This page showcases the written pieces (essays, poems, etc.) that were submitted to the Queering the Quarantine project. These pieces offer in-depth and specific details about queer lives and experiences during quarantine.
Bryan and Kevin are a "regular same-sex married couple". They submitted two pieces for the Queering the Quarantine project. The first is a few posts from their Facebook profile and, whilst not all are particularly LGBT focused, they offer a story of how these two coped with the pandemic. They feel that their story is true of so many unheard voices and they thought it would be worth capturing for future generations to show them how they have survived these extraordinary times. The second piece focuses on their stamp collection.
Lockdown Thoughts – Bryan and Kevin Manley-Green
Written by Bryan, edited by Kevin
Our story is like so many others, one where life suddenly stops. It’s a story that deserves telling for posterity, for another generation to discover what life was like during the pandemic.
I’m writing this in November 2020, and know that it’ll be some months before we’ll be able to venture out and see friends. We’ve given up on doing much for Christmas – or Kevin’s birthday which is also at Christmas time.
We’re a fairly regular same sex male couple (he/him), together since 1988. The last few years have been spent fighting and unfortunately losing the Brexit battle. 2020 was going to be about enjoying our last year as EU citizens and reinventing ourselves.
When lockdown was announced, Kevin had been looking after me – I was suffering from an episode of gout. By October, the roles were reversed and I was looking after Kevin following a procedure to remove a skin cancer growth. That’s how life goes and a long-term relationship is
all about caring for each other. Yes, like all couples we argue from time to time, but we also laugh a lot too.
We have both been extremely careful about going out, mainly for necessities, but did have a little trip out to Worcester for our anniversary – and for my 60th, there was no celebration, but encouraged donations to No Outsiders. We actually managed to see the sea that day, well, the Bristol Channel where we had some sushi on a bench. Quite different from the “Hidden Baltic” cruise we’d planned nearly two years earlier, but we still managed to spend some time looking
at the sea!
We had two cruises planned, so each day we should have docked somewhere, each started for us by day watching Youtube videos of the port and surroundings, helping us to discover new places – and rediscover some old ones. And instead of the cruises, we treated ourselves to a brand new big smart telly.
Another way we connected with the world was by rekindling my stamp collecting hobby, which last saw the light of day around half a century ago! I discovered that quite a few countries were issuing stamps celebrating LGBT life – the first example being the Argentinian 2010 census stamp which included two same sex couples. It’s been great to receive – and even make friends – with likeminded people throughout the world. When buying from a stamp dealer in the EU, I often send them a note asking them to look after our star on the EU flag and hope that we get it back soon.
Over the years, we’ve attended fewer and fewer Prides, however, this year on more than one occasion, it came to us! We managed to connect with World Pride, Birmingham Pride, Brighton Pride – and the Cardiff based Iris Prize festival, where I even won a hamper in their prize draw!
A very funny moment was during Silver Pride, we were a bit early for one event, and ended up on a Zoom call with Miriam Margolyes! Kevin does like Zoom after all these years, as he’s found a way of putting me on mute!
And closer to home, Kevin has been doing a lot of gardening and coming in with home grown treats such as tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, kales and pak choi – my contribution was to buy some twinkly lights to brighten up the fence! We were looking at buying a summer house, but itjust looks like a lot of hard work sorting out the back of the garden to get it installed.
We’ve tried to make weekends different to the rest of the week – early on, we found a Pub Quiz, and have done that every other Saturday. Sunday afternoons are now for catching up with Strictly, and after the results results we watch an old Eurovision Song Contest. What would we have done without Youtube? And Sunday mornings have been spent in bed, shouting at the politicians on the telly, whilst I drink my “posh coffee”.
Social media, especially Facebook, has been really cathartic, not only does it help us keep in touch with the world, it also lets us vent our feelings. Even though the world has more or less stopped for us, there still seems to be a lot of things going on! It seems so long since we were clapping for carers, and we’re now used to seeing our beloved rainbow flag mistakenly used to represent the NHS. So much has changed this year, and next year we will face even more changes due to Brexit.
Whatever the future holds, and however life is after the virus, one thing that won’t change is we’ll still be taking care of each other as we’ve done for over three decades. That’s our real story.
“If we can’t go to the world – then let it come to us” – Bryan and Kevin Manley-Green
We love travelling and had planned a few trips to celebrate my 60th in September 2020, especially as we could still take advantage of the transition period where we still had full EU benefits. Then the virus came and our plans were abruptly curtailed.
Whilst sorting through things, I came across my stamp album from when I was young and thought “if we can’t go to the world, then let it come to us”.
Some fifty years ago, it would have been unimaginable to be able to collect stamps with an LGBT+ theme. I did, however, have a US stamp featuring a pansy, probably as near as you’d get in those days. Now, it’s truly breathtaking to see so many countries celebrate our diversity on their stamps.
