This blog post is part of a series of posts on trans survivors’ experiences of the pandemic. Aurora (they/them) is a trans femme, genderqueer survivor punk living in the PNW, struggling towards collective liberation and creating joyous beauty.
Please describe your context and how you’ve coped with the pandemic.
I am in Portland, Oregon. I share a room with my partner and we have two other housemates.
I have one other partner who lives here in town who’s been a long term partner. And I also have two platonic partners who live out of state currently. As someone who does not have a lot of friends and is only close to a handful of people at one time, it’s been hard with them being gone. It’s also been hard to meet or engage with other people because of the pandemic.
Just before the pandemic, I was supposed to start a job working counter at a piercing and tattoo place. The week I was supposed to actually start working was the week that state closures happened here in Oregon. So I have been out-of-work for the entire pandemic.
Because I had not already been working, I couldn’t get normal unemployment. But when the pandemic employment assistance started at the end of April, I was able to apply for that. But I saw zero dollars and zero communication about that until beginning of August.
I’ve finally started receiving that money, so that is relieving. So financially I am finally doing okay.
And my partner has a job that they have been able to keep through the pandemic and they can work from home. So financially, that has been how I survived the pandemic.
Portland is one of the focal points of the current uprising, which started right around the time my dad died of Covid-related things.
It’s a lot to get through.
Both the pandemic and the uprising have led to a lot of mutual aid projects springing up here as well as protesting, all of which I have been able to throw myself into.
I’m wondering how you like your household and your partner have navigated “pods” and consent around exposure to Covid.
This is gonna be a great rant! At the beginning of pandemic, the pods idea sounded really interesting and cool. And very quickly, it became clear how unrealistic that model was for us and our lives. And I think that some of that is very class-based. To me, the idea of pods seems middle and higher class as well as heteronormative and monogamy-centric.
Interesting! Tell me more.
I think that being in a monogamous relationship better allows you to be in a pod. You don’t have as many external connections. So they can pod up really easily with either just themselves or maybe one other house. It’s just so much easier.
When it comes to class, my partner is able to work from home. One of our other housemates was a dance instructor, and so can’t work right now. But my other housemate works as a server in food service and as a massage therapist. Initially they weren’t able to work and they were collecting unemployment. But then they got called back to work. They need the money. They can’t say no. And those aren’t jobs that you can work from home. And so my housemate, even though they’re wearing N95s, is still working in close proximity with people who aren’t wearing masks while they eat food and drink things at a restaurant or they’re touching people in a room all day long.
When considering tolerance around exposure to Covid, people I know have made a lot of exceptions around work. There’s this understanding that people have to work to survive. But people are less flexible on the social needs. And that has been a source of tension with my housemates.
There’s this really great article I read about queer resistance prior to Stonewall. They found that in the queer liberation struggle, it was important for people to touch each other and be near each other. They initially didn’t understand why, but realized that it was because people had to dance far apart from each other because of homophobic laws, and because cops would come in and fuck them up for being close to each other.
So touch, and sort of by extension sluttiness, is really important to queer culture and resistance. And it’s something I really identify with.
And so for me, like pandemic has pushed this button. I don’t get to fully express myself and my queerness because of pandemic. That feels really challenging. What’s missing is about touch, it’s about expressions of care, or in some cases love. It’s about who I am as a person. Part of the point of being polyamorous to me is being able to express care and affection in whatever kind of relationships, and in whatever ways that I see fit. And all of a sudden, I find myself in a situation where my housemates basically have veto power potentially over not only who I fuck, but who I am like even remotely close with him. And that feels fucked.
In a different purely sexual context, if my partner doesn’t want to be exposed to the risk that I’m taking with other people, they can be like, “cool. You got to take that risk. But I don’t want to have sex with you or I want to use barriers when we have sex” or whatever.
But in this case, we can’t just choose to not breathe on each other in our house. We are just interconnected in this way that none of us want to be. I mean, it’s challenging. It’s a time when nobody’s right. So we’re just trying to accommodate each other.
It reached the point recently where me and my partner were like, “we’re willing to move out at this point.” And my housemates were then willing to be flexible. One of them had to then talk to their other partners who were then OK with it. So we’re like slowly exploring that. But yeah, it’s tricky for sure.
How has the experience of the pandemic intersected with your experience of your gender/ your experience as a trans or non-binary person, if at all?
I’ve been an out genderqueer person for 20 years. I’ve had some electrolysis over time, but I still get some facial hair. But now, whenever I’m in public, I’m wearing a mask and I don’t have to care most of the time.
It’s been really interesting to notice how much information that we get from the bottom half to two thirds of somebody’s face. It’s almost easier to look cute when you’re wearing a mask. Like, you just get eyes and like some cheekbones and a forehead. It’s this interesting sort of equalizer, I think.
I notice that I get misgendered way less often in a mask. Not that I’m around people super often, but it happens way less often because people can’t see the bottom half my face. So that’s convenient.
One thing that was scary was seeing hormone supply chains disrupted. I am someone who is dependent upon medications for my well-being. If supply chains get very thoroughly disrupted more than they already are, I’m screwed.
Between the pandemic, the uprising, and the wildfires that came right up to the edge of Portland, there’s already so much uncertainty about the future. So medications are something that does make me feel more vulnerable in any apocalyptic scenario. I just happened to be in the midst of three apocalyptic scenarios this summer.
