One in five young people discovered they are LGBTQ+ over lockdown. Here are their stories
‘Being stuck inside forced me think about who I really was’
When 21-year-old Ruby moved home from uni at the start of lockdown, she didn’t start baking banana bread or learning TikTok dances, but she did begin doing something else – questioning her sexuality. “I think I’ve always known I’m gay”, she says, “but it wasn’t something I’d ever allowed myself to properly think about. I’d always distracted myself with dating men, but when I legally wasn’t able to do this over lockdown I began to question it.”
Now Ruby’s out as gay and says she’s never been happier – but her experiences are far from unique. Of almost 23,000 students and young people The Tab asked via Instagram polls, one in five (20 per cent) said lockdown had made them realise their sexuality or gender identity.
Many of those The Tab spoke to say that over the three national lockdowns of the past year, the extra time alone – time to think deeply about themselves, but also time away from the heterosexual dating scene – gave them the opportunity to realise they are LGBTQ+.
These young people all discovered their sexuality or gender identity over three national lockdowns. Here are their stories:
‘The pandemic forced me to think about how I truly felt’
Katie realised she is attracted to women over the first lockdown. Like Ruby and many of the other students who spoke to The Tab, it was something she’d vaguely known for a while but had never properly considered. Katie says: “It had been at the back of my mind since I was about 10, but I remember thinking that because I had crushes on guys I obviously wasn’t a lesbian.”
Katie says there was a time where “I’d tell myself on a daily basis that I wasn’t gay” – which, she says, in retrospect should have been “a massive sign”. “It’s strange because I knew bisexuality existed, I had bi friends but for some reason I just didn’t clock that I could be bi,” Katie says. “It took a whole ass pandemic and a lot of time by myself to come to this conclusion.”
Katie says she finally realised her sexuality after spending half an hour “stalking a pretty girl on TikTok” and realising she wasn’t jealous, but was attracted to her. Coming to the realisation was “emotional”: “it felt like years of suppressed feelings coming to surface and finally being able to connect the dots of parts of my life”.
She believes she would have realised her sexuality at some point if it hadn’t been for the pandemic and lockdowns, but thinks they “definitely played a role”. She says in the past she had “brushed off” her feelings for women as friend crushes, jealousy or insecurity, so “the pandemic forced me to actually think about how I truly felt for the first time”.
‘Coming out to my parents is a struggle’
Elio had always known they liked girls, but it was only in the first lockdown they realised they weren’t bi but a lesbian – then in the second lockdown, they realised they’re non-binary.
They say the time alone gave them a chance to think for themself, and to reconsider both their attraction to men, and their gender identity. Elio says that right now “the hardest part right now is coming out to my parents, because they’ve never understood anything other than a heteronormative reality”. They say it’s been a “struggle” trying to come out to their parents, and they’re trying to surround themself with “people who have my best intentions in their heart and cutting off people who don’t”.
Elio remembers coming out to someone whom they’d thought was a close friend, and they responded by asking: “But you don’t have a crush on me right? And I don’t have to sleep in the same bed as you?”
“People can have really astounding homophobia and transphobia,” Elio says, “and you never really realise until you are the thing you don’t accept.”
‘2020 held some of the darkest months of my life, I worked to hard to drag myself through it’
Final year uni student Georgia says that during lockdown, she began to think about who she wanted to be once she was out of it. “Being stuck inside forced me think about who I really was and how I had let the queer part of me get trapped and shut away,” she says.
Throughout the first two national lockdowns, until December last year, Georgia says she was struggling a lot. She says: “I had a strong feeling of hatred for myself and who I was,” describing her thoughts of internalised homophobia at the time. “I’d tell myself that life would be so much easier if I wasn’t a lesbian and that me being gay would ruin everyone’s perceived idea of me,” Georgia says. “I panicked and convinced myself I’d lose it all if I told everyone I was gay.”
When Georgia came out as a lesbian in December, she says people told her she was brave and deserves to be happy, and she eventually realised they were right. She says 2020 “held some of the darkest months” of her life, but she worked hard to come through the other side of it – and is glad she did. “I’ve been able to experience what life is like when you are yourself and I am such a better person for it,” she says.
