COVID-19 pandemic isolation good for gender exploration, transitions

The challenge: recreate an album cover.

People often told Theresa Yonash that they resembled Bob Dylan and put together an ensemble to recreate Dylan’s “Hard Rain” album cover to be on a social media game show called Against Other College Students in to compete in the USA “The Game: Hurricane.”

Yonash used makeup to shape a “more masculine face” and facial hair. When they pulled a mustache over her lip to complete the Dylan look, something clicked.

Yonash, 20, who uses the pronoun “she” or “she”, always liked to put on androgynous clothing. They didn’t mind if someone called them “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

But during the pandemic, the time they could spend alone with their thoughts gave them the space to further question their gender identity.

“I had plenty of time to ponder so many elements of my life, society (and) that I felt like femininity is something I need to move on to,” said Yonash, who is in a small town in Wisconsin lives. “I really felt like this was something I could finally embrace without feeling like I had to fit into binary form.”

Elements of the pandemic allow people to delve deeper into the concept of gender and experiment with how they express their identity. Some people find support in niche areas online. Others get rid of gender-specific clothing items that they had to wear in public. Still others can experiment with how they wear their hair – or what parts of their body they shave. And wearing masks in public makes gender-specific people more comfortable because they are less likely to be mistreated.

For young people exploring their identities, separated from their families, or staying away from their jobs, this has favored exploration of gender.

“The pandemic gave me this wonderful pillow,” said Noah Rosenzweig, who decided to make her medical transition early because of the pandemic. “I am allowed to as good as avoid hard conversations.”

Why isolation made exploring enjoyable

Drs. Melina Wald and Julie Woulfe, psychologists at Columbia University, found that the hiatus has allowed people to take steps they may have hesitated about before isolating themselves.

“We are forced to really deal with our lives and our goals,” said Wald. “That made a lot of people rethink. If they hesitate, they may be more encouraged.”

Rosenzweig, 23, said she had never seen so many people “define themselves outside of the gender binary number” before the pandemic. Rosenzweig, who uses “she” pronouns, believes that pandemic factors accelerated many of the processes people used to find out about their identity.

Rosenzweig planned to begin the medical gender transition after graduating from college. But they were stuck in their Washington, DC apartment feeling like there was no point in waiting. They started on a testosterone regimen a month before graduation in the spring of 2020.

To avoid face-to-face interaction during the pandemic, people typically just look at each other from their shoulders on tiny video chat squares. That encouraged 22-year-old Joey Dagher to experiment with clothes.

They noticed female colleagues on video calls who were professionally dressed, while men often wore hoodies. Dagher thought if they wore more casual clothes they would be reprimanded because they usually look feminine at work.

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Dagher eventually saw these virtual meetings as “time to shine” and began wearing androgynous clothing that felt more true to their identity.

“I’ve just been so busy with school or work that I didn’t pay attention to how I look,” said Dagher. “I feel like the quarantine gave me this time to have this inner contemplation of who I want to be.”

Dagher also began wearing her hair tied up more often after feeling free from social pressures to wear her long hair loosely.

Joey Dagher, 22, felt comfortable exploring her gender identity with the loneliness the pandemic brought with it.

Other people, like Enrique Zúñiga, 20, experimented with styling their body hair. Zúñiga let her hair and beard grow long, but shaved her legs as she had the freedom to try a look they didn’t think was any other setting.

As with Dagher’s video calls, virtual spaces encouraged people to explore or accept their gender identity.

Yonash has connected with many LGBTQ creatives through its large fan base on TikTok. They learned about gender and sexuality, as well as creative processes, by working with different people whom they couldn’t easily access personally, even before the pandemic.

A search for “Gender Fluid” on TikTok reveals more than 500 million results, many of which were created by young adults.

According to an EU study, younger adults identify themselves as transgender more than older adults Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles.In 2016, researchers estimated that 0.6% of adults in the United States were identified as transsexual and found that 0.7% of 18- to 24-year-olds were transsexual.The CDC also estimated in 2017 that 1.8% of students were identified as transgender.

Social media has allowed people to share their newly discovered identities in public in a subtle way. Zúñiga said realizing they weren’t binary in the summer was “a bit anti-climactic”. Non-binary people don’t identify as exclusively male or female.

They just changed their pronouns and “it just felt right,” Zúñiga said.

Yonash has quietly updated her Instagram bio to take into account that they are using them or their pronouns, a change they made during the quarantine.

Enrique Zúñiga, 20, wore eyeliner and formal makeup at her Quadrangle dining club at Princeton University in February 2020.

Other pandemic factors made people feel more private, which made them more comfortable trying new ways to express their gender identity. Columbia psychologists said that wearing masks can make people more comfortable in their chosen genders.

In addition to the often required wearing of masks, COVID-19 has deterred people from visiting friends and family members at risk, such as Rosenzweig, who have not seen their family since January 2020. Recently, they made physical changes that match their gender identity.

Ultimately, however, Rosenzweig and others will not be able to avoid talking about their identity. People will return to offices and schools, and executives will have to plan for a “new normal,” said Stephen Russell, professor of child development at the University of Texas at Austin.

But because business people and school principals have had these conversations, Russell said they were “prepared” to have conversations about identity.

“If you want the best talent, you have to create a space where people can be authentic themselves,” said Russell. “There are a lot of normative people who will just go back to the same thing, but I think there will be a lot of people willing to imagine a different way of being.”

Wald and Woulfe suggest that people who identify differently than they did before the pandemic prepare early for possible discriminatory experiences they might encounter as a gender-specific person.

“For people who have had significant physical changes that people might notice or comment on, I think it is very valuable to help them prepare for possible experiences of mishap or harassment and really make sure that there are coping skills or that they identify some affirming people. ” [their] Rooms, “said forest.

Noah Rosenzweig, 23, graduated from Georgetown University in May 2020.  Today he lives with his dog Pilot in northwest Washington, DC

Dagher said a quarantine had made it clear to them that LGBTQ people “never get ready when they get out”.

Not sure where they will end up with gender identity or how they will proceed in a personal world, but they plan to express themselves in virtual spaces or wherever they can.

“It’s okay to be in transition. It’s okay to realize that you are not sure who you are going to be,” said Dagher. “Quarantine made it easier because I wasn’t pressured by everything around me to choose what I want. The concept of waiting and accepting growth helped with quarantine.”

Contact Sammy Gibbons at (920) 737-6895 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter below @sammykgibbons or Facebook at

Contact Claire Thornton at (210) 316-0483 or [email protected]. Follow them on Twitter at @claire_thornto.


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