School is out for the summer

Monday was the last day of school over here.  Such an exciting time for students and teachers!!!  A time of adjustment for parents, I imagine.  For janitors, it doesn’t mean much.  We’re still working, we’ll just be doing different (but just as physical, if not more so) tasks.  And, it means we’ll be switching from working nights, to working early.

A lot of times, people (outside of work) ask me if I work during the summer.  They assume that I don’t.  For the record:  school janitors work all summer long.  How else would the school look all shiny and new on the first day of school????  Little tiny elves?!!

schools_out1-300x214This has historically been the hardest time of year for me.  Everyone is so excited about the nice weather and their upcoming freedom.  Teachers are clearing out their rooms in anticipation of new stuff they ordered for next year.  I start getting really emotional about everyone leaving.  I start trying to save as much of the stuff they are throwing out.  I start fretting about being ripped away from my routine, and having to work closely with my co-workers all day, every day.  I start isolating as much as I can get away with.  I know this is some strong language for what seems like no big deal, but it really has felt this extreme for me.

It’s been getting better the past two years.  Like everything else in my life, I’m starting to be able to handle it easier.  I feel more at ease with my co-workers, and the idea that I will actually be working with them.  I chat with teachers about their summer plans.  I don’t try to save everything they throw away; I’m becoming more selective.  As a side note, anything I do get out of the trash, I immediately create a strong bond with it, for some reason.  Stuff from trash is much more valuable, often, than stuff I choose to buy.  Not sure why.

Last-Day-of-School-Bus-278x300But I still can’t let myself get swept up in the energy of the last day of school.  I don’t make an effort to say good-bye to all the kids or anything.  What they do at our school is, Kindergarten through 4th grade students all go out early and position themselves out on the bus loop, so that when 5th graders head out to get on their buses, they get a big send-off.  Then everyone boards their bus, and all the buses take two laps around the bus loop as all the staff cheer and wish them farewell.  And kids are allowed to hang out the windows, just this one time, and everyone is yelling and cheering and crying.  I cannot be there for that.  Maybe one day.  I just stay in the building and dump garbages, because it is too intense to be a part of that.

So far this year, I have found in the garbage:

  • dozens of envelopes, in different bright colors
  • two coffee mugs, one which says, “I ❤ Tea, I ❤ Teaching”
  • a plastic travel cup with straw
  • a bunch of tracing paper
  • some books, one which is called, “Subway Art”
  • a bunch of Teddy Grahams and string cheeses
  • A North Face jacket, which will actually fit me
  • silly bandz!!!!!

And really that’s it so far, which is a very good thing!  The past few years, there have been times of huge upheaval.  Asbestos removal about 6 years ago, massive room changes about 3 years ago, new carpet installation 2 years ago.  Anything like this, and teachers toss out soooooo much.  And I respond in a frenzied fashion.  I cannot see useful things go into the dumpster.  This year feels so smooth and relaxed, in comparison.  I am glad.

A partial list of some stuff I’ve found in the past:

  • an iPod shuffle
  • another iPod shuffle
  • Nintendo DS games
  • lunch boxes, so many lunch boxes.  I’m always in the market to upgrade, haha.
  • a long-arm stapler
  • a long long list of art supplies and books, calculators, cameras, just… stuff.
  • silly bandz!!!!!

This time around, I am ready to try and enjoy the summer.

I am not “your,”or anyone else’s, janitor

Dear (anonymous) Sir,

A few days ago, you asked the internet through a google search, “does my janitor who is a male like me and im a male (gay)?”  And the internet took you to my blog, in the hopes it would help you find your answer.  (Yes, the internet does have its own hopes and dreams!)  I highly doubt you found what you were looking for, so I decided to fill in the blanks, in case you try again in the future.  I will be taking some liberties and making some assumptions, in order to create a concise response.  If I am off base, please, call me out!

I’m sorry to let you know, the internet cannot answer questions that are this specific to your personal experience.  You can glean a whole lot of information that might help you put words to your feelings, which is super helpful.  But the internet does not know your situation, does not know your janitor, and does not know anything beyond whatever it is that people write on it.  Is there a chance that your janitor wrote about you on the internet?  Yes, maybe.  But you will not be coming upon that writing by asking in that way.

