When I woke up to International Women’s Day celebrations, the first thing on my mind wasn’t politics, but the personal connections I didn’t know I would forfeit the minute I stopped wearing skirts, traded in my long hair for a frohawk, and fell in love with a woman. 

I used to have a very close-knit circle of female friends; we defended each other from perverts at crowded bars, cried on each other’s shoulders, told each other we were beautiful whenever the world made us doubt that we were, and gave each other relationship advice, regardless of the gender of the person we loved.

We were sisters. It didn’t matter if we were tomboys or not. We were sisters. It didn’t matter that some of us wore skirts, and some of us wore shorts. We were sisters. That was all that mattered. Right?

Wrong. The second my gender presentation transitioned from straight girl femininity to queer masculine “inbetweener,” I lost most of my sisters. I’m a different kind of woman now. And all of a sudden women I used to call my sisters don’t know how to interact with me. I’m still a woman, but the reactions to my expression of womanhood have changed, drastically.

This is the kind of experience that informs my work as a media activist. I’m always thinking about which perspectives are missing from political conversations and representations in pop culture: who is being excluded? why? how can our political movements become more self-reflective so that we can identify who among us is being left behind, and become stronger advocates for the kind of progress that includes them. Incidentally, in the fight for women’s equality, the people most frequently excluded from consideration and celebration, often enough look just like me.

It’s been a few years since I wrote about the experience of being forced to wear a dress to my friend’s wedding (even though she knew I was tomboy). Yet, despite the political successes the women’s movement is celebrating today, not much has changed for me, professionally and personally.

Even within the open-minded, women’s activist spaces in which I find myself for work, I still have to endure not just the endless hours about boyfriend/husband talk (as though women can’t bond around any other topic), but also–after I attempt to contribute–the prolonged, awkward silences that follow once they realize my partner is a woman. 

My straight girlfriends–bless their hearts–enjoy inviting me to their favorite (straight)  nightclubs so they can maintain their perception of my being “normal”, but have no clue how uncomfortable it is to be a tomboy in a venue with a dress code policy that insists, “Ladies wear heels, Fellas button-downs and hard soles.” So, they’ll usually abandon me on the dancefloor to go to the ladies room for a “touch up”, or worse,  disappear into the post-nightclub meat market, leaving me exposed on a street curb as a prime target for drunk dudes to take out insecurities about their masculinity: “Was that your girlfriend? What, you think you’re a dude? You like pussy? I like it,too. I got a dick though.” 

Yup, that happened. I broke up with a friend over such an incident (and more since then).

I can’t tell you how many times my masculinity has been used to absolve other women (and men) of the responsibility of advocating for me; whether in the face of harassers on street corners, the gender-ed aisles of mainstream clothing stores, or even within the women’s movement itself, it’s as though people automatically assume I’m “stronger”, physically, mentally, and emotionally, just because I shop in the men’s department.

“Don’t worry about her. She can take care of herself.” 

But I have never experienced physical aggression from the world to the degree that I do now. From constantly dodging men who take it upon themselves to “put me in my place” to being ignored by women who’ve subconsciously decided that I’ve chosen “the other side,” I’ve never felt less safe and more in need of protecting.

Hence, in light of international women’s day, I can’t help but note how often my masculinity is the unspoken reason I’m excluded  from women’s spaces, and denied access to the very same sisterhood that nurtured my unwavering dedication to every woman’s empowerment. 

Since losing access to “the sisterhood,” I’ve been rebuilding my support network from scratch, one in which the full spectrum of “womanhood” isn’t just acknowledged, but celebrated: African feminists committed to building cross-movement alliances, queer “brown bois” leading national conversations about healthy masculinity, and progressive women of all shades and stripes, interested in seeing gender justice done in the media.

I am fortunate. But today, I’m also aware of just how fortunate I am to have experienced even this yearning for a sisterhood that I did have–at least at some point. Even as a tomboy/woman whose gender presentation is more masculine, though inclusion in women’s spaces plays out in odd and hurtful ways, my identity as a woman has never been questioned. But some of my sisters have never known that privilege. I know transgender women (born male, now living as women), for instance, that have never known the comfort, loyalty, and power of a female friend circle.

But, we are still sisters. It shouldn’t matter that some of us were born male and some born female. We are sisters in blood and numbers, in shared missions and shared struggles. That’s all that matters. That’s all that should matter… Right?

I’ll end with an excerpt from my contribution to Ms. Afropolitan’s Women’s Day post: a roundup of comments from African women responding to the question, “What Does Women’s Day Mean to You?” 

When I remember how my mother celebrated International Women’s Day–as part of a community of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of African women, dressed in bright colors, often laughing and dancing, holding hands–I think about how many African lesbians have been evicted from their sister circles, how many transgender women have never experienced unguarded female friendship. Women’s Day inspires me to keep writing my story so that my African sisters can get to know me, and to keep advocating for queer Africans like me who are still fighting–not just for women’s “rights” but for women’s community, sisterhood, Love.