Of course, over the years, lots of LGBT+ figures have been featured on stamps – even Russia has featured Tchaikovsky several times, and more recently, Tajikistan has featured Ricky Martin and George Michael! However, the story of truly “out” stamps starts when Argentina included same sex couples on their 2010 census issue. Since then, countries including Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Greenland and even the Philippines issue stamps to celebrate their LGBT+ community.
In the UK, although plenty of LGBT+ people have been honoured on stamps – from Roman Emperor Hadrian (of the wall) to Alan Turing, from Elton John to Freddie Mercury, and even Roy and Hayley from Coronation Street. Let’s hope it’s not too long until the UK issues its first Pride stamp, and in the meantime, also hope that the Royal Mail carries on featuring LGBT+ History Month whilst franking the post.
The collection still needs a name. Perhaps “From Pansy To Rainbow” fits the bill.
The Illustrated International Timeline of Queer Protest (2020) by Cas Bradbeer was conceptualised as a series of 64 Tweets, which were published by the Queer Heritage Forum during our PrideOnline2020. They aimed to provide a valuable, approachable resource that could help others use this time of quarantine to reflect on queer history – particularly radical queer histories that are inclusive of black and trans activists. Through this intersectional and anti-assimilationist approach to the history of Pride, Cas maintained political activism as the organising principal, and in so doing produced a potential tool for future activism. Thus, through personal reflection and resource creation, this timeline has become a medium for individual and collective queerings of the quarantine.
Take a look at the thread HERE!
"I wrote this essay during the covid-19 lockdown of 2020. The essay is about the misogyny, violence and lack of solidarity I experienced in the queer community a number of years ago.
I wrote the essay whilst in Sofia, Bulgaria where I currently live and work as a freelance writer and workshop leader. The events detailed in this essay took place in Leicester, the city where I was born.
I pitched the article subject to Archer Magazine, an Australian based publication, and they accepted in March. I wrote and redrafted the article during the early months of lockdown. The essay was published in May 2020.
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this experience. It felt good to put in to words something that the world is so often silent about and to share them with a global audience. This felt especially poignant amid the isolation we all experienced during the lockdown and amidst the rising instances of domestic violence.
‘Before It Touches You’ is published here and the text is copied below."
Hannah Stevens, August 2020.
Violence and Queer Solidarity: Before It Touches You
Published: May 26, 2020
There’s a myth of queer solidarity – an idea that here, in this community that values alliance and acceptance above everything, people have got your back.
But a few years ago, when I found myself on the receiving end of violence, I realised that the roots of misogyny are deeper than any solidarity.
I used to have a friend called Peter*. He loved the colour orange and fucking men. We used to eat supper together, drink Cava and talk. We had a mutual friend called Alexander, and we shared his interests in queer rights and liberal politics.
One day we watched Hitchcock’s horror The Birds. It was Peter’s favourite. I had never watched it before, but I loved the short story the film was based on, by Daphne du Maurier.
As the credits rolled, Peter turned to me. “Isn’t it great?” he asked.
I paused. The film had unsettled me. “I liked it,” I said. “Though it’s not as good as the story.” We both laughed. But then I was serious. “Do you know how awful Hitchcock was?”
Peter didn’t. So I told him. I told him how Hitchcock had stalked Tippi Hedren, the star of The Birds. I told Peter how Hitchcock had sexually assaulted her and how, when she spurned his advances, he ruined her career. Not only did Hitchcock block Universal Studios from submitting Hedren’s performance for an Oscar, but he prevented her from working with any other directors for the next two years. Her career never recovered.
“How awful,” Peter said. But there was something about the way he said it, a glaze in his eyes.
What I didn’t tell Peter was that I had started to sleep with Alexander. The three of us hung out a lot. It was okay at first: we were friends and I thought I knew him. But Alexander became increasingly controlling. Several months later, he convinced me to move in with him. His behaviour worsened. He became moody. He tracked me obsessively.
One day in the kitchen, I told him I wanted to stop. He smashed cups and plates. Then he stepped over to the knife-block, chose one with a serrated blade and held it up. He brushed my cheek with its point. It would have been easy for him to press harder, to pull it slowly across my skin.
This is what happens when some men don’t get what they want. Afterwards, I wondered how I was still alive.
When, some weeks later, I sent Peter a message to tell him about this violent incident, his response was cool. Alexander had already talked to him. Peter wanted to invite me over, he said, to get “my side of the story.”
When I arrived, the fire wasn’t lit and the room looked stark in the overhead light. I noticed the scuffs on the white walls, the flaking paint. I thought of the opening line in du Maurier’s story: “The wind changed overnight, and it was winter.”
