My life in early 2020 was settled, I had a job, a house and a family. As a transgender woman of 56 years of age I was reasonably content with how things were. There were good things and bad things in my life for sure, but I felt that my life was going in the direction I wanted.
And then it happened. A global pandemic of a deadly virus. And by early March 2020 the virus was running out of control in the UK. Before we knew it we were asked to ‘lock-down’, to practise ‘social distancing’ and to ‘stay safe’. Everyone was impacted. But here I want to give you an insight into how it affected me, a transgender woman who had only transitioned in October 2018.
LGBT history month is February and it carried on as normal, I was fortunate to attend some wonderful events. The highlight for me was listening to a trans woman, Catherine Paige, give a talk about her life. She was in the RAF and a pioneer for trans women being more accepted in society. I took along a friend of mine, another trans woman, who like myself was a ‘recent transitioner’ and ex-RAF herself. We were both inspired by Catherine, who quite clearly was a fantastic role model. My friend and I went shopping at the Mall, browsing at clothes in the sale, talking over lunch. The sort of things that any other women would do!
By early March it was clear the virus, known as Covid-19, was both deadly and highly contagious. It had spread out of China and was now rampaging through countries like Italy and Spain. It was inevitable that the UK would soon be in a pandemic. At that point I was getting drugs to reduce my testosterone and a hrt gel containing oestrogen from an online General Practitioner. I needed a top up supply and was anxious as to whether I’d be able to get it – fortunately it arrived without a problem
We all have a back story. An intrinsic part of me is a hereditary blood condition that made me very ill as a child. Aged 16, with my informed consent, I had my spleen removed. That vastly improved the quality of my life but one impact of having no spleen is that your immune system isn’t as effective. Because of this I understood the consequences of Covid-19 way before the general population. In early March I asked to be isolated from my colleagues at work and 3 of us, vulnerable in one way or another, had a large office to ourselves. Within a very short space of time things got a lot worse. I knew I couldn’t go into the office any more. So on March 19th I left and said to my boss I was taking the whole of the next week off (go into work, pick up the virus and possibly die or stay away and live – it was an easy decision for me to make). Things moved so rapidly that just one week later all employees were instructed NOT to go into work. The lockdown had begun.
One immediate consequence of lockdown was the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and service providers, including dentists, hairdressers and beauticians. I had a filling fall out just before Christmas 2019 and was fortunate in that the dentist fixed it just before closing. Many others who got dental issues post the lockdown were forced to endure pain or try and sort the issue themselves. But lockdown did mean that my regular sessions at the beauticians were postponed. I was visiting a salon called Collistears run by a lovely lady called Caroline, which specialised in electrolysis for facial hair removal. It’s a very slow process and by then I had only had about 25 hours’ worth done – perhaps about ¼ of what is required. I would also go for body hair removal sessions by waxing on a less frequent basis. The cessation of these sessions didn’t impact me straight away, but as time went on would become more of a concern for me.
Not being able to go out and socialise or see people was a major blow. I had many different circles that I mixed in, some just for the good company and conversation and others because of causes and advocacy I was involved in. So in one fell swoop I could no longer:- meet my girlfriends for a coffee; go to a social meet up at a pub called ‘Thirsty Thursday’; go to a trans support group called ‘Crossroads’; go to any meetings of or campaign for a political party ; go to meetings of a group to represent LGBT+ voices in Bristol ; go to meetings of a Mental Health Network, for which I was a trustee. Yes, I was living a very busy life! Was.
Some of the interactions I had moved to being online video conferencing. A computer application called ‘Zoom’ became a big thing, with people connecting with others from their homes. It became a thing to have a bookcase filled with interesting books in the background, to try and make yourself look intelligent. Whether a complete lack of a bookcase when I ‘Zoomed’ was a sign of complete stupidity or a reflection of intelligent superiority is open for debate!
I was able to use a laptop computer to try and work from home. But this was fraught with problems. The laptop wasn’t a good one and with everybody else trying to work from home, the connection was very slow indeed. It was extremely frustrating, especially during the middle part of the day. Many people would work in the evening, myself included, just because the connection speed was better. During the day, when the connection to work was slow, I often became distracted by social media on the internet. Far too often I was using Twitter to see what other trans people were doing. But also to see what blatant transphobia was going on as well. Having lost a lot of affirmation opportunities due to the lockdown and to have this replaced by hate on social media – this made life for trans people feel much less worthwhile. I had some very depressing days; when I felt the whole world was against me, when progress with my work was impossible and tension through being confined in home. Days when, quite frankly, it felt better to just give up.
