I think a lot about what it means to a woman.
Female is easy to tag. It’s biology. It’s anatomy. With some notable and important exceptions, a majority of people who check the “F” box in answer to the question about their sex are irrefutably so. Woman though is something very different and not just different from female.
Women are not a monolith. Not bitches. Not strong. Not weak. Not smart. Not ditzy or emotional or bad at math.
Maybe you already know this, but I’m still working to understand the breadth of “woman.” Our heterogeneity creates a huge umbrella.
“What can I get for you, ladies?”
“Thanks for getting that done, ladies.”
“These ladies are serious.”
When I made the decision to have a subcutaneous mastectomy, top surgery, chest masculinization surgery, gender affirmation surgery or whatever makes the removal of my breasts so I could be more myself something you can understand, I thought people would stop including me in “ladies.”
Didn’t happen. In fact, I feel like it happens more than it did when I was boobed. Likely, I just notice it more now, but when a friend recently said, in the flow of conversation, that she was "lady enough" to apply for a grant for women, it got me thinking. What is lady enough? What if these folks who are "ladying" me are, rather than looking past me, reflecting the slow shift toward a broader definition of what it means to be a woman?
When concepts are hard or lead us to places of discomfort, we look to others to simplify them and restore a sense of ease. Surely, Gloria Steinem must have defined it. Lemme go look. What about Audrey Hepburn? Without a doubt Lauren Bacall had a thing or two to say about it. Lisa Murkowski or, I don’t know, your first grade teacher who wore overalls and held up her shaved-underneath mullet with a chopstick?
Undoubtedly, all of these women would be willing to tell you what it is to be a woman…for them. And that’s the best any individual woman can ever do. That human, who identifies as a woman, regardless of biology, will tell you how it feels and what it means to them. Their definition is highly unlikely to fit for you, no matter who you are. You can only be you.
Maybe that truth is liberating or maybe it’s a kick in the taco. You’ll have to solve that one yourself.
As a trans person, I am inclined to look to those who have been led to create and live into their own definitions. This is not to suggest that women whose biology and organic leanings evolved quite naturally into “woman” have not had to be thoughtful or have not spent dark tea times of the soul wondering what it is to be a woman, but when you choose to shed one skin to grow into another, there is an awareness that simplifies what’s true.
Trans icon, Emmy-nominated actress, documentary film producer, and prominent equal rights advocate Laverne Cox says that her life changed “when [she] realized [she] deserve[d] to be seen, to dream, to be fully included, always striving to bring my full humanity.”
If there is a definition of woman behind which I can stand with open arms and an open heart, it’s this one.
I have never felt like a woman. Because I looked to women whose lives and perspective and experience were nothing like mine. I looked to magazines and movies and yes, beach volleyball players and even to accessible, real-life, right-in-front-of-me women and I knew I was not one of them. It’s true that Laverne Cox and I look nothing alike…on the outside, but man, are we both gorgeous women inside.
It’s just a thin pink line that separates me from her and both of us from the millions of other women who want only to be seen, to dream, to be belong and to live into their full humanity.
It’s time, ladies. Let’s do this.