LGBT+ History Month 'Body, Mind, Spirit' – Body
January 28, 2021
As part of this year's LGBT+ History month, over the next couple of weeks, our network will be sharing their thoughts on what ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’ means to them.
When I hear the word 'body', what I actually hear is the term 'Body image'—my own body image.
Immediately, I'm flooded with new and retired thoughts and opinions of my own body. Sadly, I can't entirely say they've all been kind ones either. Often the opposite and widely specific, as if I'd a devil on my shoulder calling out flaws to be conscious of or that others may notice, especially when I first began navigating my way through the LGBT+ community.
There wasn't (and still isn't) a Hollywood smile. I've no six-pack. I'm not toned nor muscly, after much deliberation and many a weak attempt at getting fitter (my unused gym memberships can vouch for this!). Would I be seen as too fat? Too effeminate? I never used to see a healthy variety of bodies on posters anywhere as I got older, although pleasingly the world is much more diverse in comparison; I never saw any promotion of LGBT+ anywhere growing up. Then to finally be somewhere free of judgement to be denied at the door of gay clubs because I wasn't gay/chubby/hairy enough to get in. Oddly, I'd never celebrated my body before that way I was learning the LGBT+ community did. Amid the initial bad luck and what felt like endless rejection that night, I experienced a genuine sense of hope for myself for the first time. I could belong here.
Addressing my image of myself has been a conflict spanning almost 20 years. That isn't something exclusive me, to our community, to anybody really. Yet there are elements of it that seem more difficult to get through and so many we must justify. The pressure to learn and conform to beauty standards, to gender fashion standards, to know what to wear and when, being mindful of how I gesture and how to hold my posture to avoid confrontation and pass as 'straight', knowing where and when to look, who to avoid or ignore when confronted about any of it… It's a tiresome mix of bad habits and stigma all related to the lack of freedom I had over my own body. All I wanted to do was to learn about myself, love myself and express myself organically and authentically. I turned off the Sat Nav, turned down the radio and found my own way. I'm not at my original destination but finding my own route and learning to think and conform less and appreciate myself more brought me to the conclusion that one's imperfections are another's idea of perfection. That we do not need Legislation to inform us that we are already beautiful. I look at where we're going, where I'm going, and hope there comes a day when we celebrate one another so hard that we write a new history where labels don't exist. Not because they aren't important, but because we are more important than they are.
When I came out and joined the LGBT+ community I felt lost. Lost because it didn't seem simple enough to be gay, it felt like I had to align myself to a particular label - butch, femme, lipstick lesbian, power lesbian, the list goes on. In reality all I really wanted was just to be myself, but my true authentic gay self.
I found that trying to go out in canal street - a place that's supposed to be a welcoming and accepting place for the LGBT+ community, just became a cause of stress and identity crisis. I would be refused entry from clubs for not looking gay, or hit on by men in gay clubs only to be told I didn't look like a lesbian so how could they know?
I tried embracing the labels, I tried to make myself look the part, wearing checked shirts, toning down make-up and trying to look less feminine. But I hated it. It wasn't me. So I tried the other route, I tried to align myself to a more femme persona, wearing dresses, heeled boots, more make up. But that wasn't me either.
In the end I went back to my normal look and gave up caring about whether I was perceived as 'gay enough'. I spent a while thinking that to be a lesbian I had to fit into these labels and look a certain way, and despite a few ruined nights out, I'm back to looking like my authentic gay self.
I've always found clothing in the "mens" section to be more my style and always felt more comfortable in shirts than dresses. Growing up this caused confusion in my family, with my mum wanting me to wear a dress instead of a suit to the prom. I also found it hard to connect with some of the girls in my friendship group when they talked about the latest fashion, I just couldn't relate at all. Now that I’m much more comfortable in my own skin I know that there's nothing wrong wearing what you're comfortable with, and I think that there should be less of a focus on placing a gender on clothes - it just serves to alienate people that want to wear the "other gender".
We appreciate we've only scratched the surface by discussing a couple of our views. 'Body' has so many connotations and, for many of us, holds too much importance to ignore. For as long as we can remember, legislation has always had many forms of control over what we can and can't do with our bodies within the LGBT+ community – from transitioning, healthcare and being able to donate blood—not forgetting discrimination towards LGBT+ people of colour. All things still very much being spoken about, right now, in 2021.
Looking back at our history, there are many significant pioneers we should remember have paved the way to equality, despite the many laws and challenges of their times. There was Lili Elbe – the first person to undergo gender reassignment surgery in 1930. Alan Turing – a genius and inspiration to the LGBT+ community and to his country at the time, who was sadly prosecuted under the Homosexual act in 1952 and chemically castrated simply for being gay. And Marsha P. Johnson, a dedicated transgender activist who played such an important role in the LGBTQ+ movement for so many years, including the Stonewall protests.
Today, we're seeing movement. Plenty of well-known labels offering gender neutral clothing, make-up and other products which is a both a huge sign that people are responding to what they're hearing a step in the right direction for their industries. This is happening whilst discrimination continues. Wouldn't it be a wonderful position to be in if we could just be ourselves without the marketing campaigns and without as much red tape? For our bodies are our bodies. We know who we are. We should be the ones to decide.