A few weeks ago, I was using the bathroom at a shopping centre. While I was washing my hands, a woman approached and confronted me, to say that I was in the wrong place. She said she knew what I was. She said everyone could tell. She wanted me to know that she had recognised me as transgender, as though it were some kind of dirty secret. The altercation didn't last long; I felt no need to argue with her, or to grant currency to her disgust by offering a response to it. I finished washing my hands, with a deliberate and extended ritual, and calmly left while she continued to berate me for my abnormal womanhood.
In truth, it was nothing unexpected, and nothing unusual. I’ve heard comments like that before; it’s a troll or a transphobe’s favourite strategy, to point out masculine aspects of my appearance, to other me, and to announce that I am not “fooling” anyone.
It appears as though people believe trans women want their transness to go unrecognised, as though our intention is to be seen as cis-gender (that is, non-transgender) women. They believe that our trans nature is a shameful and dirty secret, that must make us burn with embarrassment.
But I have not found being trans as something to want to hide by default. And I don’t want to "fool" anyone.
But I have not found being trans as something to want to hide by default. And I don’t want to "fool" anyone. Womanhood to me has nothing to do with putting on a costume. Womanhood is not wearing a dress, or wearing makeup - things that vast numbers of both cis and trans women have little or no interest in - and it goes far beyond anything aesthetic or shallow. It's an innate part of who I am, and I understand and appreciate and value it.
The nature of my specifically transgender womanhood is something that I am proud to own. There is a well known remark from the French writer and philosopher, Simone De Beauvoir, who said “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” In Beauvoir's meaning, a woman is the being that has grown from the beginnings of girlhood, and been shaped by age and by experience and by the blossoming of maturity. And when I examine myself as a woman, I can see that and I can feel it resonate, to my core.
I have grown into a woman, and learned more about myself and about gender through that growth than I could ever have imagined. In particularly, I have learned that one cannot pin gender down to biology or appearance. I recognise trans women as women, as I recognise trans men as men, as I recognise the validity of non-binary people living on a spectrum of or entirely between notions of rigid or fluid gender identity, and through that recognition of the varying shades of gender I am able to find truth in my own womanhood. It is a womanhood does not aspire to a cis nature.
As a transgender woman, I do not look at myself, and see a cis-woman; for me personally, I have found that I do not want to.
As a transgender woman, I do not look at myself, and see a cis-woman; for me personally, I have found that I do not want to. There are so many things about me that signify my trans nature - such as the traits that are traditionally masculine, that are pointed out and highlighted by trolls, from my shoulders to my jawline - but these are not signifiers of an absence of womanhood, merely of a different school or strand.
All of this is to say that I don't need to, or want to "pass" as a woman, by dressing or looking or acting or talking in any particular way. I am a woman, whether I want to wear jeans and a t-shirt, or a full ball gown. I am a woman, regardless of the timbre of my voice. I am a woman, regardless of the peculiarities of the nooks and crannies of my biology. I am a trans woman, and I may be recognised as such without shame, on my part.
I am reminded of Maya Angelou's words, about the recognisable qualities of womanhood - "It’s the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. I’m a woman, Phenomenally."
Joan Westenberg is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @joanwestenberg