The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Why can’t we all be ourselves?
Selena Garcia

I never wanted to be a boy; I just wanted to be able to do what they did. Being a boy seemed more fun. Boys didn’t care about the way they looked. No cherry ChapStick and pink clothes for me: I was snapbacks and basketballs, climbing trees and having adventures. My brother and I are only one year apart, and we would ride bikes, play basketball, and play with his Hot Wheels together.

The girls I knew didn’t like to get their hands dirty. I remember when four guys and I needed one more player for a three on three basketball game. I asked three girls I thought of as “the pretty princesses” if one of them would play. One said, “I don’t want to get sweaty” and the rest agreed with her. The guys and I had to play three on two.

I went to school with the three pretty princesses from 5th grade through 8th grade. They said mean things about my lack of nice clothes and shoes. I tried to ignore them because it didn’t matter to me what I wore. I cared about the person I was. Too bad they never got to know me.

One day in 5th grade, my English teacher told us to write a journal entry about who our role model was and why. I wrote about my friend Tyler Johnson, who I called my older brother from another mother. He was good at basketball and told me that I could do whatever my heart desired. I wrote in my notebook that Tyler told me to shoot for my dreams and helped me become a better basketball player. I wanted to be like him when I grew up—nice, strong, passionate, and shooting for greatness.

Then it was time to share out the role model assignment. The other girls had picked famous singers or their mothers and aunts who were nice to them and pretty. When I said I picked Tyler, the girls laughed and said a girl cannot want to be like a guy.

Of course, I would rather listen to Tyler than to them—he told me I could be whatever I wanted to be!

No Pretty Princess

It seemed like girls were more dramatic, rude, and sensitive. They cried more. Their lives seemed to revolve around being pretty and impressing boys.

Boys also tried to impress girls, but it was not their whole focus. Boys seemed strong, confident, and independent. That looked good to me, because I’d been let down by the adults in my life. Depending on people made no sense.

For the first 10 years of my life, my adoptive parents physically and verbally abused my brother and me. I felt more safe, tough, and powerful as a tomboy. I wanted to protect my brother and I wanted to protect myself. Girls seemed like easier prey because they were soft and showed their feelings in front of others. I never thought anyone would care or try to understand my feelings, so I hid everything like a guy would do.


When I was 13, I lived for a couple months with a foster mother I didn’t like. She was feminine and thought all girls should be girly.

One day, we were getting ready for a wedding where many of my guy friends would be. I was excited to go. I got dressed in white shorts and a white shirt with some white Air Force 1 sneakers and a black snapback hat on backwards.

When I got downstairs, she looked at me and shook her head. “You can’t go to a wedding like that.”

I told her I didn’t own anything girly. She said, smiling, “It’s OK. I bought you something.”

Out of a bag that said “Pretty Girls,” she pulled a pink jumpsuit.
“I’m not wearing that.”

“If you want to go, you will.”

image by YC-Art Dept

I really wanted to go. I went up to my room and put it on, but I kept on my snapback. She said, “You know I’m not gonna let you wear that hat.” Then she told me to sit down and relax.

She combed my hair and used a curling iron for what felt like hours and put a white flowered headband in my hair. When she was done, I looked in the mirror and thought, “Is this what it feels like to be pretty?”

I felt weird. I liked how I looked, but I thought about the “pretty princesses” and wondered, “Is this how they feel? Am I going to be one of them?”

Then I thought, “Never. I’m a tomboy, and this is just a one-time thing.”

When we got to the wedding, I said under my breath, “I am going to get teased by the bros.” I went into the house and the guys stared at me. One said, “Wow Tia, you look very pretty.” (I changed my name from Tia to Selena when I was adopted.) The rest of them started blushing. I was confused.

However, I liked it. I liked the attention. They usually gave me a high five or a pound, but now they hugged me and called me pretty. It made me feel special.

When we got home, my foster mother asked, “Now was that so hard?”

“No, it actually felt better than I thought it would.”

“So tomorrow, we’re going to a block party….” She paused, suggesting without words that I would wear the pink jumpsuit again.

I looked at her with a straight face. “No, I am going to wear my all white outfit.”

