What Makes a Woman?

Often “normal” people find it difficult to relate to the issues I face as a transsexual person. My issues are often approached by others as an outside, new, foreign set of concerns. One of the first things I try to do when speaking to a mostly heteronormative crowd is bridge that gap between myself and the audience. I do this by asking a simple question. “What makes a woman a woman?” There is a range of typical answers I get from this question. I’d like to go through some of these answers and show how the issues I face every day are things everyone has to deal with at some point in their life.

  • A woman can have babies while a man can’t – There are numerous women in the world who, for whatever reason, will not give birth. Maybe they had a hysterectomy, or have some hormonal condition, or do not have the body to be able to endure child birth, or maybe these women just dont want to have children. Regardless of why, many women won’t have babies and to suggest a woman’s role is just to pro-create will make many feminists angry.
  • A woman has boobs! – Well, hopefully its stated in a more.. delicate fashion, but this is not entirely true. Breast development is related to hormones. There are men who, due to hormonal imbalances, have breasts. Not to mention, I had breasts after a few months on hormones, several months before I outwardly presented as female.
  • Its all about the genitals – Whether the answer describes how women are defined by their vagina, their ability to have penetrational sex. To this answer I simply point out that, for about $40,000 and a few months of recovery, I would have a vagina as well. Also, there are numerous intersexed people born every year with ambiguous genetalia that blurs the lines between sexes.
  • A woman’s chromosomes are XX and men are XY – Another frequent answer I receive, especially in college settings. However, this is not an absolute definition either. There are many people who are born with chromosome arrangements other than XX and XY. For instance, Klinefelter syndrome is a condition where a person has a chromosome set of XXY, or Triple X syndrome (no its not a porno), a condition where a woman has XXX chromosomes. Also, there are numerous reports of men living their entire lives not knowing they actually had XX chromosomes. So this is not a good definition either.
  • Girls wear women’s clothing – Of course, drag queens, cross dressers, genderqueer people, and hundreds of other people break this rule, so its not a very good criteria.
  • Girls act feminine – Another comment that would rile up some feminists. There are some girls who act incredibly masculine and some who act very feminine. Some girls love to go shopping, chit chat on the phone, try on shoes, etc. Other girls love cars, grease, sports and so forth. Sex does not determine how a person will act.
  • A girl is a girl because she was born a girl – I find this concept somewhat insulting, as it insinuates that a trans person will never actually be the gender they wish to be. I consider myself a woman, absolutely, despite my birth sex. Also, this argument is again refuted by intersexed people. After all, this entire argument is about defining what it is to be a woman, and being born a woman cannot be the definition of being a woman.

When you really take time to think it through, it seems almost impossible to clearly define what a woman is. Besides a person saying they are or are not a woman, its hard to clearly define what a woman is. Even a completely heterosexual woman who has never known a transgender person can struggle with this question. Its a question that faces absolutely everyone, whether they are transgender or not, though it is a question that a transgender woman, someone who wasn’t born female and thus had to make the transition to female, is uniquely positioned to answer. I’d like to share my answer, though I want to preface this by saying not all transgender women agree on this. In fact, I can think of a few trans girls that may strongly disagree.

In my opinion, being a woman has little to nothing to do with any of the characteristics listed above. Being a girl isn’t about clothes, genitals, chromosomes, behavior, reproduction, or sex characteristics. Some will say being a girl is about self identification, if you identify as female, thats all you need to be female. However, I think there is more to it than that, though self identification is a huge component in it. To me, being a girl is also about waking up in the morning and spending a half hour debating what to wear, or waking up and thinking “screw it, I dont care what the world thinks” and dressing in the first thing you grab. Being a girl is walking down the street and meeting eyes with a stranger who looks at you and makes a judgement if you are a man or woman. Being a girl is about feeling emotions deeply, and ignoring that when you need to. A girl has to deal with shared experiences; being stared at by men, the ‘glass ceiling,’ being viewed as a sex object in society, facing assumptions they are less capable than men, facing all of that and fighting it, or try to get by in a world that is just that way.

In short, in my opinion, what makes a woman a woman is a combination of self-identifying as a woman combined with the experience of being a woman, of living as a woman day to day, of experiencing life as a woman, and interacting with others as a woman. Regardless of where we come from as women, we all share the experience of being women, and to me, that defines what it is to be a woman.

Again, this is simply one transgender woman’s perspective. Don’t take it as absolute, but it is absolutely how I feel.

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1 Comment

  1. Defined By Genetalia « A Hope For More

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