It’s Women’s History Month and I’m back to thinking more deeply about gender and queerness during this month than any other time of the year. It’s not that I’m not not a woman, but within the last few years, my gender has become an especially constant source of confusion, uncertainty, and questioning. Being born a female, you’re given a certain set of rules, expectations, and constraints that you’re expected to obey, and in my experience, it led to more resentment than any sense of fulfillment. From childhood to my teen years, I hated wearing dresses, any shoe with a heel higher than a flat, and make-up (growing up a dancer, I had to wear a full face a lot). There’s a lot to be said about how we sexualize young girls but for me, it just didn’t feel right to who I was. In open resistance to patriarchal ideas of the “girly girl,” I hated anything pink (but for some reason, loved dolls) and, preferring striped shirts, capris, and baseball hats, was rooted in my desire to stay a tomboy for the rest of my life. My gender and how I chose to present was anything but straightforward, which has remained true even in my adult years.
I’ve always believed that being a woman could mean anything. While most of my early experiences could be written off as just childhood experimentation, play, and rejection of anything and everything my mother told me to wear, it was more of a simple case of being a kid and openly disobeying my mother; I didn’t like the way my body looked and didn’t know why. These days, the label and word itself are not something I always resonate with anymore. Ironically, my 20s have been the years where I am most excited about make-up, hair, girly dresses and skirts, and the color pink, which I thought was a subversive way to heal my inner child and something I’m sure many of us have done. But at the same time, I’m not convinced anymore that these interests define my gender in any way that matters. More and more, I see our larger culture in the U.S. accepting that anyone can like traditionally feminine things, no matter how you identify, which is slowly also making its way into younger generations of Latinxs. If all that’s true, why would being hyper-feminine mean that I’m automatically a woman? Why would it make me more or less of the person I am, a person whose gender fluctuates both in and out of the bounds other people have conceived for me?
As I get older, I’m learning that gender is more than how I dress or how I look, although that can be undeniably gender-affirming for many trans people. But the truth is, I don’t feel any sort of attachment to the biological, physical attributes of my body that are supposed to make me a woman. Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror and think, I am more than this body I was born into. It’s not that I want to change it or get rid of certain parts or experience gender dysphoria, but I simply believe that this body is just a body and has no say in how I identify my gender. It may impact how I move through the world (I don’t think I’ll ever not be called “miss” and “ma’am by strangers in public) but not how I feel or what I experience inside.
But sometimes, even that feels complicated to explain to people. To put it bluntly, there are some days when I do identify as a woman and some days when I just don’t. Times when people label me as a “woman” or “girl” makes me either smile with pride and recognition or physically cringe and feel ill. I’m not a woman today! I feel like saying. How I look can’t be helped! That extends to who I am referred to in Spanish too, which as we all know is a rigorously binary gendered language. In the face of “mujer” and every other word to refer to women ending in “a”, I’m grateful to queer Latinx activists for adding “x” and “e” suffixes to the language as an equivalent to the English “they”, “them”, and other gender-neutral words. There may be a lot of discomfort and debate surrounding these changes to a centuries-old language, but they have made me feel more comfortable when thinking and talking about gender in my family’s mother tongue.
The great thing is that I’m not alone in feeling this way, which I discovered when I read the young adult novel, Felix Ever After (2020) by Kacen Callender last year. The novel follows a Black trans teen going through his unique coming-of-age experiences: struggling to be secure in his gender and sexual identity, discovering who he really is, and falling in love for the first time. Toward the last half of the novel, he comes to a revolutionary discovery: he is a demiboy, a person whose gender only partially aligns with a masculine identity or as a man. Thinking there had to be a word for the opposite experience, I googled it and there it was: “A demigirl is a person who feels their gender identity partially identifies with a feminine identity, but is not wholly binary, regardless of their assigned gender,” according to TransYouthEquality.org. Suddenly, it finally felt like everything I’d ever thought and experienced and spoken about made sense. I was validated, I wasn’t making it up. There were so many people who felt the way I did that it could be identified. There was a name, a word I could point to and say, “Look, this is me!”
There are other words that have become associated with this gender experience like “femme,” which historically has been used to refer to feminine lesbians, gender non-conforming people, and more broadly, all feminine people across sexuality and gender, and even a political identity. While I do resonate with that word as well, especially when I don’t feel like a woman but want to honor and acknowledge my femininity, it’s often too general a term to accurately describe what I regularly experience, and sometimes using no terminology at all is okay for me too. It’s not that I don’t want to let go of my womanhood so completely that I never identify as such, but I do think it’s worth asking myself how I can label myself, when I choose to, on my own terms.
For me, being a woman means being in tune with my feminine energy and intuition, acknowledging the unique struggles women face in the world by people who want us silenced and invisible, honoring the trailblazers and familial matriarchs who have come before us, and celebrating the joys of being unapologetically strong, powerful, tender, and exactly who we are. But being a woman is also not entirely me when gender is more than my body or how I look and present, and more than who people perceive me to be, especially when I often reject gender altogether. I accept that maybe this will stay a constant question for the rest of my life but for now, I’m happy and secure knowing that I’m not alone, that I have a community who loves me, and that no matter how my identity changes, I’ll always be me. And after all, that’s the only label that really matters.