Do you remember what life was like when you were a child?

Close your eyes and visualise yourself, what do you see? For me, a young girl running through a field, pig tails flying in the breeze and screaming at my best friend that my hair was ‘not ginger, it’s strawberry blonde!’ (it’s gotten darker now, but I was a ginger kid I don’t know why I was so in denial about that). My knees are skinned but healing sure to just be cut open again and I also have an apparent superpower for getting mysterious bruises that would last weeks or even months, the tell tale scars across my fingers I can see now gained from climbing (and falling) out of trees along my small fingers as I rush headfirst through the corn fields into a bush of brambles chasing the farm dogs who are chasing a rabbit while in turn being chased by my poor worried mother.

I see happiness in my eyes and hear mirthless laughter, without a care in the world. Pure, unadulterated joy. I’m five and life is wonderful.

I close my eyes again and I see myself sitting in a stuffy room with the windows closed and a crowd of people celebrating some distant cousin I barely knows’ birthday party. I see a severe woman who’s my great aunt something tell me to put back on my cardigan because my dress is too skimpy and to close my legs because I’m flashing the whole room, and maybe I should start wearing a bra. I see my male cousins playing outside, running around with the dogs without a care in the world, I want to join them, but I’d get ‘dirty’.

I’m nine and life is confusing. I’m playing soccer during lunch time, I’m the only girl on the team and I see a gaggle of other girls circling around the pitch, one of the boys accidentally kicks the ball and it hits a girl square in the face, she falls and cries as her friends circle around her and place comforting hands on her back. A teacher comes running over and they all walk away in a huddle. I want to run off with them to see if she’s okay, but I know that girl, and the other girls. We don’t like each other, we don’t like the same things. Some of the boys laugh because she cried. I don’t laugh.

I go home and my mam drives me to get a haircut. I’m told afterwards I look nicer with long hair, but am still not pretty, by a boy in my class. I’m eleven and soccer isn’t fun anymore. I look again and I see my small body in a too baggy uniform, the skirt has to reach the ground as heaven forbid any boys see my kneecaps. I’m slugging a heavy bag filled with books on my shoulders and say goodbye to my mam in the car park as I walk past the nunnery on the way in to school. One of the wires in my bra is digging into my chest, I rearrange it all day hoping fervently that nobody sees it. I go into class, the classes I signed up for are not the ones I wanted, they’re the ones I thought I should do.

I don’t play soccer anymore. Soccer is for boys. I’m thirteen and life is just how it is. I look again and it’s late at night and I can’t sleep, I’m writing songs and listening to music with my new headphones I got last Christmas, I take off my headphones for a second to make sure that the girl in the bed across from me hasn’t woken up from the music being too loud and make a quick scan of the room. Everyone’s still asleep. The room is too hot to sleep but you can’t open any windows, and I know why. We all know why.

I get up to use the bathroom and the hospital bed slightly creaks, my eyes dart around the room. Nobody’s awake, I’m alone. I’m fifteen and life is nerve wracking and sad.

I’m sixteen in a month and feel lighter, I’ve seen the sun again and it feels good. I’ve finished my Junior cert and skip out of the small room with a spring in my step. Last exam over, and I think I nailed it. I sing a song on my way up to the car and continue singing all the way home. I twist my hair in my fingers and smile as we pull in and my cousin congratulates me and asks if I want to play a game of soccer with him and my uncle. I say yes. I’m seventeen and am flourishing, I’ve friends that care for me and am fighting for a girls soccer team in my school. It’s my last year and I’ve made my mark, I sit in a too hot metal chair in the boiling sun and wait for my name to be called as I collect my mental health and leader awards, and smile as I see a girl I know receive a sports award she really deserved.

I’m seventeen and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

It’s the summertime before college and I’m talking to a group of boys who are flabbergasted I play video games. I roll my eyes. ‘You’re not like most girls’ one of them says. I cringe inwardly. What’s wrong with other girls? Are they like other boys? I’m in college and I’m walking to the shop with another girl, she tells me she doesn’t usually hang out with other girls because girls are all bitchy and dramatic. She’s a girl, I’m a girl. Am I bitchy and dramatic? Is she?

I’m getting ready for my first night out in college and am wearing a sparkly dress. I feel pretty and girly, and look at the family group chat to see a picture of my cousin learning to cook. I’m proud of him, his father won’t learn to cook, that’s for girls.

I’m five, I’m nine, I’m eleven, I’m thirteen, I’m sixteen, I’m seventeen, I’m eighteen, I’m a tomboy and that’s good, that’s not right, that’s trying too hard, that’s unique, that’s confusing.

I’m not like other girls.

I’m girly and that’s good, that’s boring, that’s proper, that’s bitchy, that’s dramatic. I’m just like other girls.

My cousin is a boy, he likes sports. That’s great! He plays outside, well done! He misses a throw during a game with me, and a watching relative jokingly shouts ‘You throw like a girl!’ I throw the ball right past his head. That’s crazy. I only threw like a girl. My aunt does my cousin’s make up for fun at Christmas.

That’s weird. Why is it weird?

Gender roles define us by restricting us. A girl being a tomboy is seen as cool, but a boy doing something ‘girly’ is seen as weird, because why would girls interests and boys interests be seen as equal? Girls should want to appeal to other boys, boys have to stay boys. It’s not fair to either. I’m girly, I’m tomboyish, I’m not like other girls because I’m an individual person but I am like other girls because I am a girl, and girls are not bitchy and dramatic. Having different interests to other girls does not make you a more superior person, society has taught us in order to be ‘cool’ we have to be a hearty balance of enough ‘boyish’ interests to appeal to men as well as appearing and liking enough girly things as to have a good balance of how to best appeal to the patriarchal society we live in.

This is toxic. Boys cannot like girly things, they can’t wear pink because it’s seen as weak, emasculating and ostricising. This is also toxic. We should be allowed like whatever we want to like, regardless of gender or appearance. I like what I like because I like it, I’m not living a life to prove myself to anyone. As long as I love myself and what I’m doing, I will continue to pursue my interests, regardless of who else is interested in them. Before you’re a girl or a boy or whatever gender identity to identify as, you’re you. Other people should be your friends because they’re them, not because of their gender.

You are like other girls, because girls are amazing.

And don’t you want to be amazing?

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