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This is one of a three-part series of interviews with trans survivors about their experiences in Coronavirus pods. Pods can be defined as “small, self-contained networks of people who limit their non-distanced social interaction to one another—in other words, they’re the small group of people with whom you share air without using breath-control precautions such as masks.” Further, “many public health experts have recommended ‘quarantine pods’ as an effective way to get our social, emotional, familial, and sexual needs met without unnecessarily endangering ourselves or others.”

Ash is a pansexual, polyamorous, genderqueer/non-binary survivor of multiple forms of violence who works full time in the movement to end sexual violence. They live in a college town with their children and a small circle of friends and loves, and are grateful to their dear ones for a pod they can trust.

Who is in your pod?

My partner who I share a home with, our two children who live in our home, my other partner, and his husband that he shares a home with.

What’s the origin of your pod?

We decided to create a pod at the very beginning of the pandemic, even before the stay-at-home order.

I was already thinking about the fact that I’m higher risk because I have asthma and one of my partners also has asthma. So even if there wasn’t a stay at home order, we needed to limit who we were around and hugging and close to.

In early March, everybody was saying, “Oh, we’ll just stay at home for a few weeks, flatten the curve, blah, blah, blah.” But I was reading estimates that were saying 12 to 18 months. And so we were like, we need something that’s going to be sustainable. How do we make that happen? All of us need to have social interaction, but for me as a survivor it was especially important. I don’t want to feel any more isolated, I don’t do well with isolation. And we decided on some of the basic parameters of us forming a pod, although I don’t know that we were calling it that at that point.

My workplace had already switched to remote. My partner and his husband, their workplaces switched to remote, and my other partner does not work outside the home. So we could create a bubble, which is a privilege.

What are the agreements within your pod?

The initial agreements were:

  • We don’t go into anyone else’s home except for our two homes.
  • The workspace we use doesn’t have other people in it.
  • Nobody else comes inside of our homes.
  • Socially distant visits outside with other friends is fine. If we want to go for a walk with someone and can stay the appropriate distance apart, that’s fine.
  • We don’t touch and hug anyone other than each other
  • We don’t go in anyone’s home.
  • Anytime we’re out in indoor public spaces, we’re wearing a mask.

How does your pod function? What does this look like in practice?

We initially decided that we would be sharing spaces to work remotely, so at least we could still have someone else to work with every day, and we worked out a schedule for regular, weekly hangouts so that we could have something social built in.

Initially some of the immediate pod agreements came organically and then once they gave a stay at home order, we really solidified them and actually sat down and had a conversation.

So we sort of cheated throughout the whole stay at home and treated our two household pod like it was one household

The only times that we’re out of the home and exposed is if one of us is going to the grocery store, and we limit our trips and wear masks..

We do have social distance hang-outs with other people, so one of my partners has a neighbor and they sit on their respective back porches, 15 feet apart and have coffee in the morning sometimes outside.

What has worked and not worked?

Well, I think it was easier for us in some ways, because I’m a survivor of complex trauma and one of my partners had anxiety. We’re both super anxious people to begin with. So neither of us needed a whole lot of convincing to limit our contact with people once we heard what was happening. You know, whereas someone else who maybe doesn’t have constant anxiety or a trauma history might be like, la-di-da, we were like, “holy shit, we’re all going to die. Let’s do what we can to not die.” Our partners were also feeling some of that anxiety around safety.

We also already had really good, open communication.

In terms of little minute details, we had just left that to each person’s discretion. And so sometimes we found that that didn’t work.

An example is that occasionally one of us would go get food at a drive through. And there was some conflict because one of the members of the pod was wearing a mask anytime they went to a drive through which wasn’t very often, but when they would, they always had a mask on. And it hadn’t been articulated that that was like a pod expectation. So other members of the pod were not [wearing masks at drive-throughs].

So we had a conversation about it. And we decided to always err on the side of whoever wants the most restrictive safety measure in place.

So now we all wear a mask if we go to a drive through, but it hadn’t occurred to us to articulate it until it had already caused some friction.

There was also someone in the pod who was thinking about taking a part time job being in someone’s home who’s not in the pod. And when we had conversations and realized that someone in that home had to go to work in a group setting, we realized that this job open the pod up a lot more than we were wanting to. But again, we didn’t think about it until it had already caused some friction. So it hasn’t been without friction.

And sometimes, just like with any kind of relationship communication, you don’t realize you have an agreement or a boundary you need to articulate until someone crosses it. And then you’re like, “oh, we need to have a conversation about that.” I feel like boundaries is something I’m constantly navigating as a survivor anyway – learning where mine are, learning to articulate them, learning to hear and respect them. So I have a lot of practice.

