Last Wednesday, I asked my supervisor if I could work from 9am – 5:30pm for the rest of the summer, and he agreed. And then it struck me all over again that I’ve never worked this standard shift before in my life – I’ve worked almost everything except, spanning from super early to super late (excluding overnights). I’ve been with this school district for 19 years so far, first as a painter, but mostly as a janitor. It’s a full-time job, Monday-Friday, but my times have varied greatly.
I’ve joked with people before that my job is the antithesis of the 9-5 office job, and I like that about it. Generally, I work a B-shift, which I am a big fan of. But when kids are on break from school, including over the summer, I have to come in super early, and it is extremely hard for me to adjust, every time. My current supervisor is aware and he’s been accommodating for the most part. He set it up so I can come in at 8am instead of 6am like everyone else.
But this summer has been extra stressful in a lot of ways. We have lots of contractors in the building doing renovations. And my supervisor is leaving for a month, soon. And I have trouble working with my co-workers, since I’m used to the solitude of the job when school is in session. Oh also, lots of questions about how we will be adjusting to the pandemic coming up this fall. Lots of unknowns.
Due to all this stuff, I had a hypomanic episode earlier this summer, including being on the brink of a break from reality. I caught myself in time and course corrected, but recovery has been slow. I was out of work for a week and a half, and coming back has continued to be a struggle.
In talking to my therapist, she suggested I ask for a change in hours. Coming in later has always helped me feel like more of a person, but I didn’t want to ask for something too late – it wouldn’t make sense right now. She said, why don’t I ask for a 9am or a 9:30am start time. I laughed and told her we don’t do that. We don’t work 9-5. No one has. We do everything but. But then I let it sink in… Why not though?!
So, in talking with my supervisor, I was more upfront with him than ever before, citing that I need to take time off for therapy appointments, and that I am on medication that makes it difficult to get up early. Prior to this, I was always evasive as to WHY, exactly, I needed time off and why I hated mornings, only saying, “I have an appointment,” and repeating over and over again, like a mantra, “I don’t like mornings.” He was accommodating enough, and because of long absences due to hospitalizations, he probably had more than a clue about it. I just never said it out loud. It felt good. It felt like I was advocating for myself, and I was being accepted for this aspect of myself.
So in two days, I get to wake up at like 7:30am, which isn’t my favorite but seems actually do-able, short-term. Gonna join the masses, gear up for rush-hour traffic, enjoy a happy hour or two. Until school starts, that is, and I get to return to my favorite shift of all time, 1-9:30pm. That shift fits me like a part of my identity.
Edit: I only got to work 9-5:30 for one day! Blah! My supervisor wanted to negotiate further, and we agreed on 8:30-5pm. The 9-5:30pm shift remains elusive.
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.
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.
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!)
It’s been long-known and proven over and over that, in general, people who identify as LGBTQ are worse off, financially. Discrimination at work and within housing, along with being kicked out, disowned, or cut off from family ties, are big factors as to why this might be. Mental health also plays a huge role. There have been times when I was so deep into depression that I was not able to function at my job (or, in the past, at school). Fortunately for me, I was able to take multiple medical leaves, when I needed them, with full pay and full job security. That’s not always the story, though…
I was contacted a couple of months ago by Linda Manatt, who works for OverdraftApps.com, a company “created to increase awareness of the annual $35 billion overdraft problem in the U.S., which primarily affects the most vulnerable populations of our society. By creating content and developing tools to inform the public, [they] hope to make a positive change and shape tomorrow’s consumer finance policies for the better.”
In July of 2018, they commissioned a research organization to conduct a survey about financial attitudes and realities. 1,009 people from 46 states, aged 18- 71 participated, and 11% of them identified as LGBTQ. A couple of other factors were isolated, including renters vs. owners and income levels, but not age, race, education level, or any other demographic.
Some of the big take-aways, as it applies to the LGBTQ community were:
- While only 14% of people surveyed make less than $25,000 per year, 25% of LGBTQ people fall in this bracket.
- 51% of the general respondents reported feeling “that the system is trying to take advantage of them when it comes to financial products.” When isolating for LGBTQ people, that percentage jumped to 61%.
- LGBTQ people are 50% more likely to overdraft between three and nine times in the past year compared to the general population (18% compared to 12% of the general population.)
