Lockdown was tough for a lot of people, especially the extroverts who loved to socialise like me. Just like for many others, the COVID-19 mandated lockdown affected my mental health severely too.
During this time I, unlike many of my queer and trans friends, had the privilege of living with my partner. My partner’s presence and touch was a feeling of comfort for me. In addition to the physical and emotional comfort that my partner’s touch gave me, touch is also romantic. Romance helps me stay alive, strong and sometimes it also gives me validation, that I am accepted as I am. There is no experience of being misgendered while using pronouns or for the clothes that I want to wear. There is a sense of freedom from constant control. My partner’s romantic touch gave me the constant support to survive and be functional.
Having said that, touch is also sometimes a discomfort for me, as a trans man. I have experienced strong dysphoria associated with my body and gender. Due to that, I have set some boundaries when it comes to physical touch. Hugs make me uncomfortable. I often like to be away from the physical touch of people.
Despite my complicated relationship with physical touch, it has often helped me to deal with my mental health issues. Mental health professionals often advise a technique called grounding to cope up with anxiety. One of the elements of the grounding technique is touch. It requires us to touch an object or thing, feel it, describe the object and the emotions attached with it. This helps a person to calm down, to be grounded, and to develop the sense that things which had happened in the past are not happening in the present moment.
During the post COVID-19 lockdown, as anxiety gripped me, the grounding technique of touch was no longer working for me. I tried to figure out why was it not helping me but I was left with no answer. At the same time, as a peer counselor, I continued to the advice other people who were going through anxiety to practice grounding.
Touch is also an emotion that lives in my head and heart. During the lockdown, I was touched by the emotion of fear. My fear came alive in my nightmares. In a few, I saw some of my natal family members attacking me. A family that I left behind a year ago as I moved on to my new life. The same family with whom I am had stopped having a conversation sometime back, because these were disturbing for me. As I stopped talking to them, they managed to get a hold of my phone number. They started sending me messages implying how they were aware of my location, my partner, and my work. At the same time, news and incidents of increasing domestic violence cases around me was triggering me too. And thus I developed the fear of violent touch in my life. When I step out to buy groceries, I feared that someone was following me. That fear of someone touching me was so deep, it caused me great distress.
Even while I was battling my fears, I managed to develop my hobbies. I picked up colours in an attempt to learn to paint. I also learned to cook new things in the lockdown. The colors and the paint I touched helped me calm down my thoughts. I had anxiety associated with cooking, because I was expected to it mandatorily. I was constantly told by the society that I should cook, because to them I was a girl and girls were meant to cook. This past history associated anxiety with cooking for me.
But in this lockdown, my anxiety of cooking reduced. For long now, I had believed that cooked has nothing to do with my masculinity. But now, I began to accept this in practice as well. Now, cooking was a hobby and a therapeutic exercise: To touch all kinds of food, feel the texture of it, make it and then taste it, in addition to trying new food recipes. However, this new hobby had a downside it to is as well. I gained weight which further increased my dysphoria. The weight gain led to reducing by libido and my enjoyment towards the sexual touch.
I have established a complicated relationship with touch. During the lockdown, sometimes touch helped me survive, sometimes it gave me pain, sometimes it helped me calm down and sometimes it did not work for me at all. But through all of this, I have managed to survive the lockdown because I was privileged to have a stable job and income, a counselor and the emotional support from my partner, maybe unlike many who did not survive.
Vihaan is an Ambedkarite, queer, feminist trans man.
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