Cis Women are often full of encouragement about what trans women don’t need in order to be a woman. It’s all well-meaning, kind, and, on the surface, sounds legitimate and empowering. But, how do you experience womanhood without, well, experience? People – their perceptions, beliefs, coping mechanisms, behavior, personalities – are largely made up of millions of daily experiences; experiences that are rooted in their perceived gender. Cis woman are, in large part, who they are based on a continuous and incredibly complex series of interactions with the world around them – good, neutral, and bad. Those interactions begin with the perceived notion that they are a “woman,” based on their physical features and mannerisms; mannerisms and character traits that were largely learned.

Did a woman decide to do the things she does? To cock her head that way, or place her hand just-so on her hip, to inflect her voice in that subtle way, or did she begin learning that from the first moment light hit her pupils? We all know the answer to this. Certainly there is some level of nature, but a tsunami of nurture. I suspect it’s beyond comprehension – how we become who and what we are. We know that if feminine behavior was modeled differently, by and large, women would behave differently. Simply look to other cultures and see how easily that’s proven. Yet, so many cheer from the sidelines with the conviction of infallible answers; seemingly as though they are above the subtle, cunning manipulations of the world around them. In fact, they are not. No one wakes up at point “z.” They had to walk to get there. Their programming has been so slow for so long – a glacier of psychic imprints rolling over them their whole life – they can’t even perceive it. Certainly, our essence, that beautiful lamp that lights us from the core, is less malleable. It is the beacon that tells us so clearly who we are. How that lights shines, though, its intensity and direction, its temperature, are all influenced by the world around us. We are, after all, social creatures. Our existence is one life-long attempt to fully communicate with others our essence; an essence that is forever shapeshifting.

So, when I hear, you don’t need men’s validation or desire to be a woman. You don’t need the acceptance of others. You don’t need pronoun validation. You don’t need sex. You don’t need makeup or hairstyles. You don’t need hips to be a woman, or tits to be a woman. I hear the sentiment behind it, and agree with the premise. I hear the spirit of this encouragement and advice. However, the truth is I do need social experience to explore, understand, shape, and grow into my womanhood. It’s easier to speak from a place of having. When you’ve had those experiences, learned your own lessons, perhaps it’s harder to see their significance. We learn through interaction. We learn what we like and don’t like. We learn what makes us feel confident and what makes us feel small; what we’re attracted to and what we’re not attracted to; how to have good sex, from having bad sex. We learn how to stand after falling. We grow. We evolve. We become. An important figure in my life once said to me, “Allowing people to make their own mistakes is a gift. Don’t take that from them.” I’ve arrived at a more personal understanding of that truth.

Today, I long for things that perhaps I shouldn’t – achingly so at times. They feel necessary; they feel shallow; they feel atomic. I need a lived female identifying experience to unlock the parts of myself that only experience can unlock. So, cis female allies – the wonderful humans that often make trans life bearable – encourage us, love us, and hug us. Feed us your experience and understanding, but don’t diminish. Build us up without robbing us of the gift of our own mistakes and understanding. I am trans. I will always be trans. Ultimately, my experience will be the trans woman experience. It is an honor; something so unique that only a small portion of the world will ever truly understand it. I also know I am a woman of trans experience who often wants to be a trans woman of cis experience. I want to know for myself. I want to fit through experience; give me that gift.