Allowing space for gender and sexuality exploration in the isolation of the pandemic

Rain Marie (She/They) // Columnist

March 2020 changed the world in a way that we never would have imagined. Going into quarantine, we all experienced a strong sense of isolation. For young people especially, this change was drastic. Quarantine, whether for better or for worse, forced us all to spend a lot of time with ourselves, naturally promoting self reflection and introspection. We were prompted to reflect on part of ourselves we’ve never looked at — or maybe parts of ourselves we’ve avoided.

Despite the struggles and pain that quarantine presents, in our society we are given few chances to sit with ourselves and our thoughts. We rush to get to the next event, milestone, or achievement. Our western world is structured around the capitalist idea of our worth equalling material and societal achievement. This constant motion wasn’t stopped by lockdown, but like a rest stop on a long hike, it’s nice to take a break and absorb the view around us. 

For young people struggling with their sexuality or gender, quarantine allowed space for safe exploration of that. Despite being a natural human instinct, our own thoughts of romance and desire are often repressed — even more so in the mind of a young queer person. In an attempt to survive we will bottle these feelings deep down inside us. Maybe they come up sometimes, maybe we tell ourselves we’ll deal with them later, but the structure of our society really doesn’t allow for proper digestion of these issues. 

Gender is a massive spectrum of emotions. It’s a personal and deep journey that people experience in multiple ways. Quarantine allows for a space to self explore, lets us see the parts of us and our gender that may have previously been uncomfortable. The discomfort and societal pressure to stick to the norm still exists, but exploration has become more private and safe when that only person you are spending time with is yourself. 

The feelings of isolation that the pandemic created also brought forward the feeling of not wanting to miss out on any future connections. What’s most important to us has been brought to the forefront, and for many of us that something is our connections to other people. Isolation — both caused by emotional repression and the pandemic — is difficult for anyone to experience, and brings forward questions like ‘what am I missing?’ or ‘how much longer do I have to make these connections?’ The fear of coming out is outweighed by the feelings of wanting to connect. 

It makes sense that quarantine has led to the growth of online communities; particularly online queer communities. I was very lucky to be exposed to some informative online queer resources and supportive communities in my teens, but many people haven’t had the opportunity until now. As online spaces grow, so do these safe spaces for queer identifying people and people who may be exploring their gender and sexuality. Websites such as TikTok, Discord, Tumblr, and Reddit have allowed these communities to flourish during the pandemic. People can find informative groups and communities in a click and can start exploring these issues within themselves.

Despite all the great things that can come from the internet, there are also conflicts, predators, and misinformation. The internet is a wonderful and helpful thing, but it can also be dangerous and uncontrolled. Diving into these online communities, one may find themselves surrounded by a bunch of scary and unexpected things. Toxic behavior including, but not limited to, gatekeeping, transphobia, homophobia and biphobia, TERF’s (Trans Exclusionary Feminists), and bullying can run rampant in some communities. 

Unsafe and inaccurate sex education can be an issue, as many young people go online to find information the school system failed to teach them. Unfortunately, that information is often given to them by other people who were failed by the same system. Safe sex and STI prevention is often mistaught and glossed over for queer people.

As we consume more media and internet pornography, we should acknowledge that many depictions of queer relations are inaccurate. Lots of queer media is either written by cisgendered straight people or is aimed towards a straight audience — meaning that queer media can sometimes fail to represent us accurately. It’s hard to depict queer relationships without the oversight of multiple queer voices. Luckily we can still find good resources, helpful people, and positive information within these communities.

It is no surprise that over the course of lockdown, coming out and self exploration has flourished. With the growth of online communities, time for self reflection, and slightly less societal pressure, queer communities have flourished and grown. Proper research and keeping space to keep yourself safe is essential to keep in mind when entering this journey. Always put yourself first and remember that everyone goes on this journey at their own pace. 

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