An exploration of how isolation impacts gender.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, LGBTQ+ people are generally more prone to mental health issues, and transgender folks specifically are almost four times as likely as their cis counterparts to experience a mental health condition. As early as March, articles were posted on sites like Psychology Today warning against the mentally taxing experience of quarantine. For queer people who are already at a higher risk of experiencing mental health issues, quarantine was especially daunting. Not to mention the added stress of possibly being forced to move back in with an unaccepting family. However, despite how challenging quarantine was for people, specifically queer people, there may have been a silver lining: quarantine offered a unique experience away from the physical world and all of the gendered, cis/heteronormative standards that apply there.
In an attempt to learn more about isolation and its implications for how gender functions in a socially distanced world, we asked 10 people of varying gender and sexual identities to tell us about what they learned about themselves and gender during quarantine.
I am Kendall, and my pronouns are they/them and she/her/hers. I think a lot of growth happened in this period where nobody was questioning who I was or what kind of gender I have. Yeah, I feel like just a lot of reflection has happened in this time that I don’t think would’ve happened without a quarantine. I feel like in quarantine, I just let go of all of, like, all of the notions. I don’t really have to perform in quarantine. I don’t have to do anything I don’t wanna do, I can literally just be a human and nobody cares! I think the fact that nobody is questioning, you know, who I am. Nobody’s asking who I am. I can just be. Like there’s just no question. I’m Kendall; I’m a human. And I wear whatever, but that says nothing about what kind of gender I have. Like it just says: “This is Kendall and maybe sometimes they feel good wearing hoodies, so they’re wearing hoodies today.” Like, just being able to lean into wearing things because they’re comfortable or wearing things because I want to feel good today. And not, like, wearing things because like, “Oh shit, like, what if someone looks at me and is like, ‘You’re gay,’ and I’m, like, going to get harassed or something.” Like, it wasn’t about the way that I look to others it was just about the way I feel. Like, I feel like the biggest barrier to me wearing exactly what I want to wear or being myself uninterrupted is, like, worried about like, “Oh man if I show out, like, real femme people are just going to look at my boobs, people are going to catcall me. People are going to harass me because I’m cute, and they think I’m an object for their sexual desire.” The fact that not as many people are out, like, at least in my area, just walking around, like, I can just kind of freely experiment with wearing more revealing things and feel a little bit safer. I think the changes will stick, like, definitely. Like I’m just gonna— because, like, I’m just getting into the groove of wearing what’s comfortable for me, and I think I’ll stick with it even if it’s uncomfortable sometimes. Like, I’m just going to do it because, I mean like, who cares? I’m still just as agender but, like, a little bit more than I used to–not even just because of quarantine just because I’m just consistently learning about myself. Gender is something that is completely unique to every person ever. Whether you’re binary or not, like, that binaryness doesn’t look the same on somebody else as it does for you. Whether you are nonbinary, your nonbinary-ness doesn’t look the same on you as it does for other people. Imagine you have, what like, the seven colors of the rainbow. I’m starting to notice, like, the in-between shades. I think that quarantine gave me the reflection necessary to see those in-between shades. And there’s still more to discover, but I just really like the fact that I’m able to see them.
My name is Mopac. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. Dysphoria for me before quarantine was like, I would feel euphoric in my gender and then I would be forced to acknowledge that that euphoria took place in a gender that was not on either end of our society’s gender binary and I was just basically forced to see that I’m not cis and then being ashamed of that and embarrassed of that is what would make me dysphoric, and I think quarantine has been very healthy for my dysphoria because now when I feel dysphoric, it’s not because I have discovered my gender, it’s more just because of the constraints within our cisnormative world which means that I just am no longer denying myself of the pleasure of my own gender. Before quarantine, I had really thrown myself into my job, which was being a manager at a smoothie place in Greenwich village. And I, like, would wake up at 4 am every day and then I would go work, like, eight to twelve hours and then go home and sleep and do it again and, like, barely fulfill my most basic needs and just, like, not even really pay attention to myself. And so when I came out of that in quarantine, I was forced to, like, look at myself, and I no longer could take refuge in my work uniform, because I never wore anything other than my work uniform because I was just constantly working, which could’ve just been me trying to, like, make ends meet, but I think my gender had something to do with just how comfortable I was not spending time alone. As I spent more time alone, without anyone referring to me as anything, like without speaking to another human being in real life for days at a time, weeks at a time, I kind of just reverted to my natural self, I think, without knowing it just because in order to—I don’t think survive is the right word—but in order to be happy at all I just had to let myself do exactly what I needed to do without expectations. I sort of became aware of my gender as it is, like I just accepted it as the truth which I had never ever done before. And I started to wear clothes that I wanted to wear which I couldn’t feel comfortable doing before. Like, I kind of started to do things completely free of influence from anything. I kind of came out on the other end of quarantine, or on that part of quarantine, as this completely different person from who I started. I was confused in quarantine because I was just, like, doing exactly what I wanted to, but it didn’t feel normal—because it wasn’t—and then I questioned that and now I just am doing exactly what I want to with my gender and with my presentation and also just in my life. And I feel a lot more free because of it, and just, true to myself and that would not have happened if I hadn’t spent three months essentially completely alone.
