June 9, 2020 | 11 minutes read

Locked down and bursting out: grappling with the body in the time of coronavirus

Locked down and bursting out: grappling with the body in the time of coronavirus

The COVID-19 crisis has brought about a lockdown. Commentators have rushed to describe the effects that these new circumstances are having on us as we are confined to our homes, experience the days as becoming increasingly blurred, and are cut off from the connection of body-to-body speech. Something missing from these contributions, however, has been an exploration of how these changes to space, time, and speech are affecting our relationships to our bodies. This is especially pertinent for those for whom this relationship is already problematised. Moreover, we must consider the ways in which subjects have found they might "deal with" this specific question.

What follows is a collection of personal accounts from three transgender members of Red Fightback.


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Sometime in March, 11am

I put myself down at my desk, a good metre away from where I'd woken up an hour ago and walked drearily to shower, again about three metres behind where I've just sat to stare at a computer screen for eight, nine, ten hours. I've managed to make myself a cup of fruit tea before my first staff team Zoom call of the day (I don't drink caffeine now; threw that out along with drinking and smoking after New Year, as 2020 is my year and I'm going to grow and achieve so much). I'll go make myself brunch (I'm a brunch person now? I can't believe this) afterwards at about 1pm after this call and the next one finish, and besides, being able to Work Through the hunger pangs is a way of delimiting all of this. Pfft, no love lost from not seeing my analyst! I struggle through the call and the next one and I definitely look like I'm taking everything in and I'm making contributions at just the right times and the lighting in this room is just right so the shape of my eyes isn't noticed by any of the other staff and when it finishes I go downstairs to the kitchen and make myself some eggs on toast.

No one else is in the kitchen: one of my housemates fled to France several [days? weeks?] ago to beat the border closures and the other one not long after to Shrewsbury to wait out the upcoming lockdown on a farm. My live-in Landlord (who is also trans--I ought to get on with them, and we're friends on Facebook)  must be out somewhere probably "socially-distantly" meeting a partner or buying hummus and I eat my eggs on toast and go back upstairs and take a sip from the plastic-tasting water that I put on my desk a few days ago and have been refilling so I drink water while I'm working from home. Got to look after my skin.

I hate being so pale, and it's been sunny the past few days but I've not been out of course, other than last weekend when I went running two days in a row and then told my friends I'm good actually yeah I've been staying fit haha and did you know if you go running at night there aren't many people around? After two days the stubble pricks through again though and then my actually pretty nice body and my huge skull with all its attachments read like two different bodies clipping through each other, and God knows that's not what can run past people on the Bristol-Bath cycle path without earning looks and sneers and Wait Laura that's a trans woman, so now instead I'm at my desk and I've been sat here for 17 hours total having skipped dinner because I'm not that hungry and besides after work there were some really good posts that I saw on the Frank Ryan virtual pub my Manchester mates set up and I decided I would at last set up an Instagram account and then it was dark anyway and I needed to keep increasing my rankings on Bimboland and play through this game of Pokemon Black 2 that I started with my girlfriend before all this. I haven't seen anyone in ages but I really don't have time to be honest I've just got so much work to do! Yeah thanks it feels good to know I'm doing such important work right now. And yeah haha I've not even had to go to the shops yet I guess I stocked up on veggie burgers just in time.

I wake and I've not had any dreams that I can write down and I go through the same routine that I did yesterday that will finish just before I have to sit down for work again: shit, brush teeth, shower, shave (arms, pits, snail trail, chest, legs), back to my room and walk past the full-length that hangs in the hallway checking myself out, put on that Belle & Sebastian album, in front of the dresser mirror. I don't normally put even this much work into my appearance (I've never been particularly femme or into products) but hey since I've been self-isolating I've been taking more notice of myself and I feel good when I look good. Watching myself moisturise, I've lost weight I think?, nice, but Jesus look at that huge ribcage, coconut oil, underwear (I leave it a extra day until I change my estrodiol patches because there are only 4 left in the drawer and the pharmacy have been looking all over for stock to fill my prescription but no luck yet sorry we will call you), socks, Workers' Beer Company t-shirt and pair of black cargo pants, serum, day cream, foundation, multivitamin, vitamin D, omega-3, loratadine, fruit tea. I'm thinking about all the good things that each one does to my body and I imagine the biochemical cascades that I learned about in final year unfolding as the tablets dissolve, enter my bloodstream, hit receptors on my cells, keep me young, fight off the testosterone damage. I look at the finished product, looking passably healthy. Earlier this week my ex sent me a screenshot of the GIC's official advice stating that a failure in the supply of hormone products poses no physical risk to us. Sure. Today, then the weekend, I assure myself as I try and work out how much I believe it when I say I'll rest.

