For queer youth, access to the internet during lockdown can be a blessing and a curse. We consistently open our phones to see another friend has re-introduced themselves into the world as their truest selves and, at a certain point, we admit that we must do the same.
If you ask anyone from Generation Z what has got them through the pandemic, the answer will most likely be TikTok. Not only has this platform been an escape from a world that seems to be crashing down around us, but it has also become a safe haven for self-expression. Each swipe exposes more of the world; more people your own age shaving their heads, wearing what they want, and owning their gender. But where exactly did this wave of gender exploration come from? My best guess is that the pandemic might just have had something to do with it. Video after video shows people who entered the pandemic fully convinced that they were cis-het women exit quarantine as non-binary lesbians. Each swipe of the thumb presents another face, the face of someone living (or trying to live) their most authentic lives. Each profile clicked on reveals pronouns in their bio – a constant reminder that you, yourself, aren’t quite happy with the ones in yours.
Quarantine, and the pandemic as a whole, has created excess time for internet browsing that was not there before. In the past, we’ve had to commute to school and work, hang out with friends, and live life outside of our phones. For queer youth, access to the internet during lockdown can be a blessing and a curse. We consistently open our phones to see another friend has re-introduced themselves into the world as their truest selves and, at a certain point, we admit that we must do the same. TikTok is obviously not the only cause of this gender movement, but I was curious to find out just how critical a role social media had to play in it.
I decided to sit down with two of my peers who have recently been discovering their own gender identities to find out just how crucial lockdown was for their journey.
Ella, 19, she/they
“I think that, based on the larger online presence that the discussion of gender has had in the last year and a half, there will be a stronger acceptance of varied gender identity, especially in Gen Z and younger.”
Ella explained how they don’t currently have a strong grasp on their gender identity: “However, my pronouns are she/her/they/them.” They go on to explain that they have been considering their gender identity for approximately the last 10 months, emphasising that the pandemic definitely had an influence on their understanding of gender. “I found that I was exposed to more media that spoke on gender and how it looked for different people. The period of self-reflection for many during the pandemic led to a stronger presence of varied opinions on gender roles on a more individual level, as well as how living life apart from pre-pandemic society allowed people to focus on their identity without as much external criticism.”
When asked what they think the concept of gender will look like post-pandemic, Ella responded: “I think that, based on the larger online presence that the discussion of gender has had in the last year and a half, there will be a stronger acceptance of varied gender identity, especially in Gen Z and younger. I don’t think that the pandemic will have a total breakthrough effect on the presence of gender as a social construct.”
Frank, 19, she/he/they
Frank started the interview with an explanation of their identity: “I definitely don’t feel or express myself in a male or masculine way, but I don’t feel entirely like a woman either, and the way I feel about it fluctuates. I guess gender-fluid would probably be a good word for it, but I usually just call myself queer. Firstly because it’s both an ambiguous, multifaceted word which embraces the way in which the gender part of my identity is hard to pin down. Additionally, it’s a politically loaded and provocative word because it was reclaimed from being a slur; I feel like there’s something defiant about it.”
“Several people I’m close to went into the pandemic thinking they were cisgender and now feel very differently – they partly attribute it to the isolation and the time alone to reflect on themselves.”
Frank then noted how they started exploring their gender identity four years ago, but this year they started “feeling very strongly about it again”. When asked if the pandemic and spending time in quarantine had an influence on their approach to gender, Frank noted that “It did for a lot of people. Several people I’m close to went into the pandemic thinking they were cisgender and now feel very differently – they partly attribute it to the isolation and the time alone to reflect on themselves. For me, I’m not so sure. It’s true that my approach to gender changed completely during the pandemic, I just don’t know to what extent it was because of the pandemic, too.”
Frank expressed their hopes that gender, and how we think of it, will be different post-pandemic: “I think that if it’s true that the pandemic inspired many people to start considering their gender, who might have taken longer to do so otherwise, then the simple fact that there will be more transgender or questioning people floating around post-pandemic will change how we look at gender – hopefully, it will help normalise being trans, as more people will either be trans or know people who are.”
What I found most interesting through these interviews was that despite gender being so personal and unique, the period of exploration for many can be quite similar. Obviously, this isolating time in our lives will only ever be one piece of the puzzle. However, for many, Covid-19 has given queer teens the deep time of self-reflection necessary to discover who we really were all along.