Like a lot of people, to say I’ve been struggling this year would be a dramatic understatement. But, I think, like a lot of people, I’ve also avoided talking about it. 2020 is, for many of us, the year that brings “Oh I shouldn’t complain – others have it so much worse” so far wedged into your mind that it seems like an impossible mantra, never to leave your head.
The worst part has been that I couldn’t quite figure out why I seemed to be coping so much worse than other people. Of course, the first answer to that is – I’m not. And if you only know me through twitter, it’s likely you didn’t even realise I was particularly down. I’m long past the point of feeling comfortable expressing too many genuine feelings on twitter. I smile. I make jokes.
I once posted one of my truly awful puns, and a reply to it ending in ‘haha’, while my face was entirely stained in tears and my hands were shaking.
Yet that problem still ate at me. Why was I sobbing in loneliness, anxiety, and dealing with genuine (if mercifully fleeting) self-harm ideations for the first time since I transitioned 5 years ago? Why was this so hard?
There’s never a simple answer to these things, but I began to put the pieces together during, of all things, a podcast. I have been burying myself in podcasts about film. I would pick a filmmaker who I found interesting, and listen to every podcast I could that they had guested on.
This one was Diablo Cody, and she was talking about horror – specifically, her (so far only) foray into explicit horror, the underrated classic and personal favourite of mine, Jennifer’s Body.
What mattered, and what hit me like a freight train in a Tony Scott movie, was this observation of hers: “The one thing that I remember about the friendships that I had [in my teen years] is they were incredibly intense. Moreso than my romantic relationships that I was starting to have with guys. I was just completely enamoured with my best friend, and yet there was these forces conspiring to tear us apart. Because, you know, as you get older you don’t have the space in your life to nurture those friendships any more.”
The Bad Times
For the past few years, since my transition, I’d been living in a sharehouse with (not counting the usual sharehouse comings and goings) more or less the same group of people. I had been planning to finally move on myself this year, but when the sharehouse unexpectedly dissolved in late January, I finally had to make a decision.
After an entire life of living with family, partners or flatmates, I wanted to try living on my own. I am quite an extrovert, to put it mildly, but figured as long as I was seeing lots of my friends with frequency, living alone was something I should try at least once.
I wasn’t quite financially ready to move out on my own yet (what the buying of new appliances, etc, atop the usual moving costs) but with the sharehouse collapse forcing my hand, I figured fuck it.
By February I was living in my own one bedroom apartment, alone, for the first time in my life.
By March, COVID-19 was tearing across the world, and I found myself very quickly not just living alone, but in contrast to my intended coping strategies for living alone, I was seeing… nobody.
Without being too hyperbolic… it was a few of the worst months of my life, and I found myself crying myself to sleep at night, desperately wishing I could hug or even just briefly touch the people on the other end of the regular video calls with friends that have now become a staple of life in 2020.
It hit the point, some weeks in, where I put on makeup… because a courier delivering something. I had no reason to impress some random courier who’d see me for a grand total of 5 seconds, but I wanted something – anything – as a reason to do something I used to do all the time.
The After Times
Since then, things have changed. I’m lucky enough to live in a city that’s doing… okay. In fact, in the grand scheme of the world, we’re doing remarkably well.
Apart from limitations imposed on very large gatherings, new seating labels for public transport, the understandable social pressure to wear a mask, and signing in when you got bars or restaurants so you can be tracked… things are supposed to be closer to normal. We can go to bars and restaurants. Holidays are being advertised (albeit domestic ones and always in the same state).
It’s even possible to have a conversation with someone and not have the global goddamn pandemic be the single thing you can talk about.
But we’re all still being cautious. Most of my friends who still have jobs outside of retail or hospitality are working from home, and it’s looking like that’ll be the case with every vaguely rational office employer for potentially a good year or so to come.
Single White Female, 35 or older
When I moved into this apartment, it was one of several I applied for. For the first time in my life, I not only got the one I wanted first time – but got every one I applied for. I got to pick which of the several apartments I had applied for I truly wanted to live in.
I was extremely confused, and a friend of mine who’d worked in real estate explained it to me. “You’re the perfect tenant. That’s why. You’ve got a full-time, white-collar job, you’re white, female, living alone and in your late ’30s. You’re old enough that you’re less likely to fall pregnant and suddenly be moving out to a larger, baby-friendly place, and you’re white and female so statistically they think you’re more likely to keep the place in good condition.”
That was a jarring thing to hear. A reminder of the sexism, racism and uncomfortable pragmatism of capitalism and the rental market.
But, given the gross biases against me in almost ever other facet of my life as a queer, transgender woman, finding the one instance where some of those things could work in my favour was not a gift-horse I was going to dismiss.
It was a ‘category’ I’m now a part of that would enter my brain more and more as the year wore on.
Even as things begin to re-open in my city after the first wave of COVID, while technically I could still be going to bars, parties, going on tinder dates or doing all the usual things that were part of my life pre-2020… the fact is that’s not the case.
It didn’t quite make sense to me at first. I was seeing friends, if usually only one on one. So what was different? Why was I turning into an emotional wreck?
There are many reasons for this, I’m sure, and many are things that have been discussed in every article and Facebook post we’ve seen for months now.
