2020: The Circles are Smaller

I want to start by mentioning two things:

Firstly: Context.

That I am writing this near the end of 2020 from Sydney, Australia. Our country has done a truly fantastic job of containing COVID-19. Our initial lockdown in March/April took us to what we call ‘donut days’ – days with 0 local transmissions in our state. When a sudden case of unknown origin on the Northern Beaches hit a few weeks ago and blew out to (at the time of writing) over a hundred cases, selective lockdowns and truly incredible contact tracing & testing has reduced that back to single digits per day, despite it happening over Christmas and New Years, a time when people are in the middle of serious partying.

It’s not over, of course. If we’re unlucky, despite intense restrictions on the size of indoor gatherings over New Years, we may get more clusters. If our so far incredibly effective tracing methods fail there and it came to the worst, we’d likely lock down again, same as we did in March – and same as Melbourne successfully did mid way through the year when they had a runaway hotspot. It’d suck, but I am sure we’d once more be back to gleefully declaring that we’d had “a week of donut days” or the like.

However, despite this being the case, in other parts of the world, more people are dying each day than have died in the entire of Australia from COVID, and while I talk about having gone through a single several-month lockdown in this, I’m only too aware that a lot of people have done it much tougher, and many are still locked down.

What I’m mostly talking about in this post are things related to the social effects I’ve seen in a place where the pandemic has begun to subside in most of the ways people like me notice on a day-to-day basis

So the context is this: immense privilege just living where I am, and where despite our federal government being awful, our state governments & state health departments are getting us through this.

Secondly: When It’s Over.

I’m going to talk about ‘when it’s over’ a bit here. Or even refer to it being ‘largely over’ for us here in Australia. This isn’t true, of course. Vaccines are just starting to roll out around the world, more people are dying now than ever before, and even in Australia it’s going to be many years yet before COVID-19 stops dominating our news cycles, political discourse and even our life decisions.

So, when I talk about it being “over”, what I am referring to is when the risk is low enough that for the most part our lives are going back to the same kind of routines we had before the pandemic.

This is important because, barring current hotspots like Avalon in the north-east of Sydney, this is how things are right now for most Australians.

And yet, at least from what I’ve seen… things are not the same as they were, and I’m not sure how long it will take for them to be so.


In March, for a regular medical procedure I had to trek into the CBD for the first time since lockdown. A friend gave me a lift, as I did not want to risk public transport. Shops were shut, streets were empty and I saw almost nobody without a mask on.

It was a surreal thing to see. Before this I’d only seen empty streets like this in movies – you couldn’t clear out Sydney’s CBD during the day or evening like this if you tried.

Otherwise, having just moved into an apartment on my own for the first time in my life, and having the privilege of an office job I was easily able to start doing from home, my life became more or less the lockdown cliché.

I ordered local organic produce boxes.

I baked.

I learned to cook things I’d not made before.

I went stir-crazy, scared and unsure just how long this would last or even if somehow this would be the end of civilisation as I knew it (your brain goes to dark places when you see almost nobody for months at a time).

I tried to change up my routine by taking different morning walks around my suburb. I had my breakfasts on my balcony, so at least I wasn’t constantly inside my apartment.

But then the restrictions eased.

I had a friend over to watch movies. We made cocktails, and it was one of the most amazing nights of my life. I nearly cried.

My birthday came shortly there-after, and I had the truly amazing experience of seeing two of my friends at once, to show them one of my favourite recent films.

Perhaps it was because the pressure of organising a party wasn’t there, or perhaps it was just that I hadn’t seen two friends together like that in what felt like an eon, but it sticks in my mind as the best so far of my just over 3-dozen birthdays.

Then more restrictions were eased.

Bars opened up, dotted with gauche signs that made my skin crawl because all I could think of was people in other countries dying en masse.

I finally went to one, on a tinder date, somewhere in the middle of the year.