What are your thoughts about how the pandemic has affected trans survivors?

I want to be thoughtful about not generalizing my experience, especially with the amount of privilege that I have in some areas.

I can say for me, when you’re already feeling fears around your safety, having a global pandemic kind of amplifies all of the feelings and fears.

And then you look at the number of anti-trans things that have happened at the federal level during this pandemic. It’s like, we’re having a pandemic, which is causing economic impacts on people to where they’re at greater risk for homelessness. And you see federal guidance come out that’s restricting trans access to shelters.

Even if you’re not one of the people who’s at risk for homelessness, it escalates fears and anxieties around your safety. And then if you are at risk for homelessness, or have other forms of marginalization layered over that, then those fears are really real and present and confirmed.

That is something that I’ve seen in my work. Sometimes I have people reach out to me who are looking for housing or shelter or some sort of resource, and often, those people are trans survivors. And I’m like, Oh, there are these agencies in that town who usually have funding for hotels. And we reach out and because of the pandemic, they’ve already spent their funding for hotels for that period, and we can’t find shelter for them.

And so I think there’s a lot of, a lot of fear and anxiety around things like job security and homelessness. These are all things that all people are scared of during this time during the pandemic, but they’re especially present for trans people because a lot of the services you normally access to get help are not trans friendly. So having those specialized services are even more essential and there’s just not enough money being put into those options.

How are pod structures well suited for trans survivors?

Trans survivors have been creating pods for decades. We just called them different things and they operated in different ways.

Like houses in ballroom.

Trans people have been taking care of each other forever. Like, that’s just how it is: When you aren’t having your needs met and you aren’t being taken care of, and you aren’t safe, you create your own little bubble in which you can experience safety and what it feels like to be free. And so that’s not anything unusual, you know?

And with my identities, being queer and genderqueer/ non-binary and polyamorous and a survivor, I already had a level of communication with the people who became my pod around how we navigate each other’s boundaries and take care of each other.

It’s been interesting seeing some of my friends who are not from any of those communities struggling with things like how to even articulate what boundaries look like when there’s more than two people involved.

So I feel like in, in many ways, having been a part of those communities before this gave me models for what an alternative family or pod would look like and also gave me some of the communication skills that I’ve used to try to navigate this.

That’s not to say that it’s all been graceful. But it’s all been intentional.

What advice would you give to trans survivors trying to start a pod?

It’s easier to create a pod and feel safe and trusted if you’re with people who have similar levels of risk and exposure to you.

I also think every pod member needs to be committed to the safety of the pod but also to the sense of collaboration. I have friends who have joined up with pods who had articulated agreements and then had someone violate one of the agreements and then just nonchalantly mentioned it the next time they were hanging out, like it’s not a big deal. And that doesn’t feel good.

Communicate about all the things. Get used to talking about every little thing.

Like, I’m going tomorrow on a trip a few hours away to see one of my kids I haven’t seen in months. And I actually can’t just go hug my kid or make my own arrangements to see my own child without talking to my pod. And that’s an odd dynamic to get used to, but at the same time, the pod matters and I want this pod to be sustainable for long enough for us to get through whatever is coming. So I actually sat down with my pod and said, “Hey, we’re doing this trip. You know, here are the things I was already thinking of: I’m going to wear masks anytime if I have to go into a gas station or restroom, I’m going to pay at the pump when I can, I’m going to wear masks while we’re visiting with my kids, and if we’re outside and we can be like 10 feet apart, we might take our masks off.” And I asked, “What do y’all think about touch? Where is everybody in the pod about whether hugging each other with a mask on and a flannel on over my shirt that I could take off after I got back in the car? Like, what do y’all think about that?” And everybody got to weigh in on it.

And it feels weird to have a group of people weighing in on whether or not you can hug your own child who you haven’t seen in months. But you have to trust that everyone there is committed to everyone’s well-being as you are. And that you’ve got each other’s back. And it ended up feeling really good to have everybody in the pod in agreement on what we did.

So get over this rugged American individualism where you’re like, “I don’t have to ask anybody to hug my own damn kid.” You have to get over that way of thinking about it and be like, we want this pod to be sustainable.

And also, look at what the research says and build in pieces that make it sustainable. You’re not going to make it through 12 to 18 months if you don’t have some socializing with people outside of the pod. Like what is it that we need to help that feel safe?

If we get through this, I’m going to be able to hug my kid for many, many more years. I can wait. They’re not going anywhere.