Pretty boys, handsome girls

Calling transgender those who dress as girls but remain attached to being a boy – albeit a girly boy – might be misleading. Dressing as a girl for the clothes and the feelings they procure is quite different from donning the clothes that are rightfully yours as transgender.

Pretty boys, handsome girls

March 31st was the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. Transgender has become a regular topic in the media where the term is often associated with those who transition medically from one gender to another. But the term also embraces, amongst others, those who, like Peter in the Boy & Girl Saga, dress and act in public or in private as girls or boys when they were born with the opposite sex. The Boy & Girl Saga is set in the early sixties, a time of on-going intolerance, when, for example, male homosexuality in England was illegal. The idea that people could be transgender had not yet crossed most people’s minds.

In the following extract from Boy & Girl, it’s late Saturday and twelve-year-old Peter is at Fi’s place. Fi, who is two years older and is Peter’s elder sister’s girlfriend, has just returned from Guides. She repeatedly calls him a ‘pretty boy’ which troubles him. There are so many words he’s not sure of, like queer or pansy, and not knowing what they mean makes him extremely uncomfortable.


“For most people boys and girls is all there is,” Fi said. “But there are loads of other possibilities.”

She sounded so sure that he began to doubt what had otherwise been self-evident. Maybe there was something he hadn’t understood. “You mean like pretty boys?”

She grinned. “And handsome girls.”

“But if I’m a pretty boy, like you say, does that make me queer?”

“Do you dream of kissing boys?”

“No.” The idea repulsed him.

“Then you’re probably not queer. Although many boys might want to kiss you if they saw you like that.”

“But you ‘re queer,” Peter said, suddenly understanding something that had been troubling him. “You like kissing Sis.”

“That’s true. Although queer is not a nice word. It means strange and there’s nothing strange about it.  I’m what they call a lesbian. I like kissing other girls. But I also like to dress as a boy and behave like one, that makes me what I call a handsome girl.”

“But isn’t that wrong?”

“Why should it be wrong?”

“Cause people say it is.”

“Who says so?”

“My Mum. The police. The Vicar. The newspaper. The man on the radio last night. I’m sure the Headmaster would to. And what about your parents?”

“My Mum is very easy-going. As for the others, maybe they don’t understand or are afraid.”

Afraid? That seemed improbable. They were important people. Could important people be afraid? “What could the Headmaster or the Vicar be afraid of?”

Fi didn’t reply, instead she munched on a biscuit. “I’m not sure,” she finally said. “Maybe if there weren’t just boys and girls, but instead the choice was much bigger, maybe they’d feel unsure what they were. Imagine you had always thought you were a boy then one day you suddenly realised you might be something else, something that was not so clear-cut, something that some people would be attracted to, while others might shy away or even get violent. Wouldn’t that be frightening?”

Peter felt uncomfortable. Had that not just happened to him? Did he not now have to live with the knowledge he might not be a boy like the others? That was scary enough.

Extract from Boy & Girl

More about the Boy & Girl Saga

Boy & Girl – Twelve-year-old Peter secretly dresses as a girl. Imagine his delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitling, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a vicious new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kaitlin and Peter join forces to do battle with those who oppose them.

In Search of Lost Girls – Dressed as a girl, Peter sets out in search of his soul-mate Kate who has been ripped from his arms and kidnapped. In his quest, he is hounded by fanatics bent on eliminating those who mess with gender. Meanwhile, Kate has been dumped in a nightmarish girls’ orphanage where she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans. Will the two ever be together again?

We Girls – Retain his androgynous ambiguity or say goodbye to his girlish self, such is the existential choice that besets Peter. Circumstances, however, force both him and Kate to take up other challenges. By straddling the line between child and adult, between carefree creativity and weighty responsibility, between play and work, they find imaginative ways to confront far-reaching problems on which adults persistently turn a blind eye.

Colourful People – What happens when a boy who dresses as a girl, but has no wish to transition, is confronted with a boisterous crowd of transgender youth in a desperate search for a safe haven? The fierce will to be themselves despite the determined opposition of society is common to both the Lost Girls and the Colourful People. Not surprising then that they join forces and advance together. (Currently being written)

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