I was never a girly-girl in childhood. I’d play house with my sister, and little green army men with my cousin, and dress up as superhero’s girlfriends, but compared to my Girl Scout ballet taking natural cook of a sister, I never felt very feminine. I was abused by my friend’s father, and that changed me. I no longer felt safe being a girl, so I didn’t want to be one.
I cut my hair short, started going by a boys’ nickname, and joined a softball team. I refused to wear any dress or skirt for four years. I tried in very conscious and overt ways to present myself as a tomboy. I didn’t want to be a girl, because girls got targeted and girls got hurt. When my breasts started to develop, I dove into anorexia with abandon, desperately trying to keep my body childish and sexless.
What started as a way to influence how others saw me became something that polluted how I saw other girls. I became a Chill Girl – not like those other girls. I ate junk food and watched football and laughed at oppressive jokes, determined not to “cause drama”. I had a few girl friends, most who hated femininity as much and as vocally as I did, and lots of boy friends, many of whom mistreated or abused me, with the accurate assessment that I wouldn’t “cause trouble” about it.
Pregnancy with my son changed me again. It made me feel a connection to women across time and space I had never felt before. The good and bad, from creating life to the indignities of labor, all brought me in touch with a sense of something deeper than myself, and shared by billions of women since the dawn of our species. It was an intensely spiritual connection, startling and unexpected. It made me feel like I belonged, like I was a woman and that was a good thing, for the first time since I’d been targeted as a little 7-seven-year old girl in my play dress.
Not wanting to be targeted for being a girl turned into hating girls and all the “girly” things inside of me. This hatred of women and femininity is one of my biggest regrets. It kept me from amazing, supportive, revolutionary friendships with other women, while exposing me to dangerous, ungrateful, entitled relationships with men who did not respect women any more than I did. What’s more, it kept me in denial of my own lesbian sexuality.
I began truly embracing myself as a feminine person, capable of feminine expression that wasn’t silly or a joke, within the past two years. Since then I have made more women (and non-binary) friends than I would have thought possible. I have shared joys and sorrows with the incredibly tight network of friends I have formed, and they have lifted me up when I most needed it. In turn, learning to love the woman in myself and the women in my friends helped me to recognize that I’m a lesbian.
If I was still rejecting femininity, I don’t think I could have all these gains. I don’t think I’d feel so connected. I don’t think I’d belong. I think I’d still be surrounding myself with people who despised anything womanly in me. If you’re a woman who has a hard time making friends with other women, I encourage you to reflect on why that is, and whether it serves you well. For me, learning to love women – butch and femme and neither – has opened doors I didn’t even know were closed. And I’m grateful.