Switching Up

After that day I still mostly dressed sporty, but I switched it up occasionally. Sometimes when my foster mother would go out to GAP or Old Navy to get clothes for me I would ask her to get me something from the girls’ department too. She always smiled when I said that.

After that, I’d sometimes go to the basketball court in cute booty shorts and a pink or purple top. The boys paid more attention to me that way. When I felt like getting attention, I would look like a girl with skirts or dresses. However, when I wanted to play around and have fun, I would put on my shorts and my snapback. I felt more like myself that way.

When I was 13, I had my first boyfriend, Jaydin. He was the nicest person I had ever met. He stuck up for me in school when I was bullied and he liked me for me. He liked my boyish style, but when he saw me in a dress, at the court, he reacted like the other guys. He froze and looked at me with confusion. He came up and stuttered, “You look really pretty.” He had trouble concentrating on the basketball game.

After that, I stepped up my girly game. When I knew he was going to be at the park, I would dress pretty for him.

When the pretty princesses first saw me in girl clothes, they said I was still ugly and that I was trying too hard. Nevertheless, after a while they began to compliment me and say that I looked pretty. Compliments felt better than insults, so I said thanks, and then went back to playing ball. I still didn’t trust them or want to be one of them.

When I was a tomboy, I got more respect from the guys. After a game, they would give me a pound and say “good game.” When I dressed like a girly girl, those same guys treated me as if I was special. That made me giggle and smile more, which felt weird but I liked the attention.

image by YC-Art Dept

I liked knowing I was in control of either being treated pretty or like a bro. I wanted to be pretty but with the option to prove myself as more than that.

“Light Work”

In the 6th grade, I went to tryouts for the boy’s basketball team in some cute baby blue basketball shorts and a crop top with white Nikes. When I walked in, some boys said, “Cheerleading tryouts are in the other gym.” I ignored them.

The coach called me over and asked if I was ready.

“Always,” I replied.

He told me to walk across the court bouncing the ball left to right between my legs. I said, “light work.” I grabbed the basketball and started bouncing it from left to right and switching legs quickly.

The coach said “good” and told me to do three lay-ups and then hit a three-pointer.
“Light work.” I made two lay-ups and missed the third one but grabbed the ball and threw it back up. I ran to the three-point line and made a jump shot with no backboard. All net.

The coach told one of the guys to play defense. The coach passed me the ball and told me to make a shot. I faked left, dribbled under my legs, then ran up and faked a shot. The guy jumped to block the ball and I sprinted to the hoop and made a lay-up.

The guys laughed at him and said, “You gonna let that happen?” Then the coach put another kid on defense against me. I scored on him too. I made the team. My teammates looked at me as a bro, but off the court, they treated me like a girl.

Not in Any Box

I began to merge my two looks into something I call “tomgirl.” I would wear skinny jeans, some cute retro Jordans, a tank top, and a snapback. In outfits like that I get the respect and the attention from boys. Girls like my tomgirl look if it’s on the girly end of the spectrum.

I used to be mad at the pretty princesses for the way they acted. Now I think it’s because of how they were raised and everything around them—from TV shows to videos to books to stores and especially advertisements. There are so many messages for girls to be feminine that it’s more of a requirement than a choice.

I see all the magazine covers that say “Look like this!” or “Tips on how to have a beautiful body,” and I sometimes feel the pressure to measure up. Having a big butt and nice curves is being beautiful, and I do not have a Kim Kardasian or J-Lo body. The media also tells boys, and even girls, that showing your feelings is annoying and soft.

However, I know I should not believe that stuff, and I am happy with my freedom to mix it up like a tomgirl. I wear baggy pants, run around, and get active, but I also am sensitive. When things get tough I cry; I let it out because bottling feelings up only makes it worse. I’m lucky that I’m part of a good family now, and it feels safe to show my emotions.

Girls are expected to do a lot and so are boys. Girls are expected to be weak and kind, successful but not too successful because then it will make men look bad. Guys are expected to be dominant and have no emotion.

But can’t I be kind and strong? Why do girls have to “act like a lady?” Why are guys who show their feelings called “gay” or “feminine”?

Neither the male nor the female gender box defines me. I was always in between. I do not worry about being a tomgirl as an adult. Adults judge less than teenagers do, so it should not be hard to keep my style and my freedom as long as I want.

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