I’m writing this blog in the midst of Covid-19. A time when our freedom feels somewhat limited. In The Netherlands, as I’m sure is happening around the world right now, we receive regular updates from the government informing us about what we can and can’t do, who we can see, how we can interact with them, what behaviour is appropriate….for me this is a new reality. Apart from my parents telling me what to do as a child, I have never felt this level of control before. Of course I am aware that social structures control my behaviour. Whilst I would consider myself to be a strong independent woman, I don’t have a rebellious side. I happily follow the vast majority of rules in my immediate society. I send my children to school, I pay taxes, I pay attention to speed limits… and yet this level of control is a new experience for me.
Pre Covid-19 I took my freedom for granted. I spent the majority of my 20s travelling the world, living out of a backpack. I have had access to education and healthcare. I have played sports, socialised with friends. I married the love of my life and we have three beautiful children. No one told me I couldn’t do any of those things. To me that lack of control is freedom. Hopefully many of you reading this post will have experienced similar levels of freedom, but I know for many, the amount of freedom you have to make choices and live your life has nothing to do with Covid-19 but has everything to do with ignorance and prejudice.
Did you know that May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia or IDAHOBIT for short? I didn’t know this until recently. The goals of IDAHOBIT are to raise awareness of violence, discrimination and repression of LGBT communities and stimulate interest in LGBT rights work worldwide. I’m rubbish at dates, I can barely remember birthdays of the people I love the most! But when I started to look into IDAHOBIT and why they chose this date, the significance left such an impression on me I know I won’t be forgetting May 17th any time soon.
I had no idea that on May 17th 1990 – that’s just 30 years ago – the World Health Organisation decided to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases list. As a qualitative researcher and writer, words mean everything to me, but that statement left me lost for words.
I had no idea that within my lifetime homosexuality had been classified as a disease in the same way Covid-19 is now! And just to clarify, the World Health Organisation defines a disease as ‘a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure of function of all or part of an organism’. Which means that if I had fallen in love with a woman in 1998 rather than a man in 2008, I would have been labelled as having a disease. According to ‘experts’ my body would have been riddled with an illness that would have prevented it from functioning! Can we take a moment to acknowledge how that label would have affected my freedom.
Whilst homosexuality is thankfully no longer classified as a disease, it unfortunately remains, for many, something they want to control, which heartbreakingly affects so many peoples freedom. Freedom to access education, healthcare, sport, workplaces. Freedom to marry and have a family. Freedom to be safe.
Covid-19 has given us new labels, ‘self isolating’ and ‘social distancing’, new restrictions on our physical freedom and a new sense of normal. As I am living through this experience right now, this is what I’m learning. I’m learning that having my freedom restricted sucks. I want to paint my face with blue stripes and run out of my house shouting FREEDOM in a dodgy Scottish accent channelling Mel Gibson at his finest. But I don’t want the freedom to be limited to only men in skirts! I don’t want to emerge from this pandemic to find prejudices still make people feel isolated. I don’t want our places of work to feel like war zones. And I don’t want to have to navigate barriers in society that continue to keep people distanced from one another. I want our new normal to be a place where everyone can experience the freedom to be themselves.
Let’s learn from others lived experiences and work together to make our new normal a place where freedom thrives. So let me start by asking you this simple yet thought provoking question, what does freedom mean to you?