An open letter to Emilee Danielson, on her post regarding Caitlyn Jenner and what defines a woman

Subject: An open letter to Emilee Danielson, on her post regarding Caitlyn Jenner and what defines a woman
From: Kristen Peterson
Date: 11 Aug 2015
I've heard you say you "identify as a woman". But I find that highly unlikely and insulting. You see, Mr. Jenner, there is more to being a woman than beautiful gowns and fake boobs. There is more to being a woman than makeup and pretty hair. This is something we mothers begin teaching our young daughters at an early age.  As a woman of nearly 50 years, I can tell you what it is truly like to be a woman. You may be able to understand or even empathize, but you are definitely NOT able to "identify". -ED

Dear Emilee Danielson:

You have made a small splash in the social media world with your opinion on Caitlyn Jenner. Your post on the issue popped up on my Facebook news feed, and I felt the need to introduce myself.

Hi! My name is Kristen Peterson, and 12 years ago at the age of 16 I was diagnosed with a birth defect called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser Syndrome (quite a mouthful, I know, we call it 'MRKH').

I am a biological female, 46xx chromosomes, but born completely missing a uterus, cervix, and both fallopian tubes. I was also born with a severely shortened vaginal canal, making sex impossible without some form of treatment (I chose surgery).

As you can imagine, it was quite a shock to me at such a young age. You see, without a uterus I did not receive my 'golden ticket' into womanhood: I never started my period. And while women tend to drop their jaws in jealousy whenever I make this statement, they forget the biological reason for both a uterus and in a way, a period: pregnancy.

Without a uterus my body is completely incapable of carrying a pregnancy. There are no pills, herbal supplements, or 'if you stop trying it will happen' solutions for me.

I will never have a period, and I will never experience pregnancy.

I struggled for many, many years about whether I could call myself a woman after receiving this diagnosis. Your post declares the opinion that I shared for a long time: you can't be a woman without experiencing a monthly period or a pregnancy.

But... being a woman is so much more than those things. The popular world opinion that the worth of a woman is dependent on her ability to reproduce is a paramount reason that made my journey with this condition such a struggle.

My worth as a woman, as a human being, cannot be put into such a small box.

I was offended by your post, because it highlights a key issue in the world of infertility and adds to the shame many of us experience on a daily level.

You say Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman, because (among a few other small things) she does not have a period and cannot get pregnant. With that mindset, are you also saying that I am not a woman? That my inability to carry a pregnancy makes me worthless in my own gender? That because I don't bleed every month, I can't be female? That because I don't have children to take care of, my life as a woman holds less meaning?

I am not transgender, but I know what it feels like (on a smaller level) to wrestle with gender identity. Know that as a woman, in many ways I can relate more to Caitlyn Jenner than I can to you.

As you can imagine, I have met many women in my life. Women who don't have MRKH, and for me to walk up to them and say I identify with them is something I can't quite do. I can empathize with many of the physical things they experience, but I have always had a hard time identifying myself as one of them. I don't know what it's like to experience the things you say all woman experience - I can only imagine.

Your opinion is your own and you have every right to voice it. I only mean to give you some perspective on what it means to 'be a woman'. You speak with nearly 50 years of experience of being a woman, and I speak with 12 years of experience of questioning what exactly a woman is.

You're correct: being a woman is not about injections, plastic surgeries, and designer clothing. It's not about beautiful gowns and fake boobs. It's not about makeup or pretty hair. It's not about anything else you mentioned either.

As a woman, I find it important to be a strong role model to those around me. To speak up when I see something wrong. To show kindness and empathy to those I come in contact with, even if I don't understand them. To find my strength when it fails. And above all, to show love and compassion to everyone, even if I do not agree with them.

That is the woman I want to be.

Because a woman is whatever and whoever she wants to be.

Not whatever society tells her she needs to be... or tells her she can't be.

Perhaps it is you that does not understand what a woman is.

8/13/2015: 4:10 PST: Edit:
Somehow this letter is turning into an argument about Caitlyn Jenner. This is not about Caitlyn Jenner. This is about rethinking the way we describe women, how we think about them, and how we speak about them.
Imagine, a 16 year old newly diagnosed with a condition like mine or something similar reading a post like Emilee's, which loudly declares that a woman 'must' be this and that, knowing she does not fall under that spectrum. Or a woman in her early 20's still trying to understand who she is. Or a woman of any age, really. It is difficult for me to live as a woman who does not fit society's 'perfect picture' of what 'women are' because I am constantly bombarded by speech that excludes me and throws my differences in my face.
If you read my letter and wondered, "How could she not see herself as a woman?", go back and read Emilee's post. Because that is what I have been hearing and seeing all around me since before I was diagnosed with MRKH and in the years after! People talking all around me about what a woman is, when there is no part of me that fits the common description I keep hearing.
This isn't about Caitlyn Jenner.
This is about understanding that an entire gender of women will not fit into the neat little box many think it does, and how we need to adjust our speech so it does not base the worth of a woman on her uterus and vagina.

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