Becoming a Woman (at 35)

This post was originally published on Elephant Journal. 

I recently finished reading The Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton.

In the book, Glennon talks about sexiness. She starts by talking about the conventional sexy that most of us can agree on (with some standard deviations). She goes on to celebrate the other kind of sexy, her own sexy, the one born from the inside.

Since reading her account, I’ve been exploring my own sexy. I feel it wearing my PJs, and when wearing my fingerless gloves. I feel it in yoga clothes. I feel it when I curl up on the edge of the couch or lie down on my living room rug. I feel it when I run after a frisbee or ride on a snowboard. I usually feel sexy when I dance, but not usually at weddings. I feel sexy with my guitar and often wearing my glasses. I feel sexy when I’m organizing bookcases or eating beautiful food.

Certain things I think should make me feel sexy usually don’t. Dresses don’t, fancy underwear doesn’t, neither do nice shoes. Jewelry rarely does either. Sex only does sometimes, though honest conversations reliably light me up. Having a door held for me makes me feel sexy, or my bags carried, but having my meal paid for can still make me feel weird.

When I was 13, which for me was pre-sexy, I knew how to express myself. I frequently wore a silver polyester workman’s shirt with a man’s name stitched over the pocket in red—Charlie or Mac or Lester. I also wore a yellow-and-white waitress uniform I bought at Goodwill. Sometimes I wore scrubs covered in butterflies, Doc Martins with orange flames, and red-and-white striped toe socks. At that age, I wore my opinions on my polyester sleeves; I was self-expressed, creative, inventive, and free.

As I became a woman though, I got confused. I think part of the reason for this is that women are sexy, and when that started to show up in me, I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t feel safe to explore it, because the margin for error in middle school seemed incredibly small.

I still remember comments a few innocent boys made which painfully shaped my view of myself and what I thought was allowed. I didn’t feel safe to express my sexiness because I didn’t want to be “one of those girls who tries too hard.” And no one seemed to be talking about any of it in a healthy way. My girlfriends and I didn’t. My mom and I didn’t. The whole concept of sex and sexiness and being a woman seemed to be reduced to a couple of biological inconveniences like periods and bra-shopping.

Also, women seemed to get a bad rap. This was the era of TV shows like “Married with Children,” “Roseanne,” and “9-5.” I learned that women were nags: emotional and difficult, unpredictable and superficial. Women were bossy, but never bosses. In movies, women were frequently cheated on by their husbands with other women. To my adolescent eyes, women were a distant second-class; why the hell would I want to be one of those?

If my mom tried to talk to me about all this, I certainly wasn’t available to hear it. I was a daddy’s girl, and one of the boys. I’m sure I was never open about how confused I was, because I never understood it myself. Being this second-class citizen was too true to even ask about. This was the same time my eating disorder began, and I see now, this is no coincidence. As my body started to take the shape of a woman, I did everything I could to stop it. And this went on, for nearly 20 years.

Earlier this year, I spent two months surrounded by women. We sang together, danced together, ate together. We cried and screamed and stomped together. We held each other and listened deeply to each other. We shared our pain, our longings, our joy, and our creative expression. We honored the moon and her cycles and our cycles too. We danced around the fire. We’ve planted seeds of intention and watched them flourish. We expressed our femininity in all its forms, and one thing I’ve come to realize is that it is impossible to separate a woman from her sexiness. Because when she is allowed to be, with all her light and all her power, all her feeling and all her knowing, she cannot not be sexy.

So this is what it means to be a woman? Is this the class they forgot to teach in middle school? Just typing this makes me want to scream. When I was 20 and in college, I refused to join Women in Computer Science because why would I draw any more attention to my own inferiority? Just typing that makes me want to cry.

The way we are handling womanhood in most of this world is like a massive spiritual, emotional, and in some cases, physical, castration. Actually, it’s genocide, and I’m not choosing that word lightly. I mean it. Because that is how it has lived in me. I have tried to repress, bury, and destroy the feminine aspects of myself: the fluidity, the turbulence, the pleasure, the anguish, the dynamism, the emotionality, the nonsensical intuition, the beauty, and of course, the sexiness—all the while cultivating more masculine qualities so I could try and succeed based on what I thought I saw around me.

I’m sharing my part of this to emphasize that I don’t see anyone to blame; I think we are all colluding to some degree. I used to think a “feminist” was a woman who was held back by inequality and wanted to catch up. But today, on this day, when I am coming out, both as a woman and as a feminist, I realize it means something else.

A feminist is someone who adores the feminine, who sees her as beautiful and honest, powerful and strong, who witnesses her magic and her music, her creativity and care. A feminist worships her knowingness and not-knowingness, her strength of conviction, and her leadership in its own inclusive, exploratory way. A feminist honors the feminine desire for presence and integrity, vitality, and peace. And yes, a feminist celebrates her deeply powerful, essential sexiness. The energy that literally creates us all.

For me, sharing all of this a beginning. I don’t really know yet who I am as a feminist, or as a woman. I don’t know what it is like to claim it proudly and passionately. But I do know I feel deeply grateful and excited to get to find out.

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