This blog post is part of a series of posts on trans survivors’ experiences of the pandemic. Ruby (she/they) is an agender survivor with a penchant for dissociation and playing music. They used to be a writer, and work with homeless adults in the U.S.
Please describe your context and how you’ve coped with the pandemic.
I’d settled a bit with an apartment, interim jobs in the service industry, and was socializing more. My jobs suddenly had no customers, so I found one working with people who are chronically homeless. It’s paid and “essential.” I now work in supportive housing.
I was recovering from drastic and traumatic changes prior to the pandemic, so I’ve been stagnating somewhat, necessarily. Coalescing and just surviving. I cook, try to keep up with working out, practice ASL, obsess over music, and try to meditate.
I’ve attended Black Lives Matter protests.
For fun, I’ve danced with one friend and gotten drunk with another. I’ve had a lot of park visits. I showed a friend I met in bartending class around downtown. I went on a marina date with a total cutie.
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?
Gender doesn’t feel as pertinent in survival mode. Genderwise, it’s mostly me and a mirror and my past, not me and a bunch of people and their (presumed and real) expectations.
I have body dysmorphia concerning body hair due to gender socialization, and made a big decision to permanently remove some of my hair to stop feeling so fucked up so often. When cosmetic spas closed, I bought a home kit that ended up (not badly, but noticeably to me) scarring my skin, which triggered dysmorphia. Suicidal shit. Nothing I hadn’t experienced before, but I’m sick of dealing with it.
Powerlessness was a significant part of being raised a girl. I think that the helplessness that’s inherent for a lot of people during a pandemic is especially present for people with PTSD. When people take off their masks around me when that’s not appropriate, I spiral. I feel they don’t care if they kill me. It’s a genuine, daily trigger. I re-experience the trauma of being mistreated for another person’s gain or convenience. Since I’ve been abused by men, a man keeping his mask off is more bothersome. I try to remind myself that this person is this inconsiderate around everyone.
How has the experience of the pandemic intersected with your experience of survivorship, if at all? For example: What, if anything, has triggered associations with trauma? Some folks describe needing to live with someone who harmed them or feeling increased anxiety. What, if anything, has triggered coping skills you learned from your trauma? How has that gone?
At work, I’m surrounded by trauma. I wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for the pandemic, so I think it’s related. My job is supportive housing for people many shelters refuse. I read their files. A lot of these people have been through hell a thousand times.
A client who hallucinates that their past trauma is recurring describes to me what they think is happening to them. It’s extremely violent and the most heartbreaking thing I’ve encountered in real life. There are clients whose experiences have normalized neglect so much that they ignore infections that lead to severe physical disability. Some of the men I’m professionally obligated to help see preying on women as the only way to interact with them.
It’s all a lot to absorb mentally and spiritually, especially when I don’t think the agency I work for does all it can to protect its clients and staff. At work, I’ve coped with trauma by acknowledging in my head over and over again its pervasiveness and the severity of its consequences. I’ve always known trauma to be a common experience of a system and not this anomalous experience society acts as though it is.
Some clients harass female staff. It’s triggering, but I’ve found that some of these interactions help me cope retroactively. I’m reminded to not care about the opinions of men who treated me like garbage when I was a kid. For example, I can shut the door in the face of an abusive client and tell them to come back when they’re ready to act respectfully. Since that verbal self-defense isn’t something I did much while enduring sexual/gendered trauma, it helps me deal with my past.
Also, the pandemic has forced me further into isolation than I want to be. But I’m skilled at being alone. I understand loneliness because I’ve experienced a lot of it during and after trauma. Isolation was a primary coping mechanism for my trauma.
Several years ago, about every two months, I’d wake up with a bad migraine, vomit a few times in a couple hours, then feel fine. During that time, I had vivid, fantastic apocalyptic dreams every night. For maybe two years, through this illness and dreaming, I think I was experiencing severe stress subconsciously. I think my subconscious stress is worse now, but I have trouble grasping it. It’s this droning, buzzing thing, not as tangible as intense dreams and physical illness.
There was a time when my PTSD was such that I thought someone would break into my home and assault me, so I barely slept for months. I literally looked over my shoulder throughout the day, sobbed uncontrollably every day, and suddenly didn’t believe my sweet partner when he said he loved me. I was confrontational and couldn’t focus.
When the pandemic hit, that severe anxiety came back a little bit. I became worried that militias were going to make it really hard to live and that we might lose electricity. I was a doomsday prepper for about a month. I had no idea to what extent this just made sense, to what extent this was PTSD, and to what extent this was upbringing/ancestral memory causing me to expect the gestapo.
While I don’t romanticize the violence of revolution, I do have despair and macabre in my bones. It’s something I like about myself. I’m not exactly scared of that kind of violence. Compartmentalization is a skill learned in and following trauma. I don’t become overwhelmed by overwhelm. I know I’m emotional in ways that can’t be simplified. In the brunt of PTSD the first time, I knew exactly what was happening and to just ride through it. And due to my trauma, I can panic in front of a person and they would have no idea. So, the beginning of the pandemic had me thinking about animalistic and psychological survival skills in the event of some kind of civilian war, or impending mental strife. Those skills are useful day to day lately, but it’s a lot to sequester. The pandemic as I’m experiencing it allows for fewer emotional outlets like having sex.
So, the beginning of the pandemic had me thinking about that.
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’m more broke than I ever have been. It sucks that with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and chronic pain that are all exacerbated by the pandemic, I feel that I can’t work full-time. But even putting myself at risk a few days a week is very stressful.
I had opportunities growing up, but my survivorship shaped me so that I didn’t set myself up for success as an adult. Which is a very simplified way of explaining that my labyrinthine life decisions are inextricably linked to trauma. Spending time at a job I don’t love right now has everything to do with what I’ve been through. I’ve failed in some ways for previously overwhelming reasons that were not my fault. Of course, it’s my responsibility now, but it took me a while to get to a point at which I felt that I could act on that responsibility rather than just understand it.
I’m a sensitive one, and it has been a challenge to be so short on money that I no longer have outlets such as going dancing, buying instruments, or traveling. But it’s a challenge I try to welcome.
The challenge is to feel okay with myself without expressing myself; deal with pain when there are fewer, much slower paths to joy; and focus on/adhere to routine. I know that pain and tedium are to be worked through, not ignored or covered up, and that meditation is just about the only way to work through them.