Hello, my name is Gabriel Hannah Smothers. I use he/him/his pronouns. My gender identity in the most basic terms would be transgender male, but within the LGBT community, I identify as a queer, trans person. So yeah, I would say my dysphoria has changed a lot since quarantine considering that I got my top surgery right at the beginning quarantine. That obviously took away a lot of dysphoria for me. And my voice also dropped starting at the beginning of quarantine, so that also took away a lot of dysphoria. My gender expression has definitely evolved a lot. And I would say now that I have physically transitioned, I guess—because everyone physically transitions different ways—but for me I feel that I have transitioned, so I feel a little bit more comfortable being, I guess what society would view as feminine now. I paint my nails, I occasionally wear earrings, I wear headbands, scrunchies, things like that. But I also, you know, wear tank tops and I enjoy, you know, working out, and like, being, you know, more masculine. Since quarantine, I do occasionally wear dresses now which I never did pre-transition, post-coming out. I was very uncomfortable wearing feminine clothing like that. Especially when I lived in Vermont in the summer which was a more liberal place, I felt very comfortable walking around in a dress. So, I guess it does change on where I am because I am in southern Indiana right now, and I don’t feel very comfortable expressing my gender fully how I want to. But it definitely has changed since quarantine; my partner and I paint our nails together as a hobby, and, like, I usually would never have done that. My partner makes me earrings, and I almost never wore earrings pre-transition. So yeah, there definitely have been some changes since quarantine.
Hello, my name is Powell, and I use they/them pronouns. I would say that I have no gender, and I feel no internal gender identity. But I try to keep in mind the gender expression that I feel most comfortable with, which has been given to me by external influences. I often like to contrast my expression, so a good blend of societal norms around what society perceives as feminine and masculine. So, pretty androgynous, and androgyny’s typically what I try to achieve in all aspects of my expression. I have never experienced gender dysphoria or euphoria. Before quarantine, I was in a comfortable rut, an unevaluated gender expression that was time demanding. But I had been comfortable because of the repetition of it, so I didn’t feel its burden until quarantine disrupted this. And I simultaneously had more time to dedicate to reading people like Leslie Feinberg and Judith Butler, Martine Rothblatt, but then I also had less social influences, and I consumed a lot more gender-fluid and gender-questioning media during quarantine. I felt very validated in reading about the binary and ways we can dismantle it. And I quarantined with my family, which was very comfortable, and so I acted in the way that was most comfortable for me which slowly transitioned to less traditional gender norms specifically feminine gender norms. My gender is as unaligned with my internal personhood today as it was before quarantine, but my performance is more aligned with my internal beliefs of no gender binary. And I do believe that external forces hopefully will not persuade me to change my internal beliefs, but the ideal is not a stagnant gender expression but gender fluidity that maybe I might feel connected to in the future. So I don’t know if quarantine— once quarantine is over I’ll necessarily go back to the way I was, but if I changed my expression, I wouldn’t feel as if it was invalid or not truthful. I have felt no internal change, but I definitely feel that when I went out for the first time, there was a difference of treatment. The only day I wore makeup during quarantine, I was hit on at the grocery store. I did not change anything when I first went out after being in isolation. I actually didn’t even consider it; just what I was wearing in quarantine is what I wore when I went out. Gender is most certainly a construct that can be broken by everyone at any time, and the time that quarantine gave me to consider my performance was definitely invaluable and definitely had an impact on me.
