“What if Charity is actually a man and hasn’t told Dad?” one of the boys said at the table one evening during dinner. Another chimed in, “Yeah, I think Charity is really a man.”
“I’m not a man,” I protested. “I’m a woman. I dress like a woman. I’m married to your dad.” I sighed, hardly believing I was having this conversation with my stepsons.
“Are you going to chime in here?” I asked Steve. He just smiled.
“I’m not even going to acknowledge those comments with a response,” I said. I feigned offense while chuckling under my breath. I know they were teasing. If there’s one thing I still marvel at after two and a half years of being a stepmom, it’s the vast range of entirely inappropriate comments that preteen and teenage boys can come up with in the name of humor. Calling their stepmom a man disguised as a woman fell firmly into that category.
But their teasing hinted at a question I have been wrestling with for years. I am a woman, but what makes me so? Besides my obvious anatomical features and apart from the “F” on my birth certificate and driver’s license, how else would I defend who I am?
Am I a Woman if I’m Not a Wife or Mother?
For the forty-two years I was single, I struggled even more to answer this question. Some of the obvious ways society might identify me as a woman—being wife or mother—were off the table for me. I didn’t even date much, and by the time I was thirty-seven, cancer had rendered me surgically sterile.1