, which was when people started asking if she was a boy.

Davis says her daughter has made it clear she’s a girl – for now – and her parents have followed her lead for the five years.

But others have not been so convinced.

“Once that became clear and I noticed that people who had known her for a long time, adults, kept asking what pronoun she preferred.

“I am grateful to the people for caring about her and for being sensitive to the needs of transgender kids.”

Davis questions the message it sends that you’re not a girl or a boy if you act a certain way, but says her daughter is fine with it and she herself is not offended at all.

“I’m very impressed by her.”

Adults are trying to be sensitive to the issues, which is good, but Davis says we’re trying to accommodate a range of points of view.

“What I hit on, I think, is this place where feminism and transgender rights butt up against each other. It’s a very uncomfortable place.”

Davis says prior to the 1950s there was a long period when children did not have gender roles imposed on them.

“Our gender roles have gotten a lot narrower and the time that we ask kids to assume them has gotten a lot earlier.”

She says that’s the effect of marketing.

“When I’m looking for toys and I have to look in the boys section of toys to get the cool toys, but those aren’t things that boys would want, those are just cool things, but they’re being marketed that way because they sell better that way and we don’t want our identities to be determined or effected by marketing.”

While Davis expected her article to generate some controversy, she says she was not prepared for the backlash.

“I didn’t expect people to threaten to stalk me and my daughter, I haven’t had a piece read by that many people before… it was naive of me.”

But Davis says she also understands that for people fighting for their life, to have someone come in with a nuanced article that can be used by the right to continue their oppression, can be terrifying.

Davis wrote the piece because she says she had an important point she wanted to make and while she understands it has caused a lot of upset among people, she stands by it.

“My goal was to raise this point about gender roles.

“What makes you a boy or girl, is it how you look and who you play with… how you feel inside?

“It’s a very important question and I think for people who are not comfortable with the gender they are, or are further on the spectrum than my daughter currently is, it’s a really important question and it would be really great to get a place where we could talk about that.”