Out climbing the trees

Yesterday Fresh Air was an interview with Phoebe Waller-Bridge who created and wrote “Fleabag.” There was one especially interesting bit…

GROSS: So you went to a Catholic school for girls. How did the sex segregation work for you? And was this – like, how old were you when you were in Catholic school.

WALLER-BRIDGE: I went there when I was 11. My mum had felt it was very important from day dot that we had boys around (laughter), as well as our brother. And – ’cause my brother had his sisters around the whole time. And we had him. But it’s something about actually socializing. And so mum was really, really good about making sure that we had boys and girls around the house. So I had a lot of, like, guy friends growing up because of that. But then I also really love the camaraderie of being around girls. And I still do. You know, I think that – there’s something very special about that feeling. But looking back, it does feel odd. The exclusivity of it is – does feel odd.

GROSS: So right before you went to Catholic school when you were 6 until you were around 10 – and correct me if this is wrong because this is just something I read – that you dressed as a boy. You shaved your head and called yourself Alex. Now, looking back on those years, do you understand why you wanted to do that?

WALLER-BRIDGE: Yeah. And I still have the same impulse all the time. I mean, I feel like when I was – I remember growing up up until I was about – when I was about 11, 12 was when I started dropping Alex, and I was Phoebe again. But I just thought they just had more fun. I just wanted to be out climbing the trees and wearing comfortable clothes. And, you know, it didn’t feel like it was for me. And a lot of my friends were really into the dresses and the dolls and all that kind of stuff. It just wasn’t my bag. And the only – and it just seemed so – you kind of had to choose one or the other at that time. And I just definitely wanted to be climbing the trees and that kind of thing. So I had a friend called Maria (ph). And we both had really short and, yeah, shaved it at one point and wore boxer shorts and swimming trunks. And we were just boys. I remember going into Gap once when I was about 7 and the guy coming up to me when I was with my mum and said, so what does the young man want? And I was like, yeah – convinced.

GROSS: (Laughter). Do you think if that was happening today that your parents would wonder if you were trans?

WALLER-BRIDGE: I think my parents would’ve been exactly the same. You know, and they never had an issue with it. They never – they were just sort of like, sure. You’re Alex. Let’s take you to Gap, Alex (laughter). And I just remember it never being a problem. I mean, there’s, you know, the tomboy kind of thing. I mean, I wonder now if I had back then – if I had – because I was very, very fervent about it when I was younger, as well. It was like I just desperately wanted to a boy more than anything else. If it had been taken seriously maybe by my school or something and I’d spoken about those options – those options had been given to me – I probably would’ve jumped at it. But I don’t think my parents would’ve been any different. I think they’re just like, live and let live. And so I was very, very happy being a girl dressed as a boy as long as I was allowed to express myself that way and allowed to change my name and stuff. They were like, yeah, whatever makes you happy.


WALLER-BRIDGE: And then one day, I turn up, and I’m like, I’m Phoebe now. And they were like, welcome home (laughter).

And…is it fair to say that’s better? Is it fair to say it’s better to be relaxed about it that way and see what shakes out instead of going straight to the trans option at age 7 or 10 or 15? Is it fair to say it’s better, other things being equal, to reach adulthood without hormone treatments and/or surgery? To let your body do what it’s going to do?

GROSS: What made you change? When you went back to Phoebe, were you also changing the way you dressed? ‘Cause The nice thing about when you’re a girl or a woman – you can still wear a man’s clothes. And, you know, ’cause what are there? There are pants and jackets and shirts, you know, and T-shirts.


GROSS: They’re just kind of standard. When a man wears a dress, that’s making much more of a major statement than when a woman wears, like, jeans and a T-shirt, which both genders wear.

They do now, but fifty or sixty years ago a woman wearing jeans was still seen as a major statement, and twenty or thirty years before that even more so. It took a long time before that became unremarkable enough that girls could wear jeans to school and women could wear trousers at work.

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