“I’m Getting Married!”

Three words that should elicit cries of joy from your loved ones, but for masculine-presenting women like Sistem Contributor Shona, the words "I'm getting married" from a family member can evoke a different kind of reaction. In the first of our PRIDE commissions, Shona speaks about the pressures of a Zimbabwean family wedding, when you don't conform to the expected gender "norms"

I’m getting married!

When announced by a loved one, you’d expect these words to fill you with feelings of joy, excitement and happiness.  When followed with “the wedding will be in Zimbabwe,” however, in my case it brought feelings of stress and anxiety.  I was over the moon for my auntie, don’t get me wrong.  The wedding had been a long time coming and, knowing her, I knew it would be an amazing day.  But for me (a masculine presenting woman who likes women) one of the main issues it brought for me was “WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR?” 

Although homosexual male relationships in Zimbabwe can leave them with up to a ten year prison sentence, lesbianism is not actually illegal.  Yet the experiences I’ve had with my family, other people in Zimbabwe and the fact that Christianity is their dominant religion, I wasn’t going to take any chances being ‘overtly’ gay over there. 

To me, a masculine presenting woman is someone who’s mind, emotions, personality, dress sense and even hair style is seen to be what society defines as traits usually belonging to men.  So how do I fit into that definition?  I have always played male dominated sports (such as football) and at the time of the wedding I was rocking a short back and sides.  To be honest, the only ‘feminine’ items of clothing I owned were bras. 

I came out as lesbian to my mum when I was sixteen, but as I had always dressed in quite a masculine fashion from the age I was able to dress myself, my immediate family were used to the way I expressed my identity.

 Although no one made any direct comments about my wardrobe choices for the wedding, I felt that I was personally representing my family.  I didn’t want to be the subject of conversation, and I wanted to respect the elders and culture of Zimbabwe. 

The dilemma I faced was to decide how to look ‘less gay’ and I spent a lot of time wondering what I could do so I didn’t stand out to anyone.  I called one of my girliest friends and we headed shopping.  I had no clue where to start, but I knew one thing: it would NOT be the dress section.  The anxiety of even having to try something on was crippling for me.  In the shops, I took off my jumper and tried to stick my chest out to prevent being directed to the men’s department.  Fast forward a few hours and I was stood at the counter paying for a weeks’ worth of clothes, and noticed an overwhelming feeling of anger that I was spending so much money on clothes I would only wear once.  But I love my auntie and I wanted to be there for her or her big day, so I had to suck up my feelings…and my stomach to get into those outfits.

We stayed in our family home in Zimbabwe for the wedding, and during the week leading up to the all-important day, I was relaxed.  I could be myself as well as respecting the culture.  But when it was time to step outside, I was very aware of myself when I was in front of certain people and in certain places in Zimbabwe.  All of the negative emotions that I had done so well in controlling came flooding back; paranoia that people were talking about me, stress that I was upsetting people and just being sad that I could really be myself.

Then came the wedding day.  It was absolutely AMAZING.  My auntie looked beautiful and it was a truly spectacular event. There was over 300 guests, the location of the reception was amazing beautiful garden with an enormous marquee, free bar, food was delicious and the entertainment well my auntie managed to get one of the most if not the most successful artist in Zimbabwe to perform Oliver Mtukudzi. All the feelings of anxiety, stress and anger left my body.  I saw family I hadn’t seen in years and I was involved in one of the most important days of my auntie’s life.  In hindsight, there was nothing to worry about the wedding day, I had a great time.  In case you were wondering, I wore a nice flowery jumpsuit, a blazer, and (of course) flats.

This is just one example of what members of the LGBTQIA+ family have to go through when deciding on holiday destinations.  Research for most people usually includes price, hotels, and distance from the beach, nightlife and what the weather will be like that month.  Then it’s as easy as getting on the plane, sitting back and having a relaxing week or two to disengage from the real world.  For us, we then have to add into our search things such as the laws around being part of the LGBTQIA+ family, and simply just the general safety for those who identify as such.  It’s not ideal and really narrows down the number of countries we can visit and feel safe enough travelling to whilst also being affordable.  According to Stonewall, “in more than 70 countries, it still remains illegal to have sex with a person of the same sex. The death penalty is either ‘allowed’, or evidence of its existence occurs, in 8 countries.”

Despite all of this I am so PROUD to be who I am! It has taken a long time for me to be fully comfortable with my identity and it hasn’t been an easy road. But the love and support of my; family, friends and work colleagues has helped me to live life unapologetically myself

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