How COVID is Causing a Gender Identity Crisis

Image Credit: Them Magazine

J Engels

Staff Writer

jengels@umassd.edu

As I scroll through social media lately I’ve been noticing something: more and more users- (including, as of recently, a celebrity as big as Halsey)- are putting “they” pronouns in their bios. Seeing that people are comfortable  enough to openly display these pronouns is a refreshing sign that  non-binary gender identities are starting to be destigmatized, but there are those who would attribute the increasing usage of these pronouns (conflating correlation with causation) to some kind of “trend.” A more accurate explanation for this exciting new open mindedness towards how we view gender might be linked- like most things in our lives right now- to COVID 19. 

Being more removed from society due to COVID, as lonely as it has felt, has also had some positive outcomes. Take fashion, for example. Since we haven’t have to routinely go out into the public (and performing for others is less of a factor) we become more likely to opt for clothes that are more comfortable- like Sweatpants and sweatshirts- over clothes that make more of a fashion statement or look “professional”. That isn’t to say that nobody dresses up at all during quarantine- plenty of people still enjoy wearing fun clothes regardless of if anyone will see them. It’s just that how and when we express ourselves outwardly has become less of a necessity and more of a choice.

Similarly to fashion gender identity also like has performative aspects, and  much of our understanding of it is learned rather than intuitive. The notion of a gender binary is a culturally ingrained one; from infancy gender is defined for us. Regardless of how progressive a parents beliefs’ about gender roles might be, when buying clothes and toys for children they are still essentially presented with a choice based, not necessarily on what they believe the child will like, but what will best fits a child’s assumed gender role. Everything from color palettes, to patterns, to the products themselves- is gendered as being for either a boy or a girl. So children are raised believing they have to be either one or the other- that they have to either be a boy, or a girl, either she/ her, or he/him, and we are never educated that these are not the only options. 

What’s happening, now that performing according to society’s expectations of what gender should look like is less of a factor, is that people are now freed-up to re-evaluate our gender identities. We are freed up to really meditate on what our gender identity actually is, something that capitalism rarely allows time for. We are freed up to consider the possibility that we may not be so easily categorized as we’ve been led to believe- that we may not fit within the binary. 

Gender is a complicated and personal thing, and I’d like to hope this moment in time is a glimpse into a future where reflecting deeply and asking questions about gender is normalized, a future where our understanding of our own gender is not determined by societal expectations, but by our own perceptions- a future where someone putting she/they in their bios continues to be a common site.

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