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March 8, 2023

How do I know I am a woman?

On the eve of Women’s day someone asked me this question.
I don’t, you see. I have only been told that people who have bodies like mine — with a vagina and breasts, and some corresponding internal organs — are women, and people who have a penis and facial hair (and internal organs to go with of course) are men.
When I am alone, left to my own devices, I am totally not bothered if I am a woman or ‘feeling like a woman’. Actually I don’t even know what it is to ‘feel like a woman’. I feel like me, and I have been told ‘me’ is a woman, that’s all. Actually what I feel like is just a living creature with a body and a consciousness — I don’t even ‘feel’ human. I don’t know if I would feel myself differently if I were a cat, or a mushroom, or a pajama squid. I feel happy or sad, warm or cold, comfortable or not, hungry or full, and so on, but I don’t know if a person with a penis feels these feelings differently. They enact them differently of course — if I am angry I am likely to cry or rahe, but they are likely to punch the wall — or me. A cat is likely to hiss and slap. But how do I know if they feel them differently or no? Or if a cat or a pajama squid (yes, it is a legit species of squid) feels them differently from me?
So I don’t even know if I ‘feel like a human’, so how am I supposed to know if I ‘feel like a woman’ or I don’t?
What do I know about ‘being a woman’?
In absolute terms, nothing really. I know sometimes I want to wear jingling anklets and a colorful long skirt and bathe with essential oils and paint my hands with red henna markings. And I am told that is ‘womanly’. But then there are more times when I wear the same jeans and t-shirt for four weeks and even sleep in them. And then I am told that is not ‘womanly’ and I should not be doing that. But then there are penis people who like colorful clothes and jewelry and vagina people who absolutely don’t. So then?
And if I had been born jn an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon I wouldn’t have even known these things existed.
I know I am sexually and romantically attracted only to the penis people, and grew up believing that is natural for vagina people, so that apparently is more proof I am a woman. But I learnt later in life that there are people — both vagina people and penis people — who are attracted to people with the same kind of bodies. Or to both. Some are attracted to one person at one time like me, and others to many. I know some such people, and apart from this one thing about who they are attracted to, they are people just like me. They feel the same feelings, have the same struggles, want the same basic things in life like joy, warmth, safety. I am told now that people who are attracted to different bodies are known
as heterosexual, so I believe I am one. But if I had not been told it might not have mattered.
Does my gender identity matter to me?
Again, in absolute terms, no. But it matters when I am with other humans, because it is important to know what to expect from the world when I take my body out into it. And turns out having a -vagina-and-breasts body has its challenges. It is very dangerous to take this body into a dark or lonely space because a penis person might want to hurt me in multiple ways just because my body is what it is. If I have sex without protection with a penis person it is only my body that is likely to get pregnant. And in the human world that is a tough thing. In a crowded bus my bottom is likely to get pinched way more than a penis person’s. In the workplace my boss may want to pinch me too. If I marry a penis person and live with them I will be expected to do most of the housework and childcare work while they loll before the TV, again simply because I am a vagina person.
So, it matters that I know what to expect from others humans with a body like mine, so I am prepared. And yes, people with bodies like mine need to be prepared for a lot more than those with the other kind.
Which is why I join with other people who also call themselves women to stand up for our right to live safely and with justice on earth while being in our bodies.
Have I ever questioned my gender?
I have never felt the need to. I have always felt comfortable in my body — I feel as if I belong. Except for when I am too troubled by the messed up human world and wish I could get away from it and be a tiny toad under a rock instead, I have never wanted to be in any body except mine. So if they tell me I am a woman I am ok to let that be because it does not matter one way or another. I feel like me and and I feel at home in my body, call it what name you choose.
But I know people who don’t feel they belong in their biological bodies — they feel they belong in the other kind of body. Some feel it strongly enough to actually change their bodies through medical intervention. And some feel they belong in different kinds of bodies at different times or a little bit in both types.
I don’t know how it is to feel like they do, but I can get it. There are so many things I experience differently from others. I love jackfruit, but some people can’t bear even the smell. So if we can experience a fruit differently, can’t we experience our bodies differently too?
And I can see why they would want to question the concept of gender. If I were like them instead of like who I am now I would have liked to question it too. So I would like them to have the space to question as much as they wish to. Because they are human beings like me and their needs and their freedom matter as much as mine.
So at the end of the day do I know what makes me a woman?
Sigh. …
How does the Ship of Thesus know it is the Ship of Thesus? If you take it apart and put all the parts together in a heap would it still be the Ship of Thesus?
It does not matter. What matters is that I want to live my life the way I want to while inhabiting the body I have. And I want to be safe while I live. As long as the world of humans is not messing with me, I don’t care if I am a woman or not. I am just another critter going about its business — like a cat, or a pajama squid, or a star nosed mole (yup, that a species too).
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