“Dear Tooth Fairy,
When I was eating my peanut butter cup, I accidentally swallowed my tooth. I hope you will leave me a present anyway.
P.S. I’m a Tomboy”
The above is a (spelling corrected) letter that I unearthed over winter break, which I wrote to the Tooth Fairy in 2005 when I lost my first tooth. I could write an entire academic thesis unpacking all the ways this note is so incredibly on-brand for me, but for the sake of time, I’ll just try and focus on the most important bits.
The postscript in particular here is rather hard to ignore: “P.S. I’m a Tomboy.” Upon first glance, it seems like a complete non sequitur. But, even though I was young, I trust that I was following some sort of logical process here.
I’m inclined to think that seven-year-old Laney was concerned that the Tooth Fairy, being the bureaucrat she surely is, would see my full, legal name and address on her list that night, and would subsequently travel to my house in search of a girl with a tooth under her pillow, soundly asleep.
I may have been seven, but I understood that this was a monetary transaction, and I wasn’t going to be able to hold up my end of the deal. So, I needed to write the Tooth Fairy and let her know that the tooth would not be there, because it had long since entered my digestive tract.
But then, after that was settled, perhaps another thought popped into my head: this was my first lost tooth, so the Tooth Fairy had never seen me before. What if she couldn’t tell it was me, because I didn’t look like a girl?
“Are you a boy or a girl?” was a question that I was no stranger to growing up. In my youngest days, I reveled in it, absolutely delighted by the air of mystery I was cultivating. When my girl friends had princess birthday parties, I’d come dressed as a prince. I didn’t initially see anything out of the ordinary about the way I dressed. I knew girls who got their clothes in the boys’ section, too. We were all just tomboys.
But as I got older, I noticed most of those girls start to opt for more traditionally feminine wardrobes. Once I got to middle school, especially, the gender boundaries had never felt so defined — and I was clearly in violation of them.
The last time I can remember someone wondering aloud if I were a boy or a girl was in sixth grade. I was on the way to my locker and could hear two boys ask about my gender, more to each other than to me. I still just laughed back at them, like I always had, but I didn’t feel the same smug satisfaction that I used to. Something had started to feel not quite right about it.
In seventh grade, I came back as a much girlier version of myself. Being the source of attention isn’t always ideal in middle school, especially when it’s because you look out of place, so I made the choice to compromise my own comfort for the sake of fitting in. I didn’t start dressing like a “tomboy” again until I was 17, when I came out as gay.
Like many college students, I’ve spent my past few years away from home trying to figure out what kind of person I am, and what kind of person I want to be. Being home for my last winter break served as a bittersweet reminder that even though I feel like a much different person than I did when I left, in some ways I’m still the same person I’ve always been.
Finding my correspondence with the Tooth Fairy got me wondering if maybe, on some level, we all grow up knowing exactly who we are straight from the jump, and it’s only once we’re made to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable by the ways that we’re different that we start to lose our senses of self. After that, we just spend our time trying to find our way back again.
That’s not to say I haven’t grown tremendously since I left home. More than anything, it affirms that I’ve been growing in the right direction.
It’s important to be able to recognize how far you’ve come, but often times, it’s just as valuable to look for yourself in the place where you started.