Dispatches from a Pandemic: On Being Socially Distant Even Before This All

Content Notice: (internalized) ableism and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry, suicide/self-harm, cure/shiny Aspie autism politics, drug use, smoking, drinking, COVID-19, sex/relationships, (reclaimed and unreclaimed) slurs.

I wrote a thing. I haven’t written here in almost a year but I needed to write this, right now. There’s a lot of discourse from disabled people who were homebound/socially isolated before COVID-19 stay-at-home orders around abled people complaining about being stuck at home. I have thoughts. I have a lot of thoughts about this. Being at home, with my family, is not good in a lot of ways for me. I’m safe and secure, don’t worry, but I miss a lot of the things I had. But a lot of the things other people had and complain about missing are things I never had.

I hope you like it.

EDIT at 2119 hours on 11 April 2020: About an hour after posting this, I learned that Mel Baggs, whose work I cited in this post, died today. I am heartbroken. Mel was an unyielding, blunt, incredibly advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hir video In My Language was the first piece of by-and-for autistic people media I ever consumed. I owe so much to Mel’s advocacy. We all do. Rest in power, Mel. We will carry your work forward.

A collage of several icons. In the upper left corner, there is a collection of pink, blue, white, yellow, and green pills. In the middle of the image, there is an outline of a human head with vines creeping over it. In the lower right corner, there is a knife leaving a red trail behind it. Running from the upper right to lower left corner is a rainbow stripe.
ID: A collage of several icons. In the upper left corner, there is a collection of pink, blue, white, yellow, and green pills. In the middle of the image, there is an outline of a human head with vines creeping over it. In the lower right corner, there is a knife leaving a red trail behind it. Running from the upper right to lower left corner is a rainbow stripe.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

Not because there’s a pandemic on. That won’t happen for months. Not because there’s nowhere you could go. There are places. There are parties on campus a ten-minute walk away. You have a car. You could drive to the next big town over and go to the one gay bar you know of within a 20-mile radius. Not because you have no desire to go out. You ache for human companionship. You ache to be seen, to be desired on a Friday night. You are young and radiant, radical. You want a movie scene. You want bright, blossoming love and messy interpersonal interactions.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

Your brain will not let you leave the apartment. Maybe not even your bedroom. You hear your flatmate and their – friend? partner? – acquaintance who’s always here rattling around. Risking human interaction is too much. Being noticed might actually send you over the edge. Contact, the possibility of anything less than sparkling perfection, is terrifying. You simply don’t have the skills to navigate any of those spaces. What if someone hit on you? What if someone offered you alcohol or weed? What if someone offered you companionship?

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

No, it is safer to stay inside. Maybe later, when W. and their gentleman (?) caller have quieted and retired to their room, you will sneak out for a walk. You will continue down your driveway, past the ghosttown school of theology with its murder motel dorms, across the intersection you’ll dash across on red if there are no cars coming because waiting for the light always takes too long, and take a winding walk on campus. You will pass parties and partygoers – the straight(-edge) business major bros walking in 40 degree Fahrenheit weather in shorts, the tight knot groups of undergraduate women crossing the streets, the revelers of unknown and indeterminate gender in their makeup and flamboyant costumes. Maybe you will pull yourself into the building you have after-hours access to and find a can of fizzy water in the fridge or a bag of cheese puffs in the back closet. Maybe you will stand outside the library and stare up at its white stone magnificence. You will pass brutalist concrete behemoths and dainty historic buildings. You will hear people laughing, crying, yelling, kissing. You will see your compatriots dancing in the plaza outside the student union building. You will make a loop, maybe two. You will go home.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You remember what it was like to go on dates on Friday nights, when you were still dating someone. You pine after someone else, someone who you’ll probably never be able to have. You are quietly suicidal, silently despondent. You see your friends gossiping on Twitter about how hard it is to get laid. Then you see them posting screenshots of conversations with whatever hookup they have tonight. You see someone talk parties. Parties, they say, are terrible at this school, but they go anyway.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You can’t force yourself. There are things you can force. There are things you can say, definitively, yes, you must do this. You must write your paper, no matter how painful it is. You must go to campus and eat dinner, no matter how much the thought makes you sick. You must go to work. People depend on you. But no amount of cajoling, tricking, forcing, bribing, daring will get you to do this. This is too much.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You think of calling your mother. Your mother will tell you that you still aren’t over your ex. You aren’t, but not in the way she thinks. You miss the relationship and calling her everyday to talk, to just have someone, anyone who will listen to you and make you feel seen and heard, but you don’t love her anymore. That’s gone. You’ve realized that aside from her and maybe one other person – someone you worked closely with for years – you aren’t really attracted to women anymore, if you ever were.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You wish that it was as simple a problem of being ashamed of yourself. Sometimes you just want to cauterize your queerness out of you, shove an icepick into your brain until you either fix it or kill yourself. Sometimes you just want to kill yourself. You are outwardly proud. You are outwardly happy. You are outwardly the perfect, joyous recipient of decades of gay activism, anger, power, social change. Nobody sees these things you actually feel. You wish the problem was as simple as getting over yourself.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

