What it means to be a girl

Cat from Portugal 


Between ten and twelve, I questioned if God existed and if I was meant to be a boy. I wasn’t aware that one could change their gender but for a while, I wanted to.


Up until I was six, I lived in England and there, my mom remembers me being girly, though, I think it was just because I liked shiny things. I on the other hand, remember climbing trees and playing with the boys.


When I came to Portugal, I became more and more of a tomboy. I cut my hair short and would play football all the time. I really deeply remember finding girls games super boring and wanting to play with the boys all of the time. I wanted more than anything to be accepted by the boys. I would always still have a girl as a best friend though and I really cared what she thought about me.


That was already probably a foreshadowing of my super mega gayness.


The boys I played with all had Action Man toys growing up. I wanted one so bad but my mom would only buy me a Ken doll. When I brought the Ken doll to play with the boys, they said Ken was a faggot. They didn’t know what the word faggot meant though, we were seven.

Ken Doll

When I finally got an Action Man, the boys weren’t playing with Biker Mice from Marsthem anymore. It was really like a scene from a movie. I finally arrived to school with an Action Man and there all of the kids were, playing with “Biker Mice From Mars” figures. It was a cartoon where these muscular rats drive motorbikes on Mars and they were the big thing in Portugal back then.


Eventually, people started confronting me about why I wanted to be a boy. I remember very clearly thinking I need to decide if I want to be a boy or not. Shortly after, I had a dream where I woke up as a man next to a tall blonde woman, which is also probably a telling sign. In my dream, I woke up and got out of bed, then the woman got up and her body started floating horizontally around me in this circle. I woke up feeling that was a transition point and somehow, it was like she was like my compass.


There’s a decision to be made about my sexuality but it has less to do with my gender and more about my sexual orientation.


Before that point, I didn’t think of myself as gay or notice that anything was weird because I didn’t identify the feelings I was having. To me, it was super normal to be very fascinated by the coolest girl in my class. I didn’t feel that I had to touch or kiss them because my libido arrived pretty late. I also thought that as long as I dated boys and girls, it wouldn’t be a problem.


So by twelve, I decided I didn’t believe in God and I was comfortable being a girl.


I was still not comfortable with everything about being a girl though. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t have the patterns of the girlness as a reference for how to look; I had the patterns of boyness to see if I liked what I saw.


When I had to dress up for formal occasions like going to the doctor or a baptism, my mom would also always dress me up like a formal boy. She had an idea of nice things boys wear and nice things girls wear and since I didn’t want to wear a dress, the only other option was to wear a flannel shirt with a nice pull over and cream-colored pants and brown boots.


My sister was always slightly boyish as well and my mom never wore makeup so I didn’t have a lot of female references at home to realize that the way I dressed was very different. I don’t feel like I had strict gender models at home at all. I don’t think that influenced how I identified but it influenced the fact that I felt I had a choice, the kind of openness to discovering myself. My parents never said that’s too boyish or girls don’t do that to my sister and I.


People don’t really talk about sex in Portugal. We had zero sex education when I was younger, we just learned about the reproductive system in science class. I learned how to put a condom on a banana at queer camp when I was seventeen. The first time touching a condom at seventeen, that’s way too late. It was only when I started watching “The L Word” and getting involved in the queer community that suddenly I realized I was a sexual person. I started getting informed and learning about sex and STDs. I knew nothing before that, I was the most innocent little tomboy you can think of.


Part of the reason we were maybe more conservative in Portugal is that we had both strong religion and fascism, which is a really bad combination.


Portugal Fascism
“The book for first grade”

During my grandfather’s generation when kids learned how to read, it was with books that used the name of the dictator in examples of how to build sentences. Then there were books where you had drawings of a girl doing things at home helping her mother and on the other side, a boy outside on a horse doing things with his dad. That’s how deep they were trying to brainwash us.


Then my dad was born and was the youngest of five boys  and was the most sensitive of all of them. His brothers wouldn’t play with him so he would spend his time in the kitchen talking to the maids. He was more around women and I think that really influenced him. I learned tenderness and not give a shit about what people think through my dad.


I’ve always found gender such an interesting thing because it’s such a social construction. If you were born on an island without other humans, you would accept your body as it is. So many people are unhappy with their body and with what it means to be a boy or a girl in their culture. It’s a very deep and serious thing and it comes into your life from so young. When you’re three or four you start realizing there are boys and girls and you have to belong to one of these roles. For a lot of people, the answer isn’t so direct or clear-cut.




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1 thought on “What it means to be a girl

  1. What a lovely description, thank you Cat for sharing your story. I never asked myself the question of gender. I never liked to play with boys (too wild and always some sort of mystery to me) and up to today I like painting my fingernails, wearing dresses and lipstick. But I can refer to the fact that gender and whom you are sexually drawn to is very socially influenced. I new I loved girls at 14. I fell in love with my best female friend. My mom (who is quite liberal) said: “Oh, this is normal in puberty. It will pass.” Well, it didn’t. But it took me a bunch of failed relationships and solitude in relationships with men to find the courage to stand up for myself at 28 and realize: I don’t know, if I am gay or not. I fall in love what I fall in love with. Today am happy with a woman. Am I gay? Would I love her the same, if she was born into a male body? I don’t know. I am glad she is how she is. But I do know that I would love to support my children, if I am fortunate to have any, to be as they are and express themselves. No matter if they love to play with dolls as boys or trucks as girls or sometimes this, sometimes that. Feeling comfortable in your body and being loved for what you are, I hope our generation will manage to pass on more freedom and acceptance for all tones and colors of feelings in society.

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