Intersections – Tomboy

Posted by Dena Mellick June 10, 2015
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

By Nicki Salcedo

When I was a girl, they called me a tomboy because I liked digging in the dirt. I preferred baseball caps to crinoline.

Today, I still feel the same great affection when I see rolly pollies or fireflies. After it rains, I will stop on the sidewalk and scoot worms off the pavement and safely back into the damp earth. The rain and the dirt and insects and crawly things were my first friends.

It did not occur to me until I got older that the term “tomboy” was a kind of insult. It suggested that I was a deviant form of a girl. But I wasn’t. I was 100 percent girl. I loved Barbies and romance novels and mowing the lawn and catching fireflies.

I was lucky. I never doubted who I was. I never felt pressured to conform to things I am not.

I always thought it was better to be a girl than a boy. I always thought I could be anything. Princess or gravedigger.

I never stuffed my bra or snuck behind my mother’s back to wear makeup. Honestly, those things could have helped me during the awkward years. My bra stayed empty until I had babies. Then I gained breasts. No wonder men like them. They are fabulous. So soft and warm and inviting. But four breastfed babies later, my bra is as empty as it was when I was 13. I don’t feel less of a woman.

I was at a meeting this week when someone brought up Caitlyn Jenner. I had not spared a thought on the topic since the story broke, but I instantly felt my guard go up not knowing the kind of comments my colleagues would make.

Here is the truth. I do not care.

I don’t mock her. I don’t disparage her. I don’t overtly advocate her. Maybe I have a malaise when it comes to celebrity news. I don’t care unless I think someone might say something hateful or mean. I’m not one to keep my mouth shut, so I’d rather people play nice so I can play nice.

My colleagues were appropriately positive and vague with their approval. I took a breath. I could stand down.

It made me realize that not caring might be the best thing. I do not care what kind of man or woman teaches my kids or becomes my neighbor or cooks a meal for me. I don’t screen my friends to ensure their religion and politics align with mine.

Through the magic of social media I’ve discovered that my friends, dear close friends, are often my political and religious opposites. They remain my friends because they are kind and they work hard. They are my friends because they like to laugh and might save an earthworm every now and then.

I do not disparage the rich. I don’t despise or idolize Caitlyn Jenner. I don’t envy those in the spotlight. It burns.

But I do wonder what makes a woman.

By all standards only my uterus makes me one. I avoid pinchy shoes and mascara and having breasts. I don’t have any interest in nail polish. Once a year I venture into Miss Nails Salon on Church Street. Tina is the owner. She has known me for 15 years. She knows I get my nails done once a year, against my will, for some fancy function.

“You going on vacation or to a wedding?” she’ll ask. She knows me. “I’ll do your eyebrows, too.”

The year I was married, she tried to wax every bit of hair off my body.

“Like baby?” she asked.

No, not like baby. Like a woman. Leave some turf behind, please.

I still feel fully like a woman with my crazy eyebrows and stubbly legs. I feel pretty without makeup and nail polish. There are other days when I feel pretty in a dress. There are days when I feel powerless in a world that likes to marginalize those with different skin, reproductive organs, and appearances.

I do care, and I don’t care. More often than not, I don’t care. This doesn’t mean I won’t rise to someone’s defense. It doesn’t mean I won’t judge you for that left turn during right turn hours. It matters to me what you do with the earthworms after the rain.

That’s how I know I’m a human. And a woman. And a person. Just like you.

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.

About Dena Mellick

Dena Mellick is the Associate Editor of

View all posts by Dena Mellick

  • Amanda Minton

    “I don’t care unless I think someone might say something hateful or mean. I’m not one to keep my mouth shut, so I’d rather people play nice so I can play nice.” YES.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I really like it when people play nice.

      • ttseim

        My job as a construction superintendent is basically to babysit grown men and sometimes women. Most of my rules I state before every job can be summed up with be safe and play nice together! works for me…love your posts,they keep me thinking and evaluating my positions….

  • ttseim

    I saw a poster recently that might be a little crude, but it sums it up for me…” I do not care about your race, color, religion,sex,sexual orientation,employment status,wealth…I judge you on whether you are an asshole or not…..”

    • Nicki Salcedo


  • Maggie Worth

    So many thoughts. I wasn’t a girl because I didn’t play with Barbie and I wasn’t a boy because I hated all things dirty and crawly. I was just weird because I preferred to sit in a corner and think. As an adult, my hair flower obsession makes me “girly” and my ability to wield power tools effectively while wearing them is apparently some kind of sexy girly thing. But still, people say I have a “man’s brain.” Plus, of course, since no one has ever lived in my uterus and I didn’t even try very hard to fill the vacancy, that’s a whole other issue in our gender-obsessed society. And also, what makes a man? But, most of all, the idea of caring or not caring interests me. I don’t care about celebrities for the most part. I do care about Caitlyn, simply because she has a platform. As a “male-thinking” strategist, that’s an asset I can’t ignore. Theoretically, I don’t care about politics and religion and gender identity and ethnicity and all the other whatnot variations people encompass. But a couple of years ago, I discovered that, as a straight, white, cis woman in the suburban south who only leaves home twice a week, I have to chose to care. If I don’t, I somehow end up in a situation where all my friends are straight and white and cis because that’s who I generally bump into. Not that I mind having those people as friends. I love some of them very much. But I don’t want *only* those people as friends. It jacks up one’s perspective. So I have to make a specific effort to go looking for people who aren’t cis and straight and white — and who also aren’t assholes. Because no.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      What makes a man? A prostate. Other than that, I don’t know. I appreciate the neutral terms and ways to identify ourselves, but I have lady bits that need to see a lady doctor. I’m ok with gender identification. I don’t really care who wears a dress or who wears the pants. I would advocate for more men wearing kilts. Different story altogether. Just be people. The end. Better yet, be people who like Star Trek.

      • Maggie Worth

        Kilts FTW

  • Carol Opalinski

    Great article! I confess I don’t wear makeup and I’ve never had my nails done. But I do believe in “live and let live” and have tried to teach that to my children.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      Live and let live is great. I thought that was James Bond for a moment, but he’s all mean with live and let die. Stay nail polish free! Or go see Miss Tina. She is the best.

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