Peter handed me a glass of water, not Cava. We sat down, and I began to speak. Peter tilted his head, furrowed his brow.
As I relayed the details of Alexander’s violence, I was acutely aware that I was a woman. It seemed important not to look over-emotional, hysterical. I noticed then, really noticed, that I was over twenty years Peter’s junior, and that unlike Alexander – the head of a uniformed service – I had no authority other than my words.
“These are strong accusations, aren’t they?” Peter said. “I always suspected you were sleeping together.”
Peter asked me when it started. He noted the crossover – how it had begun before I’d left my ex-girlfriend. He looked gravely at me. My face flushed.
As he talked, I thought of du Maurier’s protagonist, Nat Hocken – how he told his neighbour that the birds, unprovoked, had attacked him. His neighbour was awkward, disbelieving, and Nat “could see from her eyes that she thought his story was the result of a nightmare.”
Peter ushered me to the door. The evening had reached an early end.
After that, there were no more invitations to supper. My experience was too disorderly for Peter – as if my story, too, was the result of a nightmare. It didn’t fit with the way he idealised queer men, the way he idealised Alexander.
Peter and Alexander remained friends. I was – and am – angry. Angry about the lack of solidarity, and the unwillingness to acknowledge the violence and misogyny in the queer community. I’m angry about the refusal to listen to my story, to accept the fact of violence.
Though years have passed, and I no longer see Peter, I still have my copy of The Birds. It’s falling apart: the dusty pages have come loose from the spine. I think of how, when Nat Hocken first encountered the birds, their frenzied attack, his wife didn’t believe him. And when I think of Peter now, so untouched by what I told him, I think of Nat again when he says: “you had to endure something yourself before it touched you.”
Back then, I let Peter off lightly, knowing these were things he had not himself endured. But now I believe solidarity demands more than this. It begins not in shared experience, but in facing up to violence where you least want to admit to it, and – however different your experience may be – in allowing the stories you least want to hear to touch you.
* Names have been changed.
Hannah Stevens is a queer writer. She currently directs Wind&Bones, a community interest company exploring the crossing-places of creativity, writing and social justice. Originally from the UK, Hannah is currently based in Sofia, Bulgaria. You can find her at www.hannahstevenswriter.com and @stevens_han on Twitter.
Helen's poem "qu It" draws on the role of community and memory, and the importance of coming together at times of loss. It focuses on the empty spaces loss creates for the communities left behind, and the parallels between queer communities coming together. It draws particularly on the impact of the AIDS crisis on the queer community, and the resonance between that epidemic and the current COVID pandemic.
Fabr c of l fe
Phys cal, unth nkable
Look back, plunge forward
L ke the cr ses past
But not forgotten
Lost l ves, commun ties
From the spectre of A DS
To mutual a d
Not solated but nsulated
n blankets and blank spaces
This submission uses poetic form to communicate the isolation and repetition of lockdown, as well as the struggle of risking an authentic expression of queerness in a heteronormative culture, which is also internalised.
not / an anomaly
at forty-four / years old / I am stuck / living / in some groundhog day video game / whereby / I navigate / a heteronormative reality / that is / so heteronormative / I can’t even find / solace / speaking / to my queer friends / because / I imagine / they too / are navigating / a heteronormative reality / that is /
a parallel universe / and I / am living / a parallel life / in some other / part of the multiverse / yes / I am / that is / the only way / to make sense / of it / because / I’ve been thinking / it’s about time / I was more expressive / about my reality / wondering / whether the truth / will set me free / or whether / I will have instigated / my own / witch hunt /
did I tell you / at forty-four / years old / I am stuck / living / in some groundhog day video game / whereby / I navigate / a heteronormative reality / that is / so pervasive / I don’t even know / how to live / my truth / without considering / how people / might react / and whether / there would be / adverse / consequences / for threatening / to disrupt / the heteronormative lens / on the world / well / part of me /
no / all of me / hopes / that opening up / to my truth / might turn / my own / blinkered and myopic vision / of reality / into a queer kaleidoscopic Hubble telescope on LSD / but this / could be / highly disorientating / and probably also / rather inconvenient /
here / is a pertinent / example / I think / you’ll be able / to understand / since lockdown / so many people / are saying / how much / they appreciate / nature / and of course / I do too / but / for me / it is / a case / in point / because / what is / nature / if it is not / possibility /
the way / our heteronormative culture / views / the natural world / is almost exclusively / in terms / of procreative ability / and / gender binary / well /
procreate this /
diversity / is the single most important factor in the flourishing of an ecosystem and /
I am not / an anomaly
The Standing Proud project was initially set up as a collaboration between Holly Winter-Hughes of the Word Association CIC and Nicola Longworth-Cook on behalf of Out2gether, a community-led LGBT+ group. It was supposed to be a ten-week introduction to creative writing course with the aim of producing an anthology called ‘Standing Proud’ at the end.
