The COVID-19 pandemic has caused worldwide disruptions to how we relate to one another, and ultimately also our own selves. The long term impacts of this new normal will undoubtedly be felt for years to come. As we approach the two year mark of the start of the pandemic, I’d like to reflect back on how this moment in our history has impacted my relationship to my queer identity.
I work as a therapist and the vast majority of my clients come to me with symptoms that all point to wanting a more authentic and intimate relationship with themselves. Many issues people face—be they emotional, physical, spiritual or psychological—can be traced back to their relationship with the self.
When I say self, I mean that essential core essence that no matter what version of us exists from moment to moment, it is still present. When we come into this life, we are bombarded by external messaging telling us who we should be or how we should act. When we step out of the restrictive boundaries society or our loved ones project onto us, we are often punished by others or ourselves. Oppression by society is an experience keenly understood by marginalized peoples, but what about the punishment we do to ourselves? In trying to align with social expectations, individuals can chase a socially acceptable vision of themselves, putting on a mask that can interfere with relationship to self. Likewise, I have also observed that people can over identify with what they do (their jobs, hobbies, beliefs) rather than being who they are. Significant attachment to doing our lives can create significant identity crises when we stop doing those actions, especially when
I believe that the question of being versus doing is a poignant one for the queer community. Historically, so many queer identities have been defined by cis-straight society as the performance of actions which were outside of the norms of heteronormativity. As a protest against oppression, the expression of identity through performative action has been an important foundation in the emergence and exploration of deeper aspects of queer identity. Our community formed safe spaces where people could explore themselves and engage in the expressive rituals of the community. This all changed with the COVID-19 lockdowns. The lockdowns meant community spaces were closed, Pride parades were cancelled and meeting up was discouraged. The community had to move online, and this created opportunity but also major disruptions. Specifically, in not being able to gather in these spaces and do queer identity, how did we embody being queer? These lockdowns and the isolation really made me reevaluate how much emphasis I was putting on my doing rather than being—and I wasn’t the only one asking these questions. All my clients, no matter their identity, were grappling with the same existential questions.
My life is pretty queer involved: I work at a book shop where most of the staff are queer, get my hair cut by a queer barber, buy my coffee from a queer owned space, many of my clients are queer, and much of my recent reading material has been queer focused. I am privileged in this way, as these spaces still exist for me to engage with. But am I queer because of these things? No, the authenticity of my queerness is no longer as a dependent on my performing my identity, as instead reminding myself of the innateness of this being for me rather than just the experience. The experience flows from the lenses my sexual orientation causes me to see the world in general and not just when I’m intimate with a partner or buying coffee at a queer coffee shop. If truth be told, I was starting to lose sight of that reality that my queer self is not demarcated from my British self or my therapist self; or my geek gaymer self and are all expressions of my essential self. This is what all of the parts of myself have in common—they are expressed but are not dependent on the expression. A big realization I came to was that for a long time I felt less-than-queer because I didn’t engage with the community through entering queer spaces. I was thrust right back to being that fourteen-year-old kid growing up in a small town and dreaming of Church Street in Toronto and living the fabulous gay life. So, to feel more secure in my identity, I went to queer spaces and engaged in doing rather than being because that made me feel more like I belonged. It took not having those spaces open to me to understand the unhealthy dynamic beneath the surface and to realize that queerness isn’t dependant on living the gay life, but is instead nourished by it.
Have you found yourself dealing with similar issues during this pandemic? Have you been struggling to express your queer self? I would like to give you some questions I found helpful to contemplate on your journey:
How does your queerness inform your other social identities?
In what ways do you embody your queerness already?
How does expression of queerness deepen your relationship to self? In whats ways does it hinder your relationship to self?
If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Ben Stimpson (He/Him/They) is a queer-identified Kitchener area therapist, writer, teacher and workshop facilitator. His work focusses heavily on the intersection of personal narratives, identity and relationships. Alongside his therapy practice, Ben is a student at Waterloo; sells books at Words Worth Books Ltd,.; and serves as an educator on SPECTRUM’s Rainbow Diversity Training team. To find out more about Ben, please see his website: www.padukawellness.com.