It’s hard to swing a pickaxe with acrylic nails. Or at least, I would think that it is, I’ve never been in a situation where I was on a dig, and my pickaxing skills and my fondness for claws came into contact. The fact of the matter though, is that the pandemic has simultaneously facilitated my gender exploration and hindered it. During the pandemic, the quarantine forcefully ensured that I spent most of my social time online, especially on Discord. While the quarantine did limit the amount of time that I was permitted to spend with my friends physically, I, along with so many others, fell back upon online communities to provide the social interaction required to get through a serious time. In my case, my discord group also acted as a support structure of queer-identifying individuals, who were there as a sounding board when I was at my most dysphoric and euphoric. While I am certainly not grateful to the pandemic, especially since I caught the damn bug (0/10. Would not recommend.), it must be stated that the quarantine presented a shift in the form of social interactions that allowed my to grow personally. However, as I mentioned earlier, the pandemic simultaneously facilitated my exploration of gender, but also has hindered it. This has come in a much more practical manner. It’s expensive to be feminine in western, capitalist society, and the fact that it is significantly harder for an archaeologist to get either a job or experience during the pandemic. Not only have the private sector jobs slowed down, and the academic jobs almost dried up entirely, archaeological field schools were either shut down entirely, or altered significantly.

To the shock of approximately no one, being diagnosed with COVID-19 and enduring multiple weeks of fatigue, nausea, and general shittiness before emerging from my Covid cocoon a whole new woman, did actually have a notable downside. Namely, that even though I was living my best life as a no one was hiring archaeologists, and field schools were either non-existent or radically different looking. Archaeology doesn’t exactly have the reputation for being the easiest field to find a job in without a master’s degree, and the pandemic (specifically the travel limitations) ensured that my bold research ideas were cut short by my professors shaking their heads and positing half-piteous, half-exasperated variations on “That’s really not that feasible during the pandemic, Holly.” This means that the options for career development in archaeology for me were limited. This means that I had significantly less monetary flexibility than I otherwise would have to explore my gender identity. This means that I did, in fact, spend money that I should have spent on rent on dresses, skirts and definitely-unsafe visits to the nail salon. Do I regret those purchases? Not at all. Were they financially unwise given the lack of employment opportunities that would give me relevant career experience? Absolutely.

The culmination of my pandemic experiences in archaeology and gender exploration came in the form of my being invited to be a guest host on the Lady History Podcast. This podcast is regularly hosted by multiple friends of mine that I met during my undergraduate career, all of whom are archaeologists in some capacity, and is dedicated to telling the untold stories of women in history. However, for the April Fools Day Episode, they invited me, and a few of my other archaeology friends from our cohort to be guest hosts, as a surprise to their listeners. I took this opportunity for a multitude of reasons. Not only was this a killer opportunity to talk about some incredible women in archaeology, it also was a way for me to give back a bit to my friends who had supported me during this transitional time, even though we were separated by hundreds of miles and completely unable to see each other in person by the pandemic. It was incredibly reassuring to find an intersection of my gender exploration and my career that was facilitated by the pandemic, instead of prevented by it. While the episode itself did not focus on the pandemic, the fact remains that it was valuable to me personally, as well as academically beneficial. Even it was an April Fools episode.

Looking at the year of quarantine, I think that the combination of being isolated from people physically, combined with the shifting of social relations from a physical into an online setting allowed for a level of introspection (my anxiety would use the term Navel-Gazing) that allowed me the space to explore my identity, at the cost of my professional career. As of writing this blog, I am still unemployed, but I am still pursuing my academic career, and most importantly, I am still living as my best self. So, thanks covid? I guess?