I have like pretty solid insurance as a low income person in this state. But I’m really fortunate. Lots of people don’t have that. And the government is actively trying to take away access to health care for us.
So it’s sort of like my healthcare scenario is made more unstable by the pandemic.
How has the experience of the pandemic intersected with your experience of survivorship, if at all?
My partner works in the sexual violence field, so she has a lot of awareness around power dynamics.
Maybe a year ago, we started talking about financial stuff and combining money. She is someone who has a lot more access to earning potential than I do. She has had an adult-long career, whereas I have basically been a broke punk working shitty jobs most of my adult life.
So when we started talking about sharing money, which we did decide to do, she really wanted to make sure that I never felt trapped in our relationship because of financial shit. So we basically pool our money, no matter how much either of us is making.
We use this pooled money to pay our expenses, and we split any extra into each of our own savings accounts 50/50. And that way, like she says, I always have like a cushion so I can leave if I want to. She wants to make sure I don’t feel stuck.
So I think that that has been a really positive thing for me, and I’ve really felt it in the pandemic. I have felt trapped in other relationships, financially and otherwise.
The pandemic also reminds me of a past partner, who did a lot of lying to me to shape my perception of reality. Our country is gaslighting us constantly, I think. For example, I’m staying way more socially isolated and physically distant from people in ways I don’t always want to. I’m taking precautions.
And then I see these other people going out to eat like it ain’t no thing. And it’s crazy-making in this way that’s similar to my abuse, like that feeling of like doubting my own perceptions and my reality.
Also, the way my housemates have tried to control my behavior in Covid sort of brings up trauma for me because it makes me more socially isolated.
I try to remind myself that everyone is doing their best right now. But there’s a way in which none of us, myself included, are actually making rational decisions. We each have different tolerances for risk. And that’s a non-logical thing. And so that almost makes it worse because it feels like people are arbitrarily controlling parts of my life and contributing to a sense of social isolation.
I’m not trying to say my housemates are abusive at all. But their behavior triggers those experiences for me.
I think that I’m actually really lucky in the partnerships I have in how secure and stable and loving they feel. In a lot of ways, the partnerships I’m in right now, I feel like I am actually really blessed to be able to be actually working through past trauma. I feel like I’m having better, healthier relationships than I have ever had. So in that sense, I feel really lucky and it’s really cool.
How had the pandemic intersected with any other identities you’d like to share (race, class, disability, etc.?) How do these identities, as well as your experience as a trans survivor, relate to each other?
I’ve been a pretty broke punk most of my life. So much of the ways that I know how to get by in the world are through social networks and a DIY ethos, and just mutual aid and taking care of each other.
So much of my experience is that you know people who know people who know people. And when you need something, within 24 hours, you have somebody who you’ve never met help you out. That means-of-survival requires maintaining social relationships, though. And the pandemic has made that more challenging. You know, most people I know can only stand so many zoom calls.
So the greater isolation because of pandemic precautions is sort of like chipping away at my ability to meet my and my people’s needs sometimes. And I think I find that really challenging. I worry, how am I going to take care of myself without those networks?
But at the same time, because there’s so much going on, in both pandemic and uprising, I have seen so many mutual aid and support projects materialize, some out of nothing.
My partner, you know, is working and bringing in money so that we can survive under capitalism. But I am doing three to four mutual aid projects that are bringing in so many other non-monetary resources. It’s cool to see these different and complementary ways of approaching the world that we have.
My partner also has class-based negotiating skills and so she negotiated really well with our landlord so that we actually have been paying half rent from most of the pandemic.
I am white. My partner is white. And at first, before there was any information about how risky protesting was, it was really scary to think about going out to protest. We balanced the risk of Covid with the necessity of showing up for racial justice and we landed on the side of going out to protest and have been going for many months now. That felt really necessary in general, and especially as white people. And so, a pandemic and the uprising feel inseparable.
How have you built community among other trans folks or survivors?
Most of the mutual aid projects that I’m part of and other ones that I’m seeing have trans people and other people who face oppression in leadership. My hypothesis is that this is because we are already so tied into social networks and dependent upon them for our survival. We have a long history of taking care of each other.
I love seeing us mobilize those social networks for each other and for all of us. Having so many badass transfeminine people in my life helps me see myself in a better light sometimes. It’s really heartening. It feels like solidarity and having each other’s backs. It’s really cool.
How have you found resiliency and creativity during this time?
Some of the things with my housemates that have been challenging have required that we bring a lot more creativity and intimacy than we would have otherwise had in our life.
That’s true with my partner too. We are a lot of like who we’ve got right now. We spend a lot more time together or near each other and having to navigate that in such a way that meets all of our needs has definitely required a lot of creativity. And it’s also been kind of cool. Like my partner used to go away to work all day and be gone all day and come home and be tired from work. And I might get a couple hours with them before they have to go to bed. And now we get to have sweet moments throughout the day if I’m home. It’s really cool.
Doing these mutual aid projects means that I’m getting to be around people, which has really been good for me. And it’s like this social outlet that people not doing this don’t get. Going to protests, I also get some of that too because I see some of the same people protesting night after night.
And I think that also having these projects and protests have given my life a lot more structure than I had. So there are ways in which having this situation has actually made parts of my life better because I’m doing more meaningful work in my daily life. I think that that’s given me like an outlet for creativity and contributed to resiliency for me.