I remember being eight years old walking to school in Northeast Philadelphia and being followed by a gnat of a human being and his yes-kid. He kept berating me with “gender specific” questions that made no sense. I don’t remember his name, I just remember he was small and didn’t like the fact I hung out with boys instead of girls. He asked me what TV I watched and what clothing brands I wore in an attempt to scale how masculine I was.

“If you want to be a boy so bad–tell us… what do MEN eat?” The tiny bully floundered angrily in his Eagles Starter jacket as he screamed at me from across the street. What did that question even mean? Did men eat a secret food that I didn’t know about? Like–was there a type of pizza that I wasn’t aware of?

*sigh* I just wanted to get to school.

“Yeah!” His tinier lackey replied, “What do men eat?”

My dad started calling me a Tomboy when I started wearing my Dolphins jacket and hanging out with my little brother. I was exploring my interest and trying to make friends, but apparently, these things also made me want to be a boy. At the time, I didn’t understand the concept of sexism [1] , so I accepted the term Tomboy. After all, it meant I could do anything a boy could do, right? My demeanor wasn’t “girly” enough–so what harm was the term Tomboy? [2]

“I don’t want to be a boy, stupid!” I screamed back. “I’m a Tomboy.”

“Whatever.” My neighbor screeched. “What’s your favorite food, TOMboy?”

The little prick was testing me. For what? I had no idea. I had to give him an answer so he’d leave me alone. “I don’t know…steak?”

He paused, looked at his lackey, then yelled, “That was a lucky guess!” as he ran down the street before I could shout back.

I never wanted to be a boy, but I knew I could do whatever they could. It wasn’t easy battling gender norms in a Catholic family in Philadelphia. I was raised around plenty of boys, so I always got along with them better than I did with girls. [3] No, boys didn’t necessarily treat me any better… but I could put up with their shit.

I gravitated towards things boys liked. I played street hockey with my brother and his friends in the mean streets of Philly in the 90s.

I wanted to play football for my grade school, but my parents put the brakes on that pretty fast. After all, “girls couldn’t play football.” I like to tell myself that they couldn’t stand the thought of me getting a concussion…because I was already “a lot of work.”

We didn’t have any SJWs [4] in the 90s, so no one was there to defended me when my grandmother scolded, “Why do you wear jeans? You’re a girl. Put on a dress! Act like a girl!” I didn’t understand why jeans filled her with such rage, but it’s not like I could wear a dress while playing hockey! My mother once told me, “When I found out I was pregnant with a girl I imagined a little princess. I got you instead.” Yeah well, when I graduated college I thought I’d have a sustainable career–but life happens.

The criticism I received from my family never stopped me from being who I was. I was stubborn. I would play [5] Ghostbusters with my brother and his friends, but when they told me I couldn’t be Peter Venkman I would get so pissed. No, I don’t want to be the secretary–NOW HAND ME MY PROTON PACK!

I also spent a lot of time with my two older male cousins who tormented me in their own special way. They would let me watch them play video games, but told me “girls couldn’t play” once my turn came around. I would still fight, but my lack of “back-up” often left me defeated. As the only girl I was outnumbered, and I learned the cold sting of the patriarchy at an early age. I just didn’t know exactly what it was called at the time.

With boys, my passion for “playtime gender equality” didn’t make me the easiest girl to hang out with. It’s not that I didn’t try to befriend girls. In fact, I wanted female friends very badly. Girls would invite me to sleepovers in the hopes of giving me to a makeover. I saw through their guise, but I said yes anyway. However, once I saw myself in bright clothing and a skirt–I instantly wanted to vomit. I couldn’t be what those girls wanted me to be. Which was high pitched and really into Lisa Frank. [6]

So there I was, stuck in the middle of genders and too young to have a gay best friend. Boys would laugh at me for wanting to play football, and girls were grossed out by my disregard for femininity. People had a hard time fitting me into a category.[7] I didn’t really know where I fit in. When I followed my own instincts I felt the pushback from society. I just wanted to be myself, and that seemed to turn people off.

“You know” The lackey replied as his tiny bully companion ran down the street, “you’ll never be as cool as a boy.” He turned and ran after his friend.

I turned to my little brother, hoping for some solidarity but he just shrugged and replied, “Come on. We’re going to be late for school.”

….Thanks, Matt


  1. or labels.
  2. what a little patriarchal sheep I was.
  3. says every bitchy girl, ever
  4.  Social Justice WARRIOR!
  5. Playing is something millennials did in the late 80s/early 90s. We would go outside unsupervised and pretend. Sometimes it involved imagination, or (if you were really lucky) climbing a tree.
  6.  I’m not knocking Lisa Frank, yo. I love me some Lisa Frank–I just didn’t get it when I was a kid. I wasn’t always this cool.
  7. The way I like it.


Jo Anna Van Thuyne is an actor, comedian, and producer residing in New York. Her column, Why Can’t We Be Friends?, posts every Thursday. Check her Snapchat/Twitter/Insta @JoPincushion.


About Jo Anna Van Thuyne 29 Articles

Jo Anna Van Thuyne is an actor, comedian, and producer residing in New York. Her podcast, Apocalypse…Now?, starts September 5th. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Check her Snapchat/Twitter/Insta @JoPincushion. Learn more at joannavanthuyne [dot] com

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