Trying to be a woman

There are some things in life where imitation just won’t do. Peanut butter is one of them. Gender is another. I had come to a point in my life where I was finally free to explore my own identity and figure out who I wanted to be. I had thrown off an oppressive religion and an abusive marriage, but was not quite ready to throw off the the belief that I had to be a woman just because my body looked like one. I did not know how to be a woman because I had never felt like one. I had always felt male. I thought that if I could just make myself be comfortable with being a woman, then that would somehow automatically make me feel comfortable with a female body. I tried desperately, but the more I tried to force myself to be a woman, even a butch woman, the more I felt like an imitation.

Let me first make one thing perfectly clear. BUTCH WOMEN ARE NOT IMITATION MEN! Yes, I am yelling because I want to be absolutely certain that everyone reading this understands that my experience does not translate to every butch woman. Butch women who are women identified are every bit as much women as those who present as more feminine. I could not be a butch woman because I am really a man.

When I first came out as gay I did not know very much about gay or lesbian culture. I knew almost nothing about the lesbian community. The only things I knew were the stereotypes of androgyny and butch/femme. I did not feel brave enough to come out as butch right away so I first tried to go the androgyny route. I fought the butch label because I was afraid it would remind me too much about how I had always wanted to be a man. But the draw, the longing to look and feel more male, was too much to resist and eventually I identified more and more as butch. I was right to be wary of it, though. As my appearance changed, the inner conflict grew. I was elated with the ability to embrace my more masculine side. But it made living in a female body more and more uncomfortable. The more I looked male the more I wanted to just be a man.

Just as I tried to bury my homosexuality in religion, once again I attempted to bury my transsexualism in religion. This time it was a feminist separatist version of paganism called Dianic Wicca. I had been leaning towards a pagan belief system after leaving my Christian faith when I came out as gay. I was just beginning to explore the pagan community where I was living when I found a group of women who practiced in the Dianic tradition. I was immediately interested due to the strong focus on the female as deity and the emphasis placed on social issues of equality. I thought that if there was anywhere I could learn to be comfortable with being a woman it would be here. I took their introductory class to learn more about them and what they believed. That is where I first encountered the phrase “Women born women” and their beliefs and teachings on transsexualism. (Essentially, they believe that transsexualism is a by product of strictly enforced gender roles and that if we were able to do away with gender roles people would no longer need to transition. They also believe that sexual reassignment surgery is mutilation.) I did not agree with their beliefs on transsexualism, but I did find their spiritual teachings to be similar to my own beliefs at the time. Because I was so focused on making myself comfortable as a woman I never imagined that the trans issue would affect me. I thought I had finally found my spiritual path, so I signed up to take their 4 year Priestess training course in the hope that I might one day become ordained. I focused on my spiritual training and tried to convince myself that my body issues were due to the patriarchal misogyny of society instead of my own feelings of being male. I had previously blamed my body discomfort on being overweight so it was easy to add on blaming the patriarchy for making body size such an issue for women. It was easier than admitting that parts of my body did not belong there and other parts were missing.

During the first year of the training course I started to talk with other women about body acceptance and how they overcame body issues. I tried setting up a habit of doing self blessings focused on different parts of my body with special emphasis on the female parts. I tried doing this in a mirror a few times but it was too distracting since I never really recognized myself in the mirror. I tried speaking positive affirmations of love to my body even when I all I could feel was loathing for the body I felt had betrayed me at puberty. It seemed that the more I tried to love my body, the more I hated it.

When nothing else worked, I decided to take yet one more step along the path to masculinity. I decided to grow a goatee. I had started growing facial hair around puberty for reasons that are as yet unexplained. Over the years the hair grew in thicker and darker to the point where I usually had to shave on a regular basis. It had finally gotten thick enough on my chin that I could grow a small but significant goatee. After a few weeks of letting it grow out, it was nicely visible and I was the envy of many of my butch friends. But something happened that I did not expect. Once the goatee had grown out, one day while looking at myself in the mirror, for the first time in memory I had a glimpse of recognition. It was a startling experience. I was exuberantly happy and terrifyingly afraid all at the same time. The recognition of myself was like a powerful drug. Just having the goatee satisfied me for awhile, but the image in the mirror still wasn’t quite right. The facial hair fit, but I still couldn’t stand to see the rest of my body. I wanted more. I needed more. But the only way to get more was to do the one thing that had truly terrified me my entire life. I had to finally admit that I’m really a man.

Continue to Embracing the man

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