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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.” 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.”

Liv is a white genderqueer currently working as a contact tracer.

Who is in your pod?

Me and my 2 close friends. They’re also partners. We’re talking to another friend of mine about joining too. All of us are queer and two of us are trans. We all have trauma histories.

What are your agreements?

They’re not super formalized, but we generally don’t go into anyone else’s household or let anyone outside the pod into ours. We only social distance hang out with other people and we wear masks when we’re out.

What’s the origin of your pod?

I started thinking and talking about pods very early on, in March, before I saw other folks having those conversations, but one didn’t come together for me for a while.

In general, when I hear the word “household” or “family,” I translate it in my head to “chosen family,” partly because of my history of trauma within my family of origin, so when experts began recommending you don’t mingle with folks outside your household, I immediately began to imagine what I wanted that to mean for me: Who are the people I consider my family and who I would want to hold close during this time?

But for a while, it didn’t work out for logistic reasons. My roommate at the time was going to protests a lot and generally not digging the communication and intentionality of pod life, some of my closest friends were essential employees, others were too afraid to see anyone at all or already had pods. Eventually, one of my closest friends stopped dating someone who worked outside the home and I ended up setting her up with another good friend. My roommate moved out and all three of us work from home and are fairly risk-averse, so we decided to form a pod.

How does your pod work?

I basically hang out with these friends in the way I did before the pandemic. We co-work, cook dinner together, and chat for hours in each other’s homes. As a way to heal from sexual violence, I have always sought to prioritize community as highly as romantic partners, so I’ve always had very domestic dynamics with friends. I am a homebody and tend to seek out similar folks, so I really missed cozying up on friends’ couches and sipping tea during the lockdown. It’s been really nice to have that back.

What works and what doesn’t work?

I’m very close with these friends for many years, so I trust them implicitly. There has been little drama. One person in the pod has an autoimmune disorder, so when there’s a question about risk or exposure level, we generally defer to her. So that’s been a clear way to resolve questions and conflicts, although I think it can be hard for her to express boundaries because of her trauma history.

Regardless of who feels uncomfortable, we always defer to the person with the most intense boundaries. We all went to the beach together a little while back. We had driven for hours to get there but there were a TON of people on the beach, every blanket 4-6 feet apart, no one wearing masks. I just panicked, and immediately wanted to leave, and there was no conflict at all. My pod mates were just like, “if you’re uncomfortable, let’s go.”  I think that approach feels very intuitive to us because it’s based on principles of sexual consent we’re already on board with as survivors.

Some challenges are that we are all disabled and have poor executive functioning, so my pod mates go to stores a lot because they have trouble with planning, and we all forget to do things like clean or wash our hands as much as we’re supposed to. My pod mates also do other things I don’t, like use public bathrooms and wear thinner masks than me. (I’ve been pretty obsessed with getting high quality masks.) However, I recognize that I am much lower risk than my pod-mates, who have disabilities that are more physical than mine, and I know I can’t and don’t want to control their behavior, so I’ve tried to be chill about these discrepancies. I know first-hand that planning ahead and remembering things can be really hard, and I really don’t want to make my friends feel bad about these struggles.

Another challenge comes with the territory of being in a pod with two people who are falling in love. I feel like a third wheel sometimes and they don’t ask me to hang out as much as I’d like. I know they still love me but I feel a bit lonelier than I expected to within a pod.

I think a lot of this will change when we talk with the new person about joining this week. She has pretty high executive functioning and has been more strict than the rest of us, so I’m interested to see how we navigate these questions of boundaries. I have a lot of faith in us because of our commitments to healthy communication and consent, as ways to heal. I don’t expect things to be perfect or even necessarily work out, but I expect them to be navigated with a lot of care.

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

I have the immense privileges of a safe home and stable income right now, so I don’t think my observations can be generalized. But I feel so many paradoxes in my own body as a trans survivor:

I feel hypervigilance when I am in public about who is standing too close, who is talking in my direction. And at the same time, I enjoy the right to use a mask to erect a physical barrier with the world and claim my body as my own.

Maybe partly as a result of my trauma, I have a lot of sensory sensitivities, and always hated the grocery store. I feel relieved of the obligation to do errands I thought of as unavoidable. I feel empowered to find ways around them. I have grown to love farm stands, for example.

Everything about the world feels so scary and uncertain right now, and at the same time, I feel more cozy and secure in myself and my home than I ever have. I think partly this is because I see my body as less gendered these days, less held in the cis gaze. I am someone who has always looked to others for approval, both because of my sexual trauma and because my non-binary identity is not seen as valid by the world. So interacting with the public on my own terms has allowed me to center myself in new ways.

I feel a strong demarcation between outside (my home and pod and body) and inside, between safe and unsafe spheres. I used to feel unsafe even in these most intimate spaces, like my body and relationships, but as I feel increased anxiety about the outside world and begin to see this danger as irreparable, my internal landscape, my home, and my pod have become a respite. I have begun to feel more safe.

How are trans survivor well suited to pods?

It is exhausting to feel hypervigilance all the time. I think this is a familiar experience to trans survivors, who have already learned to fear their safety in public because of their histories and marginalized genders. This experience is further compounded by the coronavirus and the anxieties it produces about being too near to others, and the dangers of their breath. So it has been a relief to have a few people I can stand near without worrying how close I am. It has been liberating to just sit next to my friends in our messy houses on week day afternoons and chat. Trans survivors already built safe, self-contained communities, but it’s been cool to formalize those structures.