It’s not that simple. Your brain will not permit you social interaction. Outside of class and work, you don’t really interact with people. You have one friend you can link to things other than academics, the newspaper, and the health office and that’s T., another big gay nerd from quiz bowl. You wouldn’t even know how to ask him if he’d want to hang out outside of quiz bowl. You don’t even know how to talk to him, so you rely on a mutual friend to give you his contact information. You wonder if you are taking advantage of her by doing this.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You think about how you used to attend a support and social group for autistic adults. It was too much. You stopped going because they were so focused on functioning labels, passing, being as “normal” as possible, curebie and shiny Aspie attitudes. The first time you attended, the mother of one of the other participants tried to give you a puzzle piece ribbon. You nearly told her that you aren’t a puzzle to be solved.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You belong nowhere. Your communities seem alien from you. There’s no critical mass of disabled – especially neurodivergent – queers on this campus, at least not ones who would help you create the radical spaces you want. A., the cripple dyke (her words, not your), for one. Who else? E., your friend, who talks about the intersection of internalized biphobia and anxiety brain? He’s too busy. He wouldn’t want any of this, anyway.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

In queer spaces, you are too disabled. You don’t drink. You don’t smoke. You can’t tolerate flashing lights or loud music or too many bodies jammed up against each other. Flirty chatter is a language all your peers seem to have become bilingual in as teenagers but for you, it’s like muttering your way through a conversation in Spanish – if you can speak at all. You don’t wear the fashions because the fabrics aggravate your sensory issues. You have no idea how to talk to people. Your interests are too academic, not the populism of glitzy TV shows and the latest songs on the radio. Your performances of what you think other people want in these spaces – sexuality, boldness, cutesy parlor talk – always land flat. Flat on their faces. Being queer means knowing another language and culture, another set of social skills and body gestures. Your brain can barely process the standard set you have to use every day in straight society.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

In disabled spaces – when you can find those – you are too queer. There are others like you, yes, but you stand out. You don’t compromise. You are too proud of who you are to compromise. No matter the danger it puts you in, your brain will not let you compromise. You need your skirt on, it’s your stim toy. You’re a freak, walking around in a skirt and blouse with your facial hair. The resources that are meant for you as an autistic, mentally ill adult assume you’ll never get married but if by some miracle you do, it’ll be to a woman and you’ll have two perfect biokids and a house with a hearth. It’s easier to go with their assumption that you’ll never find love.

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

None of your friends are your friends. Nobody who wants to hang around you really likes you. Everyone tolerates you because you have a modicum of specialized talent. They respect what you bring but they don’t like you. Nobody likes you. Nobody likes you! You’ll die alone and afraid and you’ll deserve it, you brain-damaged fucked up disgusting loveless faggot –

It is Friday night and you are stuck at home.