Women’s Day should be a reminder to all of us to keep advocating for every woman’s right to love and be loved, even long after we’ve found sisterhood for ourselves.

Have you experienced being excluded from women’s spaces due to not fitting in to a heterosexist idea of womanhood? If you’re someone who believes in the importance of women’s spaces and sisterhood, how do you make sure to enact that ideology in your personal life? I believe masculinity is suffering from an estranged relationship with womanhood. What do you think?

59 Responses to Losing Access to Sisterhood: Tomboys, Masculinity, and the Unmaking of a Girl

  1. Please read this —> “@spectraspeaks: Losing Access to Sisterhood: Tomboys, Masculinity, and the Unmaking of a Girl http://t.co/fDjgbwntav”

  2. @VengoPrima says:

    We are sisters. It shouldn’t matter that some of us were born male and some born female. We are sisters in shared… http://t.co/qwC15NaKfx

  3. Chioma Nnaji says:

    Thank you for making me stop, think and reflect. Now, as someone yelling for equity, standing for sisterhood and ready to fight (literally!) when my African LGBTQ folks are disrespected, dehumanized and oppressed, I totally missed my own lack of inclusion. March 16th we are having a fashion show, Live.Love.Fashion Show & After Show, celebrating women of African descent, bring awareness to the impact of HIV on women and calling for women to act. But, we only have that "heterosexist idea of womanhood" represented. Deep. It has to be conscious on a daily and personal level.

  4. @jbahz says:

    happy #IWD! RT @spectraspeaks: Losing Access to Sisterhood: Tomboys, Masculinity, and the Unmaking of a Girl http://t.co/yAjsDSHQq4

  5. unoma says:

    Wow! This is an eye-opener. I am guilty. I tend to tell my tomboyish-dressing friends to “tone” it down, so as to avoid any unwarranted attention from the “straight” world. Little did I know that for each “tone it down” uttered, I kill their spirit. You’ve made me a believer….in the all-inclusive women’s identity and self-expression. Though we come in all shades and form, we’re one: human. Thank you Spectra for spreading this Love evangelism!

    • Thank YOU for this offering! Your comment means EVERYTHING. Your sentiments are exactly the reason I so militantly cling to the power of empathy, compassion, and LOVE, in my work. Ultimately, I want us all to connect, to care, so that we *want* to readjust the minute we realize we could be doing better. Thank you for sharing what this meant to you; it’s encouraged me to keep going! BIG love to you.

  6. Grace says:

    Love this post! Moving and thought-provoking. One of the things I love about your writing, Spectra, is how it manages to be intensely personal and specific to you, but not in a way that feels like I can’t relate to it, or find broader points to take away.

    One quick thought: saying trans women were “born male” can be really triggering for some and sounds like people are literally changing gender from male to female rather than transitioning from one social role to another. Perhaps “seen as male/female at birth” works as plain language for the gender people are assigned at birth?

    Back to the main points of the post. Definitely making me think. I think I took for granted that how I see you is how other women with similar perspectives/experiences would see you, too, which is a dangerous assumption! I’m I’ve definitely seen a lot of what you point out about the exclusion of trans women from “women’s” spaces, and what you say about the assumptions that women who present or are perceived as masculine don’t need advocacy or protection…I just hadn’t quite connected the dots to how that can mean exclusion from sisterhood for more masculine women.

    I find myself, as I often do with your writing, reflecting on my own experience and social position when i read your writing, which is so interesting. Maybe that’s precisely because your writing is so personal, or because I’m always comparing notes with a fellow queer Nigerian, lol. Anyway, I really appreciate it.

    In this case I find myself thinking about how my gender expression and presentation is in this halfway space between recognizably masculine or feminine…I like the phrase “tomboy femme” for it. I’m “feminine” enough in presentation to be accepted in most women’s spaces, but “masculine” enough that I sometimes feel some distance on my end from other, more femme women. A not quite knowing where I fit, if that makes sense. So I felt I could relate to some of what you said, but that you experience this at a much greater degree given your presentation.

    • Wow… Thank you so much for your very kind, thoughtful, and encouraging comments, @twitter-167426475:disqus! It’s funny, most people know me for my “political” writing/thought pieces, but I’m actually much better at literary nonfiction and fiction. I value those forms greatly for the space they create for the writer to draw from personal experiences while making larger critiques, creating connections to more complex societal problems. Yet, it’s hard to avoid feeling like you’re just over-sharing/being self-absorbed. There’s a balance to be struck for sure, and so I deeply appreciate your comments because it means I get it right often enough. Such a relief! Thank you :)

      Re: “born male”, I actually shared your concern when I was writing this piece. I struggle with how to talk about ideas to my audiences (who come from all walks of life and are often using my blog to learn) without resorting to jargon/insider-speak. In this case, I ultimately came to the decision that not all my trans friends agree on language, either. Some are perfectly fine talking about being born male but experiencing life as women. For those that don’t, I do empathize; it’s certainly uncomfortable for anyone to have to relive /cringe through aspects of an experience they don’t connect with–whether that’s the gender you were assigned at birth or a name that no longer reflects who you are–but I write for a very wide audience, and what’s most important to me, as an activist who also happens to be a writer, is that they understand the *feeling*, the *ideas*, and that they *connect* to what I’m saying, vs get boggled down/confused by the politically correct term of the hour.