It felt… off. We may still have been able to go to bars, but the new “CovidSafe” restrictions businesses were required to abide by changed the experience of being in them. Fewer seats meaning far fewer patrons. Checking in and sanitising your hands before being seated. Table service only – no lining up to get the next around.

These are all good things, of course, but… the experience was more the awkwardness of a restaurant, not the laid back feeling I had missed from bars.

And even beyond that, many of my friends are immunocompromised and won’t be going out to bars or gigs again until a good percentage of our population is immunised – enough for them to feel safe in doing what I felt safe enough to do months ago.

That first experience going to a bar post-lockdown sticks in my mind because it was enough to make me not really want to do it again. It’s been more or less safe for us here to see some friends in bars all but a few months of this year, really – and yet I’ve been to a bar a grand total of 4 times since March.

In 2019, I almost used went to that number on a busy week.

As the year was drawing to a close, a friend came over who had been stuck in Melbourne during their second lockdown. As with most of the socialising my friends and I do these days, it was at one of our houses.

We sat on my balcony, drinking gin and catching up, and she said something that got me thinking: “I was looking forward to getting back to Sydney, because I’d get to see all my friends and socialise like normal. But it’s not like that.”

I used to see small groups of friends every weekend, and would catch up with people at bars or cinemas a few times a week after work.

As my friend put it, “You go out to a bar for a bit, then message friends to see who’s out, join up with them, and you keep going until the night’s done. But not now – nobody’s out, so you just see the one or two people you started the night with.”

In the months since it was more or less over, friendships had changed. Everyone had to pick who to spent time with. For those in nesting relationships, that usually meant their partner and, often, another couple they know who lives nearby. Or maybe a BFF.

My social circle went from many dozens I’d catch up with regularly, to seeing really only my closest friends – both in an emotional sense and a geographic one.

When travel feels like an additional risk, the people you can get to see most easily end up being the priority.

As a result, people I really do care about I’ve barely seen this year – the tyranny of distance just got even nastier. Other people I barely knew have become new BFFs, because they were there. They checked in on me when I was in lockdown alone.

I presumed that once things went ‘back to normal’ this would change – I’d start catching up with friends again in a more casual way, but the simple fact is that hasn’t happened.

Friendships have been irrevocably changed from this. I keep thinking of how a certain person didn’t reciprocate my desire to hang out with them earlier this year, and how much that stung. I was not part of their Covid Circle.

Then I think of people who reached out to me and… got the same reaction from me. I didn’t feel close enough to want them in my inner circle. So that sense of hurt I felt, they might well feel the same.

Even when things got slightly safer, those social changes seemed to stick. Instead of this enormous big queer bubble I felt like I lived in, I now live in a tiny one more or less of a combination of luck and my own devising.

When I decided to have a small gathering for drinks in November, and needed to pick 10 people to invite to stay at a nice low number… I realised this was very easy, as I didn’t really feel close to more people than that any more.

What’s missing is the people you liked, but maybe weren’t really close to. Those people you never spoke to outside of the times you happened to run into them at a party a mutual friend had, or because you ran into them at a bar in Newtown.

I haven’t met a single new person this year without intending to. Outside of tinder, there were no parties, so I didn’t make random new acquaintances.

Social circles are smaller, and largely stagnant.

Perhaps, by end of next year, when the bulk of our populace has been vaccinated, things will be more “normal”. Things will return a bit more to the way they used to be. But even then, the social fallout from all this likely won’t.

Social groups will be different. We’ll be more used to smaller cliques, and I’m just not even sure any more that everyone will go back to the way things were before.

After two years of not travelling much outside our suburbs, maybe some of us will be itching to do just that, and become travellers even around our own city in a way we hadn’t been before. Or perhaps we’ll just get used to things as they have been since the pandemic began and… just stick to it.

For a lot of us, the habits formed during this pandemic will result in ongoing changes in how we socialise, see friends and go about our lives, even once it’s over.

