OPINION Yaz Duncan on embracing femininity.
As far back as I can remember I generally wasn’t interested in things marketed at girls and wasn’t comfortable with what ‘being a girl’ meant for the way I was expected to behave. Growing up, I liked pirates, Action Man, collecting worms with my friend Barney and being messy, cheeky and loud. For a long time I didn’t think anything about it, but as we grow up we become more self aware and what we do and how we present to the world doesn’t go unnoticed by others.
I started to wonder why I never wanted to be the Disney Princess, why I couldn’t identify with them and why I always thought the male characters looked like they were having a better time. I questioned why they got to be brave and funny and fight and have these beautiful girls fall in love with them. I came to the conclusion for a little while that I wanted to be a boy, not because of any genuine discomfort with the body I had been given, but because everything beaming through the TV and coming out of people’s mouths said that girls like this or are interested in that, and I wasn’t buying it.
“I decided that part of being a lesbian was abandoning anything seen as traditionally feminine because of all that internalised homophobia and misogyny ( all the good stuff).”
Fast forward into my teens and setting aside a lot of very awkward feelings and heartbreaks, the big gay penny dropped. I started to realise that all that awkwardness came, in part, from the fact that I had never seen myself reflected anywhere. I was a girl, who liked girls – but all the girls I knew, or watched on TV liked boys – so a massive vacuum opened up. If I am a girl that likes girls, how am I supposed to be?
At that time the only reference point I had on how to be a lesbian was the L word and Sugar Rush, so I could either be a sex shop owner or desperately try to emulate, successful, rich, skinny, lothario Shane McCutcheon. Maybe not.
I decided that part of being a lesbian was abandoning anything seen as traditionally feminine because of all that internalised homophobia and misogyny ( all the good stuff). I decided that that meant at the very best, dressing in a masculine way and at the very worst, not looking after myself, drinking too much, taking risks and approaching relationships with other women in literally the most shitty, straight, douchey guy manner as if I was some sort of player not actually a teenager with crippling anxiety and a mild painkiller addiction.
My journey to being comfortable embracing my femininity was a long one and started when I met my ex girlfriend in first year of University. She had long hair, got her nails done and wore skirts and dresses and for a little while I bowed to the false butch/femme dichotomy that dictated that because one of us was feminine the other had to be butch.
But as the years went on and her love allowed me to look after and accept myself more, I watched her taking pride in her appearance, joy in her own femininity which came easily to her and placing value on her friendships with other women. Gradually, I began to embrace doing things for myself, getting my eyebrows waxed and my hair cut and experimenting with more feminine clothes. Of course, embracing femininity goes beyond the physical and for me, placing greater importance on my female friendships has lifted me both in terms of enjoying their unwavering support but also in being able to give them my love which is a gift seldom celebrated enough.
As my acceptance of myself has grown, my life has become female focused and I now no longer see a contradiction between being feminine and my sexuality. I’m free to experiment with how I look and actually, challenge the perception of what gay women ‘should’ look like.
So often as queer people we are taught that how we are is not how we are meant to be and that, liking girls and being a girl is a contradiction in terms – so we try to find another way. We are all somewhere on the big, rainbow gender and sexuality spectrum and however you want to be and whoever you want to love should never stack up in your mind as a contradiction.
“She had long hair, got her nails done and wore skirts and dresses and for a little while I bowed to the false butch/femme dichotomy that dictated that because one of us was feminine the other had to be butch.”
My journey to embracing my femininity in part was made more bumpy by the narrow representations of women that I saw growing up, all straight, all pretty and all well behaved – but this is changing and it’s long overdue. Now I know that there’s more than one way to be a woman and there’s no shame in being a lesbian and having fleeky brows and a popping red lip.
Main photo: “Placing greater importance on my female friendships has lifted me both in terms of enjoying their unwavering support but also in being able to give them my love which is a gift seldom celebrated enough.”