It is surprising how many people overall have over-drafted at least once within the past year (46%), how few people were even aware that they can opt out of over-drafting all together (39%), and how frequently over-drafting happens without their knowledge (42%). No wonder people feel taken advantage of, purposefully! As I was reading through the data, the overarching human emotion running throughout is the avoidance of embarrassment. And sure enough, there’s a quote within the article to suggest this:
Paul Golden, from Nefe [National Endowment for Financial Education], provides an … interpretation on the reasons people don’t opt out more often of overdraft protection. In his opinion, “bankers [don’t] say that overdraft protection is mandatory” but they do sell it as an insurance to one’s reputation. In his experience, this is how they are sold to consumers: “You go out to dinner with your friends or work colleagues and the bill comes up. You don’t have enough to cover it – can you imagine the embarrassment you would suffer if your card was declined?” People react: “Oh yeah, I should have overdraft protection.”
It’s like, pay $35 later for the convenience now of not having to put groceries back, in front of other people, when there is not enough in the checking account. I’d even take this a step further and go so far as to say that people who are more likely to be singled out, to be devalued, humiliated, harassed, abused, and assaulted, are exponentially more compelled to do certain things to get out of embarrassing situations, including (but not limited to, by a long shot!) financial embarrassment.
I’d be curious what types of trends would emerge if the data had been isolated even further, to account for transgender and gender-nonconforming identities, within the LGBTQ community. I can tell you right now that the picture would become much more bleak, very quickly. I’d love to hear your own stories if you’d like to share, in the comments section!
If you’d like to see the full study, it is here:
Overdrafting in the United States: Distrust and Confusion in the American Financial System
And thanks to Linda Manatt for prompting me to get out of my comfort zone and attempt to cover such a big issue, in my own, semi-personalized, way…
A friend of mine living in Albuquerque posted about an art project s/he recently completed, and I messaged hir to find out more about it. What follows is an interview with the artist, Harley Kirschner, in which we touch on toxic masculinity, safety, artistic processes, and a whole lot more!
Kam: How did you get involved in it? Did you propose the idea?
Harley: I work at Winnings coffee shop again, after a few years in plumbing and pipefitting , unemployment, self employment and other jobs. We have artists do murals in our bathrooms and it was time for a new one.The need was expressed and I jumped on the opportunity. I got free reign over what I wanted to do and as a trans artist who is getting into what I like to think of as oversized zines, naturally I created a zine installation about using public restrooms as trans in a public restroom.
Kam: Is it related to your plumbing career, your art career, or both? Can you elaborate on that?
Harley: My plumbing career collapsed which I now see as a blessing. However, in that collapse, after living stealth 24/7 I really collapsed emotionally. Everything about my art and my loud trans non-binary self is because I failed at fitting the mold of what a plumber or pipefitter or man is supposed to be. Trying to be someone that I’m not almost killed me as I was terrified and disassociated all the time. I do share my experience with how bathrooms were such a huge part of that in this installation. However, although I would usually put my name on my story, due to the location being my place of employment and coming to embrace myself as non-binary and using mixed pronouns when I feel safe, I felt too vulnerable. I thought about censoring my story but felt the content was important so I chose to leave off my name.
I found empowerment in taking a bathroom and making it my own and a safe place for trans people after my experience in the plumbing industry which has rules (which are laws under the guise of safety… Most are.), about gendered bathrooms. That was one issue that I always had issues with myself. My experience in the plumbing and pipe fitting industries was heavy industrial for the most part so I did very little in bathrooms and actually very little with water. Mostly, I piped refrigerant and coal. I still use some of my skills in doing irrigation.
When my plumbing career fell apart and I started talking about it in zines and about how toxic masculinity makes me want to kill myself, I started getting recognized for my art and it was very clear to me that where my art had been lacking in the work that I had been showing wasn’t in the technical sense but rather in the voice. I knew that if I wanted to achieve what I wanted with my art, to make trans people feel beautiful, I had to use my own voice and make it loud. I had been very scared to do that. Partly because it was incredibly unsafe in my plumbing career and partly because I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself. When I had nothing to lose career wise and my sanity and breath depended on taking up queer and trans space I knew that taking the steps to enhance my literary voice would give my fine art real value.
Kam: What are your goals with the project? What would you like people to get out of it?
