In Queer Under Coronavirus, we’re documenting how COVID-19 is upending LGBTQ+ lives. Check out more from the column here, and if you’ve got a story to share, tell us here. Below, a 17-year-old nonbinary college student tells us about being sent home from campus, and navigating being queer in a small town that’s not entirely queer friendly.

When my college first talked about taking classes online, I was like “yeah, that makes sense,” but when they went ahead and declared they were going online for the whole semester, I was devastated. Now I’m home in a small town in upstate New York that is not entirely queer friendly, and I’ll be here until August.

It’s been this weird fight between the rational part of my brain and the irrational part of my brain. The rational me is like, “We need to do this, you’ll be fine, it’s not like we’re going to be quarantined forever,” and the irrational part of my brain is like, “I’m not going back to college until August. I’m stuck here until August. There’s nothing to do here until August.” Now that the emotions have calmed down, I can write my book, I can write more projects, I can just hang out, play D&D, do stuff, it’ll be fine.

For now, it’s basically me hanging out at my house and talking to queer friends online. We’re all kind of bummed because a bunch of stuff got cancelled, like my first prom and gay cabaret. Now we’re all just kind of like, “Do we go home? Do we stay at school? How are we going to figure everything out?” All my classes are online so it’s just hard.

I didn’t go to prom in high school. I wasn’t really a big fan of homecoming because I went to that and I didn’t want to have to wear a dress and do my makeup. I knew that’s what I’d be doing if I went to prom, so I just skipped out on it. But then organizers at my school put together a pride prom, and I was like, “That’s amazing! I can wear a suit and look cool.” Now it’s cancelled. It just kind of makes me sad. I really enjoyed having my own life at college and having the freedom I don’t get in my town. Everything is changing and I have nothing to do here except my homework.

My high school got a GSA two months before I graduated. I graduated a year early, and that’s when you do it? There were a lot of trans people there but I was the only nonbinary person. So I hadn’t met anybody who was nonbinary until I got to college, and a lot of the people who run the club are nonbinary. I basically showed up at college and was suddenly thrust into queer life, which was fantastic. People actually got the name change and everything that I was experiencing.

A lot of the nonbinary people at my school are upperclassmen, so they’ve also helped me in other ways; they’ve introduced me to some stuff on campus, like a peer-to-peer program where they pair you with a mentor, so now I have a nonbinary mentor for the year. The people who are running [the mentor program] are trying to figure out how to get us all together online.

I feel like it’s a very unique experience for queer people during this time. All of the people in my classes who aren’t queer were like, “Oh cool, we get to go home an extra week!” and all my queer friends were like, “Oh crap, am I going home? Should I go home?” I think we have a very different thing going on. My friends and I have a group chat on Discord and we’ll call each other and talk each other through things. There’s a part of the Discord that’s called “therapy time” and we can just vent to each other, and we’ll tell each other, “If it’s not safe to go home, don’t go home, fill out that form that lets you stay on campus.” We’re just here for each other.

At home, I’m living with my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister and her two kids. It’s interesting because my niece is three. I changed my name while she was alive, so it’s coming home and being dead-named by my niece. I don’t blame her for it because she doesn’t know, and we’re trying to correct her. Mostly it’s just my niece, because she’s not really aware of it and we haven’t really had a conversation about being nonbinary. But it’s also funny when she’s like, “We’re just pretending; you be the girl.” And I’m like, yes, we are pretending that I’m a girl, you’re very right. I’d like to [have that conversation] when she’s older. I’m sure eventually as she grows we’ll be able to be like “my pronouns are they/them/theirs” and I’m assuming someday the name will click.



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