By R. Bacchetta
As a transgender woman and an undergraduate student at a southern U.S. university, I have learned to dig underground for connections, underneath the layers of transphobia and biphobia and nationalism that percolate into many aspects of my daily campus life. My community is one of careful selections. It is comprised of friendships with other transgender students, bisexual students, and queer students, as well as those who are multiethnic and disabled, like myself. In the LGBTQ+ resource center on my campus, as well as across other, peripheral spaces, I am thankful to have found friends, both queer and not, who support and love me as me. These connections are what have made my college experience, and these connections are what I miss the most, having returned home to self-isolate with my family in Georgia.
When the announcement came over email that we had five days to move out, many of us queer students panicked. There were those of us who would be returning to unsupportive and/or underprivileged households. There were those of us who had no place to return to. On campus, we had learned to survive via the connections we built with one another, and returning home would mean leaving that security blanket behind. That evening when the email arrived, some of us met up on campus to discuss our thoughts and feelings. We weren’t in search of any answers, just community. It was an unexpected transition and, although each of us had had our fair share of experience with transitions, this one was different. Nobody knew what would come next.
I am thankful to be out to my immediate family and to have them behind me, supporting me. I am not out to my extended family as bisexual or transgender, as they are immigrants who hold cultural values and preconceptions that do not make it safe for me to come out to them. That being said, I am quite privileged to have been able to return home to a loving family. Although my family holds conservative political views, and although we definitely do not see eye to eye on many things, they try their best, and whenever I have needed any kind of support, they have been there for me. Many of my friends on campus do not have that privilege.
My partner identifies as pansexual, and she is not out to her family. For many students like her, returning home meant refamiliarizing oneself with all the ways it is appropriate and inappropriate to allow their identies to show. It meant reentering a space with religious, cultural, or political walls. It meant returning to finding solace in subreddits and Twitter feeds from the comfortable privacy of one’s phone or laptop, to finding acknowledgment and love through iMessage and Facebook groups and Instagram DMs. My partner and I chat on Facetime every day. Face-to-face connection is vital for both of us, as transitioning from seeing one another every day to not seeing one another for nearly two months has been extremely difficult.
Likewise, remaining plugged into my community, although virtually, has been vital for my well-being and mental health. Each Friday I facilitate an affinity group for my fellow transgender, genderqueer, and questioning students. Our weekly meetings are one hour long, and for the past two months we have been meeting on Zoom. It’s a different feeling, not being in the resource center around one another, not caring what someone should say as that was our space. I appreciate that technology allows us to connect now, but the faces on my screen are different. They talk in hushed voices. Their eyes dart around, focused on their bedroom doors, the sounds coming from the kitchen, the people walking up and down the sidewalk in front of their park bench. Some members choose to use the chat box instead of speaking live. Most don’t stay past fifteen or twenty minutes. Luckily, social media apps have helped us. Because of the privacy they can afford, they have been a crucial resource in allowing us to connect more discreetly.
While my connections with my family, my partner, and my friends have been of the utmost importance to me, so too has disconnection. I have taken up yoga as well as meditation to detach my mind from the images on television and on my phone. Taking to my mother’s yoga mat allows me to minimize, if temporarily, my stressors and anxiety. As I learn new moves and poses, I disconnect to further find myself amidst this crisis, to seek better autonomy over my body and mind. As I inhale and exhale deeply, I forget for a moment about being misgendered, about gender dysphoria, about the rising copays for hormones at my pharmacy. I forget for a moment about being laid off from my job, my looming final exams, my fear for the future. I breathe and exist in my body, loving it as it is, recognizing it where it is.
This crisis will pass, but in the meantime, I try to acknowledge my boundaries between connection and disconnection, this liminal space that is my life. While simultaneously medically transitioning and coming into my own as a bisexual woman, I have been pressured by society to categorize myself. I must be easily discernible as either a man or a woman. I must be attracted totally to either men or women. Neither of these things are true for me, and, although I call myself a bisexual transgender woman, I see both my gender identity and sexuality as fluid. I am still learning about myself, and while I use these labels, I am so much more than categories. I am so much more than one or the other. Being quarantined has allowed me to work on charting an individualized path for myself, one that centers my needs, but also one that allows me to connect and exchange support with others. Both aspects are essential.
During this age of isolation, prioritize yourself as well as your communities and connections. You are a multifaceted individual with unique needs, desires, and comforts. Take some time to allow your mind and body to rest and reset, to remember that you are human. That all of us are. And while it is important to connect, it is just as important to disconnect!
R. Bacchetta is a proud bisexual trans woman living in Atlanta, Georgia. She loves writing, cooking, and, well, being queer.