      That said, and for the purposes of folks reading (not you lol), male as a term refers to the “sex” (most closely associated with reproductive organs) of a person, not their “gender”, which is experienced through society/made up, kinda like the way I’m “female” but society experiences me as masculine; and because we have strong ideas about “gender”, I get aggression because my “sex” doesn’t match the way I’m perceived the same as males who cry or don’t play sports, or “dress like girls” do. As such, to mention that someone was born male then transitioned to being “female” (at least in the context I was mentioning, where surgery isn’t always involved) wouldn’t be too accurate; perhaps better to say they were born/termed male and transitioned to living as *women*, if that makes sense. (If it doesn’t sorry! This is why I avoid these things, and linked to a Trans 101 site, where someone can explain it better.)

      Lastly, I feel you on the halfway. I used to call myself “Futch” lol. But I gotta say that I LOVE the term “femme tomboy”! Can we please put that on a T-shirt? I think what I love about my experience is that even though society makes it challenging to find community sometimes, I do get to have a LOT of fun exploring who I am and ways to affirm my identity in ways that I don’t think the average person feels like they’re allowed to, and for that I am grateful. Thanks again for always reading and engaging! #fellownaijalove

  7. Very, very powerful piece.

  8. LoriVK says:

    Reading this post makes me wish I had sisterhood and women’s spaces in my life. Thank you for sharing your experience and your hope.

    • You are so welcome, @LoriVK:disqus! I encourage you to create one of your own; that’s what I did. There are so many women who will love and appreciate you just as you are. #afrofemlove

  9. blkcowrie says:

    LOVE.

  10. Ruth DeSouza says:

    Thanks for repoliticising this day and reminding me of what inclusion is all about.

  11. Fundi Ndaba says:

    beautiful article……….

  12. Great piece :) Never really thought of this much but now that I do, I've noticed it has happened to me at times. And other times I actually exclude myself because I don't fit in with the typical and stereotypical roles a "woman" is suppose to play.

  13. Sonny Nordmarken says:

    THANK YOU. I relate so much to this. Much love to you!!

  14. Vi Gerbrandt says:

    As a mother who is heterosexual, and raised my bi-racial daughter as best I could in this imbalanced and judgemental world, I have found, and agree with the mother of a son (half East Indian and half Italian), that the country I live in (Canada), either likes white children, or black children. My daughter has witnessed my X-communication from varioius circles (of which she also has witnessed my continued advocacy for), and I am proud to say, that we have come to a place where my 'unconditional love' is both celebrated and accepted by both of us….. as she demonstrates and teaches me soooooooo much. Her positioning is similar to the author of this article. I could not be prouder of her – however, do recognize that I have not been included in the various women's celebrations this year. I choose to include myself, whether invited, or not. One occasion, a few years back now, I was invited to attend a meeting in Calgary between the two groups "white women against racism", and "women of color collective." From my personal experience, I could not attend. My response to both groups was "If both I and my daughter were to attend your group together, would both of us feel equal and whole as a person?" I knew what the answer was. I stated that I could not attend either group (even though I advocated for the women of color collective non-stop my entire adult life)… I could not bring myself to attend this meeting. I would be hypocritical to do so. A question I posed to "White Women Against Racism" was – "How could they use that title and be taken seriously about being against racism?" The same thoughts were expressed to the Women of Color Collective. Since my daughter had been 3 years old (even though many of these people I knew were my personal friends)…. I had written to this group (with NEVER THE DIGNITY OF A RESPONSE BACK. There were individuals who I have spent enough time with – who always did include me (several ethnic groups, such as the Vietnamese). I continue to strive to build bridges – but this year, I remained at home – and sent messages to people. In the past, I have always attended a potluck, and participated. I did, however – most importantly – spend a portion of the day with my daughter and her most lovely and WHOLE female partner. There is no having to 'prove herself' to me. What my daughter has risen above is great – and I wish her all the best, in her choices and endeavors, understanding the DEEP love and courage that she has. May the future be filled with more love and compassion – between all of us. Those who X-communicate, usually have control issues and a false sense of 'wholesomeness', with, perhaps, not balanced education with respect to the realities many of our fellow human beings face. Sorry for this long response. I shall work on being brief – however, rising above the pain and cruelty exhibited by human beings – one to another – creates a deep sadness. I celebrate LOVE and desire for this to be present and at the core of all genuine movements of inclusion. <3. There is much to celebrate – and many, many wonderful stories of 'overstanding' and 'overcoming' authentically. Be gentle and loving with each other, I shall each day, start afresh to remain open for our collective healing. <3

