Maybe we shouldn’t go back to normal
Normal gave birth to me, but normal actively wants to extinguish me. My daily life before the pandemic was marred by inaccessibility: a series of doctor’s appointments, endless piles of bills, the complex map of phone numbers to the services I desperately needed. In New York, where I lived, navigating life was extremely difficult. When the weather was sweltering I had to remember my cooling jacket, but what if the cold packs melt, and the temperature rose on a day I was unprepared? Several times I stood at the bottom of a series of subway stairs, feeling frozen at the thought of not only the impending physical pain I would feel, but also the many layers of oppression I had to endure to surrender. where I needed to go. The stress of it all led me to move across the country to Los Angeles.
At the start of the pandemic, as someone with an autoimmune disease treated with immunosuppressants, I feared the worst. If I had Covid, would I end up in a crowded emergency room (a place plagued by medical trauma for me)? Would the virus trigger another relapse of my MS? I started quarantining a month before the official lockdown was ordered, feeling lost and confused as to how everyone was going to prepare to be isolated for an unknown length of time.
Fortunately, I am part of a community of brilliant people who know what it is like to live in isolation, who support each other and actively envision a world where everyone’s needs are met. That’s not to say people weren’t so anxious. On social media, many have expressed concerns that the needs of people with disabilities will come last, that we will see our friends and loved ones die. The moment this happened, I begged others to do the minimum for our safety: just wear a mask and practice social distancing. Community members did the job of alerting people to our struggles, but it was often like we were screaming into the ether.
In December, my partner and I were diagnosed with Covid. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. While we have meticulously taken precautions, others have not. In late fall and winter, Los Angeles became the US epicenter of the virus. Analysts said people were just fed up with being careful. We watched in disbelief as the electrician from the property management company walked into our apartment without a mask. I ended up with a mild case and rested as the virus made its way through my body. My partner was not so lucky. She had all the typical symptoms: chills, fever, loss of taste and smell. For days she was nauseous; she threw up. I remember looking at her on the bathroom floor one night, seeing my caregiver the smallest she has ever been. For what seemed like the first time, she needed physical support.
The role reversals with my partner weren’t the only changes that rocked my world. As the virus ravaged the country and businesses and schools began to embrace virtual spaces, I resented the times I couldn’t work because I was denied accommodations around my home. handicap. I have been unemployed for seven years and receive government benefits. I have long since abandoned the idea of being employed in a conventional manner. As with so many people with disabilities, that hasn’t stopped me from doing cultural work. Knowing that society sees us as both dangerous and fraudulent, alternately weak, needy and unworthy, encouraged me to reverse the scenario: telling the rich stories of people with disabilities of color through my podcast, Power no mercy. While doing this job, I feel like I’m never really alone.
Yet the experience of the pandemic leaves me with a bitter question: Would I have been more employable if accessibility had been prioritized in the same way it is today? Virtual spaces are now more easily accessible because they need to be. It only took a pandemic to change the way we conduct accessible communication. It only took a pandemic to realize that our collective survival is enveloped in societal change. Normal has always been controlled by the systems that keep my communities without the resources we need to live and thrive. “Getting back to normal” would mean going back. As at the right time, last week LA County recorded its highest daily Covid infection rate since May.
This pandemic has changed so many facets of my life, and I can never look back and desire what was considered important to society only a year and a half ago. Being sequestered at home gave me so many opportunities to be introspective. Like many people during this time, I started to return home. I began to understand that my own priorities and values were important and non-negotiable. I came out trans during this pandemic. I finally felt open enough to accept the language that described my mind.
I find myself bringing my whole being to everything I do more often. The pandemic has changed the sense of authenticity in my life and made me reconsider my own resilience in the face of difficulties. I used to hide who I was, trying my best to fit into the boxes that oppressive systems savagely created. Now I lead first with my identities. I am a podcaster. I am an advocate for justice for people with disabilities. I am a loyal member of the community and your favorite hype prince. I am very black and very trans. Each day I wake up and choose to reimagine and shape what future worlds will look like. I don’t want a new normal; I want a new era.
Scenes of a pandemic is a collaboration between The nation and Kopkind, a living memorial to radical journalist Andrew Kopkind, who from 1982 to 1994 was the magazine’s political editor and chief analyst. This series of dispatches from the vast network of participants, advisers, guests and friends of Kopkind is edited by Nation Kopkind contributor and program director JoAnn Wypijewski, and appears weekly on thenation.com and kopkind.org.