I’m just surprised how dramatic and immutable those changes already feel.

Corsica

Decisions, Video Games and Gunplay

A few weeks ago, I got a Playstation 5.

One of the interesting things about getting a shiny new console on launch day is that the catalogue of games you can get on it are… minimal. The upshot of this is that rather than my usual trick of perhaps buying maybe 2-3 games a year, only in very specific subgenres that appeal to me, I find myself playing games that are far outside of what I would normally play.

The last time this happened was, unshockingly, when I got my brand new Playstation 4.

It’s usually an interesting time for me, forcing myself out of my comfort zone, seeing what there is to enjoy out in the wider planes of video game land. Hell, when I got my shiny new Xbox 360 I even played a few sports game – and I do so hate sports games.

This year, one of the shiny new games I tried is Demons’ Souls, the PS5 remake.

To say I bounce off souls-like games is… and understatement. I’ve tried Dark Souls 1 and Bloodborne before, and Demon’s Souls is… much the same for me (if many, many times prettier).

Within a week of trying this and a few other games, I found myself simply re-installing old favourites and using my blank new PS5 with no save games as a good excuse to re-play them from scratch.

Red Dead Redemption 2. Watch Dogs 2. I’ve even occasionally committed the horrible sin of letting my shiny new console sit idle while I go back to playing indie management sims on my desktop computer.

But going so far out of my comfort zone got me thinking – what exactly is it I like in a video game?

When people ask what I normally play, I usually reply with the most superficial of answers – I play open-world Action and RPG games, mostly, plus some management or construction games. And flight simulations, of course, though really for me the desire to jump in Microsoft Flight Sim and do a flight happens when I am in a different headspace to when I feel like playing a ‘real’ video game.

As I sat there, angrily cursing at Demon’s Souls and trying to find something other than the graphics I liked about it, I began to think more about my answer to that question. Because I don’t magically like all open-world Action or RPG games, of course. Who does? There are very specific titles I like.

I got Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla for my PS5, but lost interest in that game incredibly quickly – yet it, like all the previous AC games (some of which I’ve enjoyed immensely) still fits in a category that I usually enjoy.

An hour later, my PS5 was asleep in the corner of my room while I found myself diving back into Subnautica, one of my go-to games since I first discovered it way back in early access.

As I sat there in my observatory dome underneath the ocean, waiting for the sun to rise and plotting out my day’s expedition to the Mushroom Forests to collect the lead, lithium and quartz I’d need to begin my next base expansion, it finally hit me.

Why Subnautica appeals to me, yet Green Hell does not.

Why Red Dead Redemption 2 appeals to me, yet Far Cry 5 does not.

Why Airport CEO and Project Highrise appeal to me, while Two Point Hospital does not.

Why games I may have really liked in years past, such as Star Wars Squadrons or even Mafia (the remake) caused me to lose interest so fast.

Video games have different scales at which they function when you play them.

There’s the moment-to-moment gameplay, usually requiring some degree of tactical thinking and hand-eye co-ordination. Do you manage to get off that headshot in Red Dead, or do you miss and end up back in cover, suddenly surrounded by more Pinkertons and in a worse situation than if you’d made that initial shot? Do you manage manage to tale that Barque carrying a load of lumber as a prize in AC: Black Flag? How well do you nail the placement of the ammenities and offices you plan to lease out in Project Highrise?

Then there’s the larger, more strategic thinking that goes into them. What is your plan for your day in Red Dead 2 – do you go hunting in the morning so the camp has food, into town during afternoon to trade in some goods you stole during a recent robbery? Are you going to build a new hydroponics wing for your base in Subnautica, or perhaps clean up and improve the Moonpool and submarine docking area that you were never quite happy with?