  15. Papi Junior says:

    thank you, for writing about the unspoken truth and for revealing a world that most ‘bois’ keep to themselves. i’ve been out for 10 years now, and even as an adult, find at times that there is this deep emptiness, a hole of some sort, because of the path that i’ve choosen. not only as a lesbian, but for my masculine appearance. the feeling of abandonment from feminine women (gay and straight), and acceptance from men only if it benefits them in some type of way. even within our own community, there is still a feeling of disgrace, when there should be comfort. lesbians who dress more feminine bashing tomboys, butches, studs, etc for not being a “true” female, while your own circle of ‘bois’ are too busy trying to prove that they’re more masculine than you, and becoming people you cannot trust, biased because of this insecurity that it’s each “man” for themselves…literally. an endless cycle. i thought i was the only one left in this funk. it’s nice to finally acknowledge that i’m not the only one who pains this way…

  16. Chgn Faces says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece!

  17. Iz On Da Prize says:

    As one that lives life as an "in between" my favorite place to feel demonized is the women's restroom at any location at any time. I have grown to embrace the cruel stares and the looks of disgust. I usually keep to myself, take care of business and move on. Although sometimes I find great pleasure in glaring back. I meet the hate in their eyes with absolute love, never unlocking my eyes until they are forced to look away. My second favorite stare fest is when buying clothing. I too wear men's clothes and was once asked by the salesclerk "Don't you just love shopping for your husband"? I was speechless, didn't know how to answer. My sister was with me, looked at me and we both laughed. I'm not apologetic and I'm not here to make anyone feel comfortable. I am me and I'm not going away and to top it all off, I'm fucking hot. Men and women want to do me, so I must be doing something right. :)

  18. Iz On Da Prize says:

    As one that lives life as an "in between" my favorite place to feel demonized is the women's restroom at any location at any time. I have grown to embrace the cruel stares and the looks of disgust. I usually keep to myself, take care of business and move on. Although sometimes I find great pleasure in glaring back. I meet the hate in their eyes with absolute love, never unlocking my eyes until they are forced to look away. My second favorite stare fest is when buying clothing. I too wear men's clothes and was once asked by the salesclerk "Don't you just love shopping for your husband"? I was speechless, didn't know how to answer. My sister was with me, looked at me and we both laughed. I'm not apologetic and I'm not here to make anyone feel comfortable. I am me and I'm not going away and to top it all off, I'm fucking hot. Men and women want to do me, so I must be doing something right. :)

  19. Ida Raine says:

    This is very interesting to me. I present in a way which seems a 'mirror' to your average feminine straight girl. Unfortunately how I present on the outside is not who I am on the inside, so for me there is a great chasm between us. As a result the only sisterhood I've ever experienced has been from within the queer scene. Ironically I tend to get along very well with tomboyish straight women. It's almost as though by them trying NOT to present as one thing and me trying TO present as something else, we can comfortably meet in the middle.

  20. blueowl says:

    Throughout junior high and most of high school I was excluded from a lot of “girl cliques” because I was such a tomboy. I often wore combat boots or sporty shorts. (Even a a child I would wear my older brother’s clothes). I was even made fun of because of it and it really made me question who I was even through college. I felt pressured into wearing cute, girly clothes and I ended up just looking ridiculous. It got worse when I started getting tattoos. I was no longer seen as feminine but something else. I’ve never really had a group of girl friends but in recent years I’ve been lucky enough to find a couple of gal pals who really don’t care how I dress and aren’t ashamed to be seen with me in any venue. Be strong women, every woman, we need you!

  21. Thanks for directing me here (although i would have found my way anyway!)

    While African feminism is now experiencing a boost (right?) I also want us to think about why especially in Africa & diaspora feminisms we suffered a great lack of focus in the 80s & 90s. From much of what I’ve researched, it seems to me that one of the biggest obstacles, if not “The” was that not enough heterosexual feminists demanded unity with queer sisters, in fact many opposed lesbianism and trans women. For instance, I understand this was the case with OWAAD, an otherwise revolutionary organisation of African women here in the UK. This must never be allowed to happen again. We are all sisters in the same struggle. And it IS the ONLY thing that matters.

    Love and respect

    • Thank you, @MsAfropolitan:disqus! I’ve been fortunate to meet many African women who express similar sentiments. But I’m sincerely grateful for how outspoken *you* are since you’re such a strong agent of African feminism, and the women’s movement in general. Thank you for your voice, for your advocacy, and for your friendship. Much love.

  22. Paige Riley says:

    I think the "butch" who occupies wholly the qualities of masculine and feminine has a hard road..this is NOT the woman who "wants to be a dude" or can't make up her mind.. NO She is WOMAN and expresses herself as she feels, embracing her body and her swagger, not to challenge you, not to prove a point, not confused, but to be HER whole self. it challenges people because people want boxes and it confuses that there can be such a beautiful embrace of both within one..