The anxiety of the world being changed and having no clue, even if those we love around the world do all survive it, when (if ever) we’ll get to resume anything even slightly like our previous lives. When our life goals or dreams will start being possible again. If we’ll still be employed in a week, a month or even a year.
But there’s another aspect to all this which hit me as I heard Diablo Cody’s comment in that podcast.
“Because, you know, as you get older you don’t have the space in your life to nurture those friendships any more.”
My friendship pool has shrunk enormously in the past few months.
Even friends I do talk to, many of them I just don’t see any more. Even ones who live a short walk from my new apartment.
People are becoming insular. I saw it described as ‘pods’. It’s a bit like polycules, in a way. We all pick a few friends we’re seeing in person, and sticking largely to that group.
I can’t even tell you fully how I picked my own little ‘covid pod’. It’s not even necessarily that they are the current closest friends in my life – there are other factors. Perhaps I don’t see some people because they’re immunocompromised, and they’re isolating even now. Perhaps they’re just not the right kind of friendships for me right now. Or perhaps I don’t feel we’re close enough that I want them seeing me at this extremity of my life.
There are some people I wish I could see, but for whatever reason they don’t seem to feel the same way about me. They haven’t haven’t chosen to see me. It stings. I don’t blame them for it – as I’ve said, the people I’ve chosen to see aren’t some perfect measure of the people I care most about. It’s some strange subconscious selection process my brain seems to have done based on everything from proximity to the kind of things we used to do together. I may not blame them, but it still… hurts.
Friendships are gone, or minimised.
Those people I mostly saw casually at parties and caught up with while hammered at 1am in the host’s kitchen helping to clean up… they’re gone now. Not in my life.
You see, it feels to me like by this point even if there is a vaccine magically mass-produced tomorrow and the risk of COVID is gone within a year… things won’t be the same. Some friendships are gone, never to come back.
Some people I’ve reached out to randomly had moved house. Gone through breakups. I likely won’t see them in the same social groups again, even of some shadow of those groups survive this.
People are hunkering down with their partners and families.
Which brings me to the next bit, and one of the main reasons I feel broken right now.
2020 is the very worst possible time to be single – or, at least, to be single and not want to be.
I’ve never been very good at being alone. To my detriment I’ve often stayed in relationships until long after their expiry date being passed has been obvious to everyone in my life but me.
I’ve had a habit for years now of saying yes to dates on tinder out of sheer loneliness, rather than because I was truly into the person. This is made worse because I am not only a sapphic transgender woman, but also one sort of vaguely situated somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Not entirely to one side… but enough that hookups and empty sex are not a thing I can do.
So in the past when I’ve gone on a million dates in the past, it’s been out of a desperate desire for intimate emotional connection, not to try and get laid.
This… doesn’t always work, to put it mildly.
I’ve been on a few dates since things “re-opened”. Careful ones, of course. One was even at a bar, as uncomfortable and strange an experience as that feels post-covid.
I’ve even been casually seeing someone, even if it’s not quite at the point where we’d put a label on it like ‘girlfriends’, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever get there.
But in every functional way that people refer to being ‘single’… that’s what I am.
So here I am now, and the closest people in my life are non-sexual friendships.
These are people I cherish dearly, and I know the feeling is mutual, but they also have partners. Romantic, intimate or even domestic partners.
I don’t. So when I have a breakdown, like the entire of this week, I talk to friends, and that’s it. When they have breakdowns… they go to their partners.
I’ve stopped watching lesbian romance movies – they’re too depressing. Instead I’ve been watching movies about complex female friendship. Life Partners. The Spy Who Dumped Me. Even Jennifer’s Body. At least those, even the genre ones, are a bit easier for me to relate to.
It’s hard to describe just how strange and depressing it is having the people you truly love in your found family not be actual romantic partners, in a queer community dominated by polyamorous relationships, during a time when friendships are so often vanishing and slipping by the wayside as people huddle in close to their partners and wait for this all to blow over.
To have nobody there when you wake up crying at 1am after yet another awful dream.
There are days when I genuinely don’t see how I can survive this – my life goals were ruined by this pandemic, maybe never to quite be a possibility again. Dating is even tougher than usual.
I’ve “been” to two funerals this year. Both via video link. In each case either I was too far away, or not “close enough” to the deceased – so not invited to the service.
It’s hard to describe just how horrible the feeling is of crying during a funeral service, seeing your family & friends without being able to hug them, and when the service is done, rather than going off to a wake for a few cathartic drinks with other mourners… the video link cuts out, and you’re left crying alone in your apartment.
More and more, as time goes on, I find my growing fear of dying alone is bleeding over from my nightmares into my casual thoughts.
But who am I to complain? I have a job, and a roof over my head, which is more than many people have.
So much of the week, though, I miss waking up in a busy sharehouse, having random beers with housemates whose plans fell through. I miss after-work drinks at bars. I miss house parties. I miss the weeks looking forward to them before going. I miss live shows. I miss dressing up to go out. I miss waking up next to a partner. I miss animated discussions about where our next holiday will be.
I miss life.
So I sat here, quietly, sobbing almost once every day since February, not letting myself admit just how much my life has been torn apart, and how I miss having even the tiniest little shred of hope for the future.