My Queerness Helped Me Love My Femininity

I don't remember how it felt,
to not know me as I am right now.
Before I ached for pretty clothes
or posed with hands under chins;
before time taught me to live fiercely,
back when fantasies triumphed dreams.
Nobody told her that the girl she'll become
will know how it feels to bloom brightly.
She’s an entire rose garden hit by sunlight
- too large to pick.

EE.

The concept of femininity is something I struggled with from a young age. For most of primary school I was a happy child, not worrying about how I looked. I had messy hair and a loud laugh; I was reserved around adults I didn't know but could be obnoxiously confident in a classroom where I felt myself. I wasn't a fan of the feminine stereotypes I knew of and I had no desire to ever do anything for a boy. I never quite managed to erase the mental image that showed me a group of fellow 10/11 year old girls sitting on the backs of the boys in the playground, giving them massages because they 'deserved' it, as the boys laughed together in their superiority. When I passed this scene, I felt extremely uncomfortable - for a second I worried that it was envy but it was most definitely just repulsion. I wondered how on earth that had come about and couldn't even imagine wanting to take part in it. To my little brain, it was gross.

Despite the fact that I didn't see myself in portrayals of ideal women in the media, I always felt feminine. At a time when I genuinely didn't know it was possible for a femme girl to date another, I ruled out my attraction to feminine women as not meaning anything because I couldn't imagine being a butch lesbian. I was a girl who was feminine and I wanted to feel feminine when in a relationship, and the only way I knew how to achieve that was soaked in heteronormativity.

Photographed by: Amelia Xanthe

I was one of the oldest in my class and was tall for my age (until I stopped growing at 5'3). Occasionally I wondered how it would feel to be small and soft and pretty and not take up as much space as I seemed to. It's not that I wished to be this way - I was someone who really tried to save myself from self-hatred and wouldn't have dared to wish any part of myself away. However, I imagined that the rest of the world were bigger, and that I fit in more snugly - not so visibly out of place.

By the time I was 11 I'd gone off wearing dresses, even in July as everyone brought out their summer clothes one final time before secondary school started. Looking back, I realise that I deliberately avoided anything associated with femininity because I began to believe that I just didn't suit it. As more and more Year 6 students coupled up and fretted over who would take who to the end of year ball, the reality that I wasn't conventionally attractive hit me harder. Boys didn't look at me the way they did at my pretty, blonde friends and I didn't even want to try and convince them that they should. It wasn't exactly like I was swooning over them either.

My struggles surrounding femininity came from me not feeling like I was the kind of girl society wanted me to be. In my first month of secondary school I found myself being mocked because my hair was messy and I supposedly didn't know how to look after my appearance. I felt humiliated but the last thing I wanted was girls that cruel to think I had any desire to be like them, so I didn't change. I wore the same baggy clothes every month and accepted that I didn't fit in. I was still me, but I held an unjust belief that to be feminine I had to be prettier, and that by not knowing how to apply make-up and not being a '10' in the eyes of my gross classmates, I had to separate myself from pretty dresses and the colour pink. I was scared that I didn't belong in a world that was feminine. Instead, a harmful 'I'm not like the other girls' mindset tried to help me feel more attractive in my loneliness, however I think it damaged me further.



Gradually, I built my confidence up. Making friends who liked me for me made me happier again and in feeling more free to be myself, I let go of a lot of negative thoughts that were holding me down. Over the space of a couple of years there were a few outfits that genuinely made me feel good. It always felt a bit weird, to have people tell me I looked pretty because I was so convinced that I wasn't, but I enjoyed it all the same. And with growing self-esteem came another slow realisation as I thought about all the women I didn't envy and yet were so in awe of... I was attracted to them. I was bisexual.

Being opened up to the queer community was revolutionary. Coming out was an incredible catharsis in which years of feelings finally made sense. In addition to all my romantic feelings for women being validated, I was gifted with the community's determinedness to break away from heteronormativity. In this beautiful queer world that welcomed me, there wasn't an ideal way for a woman to exist. Instead, people pushed boundaries and aimed to diminish gender roles - it was the greatest, most relieving thing I could have witnessed. My queerness led me to the feminist discussions I hadn't been having, where I finally understood what now seemed so simple. I could be feminine without implying that I desired a male or butch counterpart; I could be feminine and still have body hair; I could be feminine and still 'wear the pants' in a relationship; I could be feminine in a way that defied traditional expectations of women. I realised that a feminine world was accessible to me and that I didn't have to meet somebody else's standards to be in it. With that, I claimed the label 'femme' for myself, a term that made me feel empowered. The femme identity fit my soul like a glove; I had a much better understanding of who I was and I felt so valid in my queerness and love for pretty dresses.

Through finally feeling free to express myself in whatever way I wished to and knowing that I'd still be accepted, I fell in love with the femininity I was suppressing. Pink roses could be my favourite flower; I could swoon when someone called me a princess; I could have long hair, wear flowing skirts and still be a hairy feminist, attracted to women no matter where they lay on the butch-femme scale. The beauty and diversity of the femme community captured my heart entirely.

It's sad to look back on younger me's false individuality, the 'not like the other girls' mentality that I never truly believed. Now, I want nothing more than to be like other girls and femmes. I thrive in both looking up to them and being one of them. It's wonderful to feel so happy to be me in all my queer femme glory, and I'm so grateful that I do.


Until the next post,

Em x


Photographed by: Rebecca Shoptaw

2 comments

  1. That bit about how you can not be conventionally pretty and still be feminine? OMG YES. I definitely relate to that, and once that idea was on my radar, I also found it super liberating! Thank you for sharing your story.

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  2. This is so great. I also went through a very internalised-misogyny 'I'm not a girly girl, I'm not like other girls phase'. Now I'm just happy being whatever the hell kind of woman I want to be ;)

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