    Thank you for posting this article and getting discussion going. Our stories and our words empower others and may open eyes when speaking and being in our truth. This has been a hot topic of discussion for a bit now where I am at and in the work I do. How to narrow the wide gaps people have in what they perceive others to be. Talking is a great start… walking it is necessary for your own self and even harder… Thank you for walking and talking it! Here is to hoping one more person opens to the limitlessness of expression…

  23. Alison Rose says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with the world. This – and you – are beautiful and amazing. We need MORE love and acceptance and solidarity in order to be better feminists, better humans, period.

  24. David Bikman says:

    Powerful writing. Thank you.

  25. Valyn Faer says:

    Firstly, I want to thank you for including us transwomen in this conversation and acknowledging how this issue affects us. In fact, I have had a similar experience to this. I found that most cisgender women were far more inclusive of me when they thought I was/saw me as a gay man. When I came out as a transwoman, though, that all completely changed and they didn't know how to interact with me. They quickly "Othered" me, and I was moved to the outside. Whereas, previously, they had no problem including me in all the things you mentioned, now most ciswomen are uncomfortable around me and don't know how to interact with me, even though my sexual orientation and gender identity are obviously still the same. The irony is not lost on me, either. You would think coming out as a transwoman would have the opposite effect, but it didn't. And I feel like this exclusionary tendency is something that is not really talked about much in general–regardless of what form it takes. So, thank you for writing this.

    Also, I would like to note that it's not entirely accurate to say we were "born male," though. While we were assigned a male sex a birth against our will, we were also born with female gender identities. The research does seem to suggest that people are born with hard-wired gender identities that can and, of course, do vary from one's bodily sex (sex development is a complicated, messy process). This means that we were, in fact, born trans female, not male. To say we were born male, which, unfortunately, has been the dominant way of talking about transness, is to only focus on our bodies to the exclusion of our gender identities, our womanhood, and our very transness. What has always struck me as a tad odd, is the way our society now has an easier time accepting that cisgender gay people were born gay, even though the dominant gay narrative is not one that involves cisgender gay people knowing they were gay as far back as they can remember. However, that is the dominant narrative for trans people, with most of knowing, to one extent or another, ever since we were really young, that our assigned sex was not accurate. Again, thank you for writing this.

  26. Valyn Faer says:

    Firstly, I want to thank you for including us transwomen in this conversation and acknowledging how this issue affects us. In fact, I have had a similar experience to this. I found that most cisgender women were far more inclusive of me when they thought I was/saw me as a gay man. When I came out as a transwoman, though, that all completely changed and they didn’t know how to interact with me. They quickly “Othered” me, and I was moved to the outside. Whereas, previously, they had no problem including me in all the things you mentioned, now most ciswomen are uncomfortable around me and don’t know how to interact with me, even though my sexual orientation and gender identity are obviously still the same. The irony is not lost on me, either. You would think coming out as a transwoman would have the opposite effect, but it didn’t. And I feel like this exclusionary tendency is something that is not really talked about much in general–regardless of what form it takes. So, thank you for writing this.

    Also, I would like to note that it’s not entirely accurate to say we were “born male,” though. While we were assigned a male sex a birth against our will, we were also born with female gender identities. The research does seem to suggest that people are born with hard-wired gender identities that can and, of course, do vary from one’s bodily sex (sex development is a complicated, messy process). This means that we were, in fact, born trans female, not male. To say we were born male, which, unfortunately, has been the dominant way of talking about transness, is to only focus on our bodies to the exclusion of our gender identities, our womanhood, and our very transness. What has always struck me as a tad odd, is the way our society now has an easier time accepting that cisgender gay people were born gay, even though the dominant gay narrative is not one that involves cisgender gay people knowing they were gay as far back as they can remember. However, that is the dominant narrative for trans people, with most of knowing, to one extent or another, ever since we were really young, that our assigned sex was not accurate. Again, thank you for writing this.

    • Thanks for this comment, Sis! I stand firmly by my trans sisters. Our experiences of womanhood vary (as they should! the women’s community is more powerful because of our diversity, not in spite of it), but you’re all my sisters just the same.

