When I was younger, I’d sing along to Aretha Franklin every chance I got. I’d close my eyes and feel each note pull from my chest, the vibrations dropping deeper into my stomach in order to place the lower notes within their proper pitch. “You make me feel like a natural woman.” I tried to imagine what those words meant. What is a natural woman? Why did that phrase make my skin feel tissue thin, my blood hot, my breath short? Was I a natural woman? Would I ever be a natural woman?
Anyone who knew me before age 12 can attest to my early disinterest and disregard for gender conformity. I paid no attention to what my hair looked like, how baggy my clothes were, or how I held my body. I ran around with the boys on the soccer field and avoided the playground whenever “house” became the game. I needed to run, fall, bleed, and heal. I needed to push, shove, stumble, and trip. I wanted to wear basketball shorts, no shirt, and a backwards cap. I didn’t feel confused or incorrect about any of these impulses. I was just Hope. I was just me.
Still, some chalked it up to me being a “late-bloomer”. And perhaps, in some ways, they were right. I had no sense of how to navigate the world and it’s established social structures. I didn’t understand that I’d grow up to have breasts protruding from my chest, hips jutting out and crashing clumsily along my path, an ass that’d draw attention from the men passing me by. Even once it began to happen, my understanding of it all felt contingent upon a dazed complicity. I was wrapped in a web that gave me no say, dropped into a river whose rush swept me away. To many, these were the things that made me a woman. Why wasn’t I more of a woman?
To be able to say exactly where the friction lies is still a mystery to me. I don’t know why there are days when I want a five o’clock shadow, square hips, and a dick. I don’t know why there are times when I am comforted by a heavy head resting on my cushioned breast or a kiss on the curve of my cleavage. I don’t know why I hold back my tears and muffle the scream that’s drowning out all the sexist/racist/classist/ableist comments heard throughout the day.
Maybe it’s because, in the end, I do care about how and why other people see each other the way they do. Butch, dyke, lesbian, boy, girl, Mr., Mrs., man. We seek to identify, classify, and assimilate. We seek to naturalize the natural and render the cracks unseen. Invisible borders like each breath between Aretha’s drawn out singing. “You make me feel like a natural…”