I am not a woman, but girlhood lives in me — ribbons of femininity were woven through me as a child and taught me who I am.
For me, girlhood is synonymous with childhood because it is the only chapter of my life in which I was a girl. I was raised with the expectation that I would become a woman, and even though I didn’t, the lessons I learned from girlhood are still embedded into my life.
My girlhood was uninhibited, wild, and free. I hadn’t yet internalized the world’s misogyny, and I wasn’t bound to the expectations of being a “proper” girl — not that I ever tried to be proper. To me, girlhood was raising butterflies, swinging in rhythm with your best friend, and making “potions” out of twigs and leaves.
When I was a girl, with dirty blonde hair and a fear of monkey bars, I was unafraid of acting strange. I made weird jokes and read “Warrior Cats” and pretended my friends and I had fairy wings. We jumped off bark chip piles that seemed as tall as mountains — we could fly. I dyed my hair for the first time at eight years old, and have almost always had color in it since. When I was little, I never cared what clothes or shoes I wore or what section they came from, just that they fit. The things that made me weird brought me joy, regardless of how people looked at me.
I know now, after a lot of trial and error, that I’m nonbinary, an identity under the transgender umbrella — I use they/them and he/him pronouns. For years after coming out, I dressed as masculine as possible to try and correct the gender dysphoria I was experiencing. Every time someone used my birth name or used she/her pronouns to refer to me, it felt like my lungs were collapsing.
I was 12 years old when I cut my hair, bought new clothes, and left my girlhood behind. But she followed me, dancing in my shadow, singing in my laughter. I shunned her at first, desperate to learn who I truly was. I thought that acknowledging my girlhood would make people think I was still a girl, so I needed to separate myself from her in order to get to know myself better.
When I was almost 16, the world shut down for COVID-19 and I spent my time at home, where there was no society to act out gender for. I stopped cutting my hair, and over two years it grew to the longest it had been since I was 12. I liked it. It reminded me not of the discomfort that I had previously associated with my girlhood, but the freedom of expression and delicateness of femininity. French braiding my hair for the first time since middle school was like coming home, back to the kitchen table where my mom taught me how to braid.
Now, at 18, I am confident enough in myself that I can look back at my girlhood and acknowledge what she taught me. The wonder that allowed my imagination to roam free still lingers. My passion for learning has stuck around since the days of teaching myself cursive. I play pretend on the weekends with my friends at our virtual Dungeons & Dragons sessions.
Girlhood is about experiencing the simple joys life has to offer and being your unfiltered self. Although things are more complicated now, stripping life back to the wonder and dreams of my youth remains a staple of my self-discovery and growth.
I am exceedingly privileged in the scope of trans people’s experiences, being that I’m white, have a supportive family, and live in a state where my rights are protected, but I am scared of what’s to come. Conservative politics are gaining traction across the country, and are calling for what one conservative news host called the “preposterous ideology” of “transgenderism” to be “eradicated.”
The girl I used to be never backed down from a challenge, and neither will I. She taught me to fight, to be loud, to be bizarre.
I gained wonder and determination from my girlhood — what did you learn from yours?