Harley: To make Winning Coffee Company the most queer and trans friendly coffee shop in Albuquerque. To take back bathrooms after they made me feel so unsafe. To embrace the diversity within my community by feeling the love and support of not only trans people but of all the people who love my work. I feel that it is very new to me to feel the amount of love and support around being trans from cis people that I do and I would like to offer that same safe feeling in a public place in Albuquerque for all trans people. I am very lucky to have such great supportive coworkers that helped make this happen, including making the bathrooms gender neutral (a few years ago) and helped me paint the walls.
Kam: Do you see ways to expand on this? Other places or other ideas?
Harley: I would like it to be an ongoing conversation. As the installation deteriorates and get tagged (unfortunately a given with the Winning’s bathroom-nothing offensive just disrespectful in general) I would like to replace the paper with different stories. People are encouraged to contribute any stories they have about using the bathroom as a trans person. I have thought about doing this bathroom in other spaces but am too busy artistically to take on another project right now.
Kam: What did your artistic process look like for this?
Harley: I used matte black paint on all the walls but chose to keep the ceiling white and paint the door white so it didn’t create a feeling of being trapped. There was a metal frame that used to have an advertisement poster in it. The advertising company closed but the frame was still there. It reminds me a lot of the welding that I was working with at the job that I reference in my story so I chose to keep it and decoupage the plexiglass that it holds. It works very well with the symbolist element of my work. I wallpapered large photocopies of stories and photocopied collages of images related to being trans and using bathrooms. I incorporated images from my time in the union, including an image of my shadow where I look like I’m holding a gun and I’m going to shoot, an image of a sign that says “ouch”, and images from one of my textbooks. My favorite part is the dictionary words “restricted” followed by “restroom”, nothing could have been more appropriate. In my photocopied collages I incorporate transfers to overlay images. There is a grainy quality in oversized prints that I find particularly appealing.
Kam: Anything else you wanted to add that I didn’t ask about?
Harley: Thank you very much for asking me to talk about my work on your blog. Your writing has always inspired me and I hope that my voice will be as touching to others as yours has been to me.
The bathrooms (all except for two) at the school I work at are getting a complete makeover this summer! (This is only a part of the remodeling / demolition that’s been going on – it’s been a fairly chaotic and atypical few months. Most of the time it feels like, how is all of this going to be completed by September 4th?!)
Here’s a quick rundown of the bathroom count:
3 boys gang bathrooms
3 girls gang bathrooms
1 mens staff bathroom
1 womens staff bathroom
2 gender-neutral staff bathrooms
1 girls gym teacher bathroom
1 boys gym teacher bathroom
1 nurse’s office gender-neutral bathroom
7 classroom gender-neutral bathrooms
2 girls single-use bathrooms
1 boys single-use bathroom
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that my workplace has more bathroom options than pretty much anywhere else, ever. As a genderqueer person, I have never stressed out about where I was going to go pee. Never, until this summer. All bathrooms are out of commission except for one girls gang bathroom and one boys gang bathroom. “Gang,” in this case, means that more than one person can enter and use the bathroom at a time. I am missing my gender-neutral option!
Before I came out at work, I was using both womens and gender-neutral bathrooms. After I came out at work, I gradually transitioned to only using gender-neutral bathrooms. One good thing about all this upheaval is that when they’re done, there will be 4 more gender-neutral bathrooms than there had been previously. !!! !!!
Until then though, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. As the bathroom options started to shrink (due to demolition), I was getting creative, for a while. For example, I realized there was still a toilet not yet destroyed in on of the classrooms, and I was using that for a while. My co-worker, who knew I’d been only using gender-neutral options, asked me, “So which bathroom are you going to use?” Being semi-facetious, I replied, “I’ll use the womens for #1 and the mens for #2.” And I actually was doing that for a while.
But then I started running into other people who were also using the bathroom as the pickings got slim. And I started getting nervous. I’d rather people saw me as male and used he/him/his pronouns for me than not. Some people get that I’m neither, and that’s great, but I don’t need the whole school understanding this nuance. Things have been so much better for me since coming out; I just want to keep up that momentum.
So I made a stark, black and white decision, that I was going to use the boys gang bathroom, no matter who was around or who wasn’t around. It was tough to wrap my head around because, since top surgery, coming out, and being on a regular dose of T (in that order), I’ve been in all sorts of bathrooms depending on the context, how I’m feeling, and what the options are. But I STILL prefer and gravitate towards womens rooms. And I STILL have not been stopped or questioned once.