In order to learn more about this, you would have to interact in real life.  Also, you may want to ask yourself instead, “Do I like my janitor, like, do I like like him?  And if so, do I want to do something about it, despite potential consequences?”  You might want to weigh the pros and cons.  You might want to feel out the situation in more nuanced ways before jumping to conclusions or potentially propositioning him directly.  You could ask for advice from people you trust and are close to.  Hell, you could even anonymously ask for advice in myriads of places online (again, I’d suggest focusing on your own feelings and not your janitor’s)!  But you will not come upon much success by googling it.

Equally important though, please disregard everywhere in the above paragraphs where I indulged the idea of “your” janitor.  He is not your janitor.  You do not own him.  You may not know this, but he doesn’t actually even work for you!  I am going to assume you are not his direct supervisor, and are instead someone who works in a building (as a lawyer, businessman, teacher, or some other profession where you work in a space.)  And he cleans your space.  You, in a way, do own that space.  It is sort of “your” desk, “your” trash can, “your” chalk board, etc.  That is fine.  But, again, he is not “your” janitor.

Let’s go out on a limb and imagine you are his supervisor.  In this case, and only this case, it could maybe be appropriate to call him your janitor.  My supervisor does this – she will refer to us (the people who do work for her) as “my guys.”  This has the potential of fostering a sense of camaraderie, like we are a team, and she is our leader.  This could be OK.  But to singularly be someone’s something, even in this context, would be strange.  If you are his supervisor, I’d suggest cutting out the “my janitor.”

I’m just going to say this directly, as a janitor who cleans classrooms.  I am no one’s janitor.  I am employed by a school district.  My salary is worked out through the annual budget, which comes from taxpayers.  I am in a union; I pay a union due, and they do work on my behalf.  I clean classrooms that are, spaces owned (in a way) by teachers and utilized by students.  I do not work for teachers.  If teachers have a problem with my work, they could go to the principal and/or my direct supervisor.  The reason she is “my” supervisor is because, ideally, she has our collective best interests in mind.  And because she is above me, on the power scale, and it is therefore obviously not actually owned by me.  It is more appropriate.  “My boss.”  “My professor.”  “My doctor.”  “My therapist.”  These are common and straightforward.  “My busboy.”  “My waitress.”  “My maid.”  “My landscaper.”  This is a different story; this is slippery.  Watch your step.

Not Your Janitor


Snow day (weather comparison)

Yesterday, I just so happened to take a couple of photos in my backyard.  (OK, it’s because my one year on testosterone is coming up in a few days, and I realized I don’t have any recent pictures of myself.)  But how cool is this?  I’ll be doing some picture comparisons of my face soon, but check out these weather comparison shots!

Yesterday was 45 degrees and sunny

Yesterday was 45 degrees and sunny

Today:  I don't know how cold!

Today: I don’t know how cold!

Yesterday, I was sort of sitting in this rusty chair.

Yesterday, I was sort of sitting in this rusty chair.

Today, no way I am going to sit down on that!

Today, no way I am going to sit down on that!

After the storm.

After the storm.


Is anyone else getting hit this hard?  I got a paid day off work!  A friend helped me fancify my blog a little bit with a new header.  Then we had a pizza party.  Snow days are one of the best things, for kids and janitors alike!

Rumors flying around the kindergarten classroom

A couple of days ago at work, I was passing by 2 kindergarteners who were putting on their boots, getting ready to go home for the day.  One whispered to the other, “Is she a boy?  She looks like a boy.”  I thought it was super cute – it’s cute how kids think that if they whisper, there’s no way you can hear them.  It’s cute how kids’ gender categories are only “girl” and “boy,” no matter how old the person they’re talking about is.  It’s cute how kids are so curious.

