Identities are a slippery thing. They're artificial, but they're still real. And because they're created by people, usually to serve a specific purpose, they're often filled with gaps in logic and contradictions.
There can't really be universal laws of identity. That's the nature of things. There are too many variables to consider.
Therefore, there can't be a universal standard set for "what defines a woman."
That doesn't mean there haven't been attempts, however. Two pillars that many people depend on are:
The vague idea of "feminine socialization"
There is no single way that anyone designated female at birth is raised. Class, race, ethnicity, nationality, appearance, medical history, family structure, and so many more factors affect how "girls" are raised, and therefore how we interact with the world.
A complete misunderstanding of and disregard for the complexities of biology.
Viewing womanhood as defined by vagina, by bleeding, by the expression of secondary sex characteristics in the way they appear on perisex, cisgender white women. And that being the primary way of "spotting" a "woman."
I'm a lesbian. A brown one. A brown, nonbinary, intersex one who was designated female at birth. And I know that there is so much beauty in women. In all women, including ones like me who are made to feel invisible because we threaten the pillars of power that this strange category called "woman" depends upon.
I am alienated by men who punish me for not being consumable by them. For appearing to be one of them, but the worst possible version: one who embraces femininity.
I am also alienated by women who see me as a threat - not only for my perceived masculinity - because I threaten this maddening category they feel they not only belong to, but own.
Sometimes, to be "woman" is to be mutilated. To be carved up piecemeal and consumed. And it hurts. It always hurts. Often so deep down you forget how to recognize your own pain.
And I've rejected the mandate to mutilate myself. It's a choice that's not really a choice, because I am punished for it every day, and so I understand the outrage of the women who see me and hate that I remind them there might be another way to live.
I often act as a reminder to people that the most fundamental systems they live with are ultimately artificial. I force their own arguments to betray them -
To the white woman who looked at me with scorn for wearing a dress and called me a "crossdresser," I was raised as you were (on the "most basic" level) as a girl, soon to be a young woman.
But you can't know that, can you.
Deemed a girl, raised a girl, found to be “incorrectly female” and expelled into a loose parody of manhood only to turn back and plant myself Between - anatomically female yet visibly and functionally male - where do I go? What do I choose?
It seems that to embrace All that I am, I must identify as nonbinary. And that as a trump card, a shield against bigoted ignorance, I should be granted more legitimatcy than others who identify as I do.
But that's wrong, too.
I do not have a monopoly on the vast and varied nonbinary experience or the many identities it encompasses.
If I do prove our systems of measuring and interpreting gender to be convoluted to the point of meaninglessness, then I should prove no one needs to be defined by them.
Just as I do not need to accept how I was assigned at birth, and obey the many roles of femininity as it is defined by a cissexist, perisex/dyadic, white supremacist, fatphobic, patriarchal society, neither does anyone else.
In a way, I appear as a harbinger of doom. A mutable creature with no clear fit anywhere, standing in defiance of "basic laws," a monster in a feminine and masculine sense.
It is dangerous to threaten systems of power, and it can be suffocating to exist in a world ultimately determined to not allow me a space in it.
I still struggle to pin down what- Who I feel I am, because I've grown up the only one of me I have ever known. It is a profoundly isolating experience, and a painful one, but I also believe it has been enlightening in a way not many people get to experience. I take that quite for granted. I've only ever always been an anomaly, figures I would also see a different world than the people around me.
A world full of holes where universal truths are supposed to be.