      Re: language/”born male”, as I mentioned to another commenter, I tend to write for a broader audience and thus, in an attempt to avoid confusing people with jargon/insider-speak, use language that’s easier for people to follow, especially in hopes that others with more to say on the topic will chime in and expand the conversation. The LGBT community (including the trans community) rarely agrees on language, thus I’m wary of universalizing one framework/labeling over others, especially since I know trans folk who wouldn’t disagree with the separation of “sex” from “gender” (even at birth, and using the two, albeit limited ‘boxes’ there are: male and female). However, as I don’t share that experience, and merely take my cue from folks I have relationships with and/or follow, I sincerely thank you for engaging me and offering this new insight (i.e. around being born “Trans female”) as I’d never heard it before. As media advocacy/storytelling are my chosen tools for advocacy, I’m open to hearing more about how to educate mainstream audiences on this idea (given that many of them don’t even have a basic understanding of trans identities to begin with). As much as I appreciate the complexities of our experiences and the language we’ve developed to hold on to them, I’m a firm believer of accessibility, and meeting people where they are, especially in my writing, and on this blog. Thus, if you have examples of this being explained in a way that’s easy for people to digest I’d really love a link / reccs for blogs to follow. Thanks again for sharing your comments. #afrofemlove to you :)

      • Abby Oster says:

        I always present it from the perspective the AMA rather than in the ever-evolving references and descriptions in the LGBTQ. The stance supported by AMA is that transgenderism results from a combination of genetics and anomalies in the first trimester of fetal development. All concede that far more funding of research is needed but that it is definitely a condition based in biology rather than psychology. Further, on sexual orientation I like to cite recent research showing that gay woman share brain structures and pheromone responses similar to straight men and that gay men share structures and responses similar to straight women. Here again, that research just begs more research to understand the vast nuances across gender identity and sexual orientation. However, it is clear (to me at least) we truly were born this way. In the case of being born transgender, science posit a metaphor for internal endocrine system (including the brain) civil war. When Harry Benjamin began prescribing HRT over 50 years ago it was to relieve tension in the body resulting hormonal discord. Transgender women are “wired” for estrogen and testosterone levels on par with cissexual women. The converse is true of transgendered men. This explains with both feel such amazing relief from depression and anxiety, feel a sense of inner peace when they begin HRT treatments. Julia Serano writes to all of these topics and the implications for identity, feminism, and sexuality in her book “Whipping Girl.” She’s far more articulate than me so I’ll leave it at that.

  27. Pavlov's Cat says:

    I’m sorry if this is out of place and not the kind of thing you were talking about. I recognise that many women have to deal with issues relating to pregnancy, abortion, childcare and menstruation. I don’t mind that a great deal of time in women’s spaces generally and feminist spaces in particular will be taken up with discussion of them. In my feminism I stand by anyone who identifies as a woman in the face of whatever issues they face as women. I just wish I felt they all stood by me. I wish that when some of them make statements that imply you must have the ability to become pregnant or that you must menstruate to call yourself a woman, and I gently and politely point out that these things are not true of all women, not true of me, I would get a little less of the ‘well of course I didn’t mean it like that, you’re being divisive, now apologise for bringing that up and let’s get back to talking about the really important issues the rest of us have’. No, I’m not the one excluding people from my definition of womanhood based on blatant falsehoods. That’s divisive.

  28. Raya Darcy says:

    thank you for your frank piece. it’s such a relief to read about someone else who “has” to buy clothes in the men’s aisles because the clothes in the “womens” sections fit neither our minds nor our bodies.

  29. Bobbie! says:

    Spectra, you know how much I love and respect your work. Thank you for putting this out on the table in such a validating way. There has to be a way for all of us to be respected at the table. I was reading someone’s comments about your piece on another page. I really, really wish we could stop invalidating others’ experiences just because ours don’t look the same. Thank you for being so inclusive in your language and in relating your experience to others. There are many ways a lot of us don’t fit, feel left out of the conversation, invisible and demeaned, put down because we don’t fit someone else’s idea or match someone else’s experience – so of course, it can’t possibly be true! Thank you, Love for being who you are in the world and for raising the conversations we all need to have about acceptance, inclusion and identity. I really appreciate you today.

    • Thank you for this, Bobbie. It seems we’re always in sync. I was having this very same conversation with folks on Twitter/FB yesterday. It’s unfortunate that people often silence other people’s testimonies under the guise of pushing for ‘solidarity’ and that they invalidate others’ experiences via immediately responding with “not me.” That said, I’m grateful that there are many people who found this piece affirming/enlightening in some way because it’s why I wrote it. Thank you for seeing that. As a writer whose work I admire, you know I deeply appreciate your support for my work :)

  30. Sarah Boynton says:

    You would have a warm welcome and amazing friendship from our women's group women for a change. We are from many different walks of life and the one thing I know is that we are accepting of each other. We nourish each other's hearts, minds and souls. We make change- we don't wait for it. Would love for you to spend some time with us if you ever have the chance.

  31. Faun Hyde says:

    Well written and much appreciated! While I do not know what it is to be an African American woman, I too have felt the pain you describe being a masculine/tomboy female.

  32. Ashley Quinn says:

    I worked at a place owned by lesbians, so for the middle of the country a pretty queer-friendly workplace. The guys each year got together for a man-b-q (which I thought sounded like a lot of fun and I wanted to be invited to) and the ladies went on a float trip (which I thought sounded like a lot of fun and I wanted to be invited to). Of course in retail, someone has to get left behind to work, and even though these gendered fun events didn't happen on the same weekend, I was stuck at work for both of them, not invited to either.

