Hi, I Am A Woman
For the 1st International Women’s Day that I’ve admitted, even to myself, that I am a woman, how do I know?
Today is International Women’s Day and I happen to have it off from work. As I often do on my days off, I am thinking of my gender… again. I often get asked the question “How do you know you’re actually a woman?” Most of the time, it’s a question designed to elicit an answer that the questioner can respond to derisively. If I say that I feel more comfortable in a skirt, oftentimes the other person will tell me that skirts are a social construct or that men can wear skirts and still be men. “Haven’t you heard of a kilt?” they may ask. Why yes I have, actually, I’ve seen Braveheart. It’s not lost on me that it seems like only trans women are asked to justify their womanhood to anyone.
I recently asked my kindergartner how she knew she was actually a girl. Her answers ranged from “Because that’s what everyone calls me” to “Because I like pink” or even “Because I like to wear dresses.” I wonder if a “gender critical” feminist would try to dox or harass her for those answers like they have so many out trans women I know. My guess is that most cis women have never had to justify their womanhood to anyone. I wonder what that’s like, I wonder if I will ever get to that point for myself. I doubt it vigorously. That’s a privilege that I will simply never have.
Getting to my answer on the question of my own womanhood has not been an easy journey. Growing up, I remember being confused as to how boys and girls were separated from each other. What made us different? All I knew was that everyone called me a boy and expected me to be a boy. No one ever stopped to ask how I felt about that categorization. I was the kid who stayed in the middle for an uncomfortably long period of time when the teacher asked the boys to go to one side of the room and the girls to the other. I grew up with an older brother and he looked just like me in every way and they also called him a boy, but how come I didn’t feel like that fit me? It wasn’t until I was a little older and saw a cis female friend or a cousin naked (in a bathtub with me) that I realized that my gender problems were much more serious and permanent than I imagined.
My point is, I really really tried at masculinity.
I was an athletic kid and did my damnedest to immerse myself in masculinity. I played multiple competitive sports from the time I was 6 years old all the way to my freshman year in college. I majored in Sport Management and even worked in the sports industry for 10 years. I’d go into more detail, but well, I’m already afraid I’ve put too much detail about my past out there for my own liking. I always hoped that surrounding myself with masculine men would rub off on me, that I’d learn to accept the gender that the doctor recorded on my birth certificate. Instead, masculinity grated me, I felt constantly alienated, a figurative stranger in a forbidden kingdom. The rituals, traditions, social cues, and even the common gestures of that kingdom all foreign and strange to me. I became very good at acting in my man costume, so good, in fact, that my coming out as trans was a surprise to my longest friends, a complete shock. It was all fakery, my pretend masculinity, and it humiliated me to my core to have to act and pretend in that way. My point is, I really really tried at masculinity. It’s just not for me. I am a woman, whether you or I like it or not.
If you can describe yourself by your job or your parental status, or the sports team you root for then I’m certainly allowed to define myself by however I deem fit.
So what makes me think I’m a woman? I know why others may think I’m a woman or not but at the end of the day, their opinions on my gender don’t matter, I have the right to define myself. If you can describe yourself by your job or your parental status, or the sports team you root for then I’m certainly allowed to define myself by however I deem fit. For me though, it’s an overwhelming sense of otherness in my male role, in male spaces. A defining time for me came when I got a new job as the only male presenting person on staff. Customers would often say things like “Hey ladies!” or “Bye ladies!” as they were coming or going and it never seemed to bother me. I found myself naturally engaging in girl-talk with my coworkers and never noticed when my speaking cadence harmonized with theirs, just women chatting. Sometimes I would say something that no man would ever say. I’d do this without thinking, breaking through my mansuit costume. The other ladies would stop and look at me strangely, giving me funny looks, drawing my defenses and shame back to the forefront of my mind. It’s no wonder that when I recently came out to one of those coworkers, and I asked whether my news was a surprise to her, her exact answer was “Hahah no.”
So there it is, I am a woman. I’ve tried to pretend otherwise for decades. I’ve done everything I can think of to avoid it, to distract myself from my hidden truth. It’s taken me awhile to get here but I can proudly say that I am a woman, and always have been. Sorry it took me so long to get here. Happy International Women’s Day, my first of many. Have a great day everyone.
Katelyn Burns is a trans woman and an essayist, though her high school self would laugh at both descriptors. She lives in New England with her wife and two kids and is very slowly emerging from the closet. She welcomes all feed back both on Twitter @closettransgirl and by email at katelynburnswrites at gmail dot com.