When A Female is a ‘Tomboy’ and Not Transgender

“I just wanted to check, the teacher said. ‘Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again?’ I cocked my head. I am used to correcting strangers, who mistake my 7-year-old daughter for a boy 100 percent of the time…’She’s a girl,’ I said. The woman looked unconvinced. ‘Really. She’s a girl, and you can refer to her as a girl.” L. Selin Davis, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key


Excerpt: My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy. By LISA S. DAVIS, The New York Times

“In fact, I love correcting them, making them reconsider their perceptions of what a girl looks like. But my daughter had been attending the after-school program where this woman taught for six months. Later, when I relayed this conversation to my daughter, she said, ‘More girls should look like this so it’s more popular so grown-ups won’t be so confused.’

My daughter wears track pants and T-shirts. She has shaggy short hair (the look she requested from the hairdresser was Luke Skywalker in Episode IV). Most, but not all, of her friends are boys. She is sporty and strong, incredibly sweet, and a girl.

And yet she is asked by the pediatrician, by her teachers, by people who have known her for many years, if she feels like, or wants to be called, or wants to be, a boy.

In many ways, this is wonderful: It shows a much-needed sensitivity to gender nonconformity and transgender issues. It is considerate of adults to ask her — in the beginning. But when they continue to question her gender identity — and are skeptical of her response — the message they send is that a girl cannot look and act like her and still be a girl.

Scout a tomboy in the film To Kill A Mockingbird

Left alone, would boys really never wear pink? (That’s rhetorical — pink was for decades considered a masculine color.) Would girls naturally reject Matchbox cars? Of course not, but if they show preferences for these things, we label them. Somehow, 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 and do.

The kids get it. But the grown-ups do not. While celebrating the diversity of sexual and gender identities, we also need to celebrate tomboys and other girls who fall outside the narrow confines of gender roles. Don’t tell them that they’re not girls.

Film star Katherine Hepburn usually dressed up tomboy style.

My daughter is happy with her body and comfortable with the way she looks, thousands of times happier and more comfortable than I am or ever have been. She is my hero. Or rather, my heroine.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

KWL Chart

Directions: Have students  create  two KWL charts  to list the information they already know about  about the terms Tomboy and Transgender. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.

K-W-L Chart from Creately.com

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Map  for assistance.

  1. She relayed this conversation to  her daughter.
  2. Many grown-ups can be  confused by her appearance.
  3. This shows a much-needed sensitivity to gender nonconformity.
  4. People are skeptical of her response.
  5. Adults  have increasingly eschewed millenniums-old gender roles.
  6. Her look evolved with age.
  7. I want trans kids to feel free and safe.
  8. You are an awesome girl.
  9. She identifies as a tomboy.
  10. invariably people agree with her choice.

Word Map by Against the Odds


Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Let’s be clear: If my___does begin to feel that the___ in her mind and the sex of her ___don’t match, I will be supportive. I will ___puberty blockers and___ (more than I already have). I will listen to her and make ___accordingly, just as I did when she turned 3 and asked for a tie and a button-down shirt. Then she saw her father wear a(for once).

WORD LIST: blazer decisions, hormones, research, daughter, gender, body,

Grammar: Using Adjectives  to describe pictures    

Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article  and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.  Using Adjectives  ESL Voices Grammar

III. Post Reading Activities

KWL Chart

Directions:  Have students  fill in the last column of the KWL chart if they used one in the pre-reading segment of this lesson.

Discussion for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. “She is not gender nonconforming. She is gender role nonconforming. She does not fit into the mold that we adults — who have increasingly eschewed millenniums-old gender roles ourselves, as women work outside the home and men participate in the domestic sphere — still impose upon our children.”
  2. “The message I want to send my daughter is this: You are an awesome girl for not giving in to pressure to be and look a certain way. I want her to be proud to be a girl.”

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


Category: Social Issues