Opinion

This International Women’s Day I finally feel comfortable embracing my lesbian masculinity

Sophie Perry March 8, 2022
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Side-by-side shot of Sophie Perry, present day, and herself as a child

Sophie Perry. (Supplied)

Lesbian fashion is more than just clothing items – it’s a vibe, an attitude, and full of personality.

It is that lesbian urge to throw on some tartan and open a cat sanctuary with your girlfriend. Choosing to wear a beanie in the summer despite the heat. Dressing in something that would look perfectly acceptable on a 78-year-old man on holiday in Skegness – yet somehow, pulling it off – that’s lesbian fashion.

Queer historian Karen Tongson described lesbian fashion as “a conceptual incompatibility at best, a humorous oxymoron at worst”. Lesbian style has always been fashionably unfashionable: polo shirts, Doc Martins, thumb rings, chains, undercuts and mullets.

Since I came out, I’ve started to feel free enough to enjoy using clothes to signal and express my queerness. My wardrobe is filled with gaudy jumpers, jazzy shirts, sportswear and, yes, dungarees.

After hiding being a lesbian for so long, it feels good to wear things that proudly match how I feel on the inside. I’ve come a long way from internalised lesbophobia and misogyny, yet I still find myself self-censoring. My biggest fear remains – I’ve always thought I must be careful not to come across as ‘too masculine’.

Side-by-side shot of Sophie Perry, present day, and herself as a child
(Supplied)

Before I was old enough to even know what the word ‘lesbian’ meant, I knew I disliked dresses and skirts and much preferred to be in a pair of trainers and jeans. By the time I was a teenager I had been conditioned into thinking that a masculine woman was a lesbian and to look like a lesbian was to be the butt of a joke.

“She dresses like a lesbian” or “a lesbian would wear that,” as well as slurs, were thrown around school more times than I can count. As a young lesbian, desperately fighting against her sexuality, the words stuck to me like a thin veil of shame.

I didn’t want to be the butt of a joke, I just wanted to fit in – I craved validation.

After I came out, and for a long time, I felt I owed it to my womanhood to, well, still ‘look’ like a woman.

By this, I mean to dress in somewhat feminine ways and not to shake the gender binary too much. I would tone down my outfits by balancing out the masculine with the feminine.

I realise now that was both an unconscious act of internalised homophobia and misogyny as a result of what I was conditioned to believe was ‘normal’ at school and in wider society.

Over the last few months, I have been working to unlearn this.

I’m now intentionally committing to wearing clothes I like now, no matter how masculine they make me look. I recently put on a men’s polo shirt and hooded denim jacket – something I certainly would have avoided a year ago – but managed to enjoy looking more like me.

I also now volunteer with Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, to deliver school talks so students can hear and see that it’s OK to be a lesbian and not conform to any gendered expectations.

This International Women’s Day I feel more comfortable in my masculinity than ever and I want to celebrate this.

Today should be for all women who identify, live and express themselves in all sorts of ways. Patriarchy still forces us to believe women should look and act a certain way – we need to tear down idea and, finally, give lesbian fashion the respect it deserves.

More: butch lesbian, international women's day, lesbian

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