I, like many trans people early in their transition, have been struggling with my identity. Or more specifically, the validity of it.
When I first started to transition, I felt (as several other trans women have echoed back to me of their own experience) that if I did not achieve 100% “conventional femininity” at all times, then I was not valid and would have all my pretty things taken away permanently.
Do Not Pass Girl, Do Not Collect Gender Euphoria.
Since I know I’m not a man, I ended up slipping into more of a state of gender flux/fluidity, and even that was hard to reconcile initially. It became a struggle to find a piece of solid gender ground to stand on.
“You’re just confused”, came the popular refrain — except it was my own brain saying it to me.
Yet, whenever I felt safe and/or comfortable, I tended to feel more feminine, more girly. Likewise, when I felt unsafe and/or uncomfortable, I ended up being pulled back past any progress I’d made and back into “no, you don’t just get to change, you have to be who your family thinks you are!”
So, as I’ve begun to zero in on what things make me feel dysphoric and fake, and what things make me feel euphoric, I ended up having a bit of an epiphany that is helping me.
As I wrote in a recent article on here, ittook a while for me to even be able to give myself permission to claim the Queer label. I recognize that there is a lot of lived experience within that term’s history, and it’s not something to be taken on lightly.
I feel similarly about the identity of Girl/Woman.
My struggle of late has somewhat harkened back to the early days, where, if I don’t feel consistently like a girl/being overly outwardly feminine, then I think “I must still be wrong, confused”. That if I didn’t feel the desire to be hyper-feminine 24/7 then I couldn’t actually be a girl.
But then I realized that even cisgender women who identify as “feminine of center”, or “high femme”, don’t necessarily feel the need or desire to be performatively feminine 24/7.
As I can now say from my own experience — getting “femmed up” takes time and effort, and requires a certain amount of confidence/intentionality to do (because it will draw additional attention and/or harassment from onlookers and pedestrians).
I fully understand why many women eventually choose to stop spending so much time and effort on meeting society’s extreme beauty standards for womankind, and instead do what feels comfortable (or practical).
But again, as a trans person, many of us can feel like we’re less (or not) valid if we don’t perform our gender more explicitly and consistently. We’re afraid of being rejected by cis people, both other women and men.
As I said, it took me a while to accept the use of Queer for myself. And I started to ask myself “why is Girl/Woman the one remaining label that I still feel so much resistance to fully assuming for myself?”.
I’ve come to terms with Queer, and no longer feel like I am appropriating anything. I’ve come to peace with Gender Fluid/Gender Flux/Gender Queer/Non-Binary. But none of those labels make me feel like I’m appropriating anything. There’s obviously some internalized transmisogyny at play, but that’s not all.
Arguably (from my vantage point), there’s a lot more to appropriate within Queer than that of Girl/Woman. I suggest this because Girl is an “acceptable social category” the world over (even if it still faces much oppression in many places), whereas Queer is not. Queer is seen as a choice, and/or a deviance.
No one chooses to be assigned female at birth, but at least it is one culturally accepted option on the “character select screen of gender”.
That’s obviously both inaccurate and wrong because A) intersex people exist! B) the binary itself is incorrect (what about agender or pangender people?) and C) genitals don’t make your gender.
[And while it should go without saying, I’ll say it anyway — vagina does not automatically equal girl, and likewise penis does not automatically equal man]
So there’s a lot more oppression towards Queer people because they are seen as “choosing to deviate”, than there is towards girls/women, who are “supposed to exist anyway”.
But if there was any doubt at all that I was genuinely moving in the direction I felt most authenticity in, I realize I would not have taken several of the steps I have.
That is to say, if I was just trying to pretend to be a girl to get access to women’s spaces (for whatever reason a person would want to do that), it’s very unlikely that I would go through the trouble of getting laser hair removal on my face, shaving several parts of my body that I didn’t used to/wouldn’t have otherwise, getting rid of the vast majority of my “man clothes” and replacing them with dresses and blouses and tights, getting my ears pierced, growing my hair back out long again (and learning how to actually take “good care” of it), as well as further steps I am also considering but have not yet enacted.
A cisgender man would almost certainly not do these things. A queer man might do some of them, but not necessarily for the same reasons.
[I should also point out that by no means are any of the above things *necessary* for one to be a girl/woman, they are simply steps that I have personally chosen to take to achieve greater gender dysphoria for myself, and I recognize that several of them are aspects of “performative femininity” demanded by the patriarchy that I simply choose to adhere to for now]
So I realized, I may not feel as much “like a girl” as I think I should in every moment, but I am a girl in progress, at the very least. It’s very clear what resonates with and inspires me as far as conventional gender expression goes, what makes me feel comfortable and “myself”.
It doesn’t have to mean makeup and dresses on the daily. It doesn’t mean I have to even feel super feminine/girly even so much as 51% of the time to be valid.
I’m not only a girl when I feel distinctly like one. I’m a girl because that’s what resonates with me the most. I’m more girl than anything else.
I’m a girl in progress.
And I’m getting better at accepting and trusting in that truth.
Footnote — I am pleased to report that my dysphoria has been slowly and steadily lessening. It’s been almost a year since I officially began transitioning, and I’m extremely fortunate to be able to be out at work, to family members that I trust (which isn’t many yet) and more and more in public daily life. For all the doubts I’ve had, I’ve done my best to remain focused on what I said above — “how do I feel when I am most comfortable?” and that answer has been “as a girl”. A lot of the dysphoria does stem from “you can’t just change, that’s not how society has deemed it to work”, but with transgender identities and issues having more prominence in the news and societal awareness than ever before, it is helping to slowly normalize it more and creating less doubt. I’m also very aware that I live in one of the most transgender friendly places in the world, which is just one of several privileges I currently benefit from.
You can read more of here: Medium - Artemis Lacey