When is a girl not a girl?

The division between boy and girl is not as immutable as many would have us believe. Yet, in the rigid adherence to their beliefs such people can inflict great harm as this extract from Colourful People illustrates.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The division between boy and girl may seem self-evident, biologically speaking. But it is much more than biological. As a social construction, it encompasses not only attire, but also behaviour, abilities and roles, amongst other things. It has its roots in beliefs and shared expectations and is variously enshrined in language. Despite this fact, it is not an immutable concept. At a time when such concepts are in flux, and more and more people do not recognise themselves in hard-set divisions, those people who seek reassurance and stability in religion or ill-understood science, can inflict a great deal of harm with their rigid ideas as the following extract from Colourful People illustrates.

Frau Graf is in search of her daughter, Gina, who has escaped from a psychiatric clinic. She and her husband had their child locked away because he insisted he was Gino, a boy. Having been tipped off by Freya, a transgender girl who helped Gino escape, that the boy was seriously ill and hiding with the Lost Girls, his mother embarked with a cohort of police to recuperate her child. When she failed to find her, she attempted to learn more, by interrogating Freya. Her efforts were frustrated by Eileen, one of the leaders of the Lost Girls, aided and abetted by a large group of young girls, who took control of the questioning…

Extract from Colourful People

“(…) So what is your first question?” Eileen asked.

The mother shot her a startled look as if she’d been expecting to be interrogated herself. “Er yes…” she said, struggling to regain her composure. Her eyes boring into Freya, she accused, “You kidnapped my daughter.”

The girl looked pleadingly at Eileen. “This is not a trial,” Eileen told her. “We are all eager to know what happened. You can tell us the truth. We will not punish you for anything you say.”

“But she will…” Freya blurted out, pointing an accusatory finger at the seated woman.

“I imagine she’d like to,” Eileen said, glancing at the furious expression on the woman’s face. “But, rest assured, we have the means to protect you should that prove justified. The same goes for you,” she said turning to the woman. “We will not punish you if it turns out you’ve done terrible things. That’s not for us to do. There are judges and law courts for that. As I said, we want to know what happened. So Freya, did you kidnap this woman’s daughter as she accuses?

“Not exactly,” the girl replied, eliciting a hiss from the mother.

“Explain,” Eileen coaxed.

Freya gave Gina’s mother a look that could have killed. “Gina has wanted to be a boy as long as I can remember,” she began.

“That’s not true,” Frau Graf exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “You lot fed her those poisonous ideas. She would never have dreamt them up on her own.”

“Please be seated,” Eileen insisted, rising from her seat amongst the Lost Girls. “I realise this is extremely emotional, but we’ll get nowhere if we have angry outbursts every time you don’t agree.” A step in the woman’s direction was enough to make her scuttle back to her chair.

“We’d never force anyone to be like us,” Freya pursued. “Why would we? It’s a hard and often painful journey. No. Gina knew she was a boy from a young age, but on the rare occasions she tried to broach the subject with her parents,” she shot a hate-filled look at Gina’s mother, “she quickly learnt to keep quiet. Her being a boy was inconceivable for them…”

“I should think so,” the woman muttered.

“… when they finally stumbled on their daughter dressing as a boy, they were horrified and immediately thought there was something wrong with her. They took her to see a whole army of specialists who all agreed she was ill and needed urgent treatment. Their sole goal was to rid her of the crazy idea she was a boy. They went to great lengths to break her of the habit. They never succeeded, but they almost broke her mentally and physically in trying. Their mistreatment lasted years, resulting in Gina becoming ever more desperate. On a recent, rare visit we learnt she was determined to end her days. We couldn’t let that happen. So we broke her out of the clinic. In a way we did kidnap her, but only to save her life.”

“What utter nonsense,” Gina’s mother exclaimed. “Our daughter never tried to take her life. We made sure she had the necessary medication to ensure she never did.”

“Why don’t you tell your version of the story?” Eileen suggested.

“Imagine my surprise when I discovered a book in Gina’s room about a girl who became a boy. I also found a set of boy’s clothes. She was barely eleven. At first we thought it was the influence of her tutor who gave her the book. We fired him immediately. Later, when I quizzed her, she claimed friends had encouraged her. I didn’t even now she had friends. I forbade her to see them. When that didn’t suffice, I kept her at home as much as possible. But, despite my precautions, it didn’t stop. At first, my husband and I sought advice from our priest. He said the church ran special programmes to set such twisted children right. That turned out to be a catastrophe. With so many deviants thrown together, it only encouraged her.”

“Yeah,” Freya exclaimed. “My parents forced me to attend such a programme. The organiser were fanatics. They were convinced believing we were a different gender was a sin and tried to batter it out of us. But we had a wild time the moment their backs were turned. I learnt so much there.”

“Exactly,” the woman exclaimed. “So we turned to a psychiatrist who’d had considerable success curing such cases. I didn’t like the idea of administering newly developed drugs, but the man convinced us it was necessary.”

“What do you mean by ‘curing’?” one of the younger lost girls asked. “I work a lot with healing plants so I’m interested.”

The woman looked startled at such a question from someone so young, but she answered, maybe because of the intensity with which the young girl fixed her. “Rid her of her obsession about being a boy, when it was clear she was a girl.”

“Is it not possible to have a body of a girl yet be convinced you’re a boy?” the young girl asked. “As if the creator got things muddled up when he handed out your body. Imagine the misery and confusion that would cause.”

“That’s nonsense. A boy is a boy and a girl a girl,” the mother countered.

“You think it’s nonsense, but can’t you conceive it might be possible. If your daughter is convinced she’s a boy, who are you to say her feelings are wrong?”

“Simple! You only have to look between her legs.”

“Biology is one thing,” the young girl insisted. “But how she feels could be quite different. What if she hates the idea she’ll be growing breasts in a few years? What if she wants to run and jump and be free like boys? What if she feels drawn to girls?”

The woman shot her a look of disgust. “Homosexuality is against nature,” she intoned. “The Bible says so.”

“We are not necessarily referring to homosexuality,” the girl retorted. “If your daughter is intimately convinced she’s a boy, then loving a girl would be quite natural according to your criteria.”

“You’re twisting my words,” the woman objected. (…)

Find out more about Colourful People and the Boy & Girl Saga

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