But, in this case, I’ve been feeling like I gotta do this because I’m trying to assert and simplify my identity so everyone gets the picture / is on the same page. It’s been working. Almost everyone (except my former supervisor who keeps leeching onto the building) uses he/him/his pronouns for me. Essentially, I haven’t been wanting to confuse people or have them question where I’m at. Even the contractors – all of them have been calling me “buddy,” and that actually feels really good!
It defintely has been nervewracking though. A few times, I almost ran into the girls room when I heard that someone was in the boys. I’ve never been in a mens/boys room with other males. (Er, actually, maybe a handful of times when I was traveling in Turkey, but that’s it.) But I stuck it out and passed them at the urinal in order to use the stall. Or was in the stall and heard them using the urinal. Or at the sink, etc. I went into the boys room while B&G (buildings and grounds – for the district) workers were around, while my co-workers were around, while (female) teachers were around.
And in the end, it’s all been OK. (It was a little less nerve-wracking, overall, because contractors were made to use a port-a-potty outside. Sucks to be them!) All I mean by that was that there were way less males using the school’s boys bathroom.
As soon as I can though, I will be right back in those gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms, which will be all over the place!!!
Wanna see other posts I’ve made in this series? Here they are:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective (pt. 2)
Oh, and, as always, I’ve been all over both the girls and the boys bathroom, in order to clean them, daily.
WordPress sent me a notification today letting me know that it’s my 5th anniversary of blogging here. So I’m scrambling to do a celebratory post!
When I started this blog, I was trying soooo hard to navigate my gender identity and to find a community. I’d say the first year or two was spent feeling like my blog was not enough, just continually putting myself out there and obsessing about how to connect with others through this method. I spent hours, daily, reading as many other blogs as I could find, about gender. After about 2 years, I think I started to feel secure in my writing voice, if not quite my gender yet. I really settled into writing regularly, and I got so much enjoyment out of it – this more than any other creative endeavor, for a long time. I’d say that within the past year, that’s shifted again, and I’ve felt pretty disenfranchised. I get way more “views” than ever before, mostly thanks to this singular post: 28 risks of chest binding. People love a good scare. They love to google things that could go wrong. I’m definitely proud of that post – I put a lot of work into that one. And I do love the fact that once they find my blog through that route, it seems like the majority of people poke around a little more and go deeper. (This is based on what I can tell from “stats.”) But the sense of community I felt so strongly has dwindled over time. People have stopped posting / I have stopped finding new blogs to read. There are a few mainstays that I haven’t quite kept up with; I’d like to remedy that…
The way I decided to celebrate this milestone is to pick 5 blog posts that I think got overlooked (one per year). Either I put a lot of emotional energy into them and didn’t get much feedback, or maybe I just think they’re worth checking out – they withstand the test of time, something like that…
2013: From whimsical musings to invasive rumintations on transitioning – This was my 10th post ever, and I really think I zeroed in on the psychological push-pull of not feeling like either gender for the first time here. I even used some of what I wrote here much later, in an essay that is forthcoming as part of an anthology published by Columbia University Press. For real! The date keeps being pushed back, but it will be within a year – I’m sure I’ll have updates as that approaches.
2014: The Soft Sell (upping the ante) – This was my 30th post. It was mostly about: despite the fact I may have been solidifying my gender identity more and more, I was waaaay behind in telling a lot of the people in my life about it. The blog was a great outlet to be semi-private but also just feel it out as I went. The term “the soft sell” came from my therapist – that was her reaction to me telling her the half-assed way I had come out to my parents. When she said that, all I could picture was the members from Soft Cell, one of my fave bands. That has always stayed with me. Hah.
2015: I came out to the principal of my school (workplace) – This post was definitely not overlooked, but I still think it’s worth highlighting. I came out to her waaaaay before I actually actively came out at work, and I strongly feel like the fact that I did that, that I put those roots down, gave me hope toward my final destination. It also breaks down the divide I feel between the “janitor” and the “queer” parts of my identity – this blog has continually felt out where that line is, where it crosses, where they are distinct, etc. I just really like this post because it addresses a lot of that stuff head-on.
2016: Drag king stories #5 – This is definitely my favorite entry within this ongoing series I’ve been doing. I wrote it in honor of Prince’s death (the actual show took place in June of 2012) – the fact that I got to emulate Prince at a really well attended event meant the world to me, and the fact that I performed one of the songs with my drag partner/buddy’mentor made it all the more special. We were both regular drag performers at a gay bar in 2006 and 2007. Before I could articulate where I wanted to go with my gender, I got to act it out in all kinds of fun and creative ways, harnessing music and dance and costuming and make-up. Being a drag performer was a big step in my journey – this post really showcases that, I think.
