Words by Kate Waldock
Artwork by Kate Waldock
Away from family and without the worry of parents and siblings prejudice, University is for many LGBT+ students a haven of peace to be comfortable with themselves. Lockdown presents a new challenge and many have had to stumble back into the proverbial closet at home, hiding their identities for a long period of time.
Being pushed back into hiding is an awful experience. Especially after years of fighting for a breath of fresh air when you have been taking the noxious gases of heteronormativity your whole life. At University, suddenly the air is clean, you can embrace what it feels like to be yourself. When lockdown swiftly approached us all, there was no time to prepare, and no time to protect ourselves. As we quickly entered that noxious environment, and those true identities we’d worked so hard on freeing were locked back up, we were suddenly stifling.
My Life in Lockdown
For me, going home was both exciting and daunting. Exciting, because I love my family so much, and was happy to spend time with them – probably the most time I would ever get to spend again with them as an entire family. But it also meant that my openness about being queer at University had to be shelved for the time being.
It’s not like my parents don’t know, they do. But we’ve only had uncomfortable conversations about the girls I’ve been dating for the past four months. Not only that, but I’m still unable to burst their bubble of hope that I will find Mr Right and settle down – “wild University phase over.” With the knowledge that it just won’t happen like that, I do feel uncomfortable when my dad mentions my future husband. Rather than telling him that, no, I won’t be having one of those, I smile and laugh because I haven’t even come out to my siblings yet.
“I am not able to be my true self.”
LGBT+ acceptance has increased massively over the years. I am lucky enough to be in a family that is trying its best to understand me. But I am not able to be my true self. Going back home, to the place where I went to school is haunted with the memories of my past self: the one I was before Uni. And friends that haven’t really evolved in their understanding in the meantime don’t make it easier when they still tell me I am ‘basically’ a guy because I fancy girls. Such ‘well-intentioned’ friends.
I’m not the only one: lockdown has been difficult for most LGBT+ students
I am not alone in this experience. Many members of the LGBT+ community have shared their own feelings about their parents’ lack of understanding. I am far from the only one hiding my Tinder notifications, or flinching every time a queer friend texts for the irrational fear that my parents will see.
I spoke to a few members of the LGBT+ community in Cardiff who have chosen to remain anonymous. One of the students I spoke said:
“I didn’t tell my religious parents because I just know it will affect our family relationship forever.”
Lockdown has meant that they have to refrain from mentioning their social life at University. As students that means the major part of their lives. In a word, it’s like they have to erase themselves.
Another student that identifies as a lesbian said: “Things aren’t like they are for straight people, that can literally swipe through tinder with their parents. A lesbian [or bisexual] can’t even open a dating app because they can’t let their parents see they like girls“
Transgender Students Often Experience More Discomfort At Home
For transgender students, this transition from University to home tends to be even more difficult. The Guardian has provided an insight into the disregard for young people’s pronouns as they come back to live with their parents during the lockdown. ‘Deadnaming’ is a term to describe when somebody refers to a trans person by the name they used to go by before they came out. It can be an incredibly distressing moment to call someone the wrong name, made so much more difficult by a parent that refuses to acknowledge their true gender.
Lockdown has been especially tough for transgender individuals with the government’s step backward for trans rights and JK Rowling’s disheartening and false comments on Twitter. Misinformation and transphobic actions by those in power creates an even more hostile environment for transgender students as they come back home for the months of lockdown.
One of the people I spoke to mentioned their experience as a trans person moving back home to ‘a small conservative town’ during lockdown:
“Despite coming out as trans to my parents last year, this was my first time living with them since. At first, they constantly used the wrong name, and never once even tried to use the right pronouns. When I finally had the confidence to bring it up, my mum wouldn’t apologise and only said how hard it was for her to adjust, whilst my dad said he refused to use my new pronouns at all.”
“I was essentially trapped.”
“With lockdown restrictions meaning that I couldn’t go out, I was essentially trapped, and at times I was really depressed by it. At University, I’m lucky enough to have found my chosen family, with supportive friends, colleagues, and my partner nearby. I still have hope it will get better with my family, there has been some progress since the beginning of lockdown but I can’t deny there have been moments where I’ve felt lost and I’ve had no idea how or when it would get better.“
Thousands of stories are accumulating, showing just how distressing the lockdown has been for queer and trans students. But after these dreary times, gleams of hope are sprouting here and there.
Support for LGBT+ Students
During these times, the notion of community can’t be undermined. It is of the utmost importance that you surround yourself with people who will take the time to listen to your struggles, even if they don’t share them. If there is no one like this in your near surroundings, you can reach out to online forums and group chats for support. Hopefully, the experiences described in this article will have at least made you feel understood.
At Cardiff University, we are particularly lucky to have a whole support system installed for LGBT+ students. If you’d like advice and support from the University, check out this webpage for more information. If you are ever feeling unsafe at home you can go to Stonewall’s housing website for advice and support.
The pandemic has created a worldwide anxiousness which being a queer or trans person only exacerbates. However, as the UK begins to ease lockdown, we can look toward the very near future where we can seek safety in our University communities once again.