So, I said I was thinking about what being a woman means a lot recently— specifically to me, because obviously I can’t say what it means to someone else. I guess I was interested in hearing what other people had to say, and to see how you guys would respond. (FYI: I’m going to talk generally about some of the types of answers, but by no means were any “wrong” or whatever, this is just me… meandering. Please call me out if I say something that makes you uncomfortable!)
The one thing that jumped out to me most— I was surprised to see as many people who were kind of “meh” about identifying as women, I think? Or who specified that they felt human first, and that being a woman wasn’t a large part of who they were. I don’t think I’ve had a discussion about gender with people who felt that way before— which seems odd, because I think probably a lot of people feel that way. But then, gender! What is it good for? I will get into that in a bit.
Despite being cisgender (identifying as the gender I was assigned at birth), I spent a lot of my life trying to deal with Being A Lady. I grew up in a very “gender-neutral” household— my mother never really liked (as far as I know) the traditional trappings of “womanhood”, and I identified more with my father in general, as we were both Gigantic Nerds. I was five and desperately wanted to be Luke Skywalker: the weak nerd from a boring life who was told he was The Only One Who Could Save The World.
In late elementary school, I got really into The Song of The Lioness, a series by Tamora Pierce. It had a woman hero— but to become that hero, basically, she dressed as a man and became a knight. Later in the series she does reveal that she’s a woman, but when she does, she’s stripped of a lot of agency and her life gets harder and much more filled with romance (not, as you know, that I have a problem with this generally). But at the time, I remember thinking— wouldn’t things have been so much easier if she could have kept pretending?
With middle school came anime— and slash fanfiction. Though it was a questionable time over-all, the fanfiction remained. I’m a romantic! We were learning about Queer Stuff! It was exciting! The one thing it didn’t have, though, was: women. And no matter how much fun it was and continues to be, I’m pretty sure it did a serious number on my psyche. All of my ideal romantic relationships? Were between men. All of my role models? Men. I wanted to look like a man, I wanted to dress like a man, I sometimes thought I wanted to be a man.
But I never really experienced dysphoria— just a kind of intense dislike of who I was, who I saw in the mirror. This was probably partly because I was fat, and the pressure from people in relation to that— the men I idolized were thin and angular, fit. But also because no identity— no style of clothing, no costume— fit. Everything I thought to try on chafed. And I was still, unknowingly, on the run from being a woman.
When I did head in that direction, senior year of high-school, I went straight for the heels and dresses. Some felt nice, some didn’t— heels and I never got along, and I was still in a place where I wasn’t comfortable with myself.
Only recently have I started to feel truly comfortable in my skin. Some of it is age: I’ve spent 21 years in my body, maybe it’s finally starting to feel like home? A lot of it is fat acceptance: I’m fat, and that’s okay. But recently, I’m beginning to think that I’ve started going through a process of purging all of the misogyny that’s built up in my brain throughout the years. I was so intent on thinking that I was really into masculinity that I didn’t realize that I was also pushing femininity away.
Turns out internalized misogyny’s a bitch.
(Hah! Did you see what I did there.)
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman because I think, finally, I can say I am one and feel good about it. It makes me feel strong. It has nothing to do with whether or not I’ve shaved my legs this week or if I’m wearing a dress, it doesn’t even really have anything to do with my breasts or vagina except that they’re my body and feeling like a woman for me has a lot to do with feeling embodied. To be a woman is to have a history, to be connected to other women in a way that is all about accepting and making yours an identity that has endless baggage. Being a woman, to me, is about re-claiming the things that I used to mark as “weaknesses” because they were not masculine— it is about crying a lot, and liking cook and eat, and sewing, and romance novels in all their forms, and dressing up in the morning to look and feel my best (no matter what in). It is about fancy underwear, and girly drinks.
I am privileged to have been able to take classes on feminism and queer theory and the body, which have allowed me to understand this better and identify my own misogyny which has been eating away at me for so long; I am privileged to spend my time with a gender-variant crew of beautiful people, whose deliberate and deep thinking about their identities have encouraged me to reflect on my own.
It is because of this that I was surprised to see people who are ambivalent about their identified gender— I can tell that gender is Just Not A Big Deal to many people, and that’s cool. But in an age where people might be able accept that there are many genders, what’s the use of one if it doesn’t empower us, or guide us, in some way? What is the use of a label of identity that doesn’t actually help identify?
I may have been assigned the designation “woman” at birth, but it took me a long time to realize I was one. And had I not met the people I’ve met, or read the things I’ve read, it might have chafed all my life, that weird “woman-but-not” label I put on instead, like a suit that fit a little to tight… that I wore every single day.
Being a woman isn’t always fun. (Of course, being a trans* woman is pretty much impossible, I have so much respect for every trans* person struggling through Gender Shit, holy crap.) But it fits like a glove, and I love it, and it’s one of the many pieces of my life that has fallen together recently to make a person who is much closer to whole than she was a year ago, or two years ago, and especially five years ago. Every day when I wake up I get to learn more about what kind of woman I am & want to be, and how to be that for myself and show it to the world.