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Headshot of me wearing red lipstick Kara Babcock

Femininity is my jam

Happy International Women’s Day! Last November for International Men’s Day, I wrote about why masculinity is not for me. So I thought I would complement that piece with one for this day, all about why femininity and womanhood are indeed my jam.

As I outlined back in my post about masculinity, I never felt comfortable belonging to that category of man. I never felt comfortable asserting my masculinity. I never looked to other men as role models. When I was watching TV, the idea of being Superman held no appeal, but I was so fascinated with Kim Possible (and now, of course, Supergirl). This is why, in my review of Disclosure, I said that if there had been better transfeminine representation on TV in my youth, I would have figured out my transness sooner. I’m convinced that if I had seen a trans girl my age on TV, the penny would have dropped—I would have understood that it is possible for someone assigned male to realize their gender is different from what society expected.

But I didn’t, and so I looked to girls and women, and it just seemed so fun to be them. (In my anniversary post, I recognize this as gender desire.) I don’t mean superficially—I really have no desire to play with dolls, and I didn’t develop my affinity for makeup until after I started to transition. (I actually thought, going in, that I would hate makeup!) I mean that, deep down, I wanted other people to perceive me as, and treat me as, a woman. I wanted to be feminine.

What do I mean by being feminine? I am not talking about clothing or any other aspects of gender expression. I do love femme aesthetics of dresses, heels, makeup, etc., what we think of as “traditionally feminine” expression! However, I am using femininity in this context to mean that which women and girls do. So while a dress is feminine if a woman wears it, so are jeans and a T-shirt. Spitting and cursing are feminine if it’s a woman doing it—and if your first reaction is that “such behaviours aren’t ladylike,” well, that’s why we need to talk about this.

So, this brings me to why femininity is my jam. When it comes to your gender, when it comes to who you are, it comes down to belonging.

“Gender” is a very complex idea, and we are doing a disservice to everyone when we try to simplify it into an easy one. Really, at the end of the day, “man” and “woman” are such broad categories that they are almost useless. You would be hard pressed to define one characteristic possessed by all men or all women. Male/female are really more like statistical concepts, like an electron probability cloud, than hard and fast categories.

Femininity does not define or constrain how a woman acts. In fact, most people who know me would say I haven’t changed much in how I act since I started my transition. Sure, I’m dressing differently and have a few more hobbies and conversation topics on my mind. But I’m still reading up a storm and writing book reviews, still knitting, still cooking and baking the same amount I did before I came out. It’s just that now I’m doing those things openly as a woman, instead of everyone (including myself) assuming I’m a man. And it’s that distinction that makes all the difference. The change you’re seeing in me is an openness and a comfort that was never present when I was being perceived as masculine/male, because deep down, I knew I wasn’t those things. The incongruence wasn’t just within myself—it was in how society was reading me.

To be feminine simply means to belong to the category of women. What that looks like for each woman will be unique. There will be overlap, but no one thing defines all of us. Some of us manifest this as being girly girls part or all of the time, while some of us don the burliest of plaid flannels or have moustaches that out-masc the men—and all of that is ok. Or at least it should be. Women—trans or cis—who don’t conform to our present expectations of womanhood? I see you. You are no less a woman because you reject the expectations patriarchy puts on you.

And what of non-binary, genderfluid, bi- or multi-gender people? Look, I don’t have answers for you. I have experienced life being perceived as a man, and I have experienced life as a woman, but I personally have never spent much time outside or in between that binary. So it would be wrong for me to put interpretations on you that I can’t back up with experience. All I can say is that even if you don’t identify strictly on the gender binary, you can still be a woman. Even if you don't identify strictly as a woman, you can still be feminine and do feminine things, if those labels feel appropriate to you. But that is a journey for you to take, and I would love to hear about it if you feel comfortable sharing with me.

Lizzo said it best: “If you feel like a girl, you real like a girl.” That line hits me every time, and it makes me feel seen. It me.

Today on this International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating that I get to be a woman simply because I am one. I get to embrace my femininity in the ways that work for me, and other women get to embrace their femininity in the ways that work for them. In some places, women don’t get to do that yet, and we need to fight for that. There is still so much we need to fight for, sadly. But when I fight? That’s feminine too.