Quarantine Showed Me Just How Performative “Gender” Really Is

Griffin Wynne
Photo credit: Patricia Boyce / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Patricia Boyce / EyeEm - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

I came out as non-binary in 2013—years before it was “cool” and something people talked about on social media or wrote about in magazines. For me, it meant embracing abundance and limitlessness.

It meant not needing to quantify or contain any parts of my being and not needing to measure myself by societal standards (for weight, income, relationship status, etc.). Most importantly, it meant not needing to prove anything to anyone ever.

But because of the lack of representation, I always felt defensive. I found myself still constantly feeling the need to prove what I was, or more importantly, what I wasn’t: a woman.

Whether someone had a genuine question or was just trying to be a dick, the result felt the same: a constant need to explain, to vouch, to affirm, and to validate my identify.

The desire to be recognized, mixed with the pain of knowing that people wouldn’t understand me, was (and still is) overwhelming and exhausting. It often left me wondering why I ever came out it in the first place.

But in a completely twisted way (full of privilege and a job I can do remotely), being trapped at home these past few months thanks to COVID-19 has given me a sense of freedom. With no one to present myself to and no social events in sight, I didn’t have to consider how anyone would interpret me or my clothes.

As quarantine continues and my pajamas become my work clothes, it’s hard to remember what it felt like to get dressed when I knew I was going to see other people. It’s hard to remember the mental routine I used to go through every single morning before leaving the house—deciding if I wanted to dress the way I see myself in my head or just reach for something “flattering” over my hourglass body.

I would often weigh my comfort against my safety. It was a choice: Did I want my day to be authentic or did I want it to be easy? Did the power, affirmation, confidence, and joy of what I wanted to wear outweigh the discomfort, scrutiny, or potential harm I could face?

To be clear, I believe that everyone should wear whatever they want, whenever they want. I think that everyone should be able to be themselves, and queer/trans people never need to “tone it down” or hide in the name of professionalism or “style” any other classist category.

But when you fear you’ll be taken less seriously in a work meeting because of how you’re dressed or when you’re unable to ride the train because you feel so out of place in your body, “just being yourself” can be the hardest thing of all.

Over the years of bad haircuts and so, so many style phases, I’ve learned that sometimes you may choose your safety over your self-expression. You may opt for what’s easy over what’s authentic. But FWIW, that doesn’t make you any less queer or trans or powerful. It also doesn’t mean that you aren’t proud to be who you are.

It’s an understatement to say that social distancing has been lonely. But not being in public has meant not getting misgendered, not needing to decide how I want to “present,” not feeling pressure to look a certain way, and not spending all my energy trying to signal to strangers how I want to be addressed—only to feel like a complete failure when I get hit with a “her.”

I’d like to think this time alone has given me all sorts of insights on how I hope to navigate gender in the future. Quarantine allowed me to really “turn inward” and “sit with myself” and all the other things my green-juice-drinking L.A. friends always tell me.

And while I’m sure I’ve learned a lifetime of lessons in these past months, the truth is, I’ve mainly just felt a great comfort in not having to get ready. I’ve felt liberated in not having to worry about presenting or consider how others will interpret me. And I’ve felt a great deal of rest in living in isolation.

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