Like many trans people early in their transition, I have been struggling with my identity. Or more specifically, the validity of it.
When I first started to transition I felt very similarly to other trans women I’d talked to — 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 an another article, it took a while before I was 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 for a while harkened back to the early days, where if I didn’t feel consistently like a girl/being overly outwardly feminine, then I would 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 and intention to do. This is because we know 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 it. I’ve come to peace with Gender Non-Conforming / Non-Binary. But those labels don’t 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 (despite the places where it still faces much oppression), 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, bigender, or pangender people?) and C) genitals don’t make your gender.
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 definitely would not have come as far down the road as I have, nor would I have been this pleased about it all.
If I was just pretending to be a girl to get access to women’s spaces (as some people accuse of trans women), it’s very unlikely that I would go through the pain and trouble of getting laser hair removal on my face and body, getting my ears pierced, getting elective surgeries on other parts of my body, shaving parts of my body that I never did before, or spending the necessary money to completely replace my wardrobe.
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 while moment to moment I may not always feel 100% “like a girl”, I am always 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 most 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.
Every day I get better at accepting and trusting in that truth.
Footnote —Now several years into HRT I definitely have no regrets, no second guessing. This is absolutely my true path. I still think of myself as a Girl in Progress, but that doesn’t make me less of one.