Then tonight, a book fair was going on.  A mom and her daughter arrived a little early and the mom asked me where it was being held.  We were about half- the-hallway’s-length away from each other; I gave her directions to the cafeteria.  She said thanks and I started to turn the corner when I heard her say, “Oh, I was just wondering?”  I turned to face her again and she continued.
“What’s your name?”
I told her my name, which is a slightly androgynized version of my very feminine name.
She said, “Oh ok, sorry, I thought you were someone else.  My apologies.  For my daughter.”
“Sure, no problem.”  She then told me her name (I forget now) and, “Nice to meet you.”

I walked away from that having no idea what motivated those questions or who she might have thought I was.  No one ever mistakes me from someone else.  I don’t mean to be boastful, but I’ve been told that I have a very distinct face so many times that it’s become a source of internal pride.

As I thought it through, all I could imagine was that this was a kindergartener here with her mom (she looked to be kindergarten age).  The kids had been increasingly wondering whether I am a boy or a girl, and this one kid even spread the word to her mom.  And her mom was helping clear it up for her.  I’d rather it not get cleared up!

This is why I’m seriously considering going by a masculine-sounding name.


Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective

I spend a lot of time in both men’s and women’s public restrooms.  Or more accurately, girls’ and boys’ restrooms – I clean toilets, and I work at an elementary school.  There are also a few gender neutral bathrooms, for staff, which is pretty great.  For a tally, there are 3 girls’ gang bathrooms and 3 boys’ gang (That’s really how they are referred to, which totally conjures images of ruffians scribbling graffiti all over the walls and pulling all the toilet paper off the rolls.  Oh, and smoking and fighting and stuff.), 3 gender neutral bathrooms for staff, one women’s room, one men’s room, and 7 bathrooms within classrooms (also gender neutral).

For my first half-hour of work, kids are still in school.  I like to get a head start on some areas I can access before they leave for the day, and gang bathrooms are one of the places I can start.  But only if I’m sure no kids are in there, and they’re not likely to come in. Especially for the boys’, because technically I am female.  This is very serious.

Before I labor over that point, here’s a little back story about my take on which bathroom I personally should be in:  Over the holidays, I got to hang out with two out-of-town friends who are both trans*.  They were both describing dreams they’ve had where they went into an unaccommodating bathroom, like stalls were missing or it was more of an open locker-room vibe.  And they asked my partner and me if we’ve had public restroom anxieties, and we both replied, “No.”  And in that sense, it’s true.  I strongly feel myself to be non-binary and genderqueer (and my sense of self is closer to male than female), yet I really have no questions or reservations about which public restroom to use.  If a gender-neutral or family one is available, I will use that.  Otherwise, I will use the women’s room.  And if people are doing a double take or wondering if I should be there, that’s kinda their problem.  Because it’s the bathroom I feel more comfortable in.  I didn’t always feel this way.  I used to always feel very anxious about the whole endeavor of going into the women’s room.  Honestly, I’m not sure what changed, other than the fact that I’d rather be in there than in the men’s room, and I’d rather feel calm than anxious?

What if, though, I were just a few degrees closer to feeling male and presenting masculine?  And/or I felt more comfortable going to the men’s room, but looked the way I look now?  What would that mean for me at work?  The whole system of safety according to separation of genders would be breaking down.  Like, what if I were out at work, and asked for male pronouns and used the men’s / boy’s room?  Would there be a lot of upheaval and confusion?  Or would everyone be accepting and cool with it?  I really can’t make that call in advance, but it’s interesting to think about, even on this basic level of which bathroom is it “safe” for me to be in at the same time with children?

Daily, I have to be in and out of both bathrooms.  And as of now, f I get a call that there’s a problem in a boys’ room, I gotta get out wet floor signs and yell into the doorway, “Anyone in here?”  (I do this for the girls’ room too, even though I don’t technically have to.)  If I’m already in there and a boy walks in, I have to make a huge deal out of the fact that we are both in there.  And I have to walk out immediately.  This happened just yesterday in fact.  I knew I was taking a chance, starting to clean the bathroom before school was out.  A first-grader came in, and I had to be all, “Wait one second.  Let me leave and then you can go in.”  He was really flustered and turned right around and was really hesitant about going in at all after I walked out.  I had to repeat a couple of times, “You can go ahead now.”