2017: Jeepster (working title: I got an oil change and got my mind blown) – this is a real oddball post. I’ve always said that the three things this blog is about are: gender, being a janitor, and mental health, and this one here really crystalizes a mental state that was temporary (thankfully!) I had just recently gotten through the thick of a manic episode, and the residual disorganization / megaorganization is still very much apparent in the writing here. I think I want to highlight it because I’m currently working on a 16+ page piece where I just try to remember as much as I can about my most recent hospitalization. This is a companion piece.
And I’m gonna cop out and not do 2018 because the year’s not done yet! Plus, it’s my 5th anniversary, so I’m highlighting 5 posts. Makes sense. Here’s to 5 more years!
I haven’t written one of these since 2014! That’s way too long! My spouse and I just watched Another Earth for the second time, and I had forgotten that the protagonist, Rhoda, is a high school janitor. Heads up – this post might contain spoilers! And also, although I’m being critical and having fun with it (the portrayal of a janitor), I actually really do love this movie (hence, the wanting to watch it for a 2nd time!)
She doesn’t start out as a janitor. She’s a promising student that just got accepted to MIT, but her path takes a sharp turn when she kills a wife and child in a drunk driving accident. She spends the next four years in prison, instead of college, and when she gets out, she struggles with even wanting to be alive. When talking to a social worker about a job placement, she says,
“I don’t wanna really be around too many people or do too much talking.”
And that is, in a nut-shell, what being a janitor is all about! She gets placed at West Haven High School. We see her in a bunch of scenes at work. I’ll try to break it down a bit:
Uniform: She’s wearing workboots in the style of Timberlands. She has a hoodie and a full-body jumpsuit on over that. Plus a beanie. It is winter, but this is what she’s wearing while working in the building, and she is WAY overdressed! I’d be sweating bullets in this get-up, plus the footwear is too heavy-duty. Even running sneakers would be better – you do a ton of walking as a janitor. I wear a t-shirt, pants, and sneakers, and I still get hot – school buildings are usually kept super warm.
The Work: We see her pushing her cart through the building, mopping halls, and scrubbing at bathroom grafitti. This is fairly realistic, although where I work, we have an auto-scrubber for halls, and I’d never use that much elbow-grease on anything the way she’s going at that grafitti – I’d blow out my ligaments! I already struggle with “tennis elbow” from regular repetitive motions. Not worth it!
Storyline: There’s a sub-plot where her co-worker, Purdeep, is noticeably blind, and you’re left wondering how he gets his job done without seeing. Then, one day, Purdeep isn’t there, and Rhoda asks about him. The reply? He’s not coming back because he poured bleach in his own ears. This was the 2nd incident – he had previously blinded his own self by pouring bleach in his eyes.
“He said he was tired of seeing himself everywhere.”
Later on, there’s a scene where Rhoda visits him in the hospital, and she writes letters on the palm of his hand in order to communicate with him. It’s a tender connection, but other than that, I’m not sure what’s being coveyed through this other than here was a janitor who incrimentally lost his mind and self-destructed. ???
There’s one other scene, early on, that I think is really relevant. She runs into an old classmate at a corner store, and from his demeanor, it’s apparent he’s super surprised to see her, and he knows all about what happened to her, going to prison and everything. Their dialogue reads, starting with him asking,
“So, are you working?”
“West Haven High.”
“Yeah? What do you teach?”
“I clean the school.”
“Oh, that’s cool. …That’s probably very … therapeutic.”
It might not be apparent from the words, but his tone is sooo condescending, his classism is really shining through. I often tell people that I’m a janitor, and I feel fortunate I don’t come up against this kind of bias, generally. But there was a long period of time where I did feel shame about my job, especially because I work for the same school district I went to school at, and I too was a “promising” student, and I actually did go to college (and not prison), and I would brace myself for those moments where I might run into someone I knew from school.
