Fear and Security: Queer Cohabitation in Quarantine
Since the call to social distance began over a month ago, I have been working remotely with a number of my partnered LGBTQIA+ (hereafter queer) patients, most of whom are isolating with their significant others. In some instances, this has been a fairly smooth transition, with both partners understanding the necessity of the arrangement. However inconvenient an interruption it has been to their normal routines, they are optimistic that it is only temporary and will make the best of it while they have to. For other queer patients sheltering with their partners, the transition has been rather rough, and the acute stress is threatening both the individual patient’s sense of self, as well as the resilience of their relationship.
As human beings, we are evolutionarily wired for survival. We are driven to form attachments not just for physical safety but also emotional (or psychic) regulation. Our emotions become a litmus test for how well we are connecting to others. It is important for our mental health that we can be emotionally honest with others without fear of rejection so that we can be honest with ourselves.
As queer identified people, many of us were raised in environments where we were not free to fully express ourselves, so in the interest of survival, we may have concealed “unacceptable” (or shameful) parts of ourselves until such a time as we could find a community where we felt safe enough to trust that we could form attachments for emotional survival without being rejected. However, the traumas of childhood can have long term effects on adult relationships, particularly when stressors are intensified. As the weeks of quarantine drag on, these relationships are being put to the test. Secure bonds may fray in close quarters, and shame is hard to shake. The relationship which was once an anchor may come to feel like an unmoored ship trying shakily to navigate its way through uncharted waters.
For some queer couples who are quarantining at this time, both may be bringing extensive histories of helpless feelings together – retriggered by the helplessness we are all experiencing as a result of the pandemic – and then left to self regulate one another in isolation for an indeterminate amount of time.
What could possibly go wrong?
Whenever people cohabitate there will always be difficulties. How we address and resolve those conflicts depends on how securely attached we feel to the other. Emotional safety is not an idea, it is a mind-body state, and it can be strengthened through mindful intention to communicate honestly and directly.
Many of us who are queer consider ourselves survivors. We adapted to circumstances beyond our control when we were younger. Now we have to adapt again, and being honest about our fears with the very people who are supposed to be our securest relationships is crucial. Accepting the reality of our (possibly forever) changed circumstances and the necessity to adjust our relationships accordingly, all while being able to envision a positive future for ourselves and our partners is the challenge. I am confident that we will rise to it.