The action in Red Dead Redemption 2 is, frankly, quite easy. I play enough third and first person action games that it’s quite rare I die Red Dead, and when I do it’s usually because I made quite a foolish mistake. The same is true in Mafia III and Watch Dogs 2. Subnautica may not be an -easy- game per se, but half the game is avoiding close encounters with horrifying sea monsters – not seeking them out to kill them, as you frankly cannot really do that in most cases.

What keeps me playing them is not the moment-to-moment challenge of gunplay or stealth in any of those games. I have no interest in playing a difficult game solely to get better at the combat mechanics. In the games I like, the combat is a small, momentary thing that rarely presents a huge challenge.

Will I successfully take out the six guys who ambushed me from behind the rocks on my way easy through the heartlands in Red Dead 2? Almost certainly yes. I’ll enter dead-eye mode and headshot a few, dive off my horse, fuck behind a rock for cover then take the others out. Unless I am very careless, it’s not actually difficult. What makes that engagement interesting is what comes next – the decision of what to do right after the guns come out.

The gunplay happened on a road. These men tried to rob me, and are now lying dead, their possessions morally mine within the general ethics of this kind of game. Do I go and pad down the bodies, taking their money, ammunition and trinkets to sell at a fence later on? Do I do that and risk that a traveller on a horse or carriage may turn up, see me looting the corpses and run off to describe my crimes to the nearest law-man, resulting in a bounty on my head?

In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, raiding settlements is a big focus of the game. You and your longboat full of angry bearded goons scream and charge into the town in a historically-sanitised raid that usually results in no ‘civilians’ being killed. Once that’s done, you open their chests and pilfer their valuables, before heading off on your way. There is no real decision to make, other than when to begin your raid. The challenge, and what people obviously enjoy about that game and others like it is the combat itself.

The moment to moment challenge of using your skills and weapons to defeat the village’s random large guard captain and some of his underbosses, along-side the many other random men with swords who come out to defend their village is the point. Once it’s one, you get your spoils and head back to spend the loot upgrading your village, giving you access to more equipment and tools to make the next raid easier (or at least more possible to accomplish).

I haven’t taken pleasure in getting better at fighting in games for a long time.

I’m not interested in spending hours re-fighting the same battle until I manage to take out a particularly tough boss. To me, it’s the larger decisions about what to do next in a game that makes me come back for more, especially if those decisions exist in an internally-consistent world, ideally resembling our own to some degree.

I accept that combat is, in many games, mandatory. A thing that we have long since accepted as just What One Does In A Video Game.

I sometimes even enjoy it a bit.

But for the most part, video games are about escapism to me. To spend time living in a place or time I cannot actually be in real life. The moment to moment mechanics should be simple and easy enough to almost be flavouring – something which adds to the sense of really being in that world.

I accept that Arthur Morgan gets into gunfights and robs banks because, well… that’s the story this game is telling. But it’s the fact that I can get on my horse, ride for days, camping at night, hunting for my meals and trying to find interesting places to visit that grabs me.

If that part was spun off into its own game, I’d play it – if the combat parts were put in a Naughty Dog style linear action game with the same story, I’d likely never have even finished it in the first time.

The meta-game and the experience of a world feeling real interests me; the mechanics of the moment-to-moment gameplay only interests me insofar as they help me feel like the world is real.

It’s why management and construction games where you build a single, large functional system or object interests me (whether that is a single commercial tower in Project Highrise or a city in Cities: Skylines), yet strategy games where you build multiple smaller structures as part of a ‘campaign’ of levels, like in Two Point Hospital, tend not to.

I want to create, explore and enjoy a space, whether that’s a top-down 2d space or a large, open 3d one. I’ll even shoot or stab a few people in that space, if I must – but the world feeling alive and the game giving me a sense of accomplishment when I complete my own player-set long term goals of advancement and construction will always matter more to me more than how challenging an individual event or encounter within that space is.

