Finding Girlhood At 20

My girlhood started when I was 20, as I prepared to move out of my childhood home and into my first apartment. The loc extensions, which I had paid a pretty penny for and had in for a couple of months, grew lackluster. I would walk past a mirror and have to double back because of the beauty of my rope twist, or catch my reflection in a shop window or nearby parked car to admire the cowrie shells that hung from them. 

But after some time, those moments stopped. 

It wasn’t because they were no longer cute or that they were no longer complimented by a stranger on the street, but because they no longer felt like me. As I combed them out, welcomed my natural curls, and donned my first set of braids, I knew—even before coming out as transgender that in the hidden layers of my heart my girlhood had begun.

We often think of girlhood as the moments of childhood discovery. The day a young girl discovers her affinity for pink hair bobbles over white ones, or develops a stylish obsession to put on every bracelet, necklace, and ring she owns at once to display her avant-garde sense of style. But for many trans girls, our girlhood doesn’t happen during our youth, but rather during young adulthood.

Going through girlhood at 20 was awkward. 

I paired unflattering cropped jackets with overly-ripped denim jeans. I wrestled between using Eco Style or göt2b glue to slick back my hair without turning it white with flakes. I struggled with everything from applying winged eyeliner and finding the perfect Fenty foundation shade to understanding a developing body on hormone replacement therapy and learning how to Nair my legs without suffering a chemical burn.

I grew into my girlhood, and my girlhood grew me.

My desire to have the cutest clothes, laid edges, and freshly-done nails were ever present, but I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. I didn’t have a clue as to whether the woman I was was a middle part or a side part type of girl. Did she dress in the baggy bohemian style of SZA or did she prefer the daringly feminine and seductive styles of Normani and Lori Harvey? Did she enjoy coffin-shaped nails, oval, almond, or square? Honestly, what girl truly knows? 

But slowly, through failed experimentation and success, the girl that I was searching for began to take shape.

I realized braids should always be parted in the middle, but styled to the side. I found that I loved an oversized pant, sneakers, and cropped top moment, just as much as I loved a form-fitted dress with a stylish everyday block heel. I learned that, While my nails could be any color, my toes should always remain square-shaped and white. 

I grew into my girlhood, and my girlhood grew me. The shy, underconfident girl dissipated and the newly familiar young woman emerged. She never bowed her head, but rather stood tall with shoulders back and her chin held high. She was playfully witty and delightfully charming. She was assertive, motivated, driven, and limitless; yet,  soft, feminine, gentle, and delicate.

I knew—even before coming out as transgender—that in the hidden layers of my heart my girlhood had begun.

The navigation of trans girlhood, whenever it comes, is about more than just finding the most flattering ways to adorn oneself. It’sa claiming of authenticity and a learning of self. A defining of personhood amidst broader landscapes of toxic masculinity, misogyny, misogynoir, and racism. It is daring to be present in one’s process and still visible, even in the face of the ever-looming gaze of wayward men who don’t see girlhood as a process to protect, but rather as something to consume. 

It is a bravery  boldly rooted in agency and defiantly self-determining, even with a myriad of voices proclaiming that this is what a woman is and should be. It is a rejection of every notion of unworthiness and undeservingness to inhabit space. It is a steady and graceful saunter, wrapped in sanctity and draped in divinity. 

This is what trans girlhood is, and moreover, this is what girlhood is.

Whether we arrive at it at age 2 or 20, or we engage with it in white, light, dark, or brown skin, girlhood is sacred, unbound, and most importantly, ours. It’s ours to explore at our own pace. It’s ours to determine according to our own vision, and it’s ours to embrace, enjoy, nourish and, in turn, be nourished by.♦

Eshe Ukweli (she/her), senior journalism major at Howard University, is an entertainment and culture journalist, content creator, and advocate. With a specific focus on women, Black and LGBTQ+ communities, and the innovations of young creatives, she hopes to shape #theculture through authentic and impactful storytelling. Eshe has been published in GLAAD and The Hilltop and serves as a 2022 Blavity U Student Writer and Ambassador.

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