Tomboys Of TV & Film: They Might Be Gay Today

Tomboys Of TV & Film: They Might Be Gay Today

“Tomboys Likelier to Turn Into Lesbians” was the headline that caught our attention here at SheWired earlier this week. The provocative, if not ‘duh’ inducing, and not exactly accurate headline published in The Times of India was crafted for a story about the results of a study by the Queen Mary University in London that essentially found that genes may be a factor in the number of gender non-conforming girls – or tomboys – who grow up to be lesbians.

The study essentially found that of 4,000 female twins who were interviewed genetic influences on sexual orientation were at 31 percent and genes played about a 25 percent role in gender non-conformity. Although, prior studies had the number of tomboys who grow up to be lesbians pinned at about one third.

While we thought the number of tomboys to lesbians ratio must surely be higher – at least that’s what our own experiences have dictated – the headline did have us pondering, “where have all the good pop culture tomboys gone?” And, did any of those smart-ass, gum-smacking, tough-girl characters grow up to be lesbians? If so, was it about a third who grew up to go gay?

Once a staple of 70’s and 80’s film and television, it appears at first glance that the lovable tomboys of yesteryear have given way to femme fashionistas ala the Gossip Girl and even the Pretty Little Liars set – although we are big fans of PLL.

In his legendary work Female Masculinity Judith (Jack) Halberstam writes of a bygone era of a pop culture rife with tomboys:

“I think it is fair to say that the heyday for the tomboy film was the 1970’s and 1980’s, when a plethora of tomboy films were made featuring butch, wisecracking, aggressive little tykes such as Jodie Foster (Foxes -1980 - and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore - 1974) Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon – 1973), and Kristy McNichol (Little Darlings – 1980). These movies made girlhood interesting and exciting and even sexy. They also of course tended to imagine girlhood as tomboyhood.”

While it would seem that the 70’s and 80’s certainly abounded with its tough girl types, upon further examination of pop culture characters we’ve discovered a rich array of tomboys throughout the years from the 50’s to the present. Here’s a photographic list of famous tomboy characters we loved, aspired to be, or even crushed on when we were growing up. Math may not be our strong suit but we’re still wondering what percentage grew up to be gay. 

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Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner, Roseanne

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Alyssa Milano as Sam Micelli, Who’s The Boss?

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Clea DuVall as Graham, But I’m a Cheerleader


Ellen Page as Hayley Stark, Hard Candy (See also: Juno, Whip It)

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Helen Slater as Billie Jean, The Legend of Billie Jean

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Mulan, Mulan (Voice: Ming Na)


Mary Stuart Masterson as Watts, Some Kind of Wonderful (See also: Fried Green Tomatoes)


Felicia Snoop Pearson as Snoop on The Wire


Suzi Quatro as Leather Tuscadero, Happy Days

Scarlett Johansson as Amanda, Manny & Lo

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Amanda Bynes as Viola, She’s The Man

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Lauren Ambrose as Denise Fleming, Can’t Hardly Wait

Lori Petty as Kit Keller, A League of Their Own (See also: Tank Girl)

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Jodie Foster as Annabel Andrews, Freaky Friday (See also: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore)

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Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman, Girlfight (See also: Entire resume…)

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Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald, Million Dollar Baby (See also The Next Karate Kid)

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Jennette McCurdy as Sam Puckett, iCarly

Susan Oakes as Anybodys, West Side Story

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Christina Ricci as Roberta, Now & Then (Her adult character was played by Rosie O'Donnell)

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Sanaa Lathan as Monica Wright, Love & Basketball

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Schuyler Fisk as Kristy Thomas, The Baby-Sitter’s Club

Tatum O’Neal as Amanda Whurlitzer, The Bad News Bears (See also: Paper Moon)


Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird

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Joyce Hyser as Terry Griffith, Just One of the Guys


Kristy McNichol as Letitia 'Buddy' Lawrence, Family (See also: Little Darlings)

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Parminder Nagra as Jesminder Jess and Keira Knightley as Jules, Bend It Like Beckham

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Nancy McKeon as Joanne 'Jo' Polniaczek, The Facts of Life

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Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, The Runaways


Shawna Waldron as Becky 'Icebox' O'Shea, Little Giants


Angelina Jolie as Legs Sadovsky and Jenny Shimizu as Goldie Goldman, Foxfire

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