Only 2 weeks in to the course COVID-19 arrived and the UK went into lockdown. The group were keen to continue so they moved onto ‘Zoom’. They grew in numbers and confidence and expanded their focus from writing about our experiences as LGBT+ people, to documenting their lives and emotions living through the months of pandemic lockdown. This became their second anthology, ‘Rainbows Behind Glass’.
Throughout lockdown the group became a hub of creativity and support for its members. Around twenty people have been part of this project, not all have submitted work to the anthologies but all have contributed in many ways. The anthologies cover designs feature artwork by two of our members. The editing and production was all done by the Word Association CIC.
In amongst the creative outpouring arising in response to the pandemic, they believe their work gives an authentic queer viewpoint to the events of this most challenging of years.
Now nine months later, Standing Proud continues to meet every Saturday morning.
Their work can be viewed online – printed copies are also available.
Nikoline Kaiser submitted two poems for the Queering the Quarantine project, both relating to their own experiences and feelings during the quarantine. The first looks at loneliness (and how long Nikoline's hair has grown). The second discusses gender as a mask and how during the pandemic we have to wear masks physically outside and inside to stay healthy and safe.
My hair is
long as rope
split ends and
My hair has
gown long enough
to reach the ground
and I hang it out
waiting for her
to find me
- Climb by Nikoline Kaiser
Before I was trapped here
I was trapped in a body
filled with bumps and bruises
a hell of skin and blood
before the door was locked
I had shut it too
closed my eyes in silence
laid in bed, waiting
someone would come by
one day, speaking
of rights and wants and needs
they would hand me a
cloth and yellow
white and purple
and the last black;
“put this over”
“your fine little head”
“it will obscure the features”
“you wish were fading, gone and dead.”
Now it is a given
a requirement, a must
I wear a mask in public
as the other was deadly
- Four-colour mask by Nikoline Kaiser
"Rachel identifies as a woman loving woman (wlw) and she opposed lockdown conditions on the grounds that cancelled treatments, stressed related illness caused by lockdowns, and enforced isolation, killed people.
Her starting point for the submitted work is the rainbow symbolism adopted by the NHS, government, and media to support lockdown. A symbol that is meant to represent hope and freedom to LGBTQ+ people is now being used to support and represent despair, isolation, and death. The government, media, and other lockdown supporters, have turned the world on its head so that community - rather than being a positive benefit to people's lives - is now the enemy.
Disruption, in any meaningful sense, has to involve questioning the truth of government and media narratives - especially given the history these institutions have of dishonest."
Going down the street
Rainbows oppose me
Stay safe they scream
From windows and screens
That means community
Becomes the enemy
Stay safe they scream
Safe from your needs
Don’t touch another
Makes you a murderer
Stay safe they scream
Sit in front of a screen
Protect the health service
Our nurses are perfect
Stay safe they scream
From another hanged teen
Rowan wrote this piece in May 2020, as a window into their life as a disabled trans person during the first lockdown. They were struggling with heavy periods (and the dysphoria that came with them), frantically working with friends to create a mutual aid group to support their local community, and grieving for their grandad; all while trying to adapt to the constant changes as the pandemic evolved. They tried to capture the reality of coping with dysphoria and anxiety during the pandemic, but also the sense of hope that they drew from the queer community coming together in a desperate time.
Old Patterns in the New Normal
Content Warnings: menstruation, intrusive thoughts, dysphoria, COVID-19, anxiety, death and grief; mentions of rape, police violence, transphobia and conversion therapy
It’s 8am and the first thing I’m conscious of is the dull throbbing ache in my abdomen. My constant companion for... how long has it been now? A week? Too long.
Stop hurting and start bleeding, you coward, I think as I drag myself up to a sitting position. Once I’m upright the aching void suddenly gains mass and plummets, drawing my attention down into it. I pull the duvet back up around me and grit my teeth, fighting the temptation to sink down into the awareness of my reproductive system and wallow in it. Thinking about it more isn’t going to get rid of it.
If you can stop yourself thinking about it it's probably not real dysphoria, my brain interjects. Everyone feels bad when they’re in pain. Everyone with endometriosis probably feels like this. They all think you’re just a cis woman faking it to get a hysterectomy. I flinch internally at “woman”, but the intrusive thoughts conveniently ignore that evidence against their argument. I try not to get drawn into those either, letting them play in the background like a tedious record.
I wonder how long it’ll be before it hits this time. My last cycle was shorter than this, but when the period came it was still agonisingly painful. How much worse would it be now? Is this even the kind of pain that leads up to a period, or could it be ovulation pain… or just my regular pelvic pain? I’ve spent so long avoiding thinking about my reproductive system, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist, that I have no idea how to tell the difference. Do I have endometriosis, or does everyone with a uterus feel like this? Knowing my body, endometriosis or not, my normal is probably far from most people’s.
