BLOG: On Being ‘Like’ A Girl

Since the transition from to the new domain it seemed fitting that I should, on occasion, share thoughts and feelings in blog form. Here is the first.

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At some point I became a kind of veteran of the transgender community. Don’t ask me how it happened. Perhaps after eleven years of transition it was inevitable.

Young transgender women – or at least transgender women who’ve recently found themselves – come to me for advice. Sometimes it’s for resources, sometimes it’s about confidence and self-care, but more often than not it’s about wanting to be ‘more like’ a girl or woman.

First of all let me say that there is nothing wrong with these women asking how to better be their newly minted or emerging gender. Not all of us have the constitution to stand up and be fully authentic in a world that likes to put us in our place.

I don’t blame these women because I used to be that woman, but now whenever I am asked this question it comes with a swell of discomfort.

More often than not they’re asking how they can be more feminine, more demure, more delicate, more soft spoken, more caring; many things which I am not, nor intend to be. My relationship with femininity is complicated, as are the reasons for embracing and rejecting pieces of it.

And for that reason I tell them that ‘woman’ is a complex, individual expression, as varied as humanity itself. Femininity is only a part of that, and sometimes not at all.

I say ‘ask yourself, is femininity who you are, or what is expected of you?’ Either answer is fine, but the question is important.

As women we’re not always pretty, and we’re not always gentle. We laugh at our farts, and almost never wash our favourite bra. We can’t always be arsed shaving our legs, and make-up can be gross in the Summer. We read books, and travel, and drink tequila shots, and so much more.

Our culture has traditional ideas of what makes an ideal woman. Imagine her. Chances are she’s compliant, inoffensive, and attractive. Most girls at some point in their lives have felt incredible pressure to mold themselves around her. Go ask. I’ll wait.

For transgender women it can be more insidious. Many criticize us for being too feminine, or not feminine enough, or for having a particular anatomy, while having malicious intent read into our actions – the list goes on.

Is it really so hard, given this knowledge, to imagine why a vulnerable person might want to appeal to the dominant schema? Whether for approval or for safety, their reasons are valid.

One memory that lingers is of my uncle, laughing derisively on the cusp of my transition, as I would never look like Miranda Kerr. I was lucky in the sense that I’d started to shuck those ideas of beauty being equal to value as a person, and recognized that such a narrow view wasn’t worth appealing to. Regardless, it still hurt. When I was young ‘beautiful’ was what defined my potential. If I couldn’t have that, then why bother?

It’s no longer the linchpin of my womanhood, nor should it be for anyone else. Though I am beautiful – perhaps not in the eyes of all – it is a fact that is a part of my gender, and not its defining aspect.

I wish more than anything I could directly bestow that assuredness to others, but like all worthwhile things it’s part of a journey.

To all my transgender sisters I say, and will say it again as many times as you need, let yourself be. You don’t need to be ‘like’ a woman, because you are a woman. Maybe you don’t yet know what kind of woman you are, but in time you will.

Woman is an impossible number of things. Give yourself room to grow, and live for your own approval as much as you can. The allies will follow.

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