Here it is, finally! Photographic proof that my name plate finally arrived the way I want it, after many delays and a mix-up. If you want to read about the backstory, here are two past posts:
From December: The “Mx.” got way delayed
From last January: I came out at work, cont’d
The short version is that I asked for the Mx. a year and 3 months ago, following my legal name change. A full year passed before anything happened, and it came through as Kameron [last name], which was not what I wanted. So I talked to the principal again, and luckily, she was pliable. A month ago, I saw a name plate in the admin. assistant’s trash (only because I empty her trash), that said, Ms. [last name]. Meaning, that Staples messed it up even though it got submitted the way I wanted it. Another week passed (during which time I was wondering if I’d have to check back in with the admin. assistant or not. Glad I just waited.) and, finally, there it was, on the custodial door.
Within a week of me coming out at work, a new protocol had been put in place for how we should go about cleaning bathrooms. And for the first time, it applied to all cleaners in all bathrooms, not just guy cleaners going in women’s /girl’s bathrooms, or gals going in the men’s / boy’s. The timing of it was not lost on me.
1. First, call out to see if anyone is in there. If they are, wait.
2. Next, take a sign that is now velcro-ed to the back of all bathroom doors, and velcro-adhere it to the front. This sign reads, “Do Not Enter. Cleaning in Progress.”
3. Close the door, and then do whatever you’re doing, whether it’s just loading more paper towels or full-on cleaning the bathroom.
Before this, we only had to be conscious if we were in bathrooms that were opposite to the ones of our gender/sex.
When I came out to the principal and assistant principal, one of the first and only questions they asked was about bathrooms. Which bathrooms did I plan on using? If she (the principal) could make a suggestion, it would be best if I only used the gender neutral bathrooms. I was polite in response, even though I had not thought this through, and at the time, I used both the women’s bathrooms and the gender neutral bathrooms. All I said was, “A lot of people are worried about bathrooms when it comes to trans-people.”
As it is, a year later, I really only do use the gender-neutral bathrooms because different people within the school have different perceptions about where I’m at, and I want to protect myself and also foster the idea that I am neither male nor female. I didn’t plan on this. I thought I’d be continuing to use both women’s and gender-neutral ones. But I’m not.
I clean one set of bathrooms in the “centrum,” an open plan area where the first graders are taught – there are 3 regular classrooms, 2 resource classrooms, a big open area, and two bathrooms. These bathrooms don’t have doors on them, and also therefore, there are no, “Do Not Enter, Cleaning in Progress” signs accompanying them. Since I do get a head start while the first graders are getting ready to go home, I always yell, “Anyone in here?” even before just dumping the trash / cleaning the sinks. (Due to placement, there’s no way I’d encounter someone using the restroom from the sink area.)
A few days ago, I was doing my routine and called out like always. No one answered. I was putting in a new roll of paper towel. Then I heard a toilet flush. Also a bunch of kids were to the immediate right of this bathroom, putting on their winter coats and boots. I finished loading the paper towel, deciding that it would have been a bigger deal if I had just left it half loaded in my paranoia to escape the bathroom. The girl washed her hands and then I ripped off a piece for her to dry her hands.
Kids who were right there had a very lively conversation!
“There are no boys allowed in the girl’s room.”
“And also no girls allowed in the boy’s room.”
“But why is he in there in the bathroom then?”
“He has to be in there because that’s his job.”
“He’s putting more paper towels in there.”
“But still are you sure he can be in there?”
I just cleared out without further fanfare, but I felt kinda flustered. Personally, I still feel like I half belong in the girl’s / women’s bathrooms. Indeed, those are the ones I use the vast majority of the time when I am out in public.
I was intrigued that these first graders gathered that I was male. I honestly have no clue whether kids at the school I work at think I’m male or female. Whenever I’m asked (this happens so rarely), I do make a point to say, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” But short of that, I don’t have a clue what conclusions they come to!
One other thing that is tangentially related, I feel, because it concerns personal space: Since I’ve come out, had top surgery, and been on testosterone for long enough that my physique and how I carry myself has changed, I get touched a lot more at work. Some teachers pat or gently tap my shoulders and back. A few days ago, I was thrown way off when a kid patted my midsection for no apparent reason! It’s definitely different, and I don’t respond likewise with anyone, but I gotta say that I do think it’s a positive change – I think people can tell that I am more comfortable in my skin, and some of them act accordingly.
I’ll take it!
If you’d like to see what I originally wrote about this topic, back in January of 2014, here it is:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
I decided to write a Part 2 because this one felt outdated. And I still haven’t covered everything, not by a lot shot! (probably part 3 will appear in the future…)