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  • Leeds LGBT+ Literature Festival

Why letting go of my femininity has made me feel like more of a woman

My gender identity is who I am, and by leaning into my more masculine side, I have been able to discover another dimension of wonder within myself.

Content Warnings: Body image.

By Heather Slevin

As a cis woman, I have never really questioned my gender identity. Coming to terms with being queer; that I might be attracted to any person, regardless of gender, and the simple fact that I am not attracted to cis men only, was always the harder thing to come to terms with.

Growing up heavily influenced by religion, Christianity specifically, I had always felt great shame when it came to my interest in other genders. But, my gender? My gender was something I found great solace in, something that soon became a crutch. Sure, I was gay, and sure, I liked girls, but hey, I wore floral skirts and pastel clothes. I braided my hair and sat with my legs crossed. For five years, I modelled myself into the picture of a young-woman-to-become-house-wife in a previous relationship, learning how to navigate the world of the upper middle class while wearing moderate maxi dresses and delicate make-up, designed to highlight the face and bring out the eyes.

All of this was totally and completely dismantled when I met my current partner. They are non-binary, and have taught me a huge amount about gender identity and self-expression. They have helped me to reject the things that, before, would have made me feel ‘womanly’.

Yet, I have never felt more like a woman.

We have had endless conversations about gender identity. What it means for them to feel feminine or masculine, what it means to identify as genderless, and what it means to actively reject society’s expectations of them. Their perspectives and outlooks on gender and self-expression have opened my eyes to things I hadn’t even comprehended before we dated.

I swapped out long maxi dresses and tops that highlighted my breasts for high necked tank tops and track suits. Though, in some ways, I was swapping stereotypical feminine clothing for equally stereotypical masculine clothing, there was a kind of power within it. Before, I used to dress myself entirely in ‘girly’ clothing - I needed so many different accessories to feel remotely comfortable; earrings and rings and bracelets, a scrunchie delicately laid on my wrist, my hair tied half up, half down. Now, shirts are a part of my wardrobe, when before I would have actively shunned them.

These are small steps; but these steps have made me feel so much more comfortable in my own identity as a woman. In many ways, it has taken shirking off my previous comforts and allowing myself to remain in that grey zone between familiarity and discomfort to really understand my gender and, myself.

As a cisgender person, I have so much to learn from transgender people. I have never been the

type to tell someone what to do or how to dress, and, typically, I am non judgemental (though everyone has their own biases from the heteronormative way we tend to be raised). In society, and even amongst the LGBTQIA+ community, it can be easy to draw harsh lines between different sexualities and gender identities. To split apart from one another, even in a place where we have fought so hard not to be put into boxes.

Of course, it is important to maintain and understand our own identities and sexualities; but, if we open conversation, we can learn so much from each other. Lean on each other. If it weren’t for my non-binary partner, it would have taken me perhaps an entire lifetime to challenge these structures. To give up tight everyday clothing and allow myself comfort. To reject body standards and feel stable in my natural body; with every scar, mark, hair, and roll of fat.

None of these things makes me less womanly; and in being more masculine, feeling more masculine, I feel more like a woman. I feel more assured in myself as a woman.

Am I saying I am not still quite, if not very, feminine at heart? No. I don’t think I could ever, to be honest. Though I have come to terms with the fact that my hyperfemininity was, for years, a way to make myself feel comfortable despite internalised homophobia and body image issues, I still love dressing femininely. I enjoy dresses and skirts and cute tops. But, these things aren’t even explicitly feminine anymore, and my gender identity means much more than clothes, make-up, accessories.

My gender identity is who I am, and by leaning into my more masculine side, I have been able to discover another dimension of wonder within myself. A desire to present more typically butch, a love for shirts, and typically male clothing items. Posing masculinely; sitting with my legs spread. Letting myself take up space.

I have never presented more masculine, and yet, I have never felt more like a woman.

Heather Slevin is a 3rd Year student of English with Creative Writing at University College Dublin. A writer at the DutchReview, her love for writing has brought her far from Dublin, Ireland, all the way to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Heather loves everything writing and poetry, and can usually be found sweating over unnecessarily complicated formatting. She has previously appeared in The Cormorant and GluePot. Formerly Editor of Literature and Drama for the University Observer and having completed a Publishing Mentorship with the Society of Young Publishers, it’s safe to say she always has a project or two in the works.

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