COVID-19 and work from home dysphoria

Like most of the world, my life has changed drastically since COVID-19. I live in Illinois, and the stay in place order has been active for a week now. Even before that my workplace closed its offices, forcing me to work from home. It’s been a week since I even left the house and honestly it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in regards to my being transgender. I was unemployed for six months, and even that was easier to deal with than the last two weeks.

I didn’t expect working from home to be this difficult. As a software engineer it’s easy to just plug in my work laptop onto my home monitors and work just as I did in the office. I thought I wouldn’t have the disruptions and distractions of a busy office, and thus would be more productive than ever. I was certain that working from home would be an easy transition, and with the exception of all things transgender, it really hasn’t been terrible.

Unfortunately, being transgender is what has quickly caused more dysphoria than I’m used to dealing with on a regular basis. The first few days were fine. I’m no stranger to working from home when required for some reason or another. 

Then my sleep schedule started to slip, and I found myself rolling out of bed, walking two feet to my desk, and immediately getting to work. You see, no one at my company uses video chat. There’s literally no incentive for me to make myself presentable. I stopped getting dressed. I stopped worrying about my hair. I stopped shaving. I fell into bad habits.

I didn’t let those bad habits affect my work, but they had a massive impact on my mental well being. I didn’t expect the excessive dysphoria to strike the way it did.

While my company doesn’t use video chat for meetings, we do use voice. I’ve never had a problem with this before, because when I have a meeting I’m usually in the office, and our daily stand ups are short enough that I don’t have time to think about my voice. In case you’re not catching where I’m going with this, I have a lot of voice dysphoria. It’s probably the worst thing that I deal with on a daily basis. 

If you’ve read my blog enough, you’re probably wondering how bad my voice dysphoria could be. Afterall, I played competitive Overwatch, and often stream on Twitch.TV and I talk on podcasts. Well, the fact is that there’s something nice about being on voice in places where I feel safe and comfortable. I primarily played Overwatch with a team of women and non-binary individuals. When I stream to Twitch I have my camera on, and the podcasts I’m brave enough to talk on are ones that are progressive in nature.

With a work voice call, I don’t feel that same sense of safety and comfort. Every time I turn on my mic to talk to a coworker, my paranoia sinks in. I don’t know what my coworkers think of me. I don’t know if they truly see me as a woman, or if they’re just accepting me as “that special snowflake that wants to be referred to as she/her.” Will they suddenly stop using my correct pronouns now that the only interaction they have with me is my horrible non-passing voice?

Then, I get a message from one of our product owners. 

It’s the little things that cause euphoria, and make an entire uncomfortable situation so much more tolerable. The infrequent “she” or “her” usage when referring to me help, but a message like that means so much to someone like myself. I smiled like a huge dork for the first time in what feels like weeks. It’s an awesome reminder of how great my coworkers are.

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