Gender transition as mental and physical process is a complex and arduous journey. At least that is what the internet told me before I started embarking on mine. Little did I know how very challenging indeed it would become with the onset of a global pandemic.
I am non-binary. My transition, physical, social and mental, has to date encompassed the last 5-ish years of my life. For the last 9 months I have also been on hormone replacement therapy.
As most people who have experienced the latter might know, adjusting to new hormone levels and arriving at a point where they are in balance with your body’s needs, often already takes a toll on one’s mental well-being. Like a second puberty, emotional challenges often arise.
(If you would like to read about my experience with transitioning thus far and my first round of HRT, I highly recommend you check out my first article for Be You Network.)
As more information to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic became known in my country, it was rather apparent that a lockdown-like situation would be implemented shortly. When faced with a previously unknown threat as such, many people reacted with anxiety, stress, fear for their livelihoods, financial and professional safety and strain on their closest relationships - as did I. Now add that to my pre-existing state of late adolescent angst to achieve a veritable nightmare cocktail.
For the first time, the weeks leading up to any official decisions from the government, I could viscerally feel the precarious living situations I’d been in not to long ago reverberate through my body. I was all awash with anxiety from morning till eve and finding out that my testosterone levels were incidentally through the roof (due to my initial healthcare provider not checking in with them) certainly did not help. Everything seemed rather gloomy.
But here’s the thing: Queer people, by nature, are resilient as hell.
When the first week of proper lockdown rolled around, things did change though. I was certainly somewhat reassured by my country’s rapid and firm measures for a new code of conduct. It was not enforced that we were not to go outside, but a culture of ‘protect yourself and through that others’ was propagated widely. The person I live with and I thus decided to only leave the house when necessary - for getting groceries and doctor’s appointments. In a tiny flat with blissfully enough natural daylight, this certainly posed a challenge.
But here’s the thing: Queer people, by nature, are resilient as hell.
I found myself trapped in a situation I had no control over. And somewhat, that felt oddly familiar to the way I experienced life before I ever got to start my transition. Something beyond myself seemingly had control over my life, so I did what I do best : adapt and learn how to thrive in the present.
I made it a commitment to get in touch with things I had pushed aside. To seek community despite social distancing as I had already done long before when external struggles had prevented me from being in touch with like-minded people in a physical space. I produced more artworks, conceptualised, made community updates on my instagram channel @nathancha_ and checked in on friends. I attended a virtual birthday party, had game nights with my friends and later connected with some close family members in healing ways I had not even foreseen. I partook in business classes and learned how to fortify my professional skills and visions in this time of relative calmness.
Through this time of hardship and extreme mental distress, I found strategies of perseverance. I discovered my personal needs all over again and enforced my self care routines to the max.
I truly believe in queer strength. I believe that as LGBTQ+ people, so used to a system not created for us, we possess a unique disposition for survival and perseverance through adverse times like these.
The instances I had previously considered rather adjacent to the journey I was on, became central points of my existence. My inward struggles seemed so much less a thing I wanted to focus on, unknot or cater to. In a state of emergency for most of mankind, I felt more equal than ever before. Because my inner turmoil felt reflected everywhere I looked. And that’s where I stepped up.
I started producing tutorial videos on how to make face masks at home, informed by my expertise in fashion and garment making. It felt useful to make my knowledge accessible to people out there who might be helped by it. Additionally, I created a series of audiobooks called ‘The Pandemic Diaries’ to express emotions felt through this time and share them as short stories. It felt right to write again, to give voice to all these unloved emotions, complexities and depth.
An odd thing about the sudden lack of public interaction was that I would never know where I stood in my transition. How would I be read when amongst other people? When, if ever, would I pass? How would life feel like on the other side? I had so many questions and an acute lack of answers. A face mask, too, does its part of obscuring one’s identity and sending possibly unwanted gendered signals to one’s surroundings. As someone with an affinity for bright colours and in the possession of both protective gear with Hello Kitty printed all over it and one with a bunny snout, that part offered room for much confusion.
We construct ourselves as people, through others. How was I to experience my gender without the meaningful exchange with a plethora of people? How to adventurously explore my second adolescence without the means to go wild and tear shit up? I found myself in nature more often than not, on expansive hikes through the woods; finding true solace in the open air, the trees’ whispers, the knowledge that I am an inherently natural thing in all my non-binary glow. In short: I tuned in with every living energy I had access to.
Going forward, this is also an appeal I would like to pose in online and offline community spaces: that self care is essential for our thriving in this world. Queer joy is paramount.
Exercise, once again, became part of my daily life; feeling my body, strengthening it and keeping my dopamine levels in check. I cycled far and wide, I cycled fast; to outpace the bigots and fears of my past, to embrace only what lay before me. Each day was a step further ahead. Each day was a manifesto to demand more from life than stagnancy, the insufficient affection I had been granted in places, the opportunities barely scraping what I needed. I vowed to not get beaten down again, to keep striving for more and to embed that into my life going forward.
I truly believe in queer strength. I believe that as LGBTQ+ people, so used to a system not created for us, we possess a unique disposition for survival and perseverance through adverse times like these. We can turn inwards and distill an essence of sheer force borne by all hardships we have conquered thus far. Going forward, this is also an appeal I would like to pose in online and offline community spaces: that self care is essential for our thriving in this world. Queer joy is paramount.
About the author
Nathan Cha is an interdisciplinary artist, designer, performer and writer.
His work centers representation of non-binary & queer identities, space, perception and self expression in all its glorious facets. Movement and language are tools he uses to express the sheer force of natural powers roaming within, his ferocious attempt to leave an emotional imprint on those who are touched by his work.
For more visit:
His website: www.alissa-cha.net
You can also find him on Youtube