My name is Jazmin, and I use she/her pronouns. But in recent months I have been leaning away from them a bit more in, like, my ideology around them. The shift came from quarantine definitely and just being surrounded by Björkstén and by Powell, both my siblings who have lived with me for all of quarantine. I think just the open conversations mainly is what has, like, changed my viewpoint. I don’t think it has shifted very much, but if anything it’s become more hardened in my belief. Quarantine has made me more comfortable in my gender expression. Mostly because I would classify my, like, style more as slouchy and comfortable, and I think that has just been more accepted during quarantine. I don’t think it’s necessarily gender as much but definitely just the comfort around everyone wanting to feel comfortable in this time. And then also, I would say definitely just caring less about my appearance in general. I definitely stopped shaving and doing my hair, putting on makeup, anything like that I—like, that type of thing that I normally would do more often even if it was just for myself and feeling ready to take on the day. I definitely lessened in that, and then as soon as quarantine was somewhat over, where I started going to the grocery store more and things like that, I definitely put more effort into my appearance, and I did end up shaving my legs and putting on makeup more and things like that. Days that I don’t have to see anyone, like outside of my apartment, I definitely care less. I think that just when I go into the world, I like to present a certain way, and I think that just the people that I’m with at home understand me more so I don’t need to present that way. It’s just understood that no matter what I wear or look like, I’m accepted in that way. Whereas I think when I go out into public I want to show everyone what I’m feeling. Yeah, I definitely think fashion and, like, changing your appearance definitely is a very fun way to let the outside world know how to approach you, and yeah, just who you are, kind of, in a sense. When I get ready in the morning, I’m not thinking about what gender, necessarily, I want to show. I would say I dress more on the masculine side than the feminine side. I rarely wear skirts and dresses or heels, things like that, and that just comes from, like, comfort. Like I don’t really care if people—like, what gender people really think of me on the street. However, that is from my perspective of not— I don’t think I’ve ever been assumed a different gender. So maybe if I was that would change, and I would change my appearance and stuff like that. But I have very feminine features, so I don’t ever— I’m never mistaken for, you know, a different gender. I think quarantine really, really made me more comfortable in who I am as a person overall, but definitely my appearance as well. I found it easier to not do those certain things, like doing my hair every time I leave or wearing makeup, having that, like, professional “look” or, like, what I view as, like, more put together for me personally. I’ve definitely lessened that. Where, like, recently I’ll go out and just put my hair in a bun, when before, I didn’t feel fully put together or myself necessarily without it because it’s something that has been so identified with who I am as a person, so it’s kind of nice to step away from that, and kind of look at the more rounded self. I think the changes from quarantine that I experienced will last somewhat. I hope they last for a long time. I think they’ll last because of the comfort I felt with it. Before, when I would go out into the world without being, like, dressed up or, like, put together so to say, I felt a bit uncomfortable with it. Like I would think about it throughout the time or you know hurriedly put, like, my hair down or, like, just fidget more with my appearance, and I think that it’s mostly just become a comfort. Like I’m definitely growing into that feeling of now instead of it being like, “Oh, I’m, like, worried about not looking put together,” I just more embrace it. I think that comes from quarantine and the extended amount of time of feeling that. Because I think a lot of people experience that to an extent like during the weekends or just any long period of time that you don’t have to do anything, but this was such an extended period of time that it really ingrained those feelings.
Hi, my name is Nathan and my pronouns are he/him, and my presentation is masculine. I have a mustache, recent addition, very proud. I shop mainly in the men’s section for clothing. I’ve been told that I exhibit feminine body language. I enjoy both traditionally feminine and masculine hobbies such as embroidery, which I’ve really gotten into more over quarantine, and I suppose you could say pseudo-carpentry…? I don’t know; I enjoy doing stuff with my hands. My gender identity has been consistent throughout quarantine. I did notice a change in the way that I dressed; I started to dress how I liked! I always kind of dressed to not draw attention to myself. But I— for the first time in 19 years I started to wear clothing—and make clothing—that was not gray or and or just dark tones. And so I got more into embroidery and just customizing my clothing. One of the things that I did was I made a pair of shoes—that is, checkered Vans—except they’ve got some pink and red paint all over them. And I didn’t think anything about the pink, but I was walking into the gas station. I’m from Wyoming, and some cowboys told me how they did not “fuck with the pink” and followed that with a nice slur.
