Gender work in the time of COVID-19

Doing gender during the coronavirus pandemic is a complicated situation, and different folks seem to be affected differently. I thought I’d share a little about what I’ve noticed in my experience and from what my clients and group members have told me.

Social Distancing Is Complicated

For some people, it’s easier because they have more freedom to be themselves and not be torn down by the cisheteropatriarchal gaze day in and day out.

For other folks, it’s hard because they don’t have the reference points of the social world and its gender audience— it’s hard to work on social expression if there’s no one to read you.

The additional isolation from community is hard for pretty much everybody, but all the more so for queer and gender non-conforming folks who rely on community for connection, support, and feeling socially real.

Limitations on Medical Services Make Things Harder

I’ve had several folks report that they have been waiting to get on HRT, but their appointments have been cancelled or delayed. This obviously creates extra stress, and possibly invalidation— “What do you mean, my gender is inessential?”

Likewise, folks are having to delay surgery, hair removal, and other gender-affirming procedures. This can feel like a big setback. On top of the ‘normal’ stress of coronavirus, people’s transition plans are being scrambled. This is pushing some folks’s dysphoria through the roof.

Everyone’s Situation Is Different

This is one of the paradoxical things about coronavirus. On one hand, we’re all in a situation of social isolation. However, for different people, that looks very different.

Depending on if people live alone, with their partner, with roommates, or with family, they can have very different experiences during this time. Depending on their gender position and where they’re at in their transition, this can add to the stress of keeping secrets or trying to explore during a time of lots of added stress.

Work and financial situations are very different for different people at this time. Some folks work from home, and that can add stress or bring freedom (or both). Some still go to work, but working conditions are disrupted or more stressful. Some folks are out of work and experiencing a lot of financial precarity. Of course, for folks experiencing financial and/or housing insecurity, this can be an extremely stressful time, as social services and food banks are stretched to the max.

In times of such stress, one’s gender resiliency may be strained, and some folks might have a hard time finding the energy to put into gender questions. Depending on these different situations, folks may or may not have access to a gender-affirming work situation, gender-affirming goods and services, or money enough to provide supplies for their social or medical transition.

Different Styles, Different Results

Different people bring very different styles to this experience. For introverts, this can actually be a relaxing time, because it can reduce social stress and they have lots of habits geared toward spending time in relative isolation. For extroverts, however, the change in social habits can be very trying, and Zoom and phone calls just aren’t as nourishing as direct contact.

Familiar coping skills may work differently during social isolation. Folks whose wellness plans focused a lot on social time and visiting spaces with lots of other humans— such as gyms, clubs, restaurants, and cinemas— have had to find their way towards other self-care strategies. That said, folks who tend more to introspection and indoor activities are also having to adjust their practices to cope with the added stress.

Gender is Not a Straight Path

This is the ‘good news,’ I suppose— doing gender in an organic, non-linear, highly personal way seems to be the way to go.

We are always weaving the evolving social, material, and emotional situations of our lives with our unfolding gender experience. This time just provides a really weird backdrop for gender work.

Just as people have found ways to adapt their wellness practices and life rhythms to lockdown, they are finding ways to adapt their gender becoming to this new reality. While it may preclude some possibilities, it makes other things possible.

Overall, my advice would be: take your time, be kind to yourself, and trust that you can take the steps you need to be yourself on this unfolding journey. The road is not always clear, but it always unfolds one step at a time.

I hope this has been helpful for you! I trust that whatever comes up for you doing this time, you’ll be able to find what you need in the situation to stay strong and keep being true to your heart. ☺

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