‘Since I was 4, I’ve known I was different. I used to wrap a towel around myself, pretending it was a dress. At school, I wanted to play with the girls. But when society tells you that you have to be a certain way, you do so out of fear. So I told myself it was fine. But it wasn’t. That denial was like a dark cloud, manifesting in depression, addiction, eating disorders and even suicide attempts. But a beam of light came into my life in 2013 when I met Pippa at a gig and, eight months later, we got married. It wasn’t until a customer in our tattoo studio started taking photos of me that something in me shifted. I used to get stared at a lot for being a man with eye make-up and long hair, so I thought this was just another act of ignorance. But it sparked lots of questions: Why do I look, act and feel the way I do? Then it hit me: I’ve never felt 100% male. Finally, I began to face up to everything I had buried. So one night in 2017, I told Pippa that I was transgender. I was petrified, but she told me it was OK, that she loved me for me. It was like a weight was lifted.It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what being a woman means to me, because, well, it means everything. Since coming out as a trans woman, I’m able to live the life I was always supposed to. That dark cloud is much, much smaller. Life is sunnier. Yes, the physical aspects, such as facial feminisation surgery and breast augmentation (which I had in 2019 and 2020 respectively), are liberating, but it goes much deeper than that. Being a trans woman means being able to express who I am without fear – and overcoming that fear I’ve carried for so long. There’s nothing more important than that.’
‘It wasn’t until I saw the positive pregnancy test staring back at me on Christmas Day 2015 that I knew I wanted to be a mother. I’d never ruled it out, but what shocked me was how overjoyed I felt. We weren’t actively trying to conceive but hadn’t been taking many precautions either. Sadly, I miscarried at five weeks and it broke my heart. Realising how much I wanted to be a mother, but having it snatched away, was one of the toughest experiences of my life. Tests went on to show that I have a low ovarian reserve, meaning my chances of conceiving are minimal. I started my first IVF cycle via the NHS four years ago, before a second, third and fourth round at two private clinics – all unsuccessful. IVF is like a rollercoaster of emotion: anger, excitement at potential success, fear of another failure and hatred for my body. Being unable to do what nature intended has made me feel less of a woman. It also doesn’t help that, in a culture that puts parenthood on a pedestal, living a child-free existence – through choice or not – doesn’t compute for many Indians. This is why I’m hoping to raise awareness of infertility, particularly in the Indian community, on my blog, savlafaire.com, and social media (@savlafaire). The pain of infertility is enormous enough without the added stigma. My husband, Neil, and I have decided to pursue donor egg IVF and remain hopeful. For now, I’m getting through with the help of other women in the TTC (‘trying to conceive’) community on Instagram, therapy, fertility podcasts and books. I’d be lying if I said I’ve accepted the limitations of my body, but I’ve learned I’m not alone. And I’m so grateful to the other women I’ve met who remind me of that.’
‘As a South Asian, queer, Muslim woman living in the UK, sitting on the intersection of multiple identities can be difficult at times, and people often make judgements about who I am based on these different parts of my identity. On a daily basis, I have to overcome sexist, racist and even homophobic micro- aggressions. For example, because I’m from a Muslim background, I must be homophobic, and wearing a hijab must mean I’m not a feminist (yes, people have actually said that!). I’ve even had trolls send me messages threatening violence. It’s hard to ignore them, but I won’t stop speaking up against hate. That’s why it’s so important for me to reach other women through my work as a poet and scriptwriter. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a queer female character; just seeing ourselves reflected in stories can be validating.
Things are changing, and I don’t feel the familial pressure to tick all the traditional boxes of “being female”. In South Asian cultures, marriage and weddings are a big deal, so as a single woman I get a lot of questions from well-meaning aunties. But I know my family just want to see me happy, be that single, married or in a partnership. So yes, it can be tough to be part of marginalised and misunderstood communities. But actually, being a woman, being a person of colour, being queer and coming from a Muslim background just means that I have access to multiple different spaces and have found family and friends in all of them. In a patriarchal society, I feel we so often tell a woman what she can or can’t do and who she should be. But a woman can be whoever she wants to be, and my job as a fellow woman is to support her.’
‘The first thing people ask when I tell them I’m a boxer is, “Aren’t you worried about ruining your face?”. I wonder how many would ask that if I was a guy. I was 17 when I first started representing Team GB as an amateur, which I did for eight years before turning professional in 2016. Despite being crowned the WBC super-lightweight world champion in October 2020, I still struggle to get taken seriously as a woman in a male-dominated sport. There’s a reason the phrase “punch like a girl” exists – people believe it. That’s why it’s so much harder for women in boxing to get sponsorship; everyone wants to invest in men. I’ve been lucky enough to get sponsors, which has been invaluable – when someone believes in you enough to invest, it helps you believe in yourself, too.The assumptions about my femininity also happen outside the ring. Whenever I dress up for a night out, the reaction is always total shock. ‘You look so different!’ It shouldn’t be a big deal; I’m still a woman and what I do for a living doesn’t affect that. If anything, the fact I’m a woman in this job makes me even prouder, because I’ve had to work twice as hard as the men in my field. I make it my mission every day to prove that my gender isn’t an issue; that I deserve to be seen for my talent alone and treated as an equal.Thankfully, women now get far more recognition in boxing than when I started out. It makes all the hard work worth it when other women message me on social media to say that I’ve inspired them to try boxing. Being a part of that change and breaking barriers for others is, by far, my proudest achievement.’
‘I was 36 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I’d found a lump the size of an egg and was in complete shock. I was fit and healthy, and even hoping to enter a body-building contest! I had chemotherapy for six months, and antibody treatment for a year, then a mastectomy with reconstruction. I had to get better for my partner and two children. It was only after I recovered that I’d stare at the space where my nipple used to be, a thick scar in its place. It was a reminder of the part of my womanhood that I’d lost. I just kept telling myself it was worth it to be alive for my kids. But then in 2017 I found another lump in the exact same place, which was removed with an excision biopsy. It was only after I finished treatment, had nipple reconstruction and areola tattooing that I could finally say my body felt like mine again. When I look back now, losing my breast makes me feel more of a woman than ever before, because of everything my body has been through and all the strength it took to get to where I am. I’m now passionate about raising awareness of cancer in the Black community for women and girls. We’re expected to be strong, stoic, to keep calm and carry on. But it can be so lonely – the magazines on the hospital ward full of images of elderly white women; the charity that couldn’t supply a wig to match my Afro hair. And these conversations could save lives – five-year overall survival for Black women is 15% lower than for white women. That’s why, to me, being a woman is about finding that power and strength within you that you didn’t even realise you had. It means being an absolute badass!’
Want to find out more about International Women’s Day? Click here.
In the first of our regular, powerful new interview series, The Menopause Monologues – in conjunction with TENA – we talk to 29-year-old Aoife about dealing with cancer and menopause, and how she copes with her meno symptoms (including incontinence), while doing her utmost to smash the stigma. Read her candid and uplifting story.