You take two Ativan and pass out. None of this is worth it. If you stay up a moment longer, you’ll start considering dangerous things, things involving the paring knife in your cutlery drawer in the kitchen.

Hours later, you wake up. It is after midnight. You are sticky from sweat and tangled up in your sheets. You get up, get a drink of water, use the toilet, and sit naked in the shower. You cry. This should be conquerable. You have overcome too much already. You’re here, right, at college. You weren’t supposed to make it here. You weren’t supposed to survive. This should be easy. This should be surmountable. This should be –

It is two A.M., Saturday morning, and you are stuck at home.

You just want comfort. You just want touch. You just want someone to stroke your face and tell you it’ll be okay. You just want to be able to stop performing and let your guard down. You want to be okay. You want to be able to cry to someone and have them not recoil.

The water is cold now. You hear W. or their gentleman caller get up, try the bathroom door, sigh, and sit down on one of the squeaky plastic kitchen chairs. You rinse off, dry off, and go back to bed.

It is three A.M., Saturday morning, and you are stuck at home.


A newspaper icon. The headline reads "GO HOME." There is a picture of an eye crying on the front page.
ID: A newspaper icon. The headline reads “GO HOME.” There is a picture of an eye crying on the front page.

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

You are saying goodbye. You probably will not be coming back to this place, the one place you have ever felt truly and unconditionally safe. You have cried. Your friends, coworkers have cried. You have made jokes about your nearly four years here. There has been so much rejoicing. You have signed your names on the wall where all the graduates sign. Production is still going on – you have a paper to produce tomorrow – but there is an eerie stillness now. You and your colleagues have, at most, a week and a half to vacate campus. There is a pandemic on. There is a new plague.

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

You say your last goodbyes. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. One of your colleagues wanders back in. “K., you magnificent bastard,” you yell, “come here!”

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

Hugs. So many hugs. The words “social distancing” haven’t truly cemented themselves into everyone’s vocabulary yet. You haven’t yet been instructed to keep six feet from other humans. You feel human touch. You feel loved. You feel respected. You wish this moment could last forever.

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

You hug M., who has never been a hugging person. You look at each other. He is busy, overwhelmed, and you need to go. You aren’t well and you have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning. “Hey,” he says, “keep in touch, okay?”

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

You nod.

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

You go to your car and cry. You don’t want to be even more isolated. You have so few social opportunities and you’ve fought so hard for what you have. You feel like screaming. Going home, home-home, to family, means having to live in the sometimes-hellscape you thought you could escape through college. All of your friends, your relationships, your life are here.

It is Thursday night and you don’t want to go home.

But you go home. You go to your apartment and cry yourself to sleep.


Two people with an arrow between them showing distance. There is a Twitter bird with a speech bubble between them and text bubbles showing the two people conversing on social media.
ID: Two people with an arrow between them showing distance. There is a Twitter bird with a speech bubble between them and text bubbles showing the two people conversing on social media.

What day it is doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere to go.

You see someone on Twitter complaining about being stuck at home. Bars aren’t open, they can’t see friends, they’re sick of spending another night in. You feel for them. You really do. This sucks. None of this is fair. But they had a satisfying social life before this. They could go out. Their brain wasn’t their own enemy. They had friends. They could navigate social complexities. They didn’t feel cast out of the few spaces maybe meant for them. They fit in. They were normal. You weren’t.

What day it is doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere to go.

For one second, there’s a perverse joy in your heart. People finally get to experience what you experience. Some guy complaining that he can’t actually meet his online hookup in the park? Fuck him, you couldn’t even manage chatting someone up online, let alone arranging a hookup. The world is finally equalized.

What day it is doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere to go.

But it’s not. It’s not equal. Nothing is equal. Nothing is fair. And you worry that one day you’ll get out from under this and everyone will go back to partying and living life and being normal – but you. Bright-eyed abled neurotypical queers will get their scene back and you and the dregs like you will be shutout, again.

What day it is doesn’t matter. There’s nowhere to go.

There was never anywhere to go.