Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
By age 4, Liz Prince knew something important about herself: she could be “totally happy as long as [she] didn’t have to wear a dress.” Before you pass any judgments, Prince explains at age 31, “I look like a total tantrum-throwing brat, which I wasn’t … I mean, unless someone was trying to imply that I should act like a GIRL. You see, I was born very strong-willed, and I was born a Tomboy.”
With parents who just “wanted [her] to be comfortable,” Prince remained blissfully unaware of gendered labels and expectations until she entered that social science experiment referred to as ‘getting an education’: “I didn’t even know what a tomboy was until I started school and was expected to follow the ‘rules of gender.'” Prince never quite complied, and eschewed the accepted assumptions. Stories starring girls, thanks to fairy tales and Disney, that “presented women in need of a savior” – “Not Prince Charming again. Have some agency, woman!” the precocious reader scoffed – left Prince preferring to “wield a sword than wear a tiara.” Given such models, Prince never minded being mistaken for a boy herself.
Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, Prince manages to retain her fluid identity, in spite of rejection, loneliness, frustration, and bullying. Whatever epithets others throw her way, Prince staunchly remains her own self: she’s not gay but she won’t buckle under pressure to reveal her sexuality, she begrudgingly recognizes the difference between “hat[ing] girls” and “hat[ing] the expectations put on girls by society,” and she finally finds true friendship with other originals with whom she can share her music and her art.
Prince’s memoir is that eye-opening journey that every 21st-century parent needs to take with their kids as names, definitions, classifications, expectations based purely on chromosomal make-up are no longer binding for the newest generations. Our vocabulary is quickly evolving to better describe identity, including such terms as cisgender, DFAB, DMAB, binary, non-binary, and so many more (I’m learning as fast as I can!). As honest, funny, poignant, articulate, enlightening as Tomboy proves to be, it’s definitely headed for classic status on progressive bookshelves everywhere.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult