Stuck at home but free from the gender binary

A student shares how quarantine gave them the opportunity to explore their gender identity.

Andreas Copes poses for a self-portrait at his house on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near Gratz Street on August 19. | ANDREAS COPES / COURTESY

Here I am standing in front of the mirror in my house in North Philadelphia. A pleated skirt is waving beautifully in the breeze from the air conditioner and my T-shirt reads “Pride.” I am proud of the genderqueer person I am becoming, but how did I find myself?

I was about to graduate from the Community College of Philadelphia when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city in March 2020. Since then, my home has become a space for me to reevaluate who I am.

While at home, I felt comfortable wearing feminine clothes, like crop tops and skirts. I dove deep into my own perspective about what gender means to me and if I still agree with how I have identified for the past thirty years, as a man.

Being genderqueer means being free to decide what it means to be me, regardless of my assigned sex and gender at birth.

I don’t like binary labels. They are constraining, like walls, and I feel like there is so much more to the human experience than satisfying gender expectations. Just because I was born a certain way and raised as a boy, does not mean that I cannot break out of those walls.

I grew up in Oer-Erkenschwick, Germany, a small town where conformity was encouraged. That mindset has followed me throughout my life, even to Philadelphia. For years I strived to be more feminine, but I was still scared of what others may think. 

During the past 18 months, I barely left my house. I worked remotely, taking classes online and only had to leave the house to buy groceries. This isolation gave me a lot of comfort and time to think. I always wanted to know what it felt like to be genderqueer, to feel free not to check the boxes of masculinity.

I hesitated and struggled to explore what it meant to be genderqueer before the pandemic because I was still in the mindset of caring about what others thought and said. But it was time time to let go of that mindset once and for all.

I unlearned what I thought I had to be as a male-identifying person, and opened my mind to identifying differently. 

I can wear skirts without identifying as a woman, and I can wear briefs without labeling myself a man. In the comfort of my own house, I learned to be Andreas. 

Living in cities like Cologne and Berlin, Germany, and Philadelphia has opened so many doors to embrace my queer identity. The anonymity of the big city lets me worry less about what other people think. 

Nevertheless, I never thought I would need a global pandemic and being isolated in my home to start being comfortable with stepping out of the gender binary construct.

After being vaccinated against COVID-19 in April 2021 and with restrictions easing up, I realized that the time has come for me to get back outside into the city. 

I need to learn to be brave enough to stay true to myself. Denying who I really am should not be an option, because it hurts as much as any physical harm would. 

I recently spoke to another queer-identifying person at Templefest who congratulated me on my journey and who wished me all the strength I need to be true to myself. I started to realize that the biggest hurdle to jump is not society, but myself.

As a communication studies major I know about the power of language. I figure that, in addition to externally presenting as genderqueer, I can use language to communicate what I have learned about myself during quarantine.

I am using he/him and they/them as pronouns to announce: Hey, I am neither man nor woman. I am me.

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