Two Months in Lockdown
On March 16, 2020, the San Francisco Department of Public Health issued their first stay-at-home order of the Coronavirus pandemic. That same day, I began telecommuting, an arrangement our San Francisco office staff had worked out the previous week. I did not realize at the time that I’d still be working from home two months later, but I have been managing reasonably well under the circumstances.
In many ways, my temperament was ideally suited for home isolation. I had become increasingly introverted and anxious being in public since beginning my gender transition in 2013, often not leaving home for days at a time. I did some volunteer work and made a little money from writing and photography, but was reluctant to return to a full-time day job, which I hadn’t held in many years.
I was fortunate to get a part-time internship with the Office of Transgender Initiatives, which I started just after New Year’s. I enjoyed the work itself but not the commute, even though it was just over two miles from my apartment. With a combination of walking and public transit, I weaved my way around perpetual construction projects and people in various states of distress, and endured passengers blaring loud music and otherwise behaving badly on the bus.
So I was more than happy—and grateful — to continue the same work I was doing at the office from the comfort and relative safety of my home. I have a better setup here anyway, with two large monitors, good speakers, my preferred macOS operating system, and no constant noise from the office HVAC system. My spouse loaned me a good-quality headset from his office, for use during calls. I was ready to telework!
On March 31, the stay-at-home order was extended through May 3, as the severity of the pandemic became more apparent. That date also happens to be the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate the talents and resilience of our community in the face of discrimination and harassment.
I was looking forward to attending the annual TDoV event in San Francisco, and taking photos to post for my office. Instead, I stayed home and helped moderate and respond to comments during a Facebook Live presentation. Though I was not appearing on screen myself, I donned my fancy wig and wore a Trans March tank top for the occasion.
There were some technical hiccups, but the viewers were understanding and enthusiastic. Our marginalized community members were already disproportionately affected by the economic fallout from the lockdown, so it was good to gather virtually and remind each other that despite facing many obstacles, we have always persisted.
On April 29, the stay-at-home order was again extended, through May 31. By now, many Bay Area residents were understandably restless, my spouse included. He leaves home regularly to go jogging or cycling, and runs all of our errands (while respecting social distancing and wearing face coverings). Due to anxiety and other reasons, I prefer to stay home completely, myself; I have left my building only three times in the last two months.
To lift our spirits, the city proposed that we all sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” from our windows and balconies at the same time, noon on April 25. I went a bit overboard with it, recording myself playing the piano part and singing both from my balcony and my desk in a simulated Zoom call. Since my chorus was on hiatus I hadn’t been practicing singing much, and it showed, but it was still a fun project.
Another fun musical project I sang for that week was Gareth Malone’s Great British Home Chorus. I recorded the bass part of a choral version of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing”, while dressed in an appropriately outlandish outfit. I don’t know when the final piece will be put together and posted, but it will be fun to see if they include my contribution. This weekend I’ll be recording my part for yet another musical project, Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir.
Seeing that the shutdown wasn’t going to end anytime soon, I signed up for private voice lessons through the San Francisco Community Music Center, as I’d been meaning to do so for some time. Having a lesson over Zoom is less than ideal, but I greatly admire the faculty and staff for their efforts to pivot to this model of instruction on very short notice, thus keeping their non-profit school in business.
I’ve enjoyed watching online performances, as many musicians and arts organizations have been streaming live and pre-recorded concerts and other productions during the shutdown. But online musical collaboration in real-time is impossible due to Internet lag, and performing without the attention of a live audience can be disheartening.
Worse yet, experts predict that singers won’t be able to return to rehearsing or performing in person safely for at least another year, or until there is an effective vaccine. This news has been devastating, both emotionally and economically, to the many people I know in the entertainment business, my spouse included (he works for the San Francisco Opera, which had to cancel their summer season).
Despite the challenges of this pandemic, I acknowledge that my spouse and I are in a privileged and fortunate position. We still have income, savings, and health insurance, though I’ve had to postpone some non-essential medical procedures which I’d hoped would improve my quality of life. We have each other for company and support. My job gives purpose and structure to my days, and also enables me to help less fortunate LGBTQ community members get access to needed resources.
As we enter the third month of shutdown, I am worried rather than heartened by news of some states and cities returning to business-as-usual, which I feel is premature. The advice from health experts on how to limit casualties is based on science, not politics, and should be followed closely.
With the support of my spouse and employer, I am willing and able to stay home as long as it takes to re-open our city in a safe and responsible manner. I know that when I do emerge, it will be to a new normal; things will likely never be the same as they once were, in San Francisco or anywhere else. That is not necessarily a bad thing.