I love my job and I'm so proud to be working for the organisation which more than any other of its kind has rushed to organise its members and thousands more volunteers in communities across the country to get food and medicine to those who need it and to force Landlords to grant rent waivers and I gladly work overtime besides who takes breaks at a time like this. The form into which my ordinary work has reassembled still lacks proper borders and I'm unsure of what exactly I'm supposed to be doing. This lack of direction would normally be stalling but in the face of this crisis I'm flat-out and inventive and finding myself possessed by the FDCK excitement of is this it is this our moment but then the other wave hits me and I remember that it's now been this way for several weeks and actually I feel more like I'm dying than being born--the naive thrill can't carry me for much longer and maybe I should have moved closer to loved ones before diving into this. In the call I listen to the feedback from other branches and the celebrations of all our work and my eyes are always flitting back to the panel that has me in it and nice my hair looks sooo much better since I cut this fringe in last week in the middle of the night lmao I can't believe I never thought to obscure my hairline and brow like this before wait actually wow my posture is bad and my smile is ugly and my nose is huge and you can really see that shadow on my chin and my head canes and those BAGS like wow you really should sleep more. The yearning for a trip to New York to get my face done hits me again, and despite me never having wanted this prior to about two weeks ago it's overwhelming. I mentally shake myself and remember that no actually FFS would be a dumb idea because afterwards if I get punched in the face then my skull will crumble and it's inevitable I'll be punched in the face with the kind of work I dedicate my life to. As I imagine my collapsed features I look away from the screen and instead to the makeup mirror on my desk and I think there must be something smart to say here involving Lacan and fragmented bodies but I've not finished that paper. Ha! Thank God the NPSA Annual Congress was postponed. But now I won't get to go on that holiday with her--I check my phone and she's still not replied but to be fair she's probably not awake still. I'm really happy that she's moved into that LGBT+ house and they're all furloughed together and partying 24/7. She never had that life before and I shouldn't be jealous because really I did all that at uni, and I can't start drinking again now anyway. I do wish I could move in with her there but that other girl who's cuter than me had to move into her room instead because she had to leave her place and in any case I have such a busy schedule it wouldn't be sensible. "And what are you working on today?" the Head Organiser asks, and it's my turn to talk.

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A square can't become a circle. Or so I'm told. I always thought if you rounded out the corners a bit you could make a convincing effort. Perfect circles don't exist in reality anyway. Who's to stop a girl from trying? Maybe if I twirl fast enough I might look round, at least from the perspective of whoever it is that decided to call me a square in the first place. Motion, perhaps that's the key. Maybe if I'm seen rolling down hills, deftly swerving obstacles rather than confronting them square on, I'll pass well enough. The Enlightened observers used to think Mother Earth had four corners. Now we know she spun herself close enough to spherical - and padded out the rough edges with oceans and forests and other gorgeous things that distract us from thinking too hard about just quite how uneven she is.

Topology is the study of shapes undergoing continuous deformation. Ask a topologist if a square can become a circle and they'll tell you they're already equivalent - homeomorphs. Ask a psychologist and they'll tell you that shapes with homeomorphic desires aren't normal - and diagnose them with geometric dysphoria. I'd rather speak to a topologist than a shrink. I wish topologists could prescribe me hormones.

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I am free as much as I am stuck.

I am now living with the person I love, and who loves me; who sees me as I am, in my whole truth. Yet, I have no one to share this full truth with. Previously I was with my parents, who did not see me in my full truth; fear on my part, ignorance on theirs. And now here I am, yet ironically, what can I do?

There is some inner peace to this. My partner openly acknowledges my struggle with gender, and I could not ask for anyone more understanding. I feel at ease with her housemates. I could theoretically present however I wish; yet what is the point if I’m stuck inside?