So sensitive, so special, so precious. So many excuses.
I’d been on the implant until about a month ago, but that made me bleed every two weeks or so, so I got that taken out. The combined pill stopped my periods completely, which would have been wonderful, if it weren’t for the fact that the extra oestrogen made me a hollow shell of myself. I couldn’t handle that beyond the first month, and now there’s a pandemic on, so I’m making do with my “natural hormones” for a bit.
The pandemic. The realisation of everything that’s happening slams into me all at once, shooting me full of adrenaline. I grip the duvet tighter, sitting rigid as thoughts flood my brain.
You probably had it already and passed it on without even knowing it. You’re going to get sick with something else, and the hospitals will be too full to take you, and then you’ll die. You’re going to die. Your friends are going to die.
My hands are shaking and dripping with sweat as I fumble through my routine: meds; protein bar; D-ribose solution. The first set of many things I need to keep my fatigue at bay. As I eat, I scroll through Twitter, trying to glean what I can about the latest stage of the crisis. It’s hard to get a clear picture with everyone screaming so loudly, and I bounce unfocused between crowdfunders and petitions and scathing criticism of the government. Retweeting here, donating there; tiny mosquito efforts against a problem too big for any of us and a government that doesn’t care.
We live in a police state and the cops are coming for you. They’ll have conversion therapy camps for us before long. You’ll never get surgery or hormones and you’ll never get more birth control and the army are going to take over and they’re going to rape you and you’ll be pregnant during the apocal-
Okay. Definitely in the realm of hyperbole now.... Aren’t I?
If you’re not trans or otherwise marginalised you might recognise these thoughts as a response to the pandemic, and they are, but they’re also just a natural extension of the life I’m used to. Wake up, read the news about how the government want to kill us today. Watch braver people than me face down harassers and organise to fight back, do what little I can to help, fall back into waves of fatigue and try not to feel hopeless. That’s been my life for the past five or six years, as my social transition and early days of activism dovetailed with escalating chronic illness. In a way, the current situation is actually easier to deal with, but only because my health has improved massively through supplements; medications; coping mechanisms that have taken me years to perfect. That, and the fact that I’ve gained massive financial privilege in the past year: an inheritance, and a house of my own. Most trans people are going through what I’m going through without those large cushions to fall back on; although the world has been closing in on even my middle-class bubble for years, the battles I fight in my head are already reality for people more marginalised than me. Every few months some Cassandra who was accused of paranoia a year ago is proven right, and that cycle is getting faster. It’s hard to reason with catastrophic beliefs when they keep coming true.
But there’s signal in the noise that cuts through my scattered despair – a group of care workers called Queercare are bringing together volunteers for mutual aid, and writing thorough protocols for everything from disinfection to data protection so others can do the same. While our government dismisses and denies, trans women are building a nationwide decentralised movement to keep us alive. I know what I need to do. I get up, staggering a little from pain, grit my teeth through a shower, and start making plans.
I message my friends at our local Action for Trans Health group with the suggestion for a mutual aid group, to a small but enthusiastic response. My brain is buzzing with all the things that need doing (so many, all at once, and in what order?) but someone suggests I set up digital infrastructure and I take off, relieved to have a concrete task. I start a Slack and spend the next two days pleasantly buzzing with the feeling of Doing Something To Help, reading and condensing protocol and shaping processes to fit it. This project is new and big and full of potential, and I spend a lot of time thinking about those far-off possibilities and how I might bake in rules that prevent problems from the start. My entire brain is occupied: with stress, yes, but a productive stress, one that channels my anxiety into problem-solving and leaves no space to think about my body or how the government wants us dead. Activism isn’t a treatment for dysphoria, and it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism if you throw yourself in too far without actual self-care. I know this too well; I’ve wrecked myself that way before. But for those two days, I’m distracted from the wider world, laser-focused and free.
I still worry that I’m wasting my time; that no one else will want to get involved; that I’ll end up running it alone and burn out trying. But before long people are rallying, coming forward to brainstorm processes and acquire and distribute supplies. Momentum is picking up to a point that I’m struggling to keep up with; one day, I step away for lunch and a fatigue break and come back to an email, a website and a whole suite of organising tools. There’s a brief flicker of envy as I realise what they’ve created is so much better than what I’d done; they’ve taken my excessively wordy descriptions of protocol and turned them into something actually useful.
Why did you ever feel so proud of that mess?
But then I’m relieved; I’m not the only one here, and they understand what we’re doing, and we’re going to keep building on what we’ve made together until it works. I’m excited and hopeful and terrified all at once – and then I get a phone call that drains all the adrenaline from my body.
