Living in a woman’s body: my body belongs to me. I can harness and shape it as I see fit

We get the body we get at birth. But I learned eventually that I didn’t have to accept it, that changes are within our grasp

When I was 16, I asked my best friend, Kerry, why she was so into piercings. Because I was young, naive and suburban, I did slightly subscribe to the “you’d be so pretty if you didn’t have all that metal in your face” attitude – echoing my mother, probably. Kerry explained that she refused to let her body be arbitrary. At the time, I didn’t know fully what “arbitrary” meant, but I did not want to appear dense, so I waited until I got home to look it up.

For the most part, our bodies are arbitrary. We get the body we get at birth: our eye colour, our hair colour, our skin colour. We have no say in those things at the moment we are born but, talking to my friend, I realised that subsequent changes are within our grasp. We can go against the grain. My first act of defiance came in 1999, when I bleached my hair. Rather than platinum blonde, it turned the colour of Berocca piss. I quickly dyed it fire engine red instead; why would I want to look like my peers when I could look like Ginger Spice?

Later, in my 20s, dissatisfied with my body, I went further. I threw myself into health and fitness, and got my first nose job. It made me feel like my body belonged to me – not the other way around. I could harness and shape it as I saw fit.

By the time I confronted my gender identity, I was almost 30. One of the big transphobic “gotchas” is that transgender people are somehow unaware of basic biology: we are thick, confused or deluded, if you believe a certain subsection of Twitter. On the contrary, it was my relationship between self and body that told me that I was a trans woman. I was painfully aware of the body I had, but I learned – eventually – that I didn’t have to accept it.

None of us are beholden to our bodies. That is not to say that our bodies aren’t vital; they are. Being a woman – cisgender or trans – can feel like you are being set up to fail from the start, and our bodies often affect how well we are able to function within society. But I believe in individual bodily autonomy; a refusal to let the system predetermine or limit your choices is one of the ways we attack patriarchal structures.

Although the physical transformations I have made have increased my sense of self-ownership and self-worth, I have remained the same person, on a fundamental human level. With each act of bodily rebellion – some superficial, some life-changing – I have preferred my exterior, but it is not the greatest source of joy in my life. The interior – call it consciousness, soul, self or personality – has remained consistently me, and it’s that part that has experienced love and contentment, heartache and despair. If my body is a vessel, I am its captain.

Juno Dawson is a writer and activist


Juno Dawson

The GuardianTramp

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