By Hannah Brielle Conroy
In an age where divisiveness is a war tactic and oppression is a shrapnel bomb, it is now more imperative than ever to embrace the parts of our whole that make us, unapologetically, us. And in respect to the spectrum of queerness, what fuels our pursuit to reclaim our very existence?
For my first twenty-two years of life, I lived and breathed conventional womanhood. When I got my first boyfriend, I felt overcome with this indescribable euphoria of acceptance, thinking that I had finally made it. I now realise I only believe I “made it” because I operated according to other people’s terms, and thereby denied the possibility of creating my own.
So when I embarked on the next six years of dating in pursuit of achieving every heteronormative role, idea, and “non-negotiable”... I numbed the gnawing ache within. The painful, pulsating urge to explore a deeper connection with other people who weren’t cis straight men. And subsequently ceased exploring who I really was at my core.
My heteronormative dating expectations were, quite frankly, unrealistic (as I believe almost all of them are). I projected standards onto my partners that I deemed equivalent to true love, which was just brute oppressive power dynamics in disguise. If my boyfriend or partner at the time "pledged" monogamy, I swore self-limitation. When they criticised me, I clung to perfection. And whilst they objectified me, infantilized me, and enforced the savage dichotomy of purity and pollution, I got to my knees and thoughtlessly opened my mouth to receive.
Because that’s what I thought was the essence of my femininity- displacing my sense of self to make room for others. Overly considerate, selfless... an object. And I took it all like a fucking champ- but not without facing harmful repercussions to my body, mind and soul.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and brick firm in my self-sworn oath not to be in a committed relationship that I met my current partner. Who might I add, was the blissful epitome of everything I never had in a previous partner. They were expressive, sensitive, genuine and insurmountably compassionate with me when I wasn’t myself. Oh, and not a cis guy (a fucking miracle!). How could I, a proud self-punishing woman, be loved by a human so attuned to their humanity? More miraculously, show me what life could look like outside my self-asserted walls of internalised misogyny?
For the first year we actively dated, I was unable to nurture the reality that my place in our relationship was just as valid as theirs. Soon after we moved across an entire country together to live in queer harmony, I suffered all the losses I reaped when I was dating cis men. And when they reared their vengeful heads, my partner showed me how to look them in the fucking eye and see them for what they were: defeatable, fear-mongering demons.
The idea of deciding for us both used to overwhelm me, or I would act based on what I thought they wanted. I received communication as more of a bereavement of my lacking behaviour than a productive means of our progress. For the first time in my life, I came to terms with the idea that I was the problem in my relationship. Not because I was outrightly harmful or hateful to my partner, but to myself. And as a result, unable to participate in a symbiotic cycle of love and authenticity. But when my fear of self-actualization finally subdued itself, I rediscovered the beauty in my “feminine” qualities that I blindly sacrificed to the ugliness of heteronormativity.
Admittedly, I am still far from flawless, but I am worlds away from where I was.
I no longer rely on gendered roles to constitute my loving contributions to our relationship and instead welcome our individual strengths as a beautiful means of our growth. We foster open communication above all else and hold space for the vulnerability we innately possess as intuitive human beings. There's no inadequacy in us or our bond, just opportunities to learn something new. And rather than weaponize my insecurities, I utilize them as a tool to rebuild the trust and respect I lost in the cis-het relationships I once allowed to consume me alongside my sense of identity.
Because reconnecting to my femininity has never been about being “more of a woman”, or “less of a needy bitch”. It’s about self-agency, the unbridled power of knowing my values and honouring them rather than resorting to reckless abandonment. I don’t have to “know” my place because where I belong is always within me, in my fucking truth. This is the first time in my infantile twenty-four years of existence I can look in the mirror and call the woman staring back at me someone I am proud to stand by. And more importantly, someone I forgive for putting me through the pain that I’ve resiliently endured.
My deconstruction of femininity has illuminated my grace in grief, power in rage, and comfort in solitude. It is not my passiveness nor my people pleasing that indicates my femininity, but rather my tenacity to be seen and heard. And those are not virtues explicitly reserved for, consciously and unconsciously, sad misogynistic excuses for men and life partners.
There is an indescribable peace in the discomfort of deconstructing misogyny, sexism and heteronormativity. For so long I struggled to keep my head above water, choking down the clobbering waves of violent dehumanisation. Yet here I am, arms wide open and eyes peacefully shut, floating with the tides carrying me out to the open seas of unbridled potential.
Because authentic empowerment does not know nor care about gender, sexuality, race or physical abilities. It is enlivened by intimacy, accountability, and empathy. And when we can all learn to explore what that looks like outside of the gender binary, we will discover an oasis that knows no hate or criticism. Instead, we will discover what it means to be an ever-evolving human worthy of compassion.