It’s been three weeks since I defended my PhD dissertation (which is insane!), and over five weeks since I started practicing social distancing. It was difficult to figure out these dates, as I have no sense of time or space anymore. Covid-19 has changed my life – our lives – dramatically, disrupting normalcy and creating a “new normal” for us all. Adapting to these changes is difficult, but not impossible. And I believe that queer (LGBTQ+) people are a clear testament of the human capacity to adapt, re-emerge, and re-conceptualise the idea of “normal.”
I first read about coronavirus in January, when multiple stories about it were emerging, and reports (and videos!) of people dying were circulating on Twitter. Admittedly, I became obsessed with it, checking the statistics and the latest reports on the virus multiple times a day. It became clear to me that this coronavirus was dangerous, and I began to have panic attacks about the possibility of it affecting all of us – our families, finances, economies, food security, etc. I was also scared I was going to get sick before one of the most important days of my life (my viva), so I quarantined weeks before it was official in the UK. I didn’t get sick (though I’m still scared). But several of my friends in New York and London did. They’re all okay, luckily, as they’re young and generally very healthy people. But the possibility that one of my family members, close friends, or colleagues will eventually get it is terrifying.
I began to feel frustrated, angry, depressed, and hopeless as I saw governments’ (lack of) response to the imminent pandemic. I was – and still am – grieving. I started posting any type of useful – and verified – information I found on social media, and I called my family almost daily to share information about hand-washing, how to use masks correctly, flattening the curve, easy recipes, “getting ready,” etc. I did all this, I think, to re-gain a sense of control over this situation.
Life has changed for me – and for everyone – in many ways. And I’m learning to let go of control – to go with the flow and to queer this situation. All of my plans and some of my aspirations for this year have been postponed or put on hold. I was meant to get married to my partner this summer in Spain. I not only wanted to marry the love of my life this summer, but I also wanted to see – in person – most of my closest friends and family members at the wedding. We were also planning to go to Korea and Japan for our honeymoon, as we met in Korea and we spent – and lived together for – the first five months of our relationship in Japan. I also aspired to get a job in academia this year but, as of today, I have received three rejection letters stating that they are no longer hiring because of Covid-19. It is now clear to me that this might not happen this year, unless I experience an extraordinary stroke of luck. My 2020 vision is not going according to plan and I’m losing control. But this is not the first time. As a queer person, I have felt this before – the feeling that things are not normal, the sense of isolation and rejection, and the sense of hopelessness that can only be “cured” by reimagining the possibilities of desire, intimacy, disruption, and acceptance – by losing and regaining control.
Over the last month I have learned many lessons – I think we all have. But I have been thinking about the concept of disruption and how it parallels with queer existence. I learned that humans are delicate. Our mere existence, as we know it, is governed by a multitude of abstract and material elements: money, mobility, intimacy, electricity, desires, satisfaction (psychological and physical), hormones, fluids, consumption, freedom, etc. However, when one of these concepts gets severely disrupted, it has the capacity to create a domino effect which can also severely disrupt some of the other elements. When this occurs, it is normal to feel despair, hopelessness, and confusion. Our mere existence shatters; our sense of purpose extinguishes; and our emotions become intricate and volatile.
Humans are highly adaptable beings, however. We have the capacity to reconceptualise, reimagine, recreate, renew, and reorganise. Brain plasticity is real, but these neurological pathways do not emerge overnight. Societies do not rebuild themselves in a matter of days either. And when they do, they never resemble the old – so the new landscape becomes the “new normal.” We are full of productive capacities, and the way that we have, as a society, coped with the pandemic – while imperfect – is a testament of our ability to reimagine of possibilities. We are reimagining work, exercise, sex, kinship, goals, economies, fluids, air, transport, language, fashion, politics, etc.
Queer people have been doing this for millennia: reimagining these abstract and material elements and creating new spaces where our existence is possible. Due to our various gender and sexual identities, expressions, desires, and practices, many of us have been isolated from our families, churches, occupations, and public spaces for a long time. This has meant that we are more likely to be unemployed, to use drugs, to have anxiety and depression, and to be victims of hate crime. However, home with our chosen families (roommates, partners, pets, queerspawn, etc.) or alone are safe havens for us – they always have been. The streets have rarely been safe for us, and they continue to be unsafe. Despite these disruptions, this sense of alienation and victimisation has allowed us to create new spaces, desires, power dynamics, bodies, communities, systems, linguistic codes, theories, aesthetics, complexities, pride, resistance, action, etc. that we can call our own. Queer people have recreated and reimagined these possibilities, drawing from our anguish, our gayness, our desire to feel. We are accustomed to disruption. Our mere existence has disrupted – and continues to disrupt – normalcy and unmarked normativities. Now, amid a pandemic, it’s our time to continue reimagining these possibilities – to let go of control and to queer our existence.