Why all the paranoia?????  I follow this protocol because people can loose their jobs over shit like this.  And a part of me understands it, from a safety standpoint.  But at the same time, we are instilling and reinforcing really irrational fears and gender rigidity into kids!  The situation is anxiety provoking, all around!

During the majority of my shift though, I walk in and out of bathrooms without any hesitation because my co-worker and I are the only ones in the school.  (There are evening activities most days, but everyone needs to go to designated bathrooms at those times.  They can’t just wander around the school.)

This may sound kinda weird, but bathrooms are a good place to kill some extra time.  I like to practice peeing standing up, without an STP device.  (Basically because I don’t have one; I’m thinking about getting one.)  Interestingly, I do this still in the girls’ room.  I never actually use the boys’ bathrooms (it’s been ingrained in me too).  Also, bathrooms have mirrors, which used to come in handy when I was just starting to get into doing drag.  I’ve spent countless work hours listening to my mp3 player and practicing lip synching and dancing, in front of mirrors in the public restrooms.  I like to use the mop handle as a microphone stand.  It’s pretty fun.

Bathrooms end up being a microcosm for people’s anxieties surrounding gender.  And I don’t totally get it.  But I can attest to the fact that it is indeed taught and reinforced at a very young age.  I can also attest to some differences between genders, based on the different states I find the bathrooms in or just trends and differences between the two, but that’s sort of a different topic all together.  And some of it is just plain gross.

Creepy pitch black at the school

Today I don’t have to go to work, and I get paid for it!  My excitement is dampened by not feeling well, however.  Snow days are a big perk of being a janitor at a school – crossing fingers and wishing and hoping, just like when I was a kid.  The downside is that snow removal is a part of our job.  Not mine so much as the head custodian’s, but we all end up doing quite a bit of shoveling and salting.

Last night, my coworker and I were cleaning like normal (kids back in school, back to our routine).  I was vacuuming.  It was 8:15.  Suddenly the power went out; my first thought was, wow, it’s really really dark.  I cannot see a damn thing.  Like, usually when all the lights are out, you can still see.  There are outdoor lights streaming in every window, and there are red exit signs glowing everywhere.  It’s kinda creepy if you think about it, this red light reflecting off the shiny floors and walls…  but I don’t really think about it.  I honestly don’t mind walking through the school with all the lights out.  (In addition, I don’t mind going on tall ladders or into tight spaces.  This gives me an advantage over my co-workers.)  This was way different though.  I was thinking, how am I going to navigate out of this classroom with all the desks and tables?  A few moments later, the generator kicked in, and the emergency lights powered on.  It was still really eerie – no lights in any of the rooms, just a couple down the halls and in the  bathrooms.  My co-worker was making high pitched ghost noises.  He does this often – if he’s got a lot on his mind or if he’s just freaked out.  I followed the noises to him and told him I was going to call our supervisor and shut down the compressors and some other stuff.  Our supervisor came in and we looked around for flash lights.  She made some phone calls.

There was a chance we weren’t going to be able to finish our work because we could not see.  But in the end, the power came back on at about 9:30.  We got almost everything done.  And today we don’t have to be at work!

My supervisor used my preferred name, once

One time, last week, my supervisor used my preferred name!  It was super exciting; but now she has reverted back.  We’ve been working together for almost 7 years, and she and my one co-worker are the last to get on board with this.  Every single other person at this school consistently uses my preferred name, which means that my supervisor and co-worker are exposed to it on a regular basis.  Are they stubborn, old-school, unwilling to change?  Not sure.

It was pretty slow going to get people to use it consistently at first, largely because I preferred not to talk at all, let alone correct people on the usage of my name.  (My preferred name and given name sound pretty similar and are spelled only slightly different, but to me, the difference is huge.)  I feel like with teachers, there was a tipping point where they suddenly caught on.  And I remember the exact instance that helped with this – One of the most social teachers specifically asked me which I prefer, and so I made it clear to her and added enthusiastically, “Spread the word!”  And I think maybe she did.  That was about 3 years ago.  The same teacher also helped me spread the word about my news I just got married; she has been very helpful to me (shy, reserved, introverted janitor)!

