It’s undeniable that the last 12 months have been very trying for everyone, but as a queer person it has been an odd experience. Many queer people feel more at home away from their families – even if those families are supportive. If you are the only LGBT+ member of the family then it can still feel very isolating being away from friends. Being with parents or siblings that hold strict ideas of what it means to be a woman or man can be difficult for those questioning their gender identity or for gender-queer people that are not out yet to their family. Being locked down for such long periods of time led me to question my relationship and feelings towards being seen as “feminine.” The long periods of not really seeing anyone or going out paired with not much to keep myself occupied made me consider my gender identity more thoroughly. I believe that everyone regardless of sexuality or identity should take some time to think about what their gender means to them and I know I am not the only person who has had similar feelings.
Around 2014 I first started questioning my gender but after being told that I was just a ‘tomboy’, I repressed these feelings and now see that I was right all along. After questioning for a while, currently I am happily using the pronouns she/her and they/them. As a plus size person, we are made to feel that to be thin is normal and the only acceptable beauty norm, so it is easy to feel excluded from my gender and untangling these emotions alongside questions of gender identity is easier said than done. It has taken me 6 or 7 years and even now I believe gender is fluid so my identity will potentially change again. I know I am fortunate to have a family that are largely accepting of my queerness and I am very privileged to only now be in a position where I cannot come out over fears of my parents’ reactions. Lockdown has brought with it new ideas around gender but has been hard as I can’t be myself whilst living with my parents and have longed to come back to University where I know my friends accept me.
Some things that have helped me over the past months have been podcasts, books, and queer people on Tiktok. Talking to my other LGBT+ friends who have either come out as gender-queer or friends that I know are also questioning helped more than anything. Just knowing that I was not the only one having second thoughts about gender and that some of my friends were having similar inner debates was very reassuring. My friend, the LGBT+ society president, recommended some podcasts. My favourite was a series called NB: My Non-Binary Life from BBC Sounds. They also recommended to me a book by Alok Vaid-Menon called Beyond the Gender Binary. Alok Vaid-Menon writes at one point about shame being used as a weapon against those who do not conform to the gender binary. This made me wish that children were brought up experimenting with different clothes and not confined to such strict gendered ideals. I wish I could have worn a suit to my secondary school prom and that it was not such a shock to be non-conforming.
While giving credit to the things that helped me, honourable mentions should be given to the onslaught of straight, white, able, and thin bodies that the media push upon us, reinforcing gender roles and excluding those who do not fit in – two birds with one stone! It’s easy to feel a sense of “other”, it’s always been there, but quarantine helped me to look deeper into this and separate my body issues from my gender issues.
We are taught to believe that gender non-conforming, non-binary, and intersex people simply do not exist, that there are only two acceptable ways to present. The first recorded use of the singular ‘they’ was in 1375 so it really should not be such a shock to society. Some people are happy within the gender binary and that is perfectly acceptable but gender norms can be very negative, especially where one idealised vision of masculinity is superior and strong and femininity is weak and when coming from a male-presenting person is received as ‘gay,’ like that’s such a bad thing. Even for cisgender men and women, the pressure for women to shave everything from the neck down and for men the pressure to be unemotional – among many other expectations – is harmful.
For the rest of my time in lockdown, I am looking forward to more conversations with my queer friends and finding more gender nonconforming people to follow on social media so my feed is not so binary. It seems increasingly more people are speaking up about issues around the gender binary and I hope we continue to have these discussions.