Video Games & Travel

I’m flying at about 4,500ft, south of Canberra, heading towards Cooma. The autopilot is on and I’m just sitting, watching the world go by. Then a buzzer goes off. I hit pause and answer the door – it’s a package that needed delivering.

Good thing flight simulators can be paused.

I, like, a probably an actual majority of people, have found myself very nearly house-bound throughout most of this year. At best, largely bound to my own suburb. It’s a beautiful suburb. Leafy and spacious. But at a certain point, every street feels like I’ve walked down it a hundred times, and I find myself itching to travel. Not even in that “tinder profile of person who notes how many countries they’ve been to” way, just in the “going for a train trip out of the city” way.

My standards, I suppose, have dropped.

But it does mean I’ve been playing video games more than I think I ever really have before. I had sort of lost a lot of interest in gaming in the past few years, but with little else to do, I’ve been burrowing deep into games that let me be somewhere else.

Mostly open-world games – ones I’m fond of, or ones I haven’t played. And Flight Simulator 2020, of course – which has been a balm in an awful year. What I found, though, is that my favourite games are ones that take me to places that truly exist, if in a more real form than the condensed versions of cities and spaces we see in video games.

I very quickly found, however, that the places I most wanted to ‘go’ in these video games were places I have been before.

With a mod tacked on to play GTA V with my VR headset, I drove, in the rain, to the virtual Santa Monica pier and just stood there, watching waves crash and people run for cover.

I found myself remembering what the first cocktail I had at that pier had tasted like. How accurately the bird poop on the hand rails were modelled. The feeling the humidity in sprinkled rain.

Then there was my flight down past the, uh… optimistically modelled Lake George, over Canberra, Cooma and finally into the Snowy Mountains. I’d just stare out the window, and it was there I saw a small farm. A large house, a shed, a water tank, a dirt road leading down the gentle hillside to join Jindabyne Road.

Memories flooded back of visiting a family friend’s property, decades ago. The crisp, cool air and the smell of the bushes. Trying not to tread in rabbit-hole while hiking about. The odd sheep-skull from long-past flocks of past owners. The odd mixture of a very cool breeze coupled with the warmth of the late afternoon sun.

Flights over Hawai’i brought back similar memories – cooking dinner in a cheap motel in the rainforest just out of Hilo, being amazed by the intense green of the little lizard that crawled by on the outside of the flyscreen.

After a few weeks of this I realised something – it had become my primary purpose when I played games. I’d been seeking these out – ways to trigger intense and positive memories through video games.

I can’t see my friends in Seattle. It’s likely I won’t be able to see them for some time yet – but I can walk through its streets in Infamous Second Son, giving me pleasant memories of whiskey bars, rainy mornings, craft beer and walks through nearby forest trails.

I can even bring back weird memories of Schoolies Week in Byron Bay two decades ago, by playing Forza Horizon 3.

When I go to virtualised spaces in a video game, based on places I’ve not been, I am making my own memories. I have feelings and experiences visiting the Mumbai streets in Hitman 2, but they are entirely about that game. They’re about the fictionalised, violent world of contract killing, not memories of the real place brought back from the game – as I’ve never been there.

So I keep playing more games set in places I know and love, and realise something else: these video games are making me want to travel more than any advertisement or even most any movie.

They’re letting me travel, and they’re a gateway to my own memories – in a time when it feels like memories are really all I have.

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20/20

The Podcast

Like a lot of people, to say I’ve been struggling this year would be a dramatic understatement. But, I think, like a lot of people, I’ve also avoided talking about it. 2020 is, for many of us, the year that brings “Oh I shouldn’t complain – others have it so much worse” so far wedged into your mind that it seems like an impossible mantra, never to leave your head.

The worst part has been that I couldn’t quite figure out why I seemed to be coping so much worse than other people. Of course, the first answer to that is – I’m not. And if you only know me through twitter, it’s likely you didn’t even realise I was particularly down. I’m long past the point of feeling comfortable expressing too many genuine feelings on twitter. I smile. I make jokes.

