I was seventeen when I first understood what it was to be a woman. It wasn’t the moment years before when I began my period. It hadn’t been the instant in which a boy first touched his lips to mine when I was twelve. It wasn’t when I put on my first prom dress, or the first time I wore heels. I knew that women had breasts, and men did not; men were taller, and stronger than women; women were fairer and meeker than men. That was the way things were, and always had been. I was born and raised to accept those facts, and that is exactly what I had done.
I watched the deep, crimson blood drop and fan out in the water beneath me. It was like dropping food dye into oil, or dropping paint onto wet paper. It spread through the basin, dancing slowly over the white porcelain boundaries. My hips and legs and stomach ached for the fourth day in a row despite following the directions of countless concerned friends. “Drink water”, “avoid salt”, “exercise”, they said. I had shaken three cylindrical brown pills out of a stark white bottle two hours earlier, and the ache had subsided but a little. And in that moment, watching the blood fall through the water, I realized that I was a woman. I was born to be slender and graceful. I was expected to instinctively know the recipe for the most delicious soups and cakes. Chairs were to be pulled out for me, doors were to be held open for me, and bed sheets were to be pulled aside for me to climb between. I was meant to be held at night, woken with a kiss in the morning, and have the composure to do everything with dignity.
For my entire life, without even knowing, I had conformed to these ideals. I had dyed my hair shades of red nature had never intended hair to be. I painted my fingernails browns and blues and purples. I wore dresses and skirts, and washed and brushed my hair so that it was always soft and smooth. I wore shoes that made my feet ache, and graciously allowed boys to pay for things and take me places. I had never built anything with my bare hands. I didn’t know how to change the oil in the car that my father had bought me: a car made for a woman with its pedals placed close together for dainty feet to easily reach. Every moment of my life was dedicated to impressing potential mates: men to whom I had never taken interest. I strove for the epitome of womanhood, grace, and beauty.
But I never felt more vibrant and alive as I did when my painted lips first met those of a notorious man: a man dangerous enough to seduce me into letting go: a man who saw me for me. I never felt more loved and appreciated than I did when we sat in the rain on cold blacktop drinking beer from the bottle talking about our theories of life. I never felt safer than I did when his strong, soft arms snaked smoothly around my exposed waist, a hand quietly, subtly finding my breast. I never felt as much a woman as I did when I was doing unwomanly things: driving fast, drinking hard, forgetting to wear a bra. I never felt as feminine as I did when I listened to hard, loud music, letting my knotted hair fall around my shoulders like a hood of rebellion. I was a woman because I did unfeminine things. I was a girl because I wore men’s pants for comfort. I am feminine because I don’t mind being in love. I am secure in my womanhood because I have more male friends than female friends, and that is my identity. I am a woman because I am not the epitome. I do not have cascading curls, a slender waistline, or dainty hands. I am not subtle, or meek, or quiet, or soft. I am not afraid, and I can open doors and pull out my own chairs. I do not know how to accept a compliment. I do not know how to properly apply eyeliner. I can’t match a purse to a dress, or walk in high heels, but I am a woman nonetheless.