Hi, my name is Jesse. I go by they/them, he/him, and it/its. I find that as things have evolved just in the last six months, I think my dysphoria probably has gotten worse. I’ve become a lot more dysphoric around my voice, around the shape of my body, around my chest, around the way I’m presenting to the public. I really don’t feel comfortable presenting femininely. And I did find before quarantine, I think I was a little bit more comfortable with the more feminine aspects of my presentation, but as time has gone on, I find it to be harder and harder to leave the house if I am not presenting in a way I think will have me perceived as basically an it; I don’t know how else to describe it. I guess androgynously. I just don’t want anybody to perceive me as one or the other; it makes me extremely uncomfortable. My dysphoria has never been this intense in my life. Maybe when I first came out as trans, when I realized I was trans, and I was recognizing that what I was feeling was dysphoria, it was that intense, but it kind of evened out for a long time. And as I was socially recognized as a person and not as a man or a woman, then I felt a lot better. But after spending a lot more time with myself, I have felt a lot more uncomfortable with being perceived, just I guess, in a general sense. I did actually have a breakdown over quarantine, as I’m sure most of us did, and I, you know, I sobbed to my mom, and I explained to her I’m not a boy or a girl and within a month I was on testosterone. So, I suppose that because of quarantine, I am finally on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) which is something that I didn’t think would happen for the next five or ten years. And I’m— it’s really emotionally charged for me. I think that, you know, these changes really impacted the rest of my fucking life, like, I am finally on a hormone that’s going to make life livable for me, and that’s something that I didn’t think would happen for a really long time. And it did and it is, and that is absolutely astonishing to me.
My name is Rachel, and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I, right now, define my gender identity as dyke. Dyke in reference to, a lot of how I feel about my gender stems from the fact that I think that being a lesbian and not, like, really having any attraction to men, it, like, redefined and separated myself from, like, womanhood as a concept. Because I feel like so many experiences that a lot of women around me have had and shared oftentimes include, like, men and attraction to men in some sort of way, and I just kind of rejected that almost completely. So, I think that that’s where my sexuality and gender identity kind of are almost the same to me even though they’re different. Before quarantine— it’s funny because like, I, like, identified as nonbinary, and I was, I guess, more fully embracing that identity even though it didn’t really quite fit. Like, I didn’t really know, really what it meant to me, but, like, I was just like, “I’m, like, not a woman, so, like, I’ll just go with this one.” But during quarantine, I, kind of like, I reevaluated it a little bit more; I dug a little bit deeper into my gender identity, and like why, why don’t I identify as a woman? Like, maybe approximately a woman but, like, definitely not entirely. And what does that mean for me? That’s when I discovered that, like, my love for women and my detachment from men and from that aspect of the experience of womanhood really just kind of made me embrace, like, “dyke” as both a sexuality and a gender identity. And then I actually ended up reading this book over quarantine called— it was like, Nonbinary Memoirs of Gender and Identity. The term “genderqueer” was, kind of like, was discussed a lot during that—in that book. And I resonated with it a lot because, like, there’s gender, but like, I’m, like, queering it a bit. Like, it’s different. I’m not necessarily, like, nonbinary, but I’m genderqueer. I don’t know; it really just illuminated for me how pointless, like, stereotypical gender roles are. Cause when I got to college, like, a week or so ago, I had to quarantine for two weeks, like, in my room, like, pretty much alone, except for my suite-mate. So I was like, very much like, fully isolated, and it really just, like, yeah, it showed me how, like, pointless gender roles are. Really, when I’m not, like— in quarantine when I’m not like, seeing anybody, when I’m not doing anything, like, where does my gender go? Like, you know what I mean? Like when it’s just me alone in my room, like, what’s the point of having it? Like, where is it in space? And except for, like, really inside of me, like, I couldn’t find it anywhere in here. Like, I couldn’t really like, because I knew that gender was a social construct before, but like, I never realized how much we actually constructed it. And how we—how we assign meaning to things or how we assign gender to things that have, like, really no business having a gender assigned to them. So like, during quarantine there was a lot of like—like once the protests, like, picked up and, like, all that started, I was, like, organizing. I was going out to Boston and protesting and, like, leading people and leading marches, and a lot of the time, like, people think of that as stereotypically male work. So, I feel like, in terms of gender roles, I deviated in that way and took a more assertive role in, like, a movement. So, I don’t think that that’s traditional necessarily. In the other sense, my aunt had to work all the time, so I kind of took on, like, the second mother role to my sister. I think it’s a little bit of both. Like, I deviated, but I also, like, took on, like, a nurturing and motherly role. So I definitely, I definitely think both of those came out in quarantine. And they might have come out had quarantine not happened, but it definitely would not have been as abruptly, and it definitely would have taken probably a lot longer.