I once posted one of my truly awful puns, and a reply to it ending in ‘haha’, while my face was entirely stained in tears and my hands were shaking.

Yet that problem still ate at me. Why was I sobbing in loneliness, anxiety, and dealing with genuine (if mercifully fleeting) self-harm ideations for the first time since I transitioned 5 years ago? Why was this so hard?

There’s never a simple answer to these things, but I began to put the pieces together during, of all things, a podcast. I have been burying myself in podcasts about film. I would pick a filmmaker who I found interesting, and listen to every podcast I could that they had guested on.

This one was Diablo Cody, and she was talking about horror – specifically, her (so far only) foray into explicit horror, the underrated classic and personal favourite of mine, Jennifer’s Body.

What mattered, and what hit me like a freight train in a Tony Scott movie, was this observation of hers: “The one thing that I remember about the friendships that I had [in my teen years] is they were incredibly intense. Moreso than my romantic relationships that I was starting to have with guys. I was just completely enamoured with my best friend, and yet there was these forces conspiring to tear us apart. Because, you know, as you get older you don’t have the space in your life to nurture those friendships any more.”

The Bad Times

For the past few years, since my transition, I’d been living in a sharehouse with (not counting the usual sharehouse comings and goings) more or less the same group of people. I had been planning to finally move on myself this year, but when the sharehouse unexpectedly dissolved in late January, I finally had to make a decision.

After an entire life of living with family, partners or flatmates, I wanted to try living on my own. I am quite an extrovert, to put it mildly, but figured as long as I was seeing lots of my friends with frequency, living alone was something I should try at least once.

I wasn’t quite financially ready to move out on my own yet (what the buying of new appliances, etc, atop the usual moving costs) but with the sharehouse collapse forcing my hand, I figured fuck it.

By February I was living in my own one bedroom apartment, alone, for the first time in my life.

By March, COVID-19 was tearing across the world, and I found myself very quickly not just living alone, but in contrast to my intended coping strategies for living alone, I was seeing… nobody.

Without being too hyperbolic… it was a few of the worst months of my life, and I found myself crying myself to sleep at night, desperately wishing I could hug or even just briefly touch the people on the other end of the regular video calls with friends that have now become a staple of life in 2020.

It hit the point, some weeks in, where I put on makeup… because a courier delivering something. I had no reason to impress some random courier who’d see me for a grand total of 5 seconds, but I wanted something – anything – as a reason to do something I used to do all the time.

The After Times

Since then, things have changed. I’m lucky enough to live in a city that’s doing… okay. In fact, in the grand scheme of the world, we’re doing remarkably well.

Apart from limitations imposed on very large gatherings, new seating labels for public transport, the understandable social pressure to wear a mask, and signing in when you got bars or restaurants so you can be tracked… things are supposed to be closer to normal. We can go to bars and restaurants. Holidays are being advertised (albeit domestic ones and always in the same state).

It’s even possible to have a conversation with someone and not have the global goddamn pandemic be the single thing you can talk about.

But we’re all still being cautious. Most of my friends who still have jobs outside of retail or hospitality are working from home, and it’s looking like that’ll be the case with every vaguely rational office employer for potentially a good year or so to come.

Single White Female, 35 or older

When I moved into this apartment, it was one of several I applied for. For the first time in my life, I not only got the one I wanted first time – but got every one I applied for. I got to pick which of the several apartments I had applied for I truly wanted to live in.

I was extremely confused, and a friend of mine who’d worked in real estate explained it to me. “You’re the perfect tenant. That’s why. You’ve got a full-time, white-collar job, you’re white, female, living alone and in your late ’30s. You’re old enough that you’re less likely to fall pregnant and suddenly be moving out to a larger, baby-friendly place, and you’re white and female so statistically they think you’re more likely to keep the place in good condition.”

That was a jarring thing to hear. A reminