Lockdown Has Made People Question Their Gender and Sexuality More Than Ever – But Why?

The pandemic has brought about an awareness of a variety of interesting natural phenomenons – dolphins returning to the Venice canals and seals in the Thames. But another is the amount of people who have begun to question their gender or their sexuality over this period.

If you are one of those people, then you are not alone. As reflected in the Annual Population Survey, the ONS estimated that 2.7% of the UK population aged 16 years and over identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) in 2019, an increase from 2.2% in 2018; and this gradual growth is not new. Yet, over the pandemic, it seems that more and more people are ‘coming out’ than ever. In July 2020, Childline reported a 12% increase in children “seeking counselling for gender identity and sexuality during the coronavirus lockdown.”

So, why? Why has lockdown encouraged or enabled more people come out as queer over this last year? I have a few theories.

The first is kind of heavy, so bear with me: Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. Butler theorised that all gender is performative; it is formed of impressions of the perceived “gender norm”. Over lockdown, we haven’t had to perform for others, which has given us more time to experiment with non-conforming clothes, pronouns, expressions, without feeling judged.

How we feel has, for what is most likely the first time, not been affected by how other people see us, and it has allowed us to connect and form clearer relationships with our gender, sex, identity, and all the intersections in between.

Jordan* told me,

I had always assumed I was bisexual. Even now, heterosexuality is still the default, and I’ve internalised this to the point of dating men when I have no sexual attraction to them. Time alone to process my feelings has brought me to accept that – I think – I am a biromantic homosexual, terms I’ve always avoided in fear of ‘over-complicating’ my sexuality.

My second theory is that lockdown has given people more introspective time than ever before. We have been able to evaluate our own identity, in our own time. Whether or not we would have reached the same conclusion in a world without Covid-19 is anyone’s guess, but it is likely that the process has been accelerated due to the sheer amount of time we now have to think about ourselves.

Alex* said,

“…increased time by myself during lockdown and being away from my partner had allowed me to notice the thoughts I have when I’m not so busy with life. I’ve been trying to understand and listen to myself more.”

There is also the argument of increased inclusivity and accessibility. Pride has moved online, along with everything else, and so it is easier to engage with the LGBTQIA+ community than ever. This has removed the barriers of geography and time, as well as an expectation of being “out” to friends and especially family. With the obvious increase in technology in the 21st Century, anonymity in these circles is easier, if you don’t feel completely comfortable with your identity just yet, and information is simply more available.

Amid celebrities such as Elliot Page and Demi Lovato coming out as trans or non-binary, these terms have rooted themselves into our sub-conscious and made us consider our gender, and our place in the world. Not that I think a rise in LGBTQIA+ identities is the result of a “trend”: rather, it is simply becoming more common and more accepted to not fall into the “default” categories of cis and heterosexual.

Charlie* said that the recent, widespread normalisation of pronouns, such as on Instagram and email signatures, has made them rethink their relationship with their gender:

I’ve realised that ‘she/he/they’ encompasses how I feel about myself far more than only one pronoun can. Genderfluid is a term I’ve only discovered recently and I felt such a resonance with it that it has changed my relationship with myself, knowing that my gender doesn’t have to be fixed in place.”

To use a well-known analogy, it’s like this: Everest was discovered as the world’s highest peak from sea level in 1852. But guess what? It was still the highest peak before Hillary and Tenzing first climbed it. Now, more and more people attempt to climb the mountain every year.

Okay – it’s nowhere near a perfect analogy, but the point is that more and more people are identifying as LGBTQIA+ because the terms are there, to be understood, to be felt. To give people a voice to their identity.

Simply put, we have been given time outside of the expectations of the modern world. We are able to address what we may have been questioning for a long time, without the influence of work, friends, or partners. There is no shame in being confused, or unable to decide where you fit yet: if you identify as queer, we’re here for you.

Unfortunately, a lot of LGBTQIA+ spaces still aren’t accessible to many who are questioning their gender and sexuality, or even those who aren’t “out”. Many have fears that they won’t be deemed “valid” unless they have had an experience to “prove” their sexuality.

Over lockdown, Alex* has begun to think they might be bisexual or asexual, but as they previously identified as heterosexual, they feel they can’t occupy LGBTQIA+ spaces in fear of being forced to come out, or of not being believed:

“… there has been a lot in the media about queer-baiting and gatekeeping the LGBTQIA community… Due to this, I think my own fears are heightened in case I upset or offend anyone, despite simply being confused.”

With a growing “generation” of lockdown LGBTQIA+ individuals, I think we need to take a look at how welcoming and accessible our queer spaces are for those who aren’t yet comfortable in limiting their identity to one definition, or simply aren’t out yet. Our community should be just that – a community, where people can feel safe and supported under the queer umbrella.

If you need any help with coming out, figuring your identity, or seeing what support is available, have a look at these resources below.

Stonewall

  • A global movement for change made up of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace) people, allies, families, and friends, fighting for freedom, equity, and potential.

The Be You Project

  • A project designed to connect young people in Kent and Medway who are unsure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. As well as groups and events, they have help and advice pages and a directory of resources.

The Trevor Project

  • A USA organisation providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ young people under 25. They include a list of resources to help with mental health during Covid, support for Black LGBTQ people, and how to better your allyship.

Mermaids

  • Mermaids supports transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families, as well as web chat support to students up to the age of 25.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Image courtesy of Divya Agrawal.

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