The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on everyone’s physical and mental health for more than a couple of years now. Alongside the challenges of the disease itself, our mental wellbeing has also been put to the test. Many special groups, who have had difficulties in coping also in the past, have particularly suffered. One such group consists of those belonging to gender and sexual minorities.
A gender minority comprises persons whose gender identity does not fit into the binary female or male classification. A sexual minority, in contrast, comprises persons whose sexuality or sexual identity does not correspond to heteronormativity.
Those belonging to these minorities experience difficulties in building their own identity to this day, even though the conditions for so-called “coming out” and a balanced life have improved due to changes in legislation and people’s attitudes. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused setbacks in identity work.
Particularly single people in these minorities have suffered from the pandemic.
Isolation has resulted in loneliness and mental health problems due to, among other causes, fewer peer support meetings and the closure of meeting places. Not everyone has experienced online dating as bringing comfort or improving one’s social life. This means romantic relationships have not been formed, and the amount of anxiety has risen, especially among young people.
The problem becomes minority specific especially because the amount of meeting places where members of gender and sexual minorities can meet safely remains low.
In turn, a previously formed intimate relationship appears as a kind of psychological lifeline, as those in a relationship did not experience the same kind of loneliness.
Moreover, the reduction in the amount of peer support has made people feel worse. Many young people have experienced anxiety when they have been left alone while building their own identity without support from those in the same situation or from those who have already done identity work.
Identity building often includes the so-called “coming out of the closet” stage for individuals in either a sexual or gender minority. Naturally, the opportunities to come out that existed pre-pandemic have been lacking during it, which has reduced the opportunities to experiment with and strengthen one’s own identity.
In addition to single gay men and women, transgender people have acutely experienced the pandemic as making it more difficult for them to build their identity.
The pandemic may have prolonged the transition from one gender to another, which has slowed down the mitigation of gender conflict. With the continued isolation eliminating the opportunity to meet others, transgender people have also not been able to build their new identity in public. Isolation during COVID-19 might have even caused a feeling that life as a transgender person has stopped completely because one’s public self has disappeared within four walls.
The pandemic has increased the feeling of stress in everyday life, with many individuals belonging to minorities experiencing chronic minority stress, meaning the stress caused by fear, feelings of shame, identity concealment and other related emotions. As the number of stressors has increased in all corners of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a marked growth in overall mental distress.
Jarmo Harri Jantunen is Professor of Finnish at the Department of Language and Communications Studies at the University of Jyväskylä. The blog is based on survey data collected from the study Sexual and Gender Segregation and Stigmatized Places.
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