This raises an interesting contradiction within gender as a concept; is it nothing but perception? I’m calm in my dysphoria, because there’s few people around to outwardly perceive me as male. Yet I still feel incomplete in my body (as of time of writing, I am still on the waiting list for the Gender Identity Clinic). For me, I need to perceive myself as my own truth, unravel my inner contradictions (birthed through years of self-doubt and put-downs), and become.

A comrade observed that the current social atmosphere for cisgender people is almost parallel to what is the norm for many LGBTI people; social paranoia. Not knowing whether the person up the street is infectious; not knowing whether the person up the street will clock you and, at best, sneer. The desperate optimist in me wants this climate to become a learning experience for many people; to at the very least push for a society that is more empathetic and understanding of individual struggles. The realist in me recognises that something will at least change; this is temporal. There is now only moving forward.

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Late April, 7:55am

A combination of the sun and my body wake me up 5 minutes before my 8am alarm and I reach over to pull my laptop onto me and write down the dream. I shower, and then go through my morning skincare routine as I dance in front of the mirror to Klaus Nomi's Simple Man and laugh to myself. I'm looking at myself in the mirror and I am here! All in one piece! My breakfast is good and has at least 3 green things in it (thanks to a friend who dropped off some shopping for me), and I enjoy my fruit tea with a cigarette as I sit on the wicker chair outside my front door looking out onto the estate. I check my WhatsApp messages and read that a comrade dropped off some more Binarex for me last night; I fish them out of the flower pot and pop one straight away, with a gulp of peach. The flash of contrast reminds me of the too-little-too-late admission by the GIC last week that a failure in hormone supplies is dangerous after all and we do need support. Still, it's falling to us to provide it.

After calling my friend in the Czech Republic and reading another few pages of Portrait (fiction! but I did read something about Joyce, sinthome, and transition somewhere before), I sit down for the 11am Zoom call and am connected. After last week's national campaign planning call, I know where my work fits into the broader project and I am thriving. I am part of an organisation. One that is growing, one that is fighting, and one that is winning.

I break up my day with fag breaks shared with other organising staff over FaceTime, and my routine allows me to feel hungry at a time that means I take an hour off for lunch. While my food cooks I get some practice in going up and down the cul-de-sac on the board a friend bought for me this time last year but that I've been too anxious to learn on. After work today I will call my girlfriend while I make dinner (it was her birthday this week and we had a socially-distanced day in the sun), catch up with Red Fightback comrades, and sit down to write.

I am not the first to describe the energising and rejuvenating effect of being immersed in the flesh and blood of a community and a Party, but it really is the truth. I am still looking in the mirror, but now the surplus that won't be contained within the boundaries of my reflection has a meaning and a cause.

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Being trans in a quarantine is strange. Disconnected from society, alone with my own body, nothing to do but count the scars on my wrists and the hairs on my chin. In workless separation, the scrutiny that I was so used to receiving externally is my job now. Full-time dysphoria for no pay. Women's labour - alienating, unwaged social reproduction, hidden away in the home. Dysphoria is gender's critical infrastructure, and we're the key workers. It'll kill us if we don't change something. It's killed too many of us already. Fuck clapping, I'm going on strike.

I've run out of hormones, and I'm suffering daily headaches and mood swings. I asked a friend about their experience stopping birth control - they had the same symptoms. Maybe I am intractably a woman after all. As days go by, I begin to forget I'm trans. I'm not being perceived, scrutinised, and compared to the other shapes whose continuous deformation hasn't yet changed them beyond recognition (at least, not from the angles they're typically observed - I have my own suspicions). How am I supposed to be dysphoric without the constant dehumanisation I experience outdoors? I'm almost nostalgic. I need someone to call me a faggot, to remind me I haven't accumulated all this trauma for nothing. I need it soon, before I kill the clinician in my head who keeps my more adventurous gendered instincts in check and completely lose my ability to reintegrate. My razor slips as I shave my head - clinician's dead. There's no going back for me now.


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The other night I hosted a Zoom party with my closest friends, dancing to all the best 00s hits. Ever since I came out, dancing and parties have always been my outlet for My Truth; reveling in the club kid life. I believe there will be one point where it will click in place; my outer core will match my inner core.

I do miss that. This was a little palette cleanser; seeing my friends who I love dearly, reminiscing about when me and Jaz screamed Hole songs at each other in Brighton suburbs at 4am.

We’ll get to do it again. In a better world.

It’s why I’m in this party.