Why gender identities have changed during the pandemic

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Re-evaluate “default settings”

“Everyone is always so busy in life that it’s really easy to try to escape,” says New York-based clinical psychologist Jennifer Guttman. In other words, she says, it’s natural for people to put self-discovery on the back burner.

When it comes to sexuality, that means it’s easier for many people to default to a “heteronormativity” mindset and not question the heterosexuality they grew up with, says Karen Blair, who directs the Social Relations, Attitudes and Diversity Lab at Trent University.

“A lot of our media and culture still sends the message to us that most of us will be straight,” Blair says. Since sexuality exists on a spectrum where “many, if not most, fall somewhere in between,” she adds, there’s not much motivation for people to question their sexuality if the “default settings” are fine enough.

But when people could “press the pause button during lockdown,” Guttman says, she observed “more customers than ever” exploring their sexual orientations. Of her 65 clients, she estimates that 10 to 12 reconsidered their sexuality around this time, compared to just one client who had done so before the pandemic.

“All began to notice that they felt helpless, lost, anxious, depressed. The fact that they felt uncomfortable with themselves bothered them. Many began to resolve this discomfort by assessing whether they were on the right career path, but over time they ended up digging “much deeper than work,” says Guttman.

“I entered directly into the pandemic”

Although the pandemic has reduced dating options for many people, others have seen a newly opened door.

London-based Alexa, 24, had long identified as straight, but was already questioning her sexuality as a fourth-year college student in New York state before Covid-19 hit. So as the pandemic pushed her to online dating, Alexa found it easier to change the types of partners she was looking for — she could do it from the comfort of her own home.

In early 2021, Alexa decided to change its Tinder settings from just men to “everyone.” The ease with which she could make this change made exploration feel, in a sense, less of a stake. She “still wasn’t sure” of her sexual identity at the time, but by changing the settings on her dating app, “at least the option was open,” she says.

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