Fortunately I am quite resilient and was able to overcome my own insecurities and low mood. I lived with my wife and two teenage children, so I had people to interact with. Many others I know lived alone and for them social media was a way of keeping in touch. That said, living with other people in a confined space can in itself be difficult, with ‘cabin fever’ setting in. There is no doubt that relationships were strained in many households.
As the death toll from Covid-19 increased the news media would often use the term ‘had an underlying health condition’ as a reason. As somebody who comes into this category, broad as it is, this scared me even more. In time there would be so many people dying from the disease (the 1st peak was in early April 2020) that this wasn’t mentioned any more. But the Government asked ‘extremely vulnerable’ people to shield i.e. not to go out of their homes at all, not even for the allowed once daily exercise. Those in this category were contacted by phone/letter and were entitled to home support, such as delivery of food. At first I was not placed in this category. I had 4 mouths to feed, 5 including the dog. Slots for home delivery from the supermarkets were all taken up. We needed food supplies, to go to a supermarket. I decided to go myself, wearing protective equipment such as rubber gloves, a mask and goggles. I had to queue outside the supermarket, everybody was expected to stay 2m apart. Trying to read a shopping list with goggles steaming up was not fun. We were also expected to follow a one way system in the supermarket as well. And I tried to get enough supplies for 2 weeks, the trolley was full to the brim. It was hard work just to do the basic thing of getting food, but this needed to be put in perspective. There was food on the shelves (albeit some things were in short supply, such as flour) and orderly behaviour. Nobody was desperate for food.
In late April I had a phone call from my GP surgery. Because of my condition I was going to be placed in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ category. She had genuine empathy towards me and I was put on a low dose antibiotic, which would help control secondary infection if I did get Covid-19. I asked if I could have a follow up call to talk about my transition journey as well. Later that day I had really bad depression and anxiety. It was as if somebody had said to me ‘Get this disease and you will die’. Dealing with that in my mind was hard. Despite my resilience I struggled to process what I had been told.
But another day arrived, I was still here, breathing, seeing the days get longer and life return to dormant gardens. Before the phone call from the GP I had been allowed one piece of exercise a day, as had everyone. I would take the dog for a walk in the morning, fairly early, to avoid people. Not just because I wanted not to catch Covid-19 but because, as trans I was conscious of my appearance, the possibility of not being ‘read’ as a woman. Before the pandemic I had got to a position of reasonable confidence in my ability to ‘pass’, or at least not to be pointed out as being a ‘man’. But I found that this confidence started to wane, and as time went on became more of an issue. However, one benefit of lockdown was the distinct lack of background traffic noise. Only when it is gone do you realise what was there before. On my early morning walks in April the joys of Spring could be felt, the strengthening sun and the birdsong. I appreciated these small things so much more.
Despite being told to shield I carried on as I had been living before and still did my daily dog walk and shopping trips. I weighed up the risk in everything I was doing and concluded that being totally confined would be bad for my mental health. It would also have been extremely impractical, to ask others to deliver food for an entire family. A supermarket trip to get so much food requires a car and I was the only one who could drive at that point. As April turned into May things slowly got better with my work. I was given a better laptop and the connection improved. Whereas I was struggling to do ~25h a week of WFH (Working From Home) at the beginning of lockdown by the end of May I was able to do my full hours. And my regular commutes by car were a thing of the past. People talk about a ‘new normal’ as a result of Covid-19, less travel by road and air is likely to be one consequence. But along with this comes the economic impact. I work in the aviation industry and ~95% of planes have been grounded. Any recovery will take 2 or 3 years and as a result, many jobs are being lost. For me, it’s an opportunity to retire early. For many others, the impact on their lives and families will be dire.
In terms of my transition I feel that has been hit badly by what’s happened. After several weeks without electrolysis I sense that more dark hairs are appearing on my face, which needs more effort to cover up. I wait anxiously for the beauty parlours to reopen. I was referred to a Gender Identity Clinic in April 2018, all appointments were put on hold, which means the wait to get a 1st appointment will take longer. One piece of good news was that in the follow up call with my GP he agreed to prescribe the feminising drugs for me, which I had previously got online.
As we enter June 2020 who knows what lies ahead. Will I still have a job? Will I be able to go to the beauticians? Will I be able to meet people in confined spaces, at work, the pub, the coffee shop? Where am I heading with my transition? I’d like a formal diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria, should I go private?
The impact of Covid-19 has been massive on all of our lives. As an early transitioning male-to-female with an underlying health condition I have another level to deal with. But as I said before, I am resilient. I am still breathing. I still have things to do with my life.
‘Nevertheless, she persisted’.
Kaz (She/her pronouns)
7th June 2020
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