I’m in a very weird place, socially, within the school network.  In my view, I’m more integral than some of the employees, who are part time and come and go depending on need, or just high turnover rates.  These would be one-to-one student aids, cafeteria monitors, and kitchen staff, mainly.  But I’m not nearly as integral as everyone else, who need to attend faculty meetings and work in interconnected ways and figure out things with students all the time, often as teams and groups and committees.  People have to force themselves to be social, for their job if not for the act of connecting itself.  Me?  I could be completely isolated and still get my job done.  But also, I have the flexibility to be very social, if I wanted to be.  I’m going in and out of teachers’ rooms every day, after school, and a lot of them are still there working, winding down, when I come in.  I could chit chat with them all.  But generally, I don’t.  Recently, I’ve improved in just at least being friendly and making small talk.  Previously, I would even stress out about saying “Hi” when I came in.  This isn’t an exaggeration – for so long, I thought that they are all so busy and stressed; I should not bother them.  I should come in and clean up after the kids, for them, and then get out.  Teachers didn’t feel like real people to me.  I would go as far as to say I even felt intimidated by them.  Here I am doing this lowly work, trying to work around them, trying to be invisible.  Now?  I’ve realized they are people and I am a person, and we can relate on a human level, and we all work within this larger environment that is a School.  I feel so much more at ease.

A lot of people know a lot more about me now than they ever have before.  I would guess that about half of the faculty and staff heard that I just got married, and (I think) they know it’s to a person of the same sex.  But this is only the simple version; they could know so much more, if I ever got that far – it’d be awesome if they knew I don’t identify as female.  It’d be awesome if they knew I prefer male pronouns.  It’d be awesome if they knew I’m on testosterone, but am not actually medically transitioning and do not plan to ever pass full-time, or even half-time or quarter-time.  I wonder how all of that would go over, hypothetically.

For now, it’d be nice if my supervisor and co-worker would get on board with my name!

Getting to see what the kids at school are up to

Yesterday, I worked a 13.5 hour day.  Hello overtime!  My supervisor called to see if I could come in early; she had to get to an appointment.  So I was actually at school while the kids were still there, seeing lots of daily goings-on.  I’ve done this before, but it’s been a while.  A couple of highlights:

– Lunch choices were turkey and gravy or barbecue chicken.  I don’t eat meat.  I got salad.

– We’re waiting on a delivery of paper towels, so when a classroom ran out (happened 3 times, because we’ve been running low for a while), I had to resort to our back-stock of Bounty.  Where all this Bounty came from, I have no idea.  It’s way more plush than the stuff the school gets on order though.

– I cleaned a stain off the upholstered dividers we use in the cafeteria.

– I helped two kids walk across the cross-walk out on the bus loop at the end of the day.

– Kids love to stare at me!  (Kids love to stare in general.)

– I found a big bag of candy busted open in the trash, toward the end of the night.  Whoppers, Almond Joys, Reese’s, Hershey’s Cookies ‘n Cream, etc.  My coworker totally caught me fishing them all out, but, that’s alright, I don’t care.  He’s seen me digging through garbage so many times.

So, kids!  I have no idea how their day was or what they learned or if they made a new friend yesterday.  But I do know that the turkey and gravy did not go over so well, that someone in Ms. B’s class really needs to learn how to pee into a toilet, and that they love to bring pebbles from the playground into the building.


One school (work) day down, one hundred and seventy-nine to go

Today was back to school day.  What does “back to school” mean for a janitor?  Well, for this janitor, It means not getting home from work until close to midnight.  Blah!  It means never seeing my partner (other than seeing her sleeping) during the work week.  This will be new.  Previously, she had mornings free too and worked later shifts.  It’s going to be a big relationship-pattern change.  So far we’ve been talking on the phone in the evenings, but, not the same!  It also means doing the exact same thing, every single day, 180 times, until next summer.  I’d be hard pressed to think of another job that is as isolating and routine-oriented as this one.  Mail carrier, trash collector, …what else?