It’s my mother. My grandad – who’d already been sent to hospital for pneumonia before the virus had been considered a serious threat here – has tested positive for covid-19 and is unlikely to recover. Several of my family members – including both of my parents – may have been exposed, having visited him in hospital before “social distancing measures” was a phrase on anyone’s lips. I feel numb, fumbling through the motions of support and reassurance while worst-case scenarios unfold in my head. When I get off the phone, I send a rushed apology to the Slack and collapse into heavy sobbing as childhood memories, anger at the government and fear for my family wash over me in overwhelming waves.
The days that follow are a blur. I dive into games and friends’ offers of support and cling to whatever comforts I can get. My partner brings me chocolate, lovingly disinfected and left at the door. In my next therapy session grief and worry tumbles out of me, all my other issues shoved to the side. My therapist reminds me I could phone grandad’s hospital so I get a chance to say goodbye, and I resolve to do that – only for mum to call me twenty minutes later to tell me he’s passed away. I'm in the bathroom when she rings, and I end up sitting on the tiled floor for an hour while we talk about everything: memories of him; our shared grief; the strange new reality we’re living in. I’ve never been that comfortable telling her I love her, but it slips out of me at the end of that call. Our relationship is complicated, but shit, I don’t want her to die.
When the funeral arrangements begin, I’ve barely even processed grandad’s death. Churches are starting to close as lockdown comes into effect, and my aunt has to rush to make sure there’s a slot for a funeral at all. Even in normal times, with my fatigue, I’d never make it down south at such short notice without doing myself damage; with the added risk of the virus there’s no chance of me trying. I manage to ask mum to make sure I’m his “grandchild”, not 'granddaughter”, and spend the next few days trying to write something for the eulogy. With everything that’s going on, I can barely process my everyday life, let alone write about my grief coherently. I spend my daily writing time (carefully rationed to manage the pain in my arms) staring at the screen, trying to pull words through the fog in my brain and giving up.
And then my period finally comes. The pain is awful that first day; I moan every time I stand up, and it’s harder than ever to keep myself from being dragged into that black pit in my abdomen.
Don’t think about it don't think about it this is fine this is fin- Fuck.
I’m wearing a cotton pad that would have lasted me six hours on the implant. It’s soaked through after just two.
It’s going to get worse it’s going to get worse…
In a panic, I order several packs of the heaviest night-time pads I can find online, and hope I’ll be able to hold out until they arrive.
…Every month for the rest of your life and it’s going to get worse…
And then I turn my attention to my phone, which has been buzzing for the past hour or so. The funeral's happening a day earlier than expected, as the venue is now closing on the date it had been planned for, and I need to write something now if I’m going to write it at all. I struggle through a few sentences about childhood holidays and walking the dog with him across the moors, wince at how childish and incoherent it sounds, and send it anyway. It’ll have to do, but I wish I’d had more time.
As I write this, I’m in a more hopeful place. Life in the pandemic is never easy; I’ve been coping by keeping the soundtrack to my days carefully curated to let one or two emotions through at a time, stopping every so often to be quiet and feel all of them at once. Grief for grandad is still in there, though the early waves of grief have passed and my parents are thankfully alive and well. Dysphoria is there too, but that’s something I’m well used to, and it won’t be beating me any time soon. The mutual aid group gives me mixed feelings; we’ve been tangled in rota complications and clashing access needs and other mundane problems that make up the business of organising day-to-day, and I flip between worrying that we aren’t reaching enough people and that we'll overtax ourselves and burn out before this is over. But we’re here, we’ve built the beginning of something, and we’re taking care of each other like our community always does. That brings me a quiet hope.
Tash wished to write about her experience of being bisexual, demisexual, and polyamorous. She wished to particularly discuss having their first queer sexual encounters during the pandemic. She feels that there's an interesting narrative about finding freedom in terms of their identity and sexual expression, whilst living through one of the most restrictive times in recent history. The usual networks, meet-ups and parties were not possible and so she has been navigating this exciting, scary, and revelatory period of her life largely in isolation. She journaled about her experiences and revisited these entries for this piece.
Tash submitted this piece as a series of photographs of the journal entries which can be seen below but they have been fully transcribed for accessibility reasons.
