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My Womanhood Is a Work in Progress

We need to stop applying cookie-cutter definitions to the identities we hold so close to heart

My womanhood is a work in progress. By that, I don’t mean that I am not yet a woman, or that I am waiting to become a woman. Rather, with every day that goes by, my womanhood is molded into shape and given new life in varying and unexpected ways. It’s an ongoing mission that takes a slightly different shape with every day that goes by.

As a trans girl, my journey to accepting myself as a woman was not a straightforward one. Being a woman wasn’t something that came all that naturally to me, especially toward the beginning of my transition. It felt weird to go from thinking that I was a man to being a woman all of a sudden. People expect a lot out of women and I was never sure how much I wanted to, or did, fit into those expectations. Internalized transphobia and misogyny also obviously played a trick on me, but none of that is what being a woman is truly about, is it?

Too often, people try to apply absolute definitions to things like “womanhood,” or “lesbianism,” or even “queerness.” In reality, I don’t think there is such a thing. Our identities aren’t mathematical equations, after all, and it’s only natural that the ways in which we define ourselves in regards to them will change as we grow.

I still sometimes struggle with the term, though there was a point where being a woman just started to make the most sense. There are all sorts of different women out there, each defining themselves and identifying with womanhood in a plethora of different ways. That’s part of the beauty of it all if you ask me. Though I know that some people will never accept me, my being a woman is an ode to the many experiences, positive and negative, that have defined my life until now. It’s an ode to those who have loved me, and those who didn’t. It’s as much of a desire to make my kin proud as it is a desire to rebel against everything they stand for. It’s complicated like that. I don’t think my mother will ever truly see me as a woman. She cried the first time she saw me wearing makeup and when she noticed I got my ears pierced. She didn’t like the fact that she was seeing me deviate from the gendered norms she viewed as right for me. But at the same time, she did always fight for me. My womanhood is an ode to that also.

My being a woman is also inextricably linked to my lesbianism. In truth, I’m probably more of a lesbian than I’ll ever be a woman. Lesbian spaces were where I sought refuge after facing rejection from my grandparents. Becoming a regular at the local dyke bar is what taught me what it meant to stand up for, and love myself. These spaces, and the people I met there, gave me an example of what healthy relationships could look like, and I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for my reception into the lesbian world.

My womanhood is also an ode to all those lessons. It’s an ode to the friends who taught me what love could look like when you commit to it fully. It’s an ode to the lovers I met on nights out in the city who taught me that intimacy could also be nourishing. It is also an ode to every boundary I learned to respect and every friend I have since parted ways with. It’s a promise that I make to myself and to the world to be the best person I can be, a person I can only be as a woman of some sorts. My womanhood, as well as my belonging in women-only and lesbian spaces, is something that’s personal to me like that.

Since the pandemic, there has been an increasing amount of discourse on who belongs in which spaces, whose identities should be deemed as valid, who is deserving of community and who is not. This is as much within queer circles as outside of them. Trans women have been villainized for existing within lesbian spaces, and so have trans men. There has been an increasing amount of transphobic rhetoric in the media surrounding this trope of trans women being predatory invaders in lesbian spaces. Just last month, a new lesbian bar in London has sought to implement a “cis-women only” policy. It almost feels like a repeat of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1991.

Although it’s painful to see such rampant transphobia become so commonplace, I find it hard to feel all that implicated by it. Let me be clear, this transphobic rhetoric is having very real effects on the lives of trans people, myself included, but the notion that there is any sort of friction between trans folks and lesbians simply is not my experience. I don’t feel a need to go to a bar that prides itself in being trans-exclusionary and I find it humorous that some may think I should feel offended by this. If my transition has proven anything to me so far, it’s that community does exist for me in lesbian spaces. That’s not something that I feel is at risk of being taken away from me, so why should I care about what a bunch of TERFs think across the pond?

I think that as a community, it’s time that we start admitting to ourselves that our identities as queer people (and simply as human beings) can be complicated, and sometimes contradictory, but frankly that’s our own business. We can disagree with and have our own opinions on people’s specific interpretations of different identities and terminology, but there is no value in denying people acceptance or community. Being a lesbian is a lot more than simply being born with a certain set of genitals or being a woman who dates only other women. Being a woman is a whole lot more than having a certain set of chromosomes. Accepting the multi-faceted, and oftentimes ambiguous nature of identity is important as much for TERFs trying to deny trans women their womanhood, as it is for trans-medicalists trying to restrict transness to an arbitrary set of lived experiences. Unless we learn to accept that as individuals, we do not exist merely as a set of hard-lined characteristics and definitions, but as a complex set of realities, experiences and identities, we will never truly be able to grow as a community.