Guiding gender-atypical kids through puberty

Lisa Selin Davis is the author of "Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different." She has written for The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and many other publications.

(CNN)My 11-year-old daughter and I cracked open a book I'd bought for her on puberty and changing female bodies. On the very first page it informed her that, once her body developed, men would start looking at her differently.

We crinkled our noses in some combination of discomfort and skepticism. No matter how her body changed, we both knew she would continue to wear the same oversize hoodies, cargo pants and short hair dyed pink that she'd been sporting for years. However well intentioned and helpful to gender-typical girls the book's messages were, they didn't seem to apply to a kid like mine, who had flouted gender norms her entire life. These books and others like it operate on the assumption that, once puberty hit, girls like mine would feminize and conform.
Gender atypical girls have often been tolerated or even encouraged before puberty. "Historically, they were labeled tomboys and there was a high acceptance of that and a presumption that they'd outgrow it," said Robert Blum, professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and lead investigator of The Global Early Adolescent Study, which looks at how gender socialization affects health globally.