    New job: I noticed that the couple of guys we work with were absent from our staff meeting, by coincidence, leaving us all women, but I still felt like an outsider even when the conversation was work, and not all "diet coke break" oogling the hunky construction worker.

    I was in a conservative Christian sorority in college, the only place/time in my life I've ever felt any kind of sisterhood. That sisterhood disappeared so quickly when I came out. Disappeared and then turned politely ugly as southerners are adept at doing. (No hate to southerners.) The only friend I had that really stayed by my side is still the only woman in my life who will call me up and tell me about a date she's been on or the butterflies this guy gives her stomach. I don't even have lesbian friends who do this. 1 friend.

  33. Debra Martin says:

    I don't identify.. or label.. but I do embrace the community as a whole and support everyone's choice… we have to give what we want to get – ijs… we can't move forward if we leave part of us behind!

  34. Tisha Lane says:

    I think this very well spoken and an important subject to bring to light. I shared this with a friend who was struggling because she felt she is losing her sister as she watches her sister transform genders. My only question for you, is how should people define what it is to be a woman? In your article, you explain how you are still a woman so it would be nice to remain to be apart of the sisterhood although you have taken on the masculine gender. To me, it sounds like you are saying that it would be nice if feminine women were reminded that transgender, and/or more androgynous looking females, are women as well. However, you also include transgender women (males representing themselves as women) as part of your sisterhood. To me, this experience of sisterhood that you had is the experience of belonging to a social click. Social clicks are usually created by a group of people realizing certain commonalities. It sounds as if your female friends assumed that you had many of the same interests as them but once it became clear that you weren't interested in men or wearing makeup that needs to be touched up during a night of dancing, it became clear to them that they assumed wrong.

    I am a member of this beautiful LGBT community so I am only questioning these things for pure understanding. I hope I am not taken the wrong way. Perhaps your friends aren't using your masculinity to absolve their responsibility of advocating for you but instead, they simply don't know how to advocate for you because they have never had to stick up for themselves in that way.

  35. Abby Oster says:

    Extremely powerful piece of writing, thank you. I am one of those transgendered women who “passes” in the feminine circles and many of those women I do count as friends. Yet, my “otherness” sits with me quietly, always. It is like an invisible shroud of shame I mostly ignore for sake of my own sanity and in favor of connection. I am also gay. Talk of boyfriends and husbands abounds in women’s recovery meetings I attend. I do not begrudge that, straight women have no more choice in the matter than gay women. Body shame also plays into it for me. I always knew I was gay which added a special layer of revulsion toward my body, still does to a degree. When I out myself as transgender now (which I do often), the responses are akin to “no way!!” When I out myself as a lesbian, sometimes the air leaves the room briefly, some pull back. If I out myself as both, I feel like I should join a leper colony. Living in Seattle, often that has much more to do with the layers and layers of shame I carry than with the women in my life. They seem far more OK with me than I am with me. In the lesbian community, it is different. That is where rejection can be palpable and where I do sometimes fear for my physical safety. It doesn’t help that my brain tends to be attracted to masculine or androgynous lesbians. I’d no more confess or let that attraction be known than to willingly go pick a fight with a football player. I was told once by two friends on different occasions that there was a time when they would have hated my guts, that they once despised women like me. In one case, it was because I was femme, in the other it was because I was born transgendered. More often though, I know my fears have far less to do with how I am actually received than with my own rejection of myself as valid, of worth as a legitimate gay woman, as a woman period. As much as I might stand proudly to outsiders, as an activist, as a friend, as a human being, inside the words of Cathy Brennan and those like her resonate daily, strike anytime I am feeling happy, whole, connected…”but really, you are just a medically mutilated male.”

  36. Marie says:

    You say in your post “my masculinity,” referring to a different way of dress/presentation. I think this is a shame (not on your part, but as a reflection of our culture), because you are a WOMAN, no matter who you love and how you dress. Beautiful piece… rooting for you as a sister from afar.

    • I LOVE this comment because it’s so true. I’ve always resented how character traits such as assertiveness, ambition, etc have been characterized by male traits. I grew up in a context where that wasn’t atypical of women at all! But in an effort to communicate ideas about how I’m treated as compared to the “traditionally” feminine, I’ve had to adopt such limited language. It’s frustrating all round. Thank you for noting that, and for your encouragement. #afrofemlove to you.

  37. Jessica Horn says:

    Hi Spectra thanks for opening up these debates! There are certainly some spaces that are more limited in terms of thinking about what it means to be an African woman, and what the 'sisters' may want to talk about– and others where full diversity is embraced including in clothes and choice of partner! And people 'being themselves' including in how they choose to present themselves as gendered beings has of course made the path to changing up all of these spaces. Keep the dialogues going!

  38. I’m a trans woman who has never known unguarded female friendship. Thank you for bringing this issue to light! Hopefully transmisogyny will end in my lifetime.