“I am happier, calmer and much more optimistic about my future. Everything I thought I couldn’t experience, I have and I am so proud of the person I have become.”
‘I thought about if it was a ‘phase’, but it stuck’
21-year-old Lydia discovered she is asexual over lockdown. She stayed with her boyfriend and his parents over the first lockdown – “which quickly turned from a few weeks to just under four months”. Because of their religion, Lydia and her boyfriend weren’t allowed to sleep in the same room, but Lydia says this didn’t “phase” her at all.
Her boyfriend kept telling her how much he wished they could be sleeping together, but Lydia says she “just didn’t feel it”. She began to worry, and says she questioned if she still loved him, but says: “The answer was always hell yes – and so much. I just didn’t care about sex.”
Lydia she took a long time to think about it, considering “whether it was just a ‘phase’ or me being accustomed to my own company, – but it stuck”, she says. One morning she told her boyfriend she thought she was asexual, saying she “put the label on it to express it more clearly” to him. “Sexual relations was just not a factor or priority in my love for him”, she says.
Lydia says an enormous pressure lifted after telling him. “I used to feel that every night when sleeping together”, she says, “that there was this unsaid pressure to do something, but now it’s just cuddle and sleep – and I’m so happy for it”. They have had sex since, when she “fancies a little more”, and her boyfriend is supportive and understanding.
‘I’m happier simply being myself’
Lockdown gave first year Luci time to reflect on their gender, and they “finally realised the small hints I’d dropped to myself all my life” and discovered they are non-binary. With nothing to do in lockdown, Luci was left with “plenty of time to look inwards and reflect upon myself” and past experiences they’ve had.
“During lockdown, my thoughts kept wandering to times where I’d done things which didn’t necessarily ‘conform’ to the gender I was presenting as”, they say. Luci says they knew they weren’t trans, as they had friends who are, but experimented with different pronouns before realising how comfortable they were with using they/them pronouns for themself. “It finally clicked in my head when I was talking to a friend of a friend at a small picnic and they referred to me using they/them pronouns,” Luci says. “I had never felt more comfortable and content.”
Luci’s a first year, and coming to uni allowed them to experiment with makeup and feminine clothing, and getting a wig for a drag night within their flat. A few weeks later they came out to some close friends as non-binary, and then gradually told more. “Everyone has been so welcoming and accepting of it,” Luci says. “Though even if they hadn’t been as positive, I would still be happier simply being myself. I’ve never felt closer to my truer self.”
‘Lockdown gave me a detox from dating men’
Beth realised they are gay over lockdown – but says in the past she had a “fairly unhealthy habit getting drunk and have slept with a lot of men”. “It was only during lockdown,” Beth says, “that I had a complete detox from that and was able to get some perspective.”
Beth met a girl in lockdown who “I just couldn’t get out of my head”, and realised these feelings were completely different to past feelings for men. “Whenever I thought about her I would just get this tide of emotions that I’ve never felt for a man,” Beth says. She began to consider past relationships and partners, before realising “I’ve never been attracted to a man”.
“It was so difficult to realise,” Beth says, because of “this insane pressure on women to get with men”. Beth continues: “It actually had me inventing attraction in my own head just to comply with this toxic societal obligation to sleep and date men.”
Lockdown gave Beth a chance to get distance and perspective, and says without it “I might never have come to terms with it.”
‘I’m excited to feel more free’
First year Emma says she had been questioning her sexuality for a while, but when she started university last autumn she was able to confide in her new friends, and then-boyfriend, that she’d realised she is bisexual. Emma says she hadn’t been with a women before and so was “nervous” to come out, but now has realised “you don’t need to have been with anyone to prove your sexuality”.
Emma broke up with her boyfriend and changed her dating app preferences to include women. “It was nice to start speaking to women in what felt like a safe environment,” she says. “Although nothing has come of it so far (thanks Covid), it has confirmed my sexuality.”
When Emma went home for the Easter holidays she came out to her friends from home, although her family still don’t know. “Now my friends know and lockdown is lifting I am excited to feel more free,” she says.
Some names have been changed to allow people to speak freely.
The Tab’s Pride reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.
If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]