Quick unpicking my internalised homophobia
[Picture 1 - Roisin wears a self-drafted Grandad Vest, blue shirt and brown cord Terra Trousers]
I can recall the very particular moment when I started to wrestle with how people might ‘read’ me, in a Waterstones in Newcastle, standing close to the table labelled ‘LGBTQ+ literature’ handwritten in chalk pen. But not so close that someone might suspect I was actually queer myself. I remember wondering how it was possible to signpost my bisexuality through my choice of clothes, whether it was evident in my tea dress and Doc Martens combo, or my worn dungarees and bright pink shirt, or whether anyone ever looked at me long enough to warrant me caring about my outwards representation.
I wondered whether I had to combine the feminine and masculine to prove myself as a bisexual, and whether by believing that, I undermined my own argument that there was no such thing as gendered clothing. Never-the-less, sometimes dressing was about trying to be much braver than I was. Sometimes it was about jumping head first into the pool of privilege that allowed me to present as straight and bury everything else. And sometimes, it was about not-so-subtly wanting to signpost that I actually quite fancy that lass at the bar.
[Picture 2 - A screenprinted slogan that reads ‘Queer and really quite angry on burgundy fabric, piles next to it are a yellow sewing tape, orange thread and some bright orange duck cloth]
The year I came out to my best friend at university, I started talking to a girl from Newcastle. She was proud and open about her bisexuality and it felt like both a challenge and something to emulate. When I broke it off, I wrote her a letter to explain, which I was too afraid to send. She absolutely shone and I regret not having the confidence in myself to pursue it in the way I wanted to. But as your first queer situationships always do, it taught me a lot about the work I needed to do on, and for, myself.
My clothes back then would be categorised as ‘under confident’ and comfortable, but nothing worked together in a cohesive way, there was nothing bold. I was trying to cover *something* up. My staples were a pair of navy blue skinny jeans and vest tops. I never felt comfortable going out in dresses, because I felt guilt for trying so hard to be attractive to men. I wanted someone to fall in love with me, I wanted to present a desirable ‘option’. I consistently did myself a disservice by ever thinking presenting an ‘option’ to someone was the way to accept yourself.
[Picture 3 - Roisin in her third year at university, wearing all H&M, stood in the Cambridge Botanical Gardens]
When I began to accept my sexuality, it became ever harder to see myself represented in my wardrobe. Fast fashion pieces felt flat and characterless to me now, and I felt like I needed to start again. As I began my career in conservation around the same time, suddenly there was a whole new realm of things to be concerned about - namely consumption.
I decided to stop buying fast fashion around the time that I met my partner and fell in love. His appreciation and expression of support for whatever I wore, be it androgynous or feminine, homemade or second hand, matched his support for my sexual identity. He never twisted my bisexuality into a crude joke or made me feel embarrassed, and he has always expressed the importance of me having space to sew and create. In being given the space to openly discuss and express my identity, it sprouted into new confidence and self assurance that made me want to be more daring in my creativity.
[Picture 4 - Roisin wears a Zadie Jumpsuit, made from second hand fabric and stands in a wide Scottish Landscape, all the colours of autumn. She wears a bright red wool hat and walking boots.]
In some ways, my sexuality still feels interwoven with my presentation, but it is now an outlet for being bold and a refusal to hide from the vastness of my desire. ‘If men’s patriarchal fantasies dominate the landscape of sexuality, and men’s fantasies become normative and widespread, this results in women internalising men’s fantasies to feel accepted, loved, and perhaps, objectified and sexualised.’ Ellen Willis writes in Powers of Desire: Politics of Sexuality in 1983. When I started to understand that I no longer wanted to dress for men, or for the male gaze, even if inadvertently, I felt more able to embrace something for myself.
[Picture 5 and 6 next to one another. Left is a mood board of inspiration photos and fabric choices for the Birthday Dress. Roisin wears the Birthday Dress in a glasshouse, with a small deerhound on her left and a matching bow in her hair]
The process of designing or making now runs for much longer than it used to. I spend days thinking about the fabrics, the pattern, what that fabric might evoke in myself, what does it go with in my wardrobe, what will I feel like when I wear this? I love this untangling of thoughts, the sketching of shapes. I love seeing other queer makers use clothing as a form of expression or politics, it connects me to a group of people through thread strands and woven words who make things that I adore.
Sewing has given me an outlet to unpick some of my internalised homophobia, to take so much of my societal miseducation about quantifying a bisexual life and what a bisexual looks like and undo it all. I’ve toile’d my identity many times, I took each version apart at the seams to add something new to it, and built upon my blocks. Each new experience, new relationship, or measure of support created a better fitting identity. And whilst that will always shift and change throughout a lifetime, it feels so much more comfortable now than it ever did before.
[Picture 7 - Roisin wears a Birgitta Helmersson Zero Waste Gather Dress made in a blue daisy print viscose from Sister Mintaka, she is laughing and sitting on the top of Arthur’s Seat drinking prosecco in Edinburgh]
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us Roisin! I found it so inspiring and uplifting to read that in getting to know and accept yourself, your sexuality and going on to discover your passion for conservation, you have in turn found a way to express your identity and reflect your values through your handmade style!