  39. David Isaiah Joseph says:

    I have been trying to word my feelings for a while now…and you found a way! Thank you. However, this also includes transmen in terms of the masculine spectrum. Those of us who are still female-bodied yet have a male identity. Club bouncers don't know what to do with us. Womyn queer spaces feel awkward with us. And the heterosexual normatives pushes into a world we are not yet familiar enough to contribute to. Inclusion means a lotmore than what has been practiced lately. I didn't abandon sisterhood by being transmale…I was eventually excluded from it.

  40. Thank you for sharing your story. I am blessed to be a part of a ministry, which is called H.O.L.L.A it supports and celebrates masculine identified Lesbians. Unity Fellowship Church Movement is an open and affirming denomination and as such we believe in the sacredness of all life and we celebrate all of the ways God blesses us to express who we are. I am proud to call you my sister. Keep on living your truth.

  41. Thank you for sharing your story. I am blessed to be a part of a ministry, which is called H.O.L.L.A it supports and celebrates masculine identified Lesbians. Unity Fellowship Church Movement is an open and affirming denomination and as such we believe in the sacredness of all life and we celebrate all of the ways God blesses us to express who we are. I am proud to call you my sister. Keep on living your truth.

  42. george says:

    Wow. I feel all the same things. I was gay bashed in broad daylight while people stood by and watched. I relate to all that you say.

  43. Lm Baker says:

    Unless you've transitioned via testosterone poisoning, you aren't masculine. Carry the female body differently doesn't change the fact that's its female, ie feminine.

  44. You are SO WELCOME to experience the inclusion of Nichiren Buddhism! ALL people are welcome! LGBT does NOT matter where you are with your sexuality. go to sgi-usa.org and begin your family.

  45. Charlie LaRubia Brown says:

    I don't think it's exclusion. Part of what makes a sisterhood are like qualities. If you're a tomboy why would I invite you to go make-up shopping ? You can't pick and choose when you want to play the "but I'm a girl" card. I completely respect anyone's choice to live the way they want to but just as there cons to subscribing to feminine norms there are for choosing to be more of a tomboy. I will say that in a group of women you should never intentionally be excluded.

  46. heja says:

    Thank you for this article! I think, it really empowers a lot of women who are in the same or related situations- it has for me. And also let all those who (unconciously) blame tomboyish-dressing (or other kinds of not-fitting-in) people think about it and maybe change their minds. Keep writing!

  47. Akudo says:

    I have read this post for more than 3 times and finally i have decided to stop reading it. It makes me sad cos i thought i was so alone in this. I am a woman, i feel deeply like a woman, i love to wear my make up sometimes(dont know why) but i also shop in men’s sections, wear a short hair and love my partner (woman). I used to be able to hide in my heels and skirts although i used to feel so horrible and tired. Immediately i started wearing freer jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, and ties i lost it all. My straight girlfriends started avoiding me cos they dont want their Boyfriends to see them with me, they only hang out with me at night when they want to show me off to their other straight friends, who will have plenty annoying questions, my male friends are lesser comfortable leaving me with their girls/wives or even inviting me to their homes. They always look for a way to over power me, to show me they are the men, seize my arms or lock my hands daring me to set myself free even when i urge them to stop.

    As a feminist, i cant talk abt gender equality for 3 mins without someone asking me if i am a man hater cos the way i look not the things i said. Maybe they would have listened better if i was wearing a skirt and pump shoes.

    In the LGBTI community, i still am the odd one. I am not a femme and definitely dont feel like a man or my girlfriends husband or replacement for a man. I cant hang with my hommies cause i am odd and i cant hang with the femmes either. It is sad when i have to explain to everyone that I am a woman, I still am a woman.

  48. ButchU says:

    Cool to read a good writer espouse this subject…

  49. Candacey Doris says:

    I’m not a tomboy but i used to have a tomboy friend. Until she met other tomboys and ditched me. I as more than fine with her being a tomboy, i have only a few close friends and cherish them. But having tomboy friends was very important to her. After she left i checked my behavior to see if there was something i did, like the things your friends did to you, to see if i made her uncomfortable or inconvenienced her in some way. Finally i asked her and she said she just felt better with other girls like her. That really hurt. I like reading about the issues you face because i think it will help me in the future though. Write on.

  50. Kitty says:

    How have I never come across your writings before? Always wonderful to find other alternative (for lack of a better word) West Africans. :) Time to dig through your archives!

  51. Sofia Sutin says:

    I feel bad for the tomboy..if she really wants to be a part of sisterhood "gangs"..I myself I think I am pretty feminine, on the outside atleast, but I volunteerily exclude myself from those groups. I'm not a typical woman, even when I had my hetero phase, I didn't want/like chiidren, I wasn't a mother to my boyfriends, etc. I never connected with "normal" women. If I had to label myself, I would say I'm a girl.. girls have more liberties than women.

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