My name is Jack Murphy. My pronouns? I guess, I kind of hate that question. But I don’t really care about the pronouns that people use to refer to me. I would say most folks probably use, like, she/her or they/them. There’s so many words that overlap, and at the same time, language is so limiting with regards to gender identity. Yeah, I would say, like, I’m trans—I’m a transgender woman. But I’m also nonbinary and queer and gender-fluid, like, so many words that appeal to me. But yeah, I would say, like, I’m femme, and I’m, like, queer and boyish I guess that’s like, the best way to surmise it. Well, my gender presentation right now, in the past couple of months is kind of just, like, “hot mess express” because it’s obviously been kind of a difficult time. I think for me, like, if I get depressed, the first thing to go is, like, putting any effort into my appearance. And also I have not been going outside, so I’mma wear my comfy clothes. Right now I’m in a bathrobe, so that kind of conveys the vibe that I’m at. I would say I do experience gender dysphoria. I’m not crippled by it; I’m not suffering severely by it. I think for me actually it’s my other situational anxieties like work, like school, like life, romance, whatever it is, that sort of contribute to my dysphoria, so if I’m anxious about life, you know, I tend to start getting anxious about, like, you know, my body and my gender expression and all of that. And so, since the beginning of the pandemic, you know, a national reckoning about race, an election, you know, just extremely changed and difficult circumstances of life, obviously the stress has been kind of high. So, I think the dysphoria in the prior six months has been greater than the dysphoria I’ve experienced in my whole life really, but I’m also more conscious of it, so it’s hard to, you know, make a solid determination about that. So I think, one thing that I’ve sort of been pondering this entire time is, like, how does external perception in some ways, like, constitute one’s gender identity, you know? So, how much of my gender identity is constructed by or reinforced by, you know, someone saying, “Hi ma’am,” when I walk into a store, which, I will say, has been much more common. And I will also say that wearing a mask that covers half of your face does a lot to, like, get people to gender you properly. So, I should have mentioned that, the masks are, like, totally changing the game because one, like, you don’t have to wear a lot of makeup or shave, but I think covering the nose and mouth and chin and jaw region, whereas, like, I don’t know, as a trained observer, like, I feel like those are, you know, my “clockable features,” and so having a mask cover those is, you know, changing a lot. But yeah, I’ve been pondering how perception constitutes and reinforces our gender identity, and I think there is a great deal of that. Because it’s almost a confirmation of what you’re doing, and in a way, it is very affirming and euphoric to be perceived not just by your friends or your family but by the public, by the world to be the person that you feel yourself to be—or you are, is obviously a huge aspect of identity construction.
My name’s Chevy. I generally go by he/him pronouns; they/them feels pretty applicable. And I would feel kind of strange identifying as cis even though I mostly got through the world as cis specifically because of my personal approach and feelings about my gender, so I don’t know, probably just queer— that would probably be the most accurate representation of how I feel. So over the course of quarantine, I think I really came-to on how arbitrary gender is, and I also did do a pretty good amount of reading on gender theory. And like, even just learning something as simple as, like, the distinction between, like, sex and gender and familiarizing yourself with the terms of gender theory, you can begin to understand, like, exactly why traditional gender roles are extremely arbitrary and traditional ideas of gender just… I don’t know, I think I just cemented in my mind that, like, gender is, like, completely arbitrary and only furthered my gender abolitionists takes. So, I think it just allowed me a lot more time to think and because I had to spend a lot more time, like, physically just by myself in a way that I’m not really used to, I think it just gave me the room to acknowledge that on a personal identity level, I just don’t feel like a man or anything like that. So, I think it’s very on an emotional level thing where I can’t really… It just means less to me to be seen as masculine or things like that, and I suppose there’s a certain aspect of like, socially, I don’t want people to really see me as a man. I mean if they do, that’s okay, but it feels kind of weird that people would, just because there’s a disconnect there. And I became painfully online over the course of quarantine, so like, all I was doing was, like, talking with my online buddies and watching youtube videos and consuming more media than I ever have in my life. I gravitated towards a lot more queer media creators and found a lot more art and music that I like produced by queer people or just queer art in general. Just gave me a lot more time to kind of absorb other people’s stuff while I was kind of previously absorbed in my own. The small amount of media that I’ve continued to consume, now that I have to work and do things like that, is certainly more queer than it was, which is cool.