Covid has brought upon us an abundance of time. In between the long hours of watching lectures and soul-sucking walks around the same old block, there’s no better time for exploring your identity—right?
I found that with more time for self-reflection on my hands, I was able to explore my identity. During the lockdowns, I came to terms with the fact that I’m a non-binary queer person. While that was/is great and all, I experienced existential crisis after existential crisis—will I succeed in this world as a non-binary person? What if I just cosplay as a straight chick?—that’s how I’m perceived anyways.
After having lived away from home for two years, I returned for the first lockdown. Being at home reminded me of how gendered family dynamics are—at least among my Afrikaans household. While studying full time, I helped my mum cook and clean, and I served my dad like I was his personal maid. Constantly experiencing this dynamic and being referred to as “she” and “her” made me uncomfortable. I realised that I didn’t think of myself as a woman, but rather as a person just existing. I thought to myself that I’d feel more comfortable in society, and in my own skin, if I went by they/them.
As a Human Geography student, I connected this awakening, in part, to the notion of sense of place. Although sense of place sounds like it could be about physical locations, like a point on a map, it’s instead more about our individual experiences. Our sense of place is affected by the people who surround us, our social connections, and even our daily routines. For me, spending time with my queer friends at places like the beach or park, positively impact my sense of place. These spaces and people validate me as an individual and encourage uninhibited self expression. Therefore, our sense of place can either affirm or deny our identities.
Thanks to Covid, I was no longer surrounded by other queer people. Suddenly, I was living within a household dynamic that didn’t align with my identity and in an environment that wasn’t particularly accepting. This change of environment had a negative impact on my sense of place, but, as it turns out, it was what it took for me to realise who I truly was.
As I said, exploring my identity and coming to terms with it was wonderful. But it’s still a mystery as to why it took me coming to terms with my identity to feel like a more valid member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Although there are dedicated queer spaces, knowing my identity has unexpectedly given me a confidence boost to engage with the discourse around LGBTQIA+ issues. Perhaps it’s because I’m now clear about how the L, T, and Q fit with me and how I perceive myself within society? There are seemingly more questions than there are answers—I guess I will have to keep studying?
Because I am by nature a question-asker and because I want to share with others that we’re in the same boat, I became interested in how COVID-19 impacted the sense of place of other people who also live in Aotearoa and belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. I took to Google Forms to find this out.
Maybe unsurprisingly, the responses were a mixed bag; lockdowns made people feel both connected and disconnected to the LGBTQIA+ community in Aotearoa. Many people were able to connect to the LGBTQIA+ community via the internet. In my case, I explored my identity and queerness through TikTok and Instagram. I read a number of articles online too, which were mostly about how being queer can be an isolating experience.
Gracie shared that they took part in “online zoom sessions and chat groups.” Krystyna similarly expressed finding “strong connections online more so [than] kanohi ki te kanohi.” Shannon (she/her) shared that dating apps were a way for her to connect with others. She said:
“As being freshly out of the closet, it was somewhat scary pursuing people in person. Also with the restrictions of Covid, it was a lot easier to make connections with others [who were] part of the community online. I felt happy [and] liberated to finally be at a point in my life where I could openly take part in queer relationships.”
On the other hand, some respondents did not feel connected to the community during lockdown. Jay* (they/them) says “I didn’t actually realise I was LGBTQIA+ until some time into the lockdown—thanks Covid?” Claude* had a similar experience stating, “I discovered I was part of the [LGBTQIA+] community during [the] lockdown era and so [I] am quite isolated in my experience.” Claude also expressed that they were fearful of engaging with the LGBTQIA+ community online unless they were “totally anonymous”.
In-person interactions also caused injury to respondents’ sense of place. Family dynamics seemed to play a significant part in this. Lauren (she/her) expressed that she feels “like a bit of an outsider” due to not having been able to attend any LGBTQIA+ events prior to the lockdown. On top of that, her parents told her that she “should still end up with a man so that we could have biological kids.”
These feelings of isolation and distance from the LGBTQIA+ community can have a negative impact on individuals’ sense of place and, in turn, their overall wellbeing. For example, Joon* shared that they were not “able to find [their] people or a community where [they] belong because of the lack of in person events”. Not being in a place that affirmed their identity made Joon doubt themselves—“It […] makes me feel like I am not where I should be, in terms of truly expressing myself and my sexuality.”
Living with family members, or in environments which weren’t accepting, had negative impacts on the sense of place of individuals. Not only did this reinforce the isolation that many were already experiencing (pre-lockdown), but led to some only feeling comfortable online when they were anonymous.
Although, lockdowns weren’t all bad. For some, like me, Covid ultimately had a positive effect on LGBTQIA+ community members’ sense of place and identity. As Alex* (she/they) describes:
“Spending so much time alone over lockdown and learning to exist peacefully with myself made me realise that I didn’t want to keep interacting with the world as anything other than my authentic self.”
*Some names have been changed to protect students’ identities