"A global pandemic, quarantine and all its associated restrictions is probably an unlikely backdrop to ‘finding’ oneself, sexually. But that’s what happened to me (Charis, 27, she/her, hungry –as my dating profile goes.) I’ve been in a relationship with Sage (29, they/them) for seven years and we’ve been polyamorous for four of those. I had mostly dated men in the past –a serious of anxiety-inducing, disappointing dates, some ending in similarly anxiety-inducing and disappointing sexual encounters which confirmed my demisexuality. I had been on the odd date with a woman which invariably progressed no further, not because she didn’t want to, but because I chickened out. I think mostly I was scared of being ‘that’ girl who’s never had sex with a woman and is perceived to be ‘experimenting’ before retreating back to her male-presenting partner. However, something changed in 2020 –maybe it was the gradually increasing numbers of Covid deaths reminding me of my mortality or maybe just growing up and becoming more confident–and I decided to throw myself headfirst into my bisexuality. This involved coming out to my parents, my first gay PDA, a traumatic foursome and dragging myself to a date on a comedown –all of which I documented in a journal. What follows is ten journal entries over five months between two national lockdowns, and a whole lot of growth. Names and details have been changed to protect identities."
Coming out while Staying in: On finding sexual liberation during a global pandemic.
Wow. So that happened. When we were cycling to their place (which feels like a million years ago) I did mean it when I said to Sage that I didn't want anything physical to happen. But then we had so much wine and I totally lost myself. It's kind of scary how little I remember actually. Sheila asked to kiss me and I remember really enjoying that then mostly being with Henry, including 69ing on their living room floor. I can't believe it went on until 4am. But then what was that weirds awkwardness when we were blowing up the mattress and Henry asked us to leave- why?! I wish I hasn't brunch to get to this morning so Sage and I could have talked. They're right to be angry at me for not communicating what I wanted when we were there. It just would have felt so awkward to step out of the room together to discuss it! So strange to be confronted by pregnant friends this morning talking about buying houses and getting married. What am I doing with my life? Maybe I should be with someone who wants those normal mundane things. Maybe I just need to get some sleep (definitely). Things will probably make sense in the morning.
What a shit week- and obviously it could have all been avoided if I'd just spoken to Sage sooner. Radical honesty really is what its all about. It's hard hearing my suspicions confirmed that I handled the foursome badly but I'm glad Sage was open to my perspective that I thought they 100% wanted it to happen so I didn't need to confirm that! I also feel better having realised I need to date on my own for a while and I need Sage to ask me fewer questions (for now) so that I can feel like its my thing on my terms, not something I'm doing to make our polyamorous relationship make sense. And women! I'm excited to date women now that I'm not a total beginner and don't feel like a fraud - all those past suspicions about whether I actually wanted to sleep with women are gone. I definitely do - in fact I regret not going further with Sheila. I honestly can't believe how much lighter I fell now compared to a week ago when I felt like my world was crashing down around me. I'm certain that the Covid anxiety made everything seem so much worse - fuck this pandemic man.
Second date with Amanda was INTENSE. In a good way- I think. I felt like a clumsy lump during the bouldering - shouldn't have done that practice session yesterday, was so tired! She is amazing when she climbs- she looks effortless and weightless. I don't think I really realised how small she is before but she's delicate and poised like a bird. It was slightly awkward when she suggested going back to hers after and I opted for the pub but she seemed to understand. And my god I'm so attracted to her! Quite proud of myself for plucking up the courage to kiss her first. My first experience of lesbian PDA! I was so scared when that old woman approached us, was absolutely convinced I was about to experience my first face-to-face homophobia... I wonder what that says about me! To be honest I can't quite believe my luck that Amanda is interested in me and has already suggested her house for date number three... I'm slightly intimidated by her experience so I reckon I'll watch some XConfessions tonight- strictly for research purposes of course... Although if there is some period drama themed porn to be found the wand is coming straight out!
Writing this on the train home to see parents for the first time since February which is nuts- I don't know if I'm going to be able to resist hugging them. I'm hungover but very happy. last night with Amanda was amazing. I cannot believe I made her come!!! I feel kind of LIBERATED which sounds dramatic but is true. I always enjoy sex with Sage and find them unbelievably sexy but this is the first time I've really felt that with someone else. I am kinda disappointed that I didn't orgasm but I think I was too much in my head for that- but almost in a good way, in a 'I can't believe this is happening' kind of way. I'm already excited for the next time to try new things (this time was very much taking it in turns but I'd like to do some more simultaneous stuff) and explore with some of the toys she showed me. I guess the only slight worry is that we're both submissive - we both want to be tied up- but I'm sure that won't be too much of an issue. The question is how much I'll tell my parents. I want to be honest with them about my sexuality (and also I have dropped hints before so they probably suspect?) but I guess I'll see how it goes.