I’m grateful at least we have 2 months every summer where things get changed up.  We get to work normal hours.  (Well, close.  It’s 6:30am till 3:00pm.)  We get to work all together, as a team.  And there’s all sorts of different, exciting things to get done.  Scrubbing desks and chairs, getting the old wax up off floors and re-waxing, shampooing carpeting, lifting heavy things, moving and organizing stuff.  At least it’s something different every day.  And sometimes there are donuts!

During the school year though, we’re all on our own.  I tend to be kind of rigid naturally, so I go through my work exactly the same way every day.  I really think I need to challenge myself on this before it feels too mentally heavy.  Things can get really heavy…  Bleak, repetitive, draining, scary, lonely…  Usually I listen to my iPod, and I read during break time, try to keep my mind active.  I talk to my co-worker a little bit, but basically, I am alone.  I’m kind of used to it by now, but also I want to preemptively plan ahead before things get really bad, in my head.

lifting heavy things and reprioritizing privacy

I was in Massachusetts last week; I didn’t have internet access!  It was pretty great.  Back at work yesterday and today, we haven’t been doing a whole lot.  We’re in transitional mode – the bulk of summer work is done, and we’re gearing up for the school year.  Teachers have been coming in and setting up their rooms, needing things, creating lots of garbage and cardboard to break down.  I think next week is going to be busy, but for now, things have been comically slow at times.  Like yesterday, my first day back after my vacation, I came in at 6:30am, moved about 3 boxes, and then we went on break until about 8:50am.  And I can’t account for that time – I know co-workers were talking that whole time, but I was pretty much in a daze, and it felt like any normal 15-30 minute break.

Then today, we were going to be in the library for a while, cleaning, so I went to go find the radio we’ve been bringing around with us.  I looked all over and couldn’t find it.  I passed my supervisor in the hall and asked her if she knew where it was.  She switched gears and started looking for it; I gave up and went back to the library.  She eventually showed up without it.  Then my co-worker (who really can find anything we’re missing) went to track it down.  He came back and said he found it in a teacher’s classroom, but he couldn’t tell which one was hers and which one was ours.  So he didn’t touch them.  I then went down to the room to get ours.  This all took about an hour.  Then we listened to some sweet soft rock, to make our workday fly by.  One major facet of our job (especially during summers) is remembering where we last left things that we commonly use.  It’s an almost daily occurence that we’ll use a tool and then leave it behind and not need it until the following week and have no idea where we last had it.  A lot of mentally retracing steps.

My co-worker has commented more than once this summer about how strong I am – about how I don’t look it, but I can really lift stuff.  It’s really nice to hear, and true.  I mean, I’ve always gotten right in there to lift heavy things, but I have definitely gained some muscle mass since being on testosterone.  It’s the only noticeable physical change going on, and the only one I actually want and feel comfortable with; it’s all working out awesome so far.  Also, it’s not noticeable at work to the point where it’s unusual.  My uniform shirt is pretty baggy and bulky, so I think his comments are based on the amount I can lift with ease., as opposed to my appearance.  It is noticeable outside of work though, like if I wear a tank top or tighter shirt.  I’ve noticed some of my shirts feeling tighter / fitting better.

I imagine I’ll write more in depth about this at some point, but for now I just want to note that I am not out at work as non-binary.  Nor am I out as trans*.  I’m referred to with female pronouns, and I have never seriously considered advocating for that to change.  It just feels like it would be draining, beyond belief.  I’ve been pathologically private about myself, actually, until very recently when I started forcing myself to talk a little more.  And I finally revealed that I have a partner, and that we’ve been living together the whole time all you guys (co-workers and supervisor) have known me (we’re talking like 6 years).  But I forgot to drop a pronoun or name during that whole conversation, so I had to later use the word “girlfriend” even though I wouldn’t actually refer to her as such, just to be clear.

I’d been gradually realizing that all this secrecy was working against me and my ability to be an actual person while at work.  Since opening up little by little, working relationships have shifted for the better, and I’m feeling significantly more confident and comfortable.