What cleaning looks like at school during COVID-19

Today was the kids’ first day back, and boy did things go differently! I’ve been a school cleaner for 16 years, and, interestingly, I’ve never before had less to do than I do right now. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s actually a testament as to how well-planned out things are to account for what’s going on. No amount of planning is going to stop the spread completely, but… well, we’ll see how it goes.

In the district I work for, the elementary level kids are divided into AM and PM groups. That means no more than 12 kids are in a room at a time. Desks are spaced out accordingly. All area rugs, pillows, fabrics are in storage. I suddenly have barely any vacuuming to do. Also, when kids are only there for 2 hours, they make way less mess. They’re there to learn, and not a whole lot else. No recess, no art, no music, no wandering down the hall to get a drink because they are bored / antsy. They generated roughly half as much trash. They went to the bathroom way less. The bathrooms looked like they’d been barely touched.

Also, there are less rooms being used because some teachers are working exclusively remotely.

All this “less” frees me up to focus on disinfecting, which we’re taking very seriously. But it’s not just me and my co-workers. We now have an army of disinfect-ers: teacher aides plus any teachers who want to clean. Anyone who wants to clean things is highly encouraged and we suddenly have a ton of supplies to make that happen.

We have stations set up for any adults to grab stuff to clean. There’s hand sanitizer everywhere you look and signage for kids so they remember how they now have to be, while they are here.

Things are always in really good shape after the first day of school. Kids are on their best behavior and don’t mess up much stuff. But this year, it was to an extreme. We’ll see what the next few days / weeks / months bring…


Getting asked about surgeries

In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!

#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.

The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.

#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.

We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.

I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.


Getting back to work

This has been the longest stretch of not posting since I started this blog – something that would have freaked me out not too long ago, but so many things have changed lately, it feels like some of my priorities have shifted.  Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing here!  Just that I’m not going to force it.  I have instead been writing frequently in a journal about daily life and what I’ve done to fill my time, since I stopped going to work on March 13th.  Those entries are too boring for the public, haha.

photo by Jess Kamens, @jesskamensphotography

I went back to work yesterday.  That was 75 days out of work!  So far, it’s been totally fine.  We are only doing 4 hour shifts, and I am staggering it with my co-workers.  So, in a job where I’m almost always alone, I am even more alone now.  We’ll see if that changes when teachers have a chance to come in, which will start next week.  So far I’ve just gone around and flushed all the toilets since it’s been so long since any water has been running.  I went ahead and cleaned them while I was at it.  (Some hard water buildup on the porcelain.)  Then I flipped over area rugs, vacuumed them while upside down (gets a lot of sand out of them – I work at a school that is basically on sandy bluffs.) and moved them into the gym.  And now I’m on to cleaning cafeteria tables.  I wear gloves and a paper mask.  Sometimes I take off the mask when there’s no chance of other people approaching me.  It’s hot.  Also, I wash my hands with the gloves on pretty frequently.  I’ve never heard of that as a thing, but I don’t know why not!

It’s comforting that everything was right where I had it when I left.  And that we are all in the same boat.  There have been other occasions where I’ve been out of work long term (after top surgery, after psychiatric hospitalizations), and in those cases, I had no idea what I was coming back into, or sometimes even who would be there.  This time, it feels like there is no pressure at all.  We might not do everything we normally do during the summers.  We will just wait and see.

I’m trying to feel out if I like working these short shifts better than not working at all (the added structure is nice, and the built in physical activity) for future reference.  It’s hard to say at this point.  I’m still transitioning.  Other than this though, everything else is still the same, in my book.  I’m still only going to the store every 2 weeks.  I’m still only seeing people in outdoor spaces, at least 6 feet apart, with a mask on whenever possible (like obviously, not while eating or drinking).  I’m recording my radio show from home, doing telehealth appointments, spending lots of time biking, hiking, and sitting in the nice weather staring off into space.  It feels like others are suddenly less cautious, as the weather got nicer and as restrictions eased up.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, so I’m gonna just keep doing what I’m doing, which now includes working M-F, 11:30am – 3:30pm (loving this shift!)