So... I guess I came out to my parents today?! It's honestly hard to tell because it wasn't a big *revelatory* moment like it is in the movies or even a super sweet emotional one like in Schitts Creek when Patrick tells his parents. I guess it's because they already knew that Sage and I are polyamorous and I have euphemistically referred to 'not being 100% straight' before. And I didn't exactly yell I HAD SEX WITH A WOMAN LAST NIGHT AND SHE SQUIRTED ONTO MY FINGERS!! (Although she did and I'm still not over it... life is good!) If I'm honest - which I probably should be here of all places - I'm slightly disappointed by their reaction. It was sweet of Dad to ask all those questions about Amanda but asking where she works and lives is hardly covering the important ground. And mum was just having none of it, busying herself going in and out of the kitchen, clearly not wanting to engage in the talk. Do I make her uncomfortable now? Does she find me repulsive? Will she look at me differently? I really hope not and I hope her reaction isn't indicative of a deeper bias. I'm sure it's just a lot for them to wrap their head around.
Oh my gosh i can't believe how long Jules and I spent together today! Six hours is definitely a record for me for a second date and I would have liked it to go on for longer. I love talking to her she's so warm and attentive. It was quite shocking when she told me so early on about what she's been going through and was so honest about therapy but then I found myself opening up and speaking about very personal stuff too. Oh but she's also super funny and has the best laugh. I guess I regret not kissing her but that's the problem with being entirely sober, I find it hard to work up the nerve. And she didn't seem to mind - I get the impression she'd want to take it slow. I think I am also physically attracted to her but I can't quite work it out. I think the next date should definitely involve some wine and chances to be more physically intimate- at her place or mine I reckon. The fact that she's always been monogamous before rings very faint alarm bells but I've been completely honest about what the deal is and she hasn't run for the hills. To be continued!
I deserve a friggin' medal for actually making it to brunch with Alesha this morning. Whyyyyy did I think that staying up until 3am was a good idea? Well Charis, you know the answer: cocaine. Don't do it kids. Even if you've drunk a bunch of wine and your housemate offers. DON'T DO IT. You will regret it in the morning when you have to get up (leaving your partner snoring away in bed) and drag yourself in the pouring rain to have a clandestine first date at The Breakfast Club in central ('yes Mr Waiter we do live together'). So much rule breaking in the past two days. Who am I? Anyway, I am very glad that I didn't cancel on Alesha - and not just because the breakfast burrito tasted like the best thing I'd ever eaten. She is GREAT Just so bubbly and warm and open and so different to me (and most women I've dated) but in a really good way. She has so much self-confidence but she wields it in a way that lets you in and invites you to become confident and happy too. And I'm saying this while on a comedown. Also ALL HAIL BREAKFAST BURRITOS.
Okay, back from the third date with Jules and my instincts were right: I'm not sexually attracted to her. I already feel guilty about having suspected this and then gone ahead and slept with her anyway. Clearly the fact that I needed to be quite lubed up with wine and port before making a move was an indication. But it's not as if I didn't want to have sex in the moment because I very much did. And she was very good at it. I mean that woman can move her fingers fast. And there was more flow than with Amanda and Jules has such big beautiful boobs and a great shaved head to stoke and yet... there was something missing. And I guess you can't force these things. I really hope she didn't feel like I cut things short but at some point I seemed to very quickly sober up and not be in the mood anymore. I was glad I had my therapy session tomorrow morning (well in six hours) as an excuse not to stay over. Also, to be honest, she totally intimidated me by being so good! I think that's the demisexual in me speaking- I should have been turned on, not daunted.
So, second national lockdown is official. Part of me is glad because cases are rising and maybe this will mean things will be back under control in time for Christmas, but part of me is worried about not being able to properly spend time with Sage for a month and the return of the slight emotional void that opened between us last time. I wonder why it is that reducing the physical touch and closeness between too people can make them feel emotionally miles apart. I guess Amanda feels that too and that's why she's decided to stop seeing me for now. I get it but I can't pretend I'm not disappointed. And for all of her talk of being solo poly and not into hierarchy and never wanting a nesting partner, her message made it clear that she'd still be dating Luke. I hope when lockdown is over- or maybe in the new year- we can reconnect. The experience with Jules has shown me just how much I like A. But I should also focus on my 'primary' partner right now and how we're going to see out next month of zoom dates and distanced walks. Roll on 2 December!
Well here we are on the eve of lockdown lifting. I 've got a chocolate advent calendar, a plan for travelling home for Christmas and a newfound appreciation of the ease at which I could travel between my London home and my family home until now! I'm so very glad that Sage came to stay with me for half of lockdown and that we're planning on saving for our own place (a two bed obviously with room for guests). I'm embarrassed at having sent Amanda a drunken text that she didn't reply to, but worse things can happen. Jules and I seem to be quite successfully transitioning into the friendzone, helped along by an old flame coming back into her life And Alesha and I already have plans to meet for our third date this weekend during which we've assured each other there will be much snogging. And now with some distance and some more experiences under our belt Sage and I are thinking about dating together again, this time probably with other solo women. This Christmas is going to be a weird one but this year hasn't been all bad because I'm Charis and I'm bisexual.