By: Noor Bhayani
What does it mean to be a woman? What is femininity? Who gets to decide what these concepts mean? Can we create our own definition of femininity, one that exists outside of the realm of patriarchy?
These are the questions that come to mind when I sit down to write about womanhood, specifically trans womanhood. As a trans woman, I have often felt like womanhood is an exclusive club, one that I am only conditionally allowed to be a part of. My membership is solely dependent on my ability to be a palatable trans woman – one that is easy to digest. When I enter a women’s space that is predominantly cis, I often feel like I need to perform and conform to societal expectations of femininity in order to be accepted as a woman. This pressure to fit in and be accepted leads to a lot of stress, especially around passing and not being seen as intimidating or an intruder. I often feel like I have to make myself small in a physical sense, but also in the context of the space I take up.
So how can my cisgender sisters make us feel safe in these spaces? Here are some things you can do:
- Sit next to us. The simple act of just sitting next to us, as small as it seems, makes us feel welcomed.
- Affirm our womanhood when conversations around womanhood come up.
- Remind us that we are sisters and that we need to look out for one another.
- Be vigilant of transphobic attitudes and exclusionary behavior. Pease call it out when you see it because chances are that we are just going to sit there and endure it because that’s what we are used to, unfortunately.
- Remind us that we are entitled to this space as much as you are.
- Remind us not to make ourselves smaller in a space.
- Accompany us to the bathroom to make sure we don’t experience gender policing.
- Remind us that giving birth to ourselves is as beautiful as giving birth to another, and both those realities can co-exist in harmony.
- Get to know us. We have a lot more in common than you might think.
- Don’t tokenize us, don’t make us feel like we are somehow special and should be put on a pedestal just because we are trans. We are not asking to be put on a pedestal or centered in every conversation. We just want to be treated with basic respect, sisterhood, care, and empathy like any other woman.
- Don’t make every conversation you have with us about transphobia and oppression. We are already coercively politicized by the world, sometimes we need a break from being politicized.
In conclusion, trans women should not have to perform or conform to society’s expectations of femininity in order to be accepted as women. It is our hope that cisgender women will work alongside us to create a world where we can all feel safe and welcome in women’s spaces. By taking small steps, like sitting next to us and reminding us that we are entitled to the space we occupy, we can create a world where all women, regardless of their gender identity, feel like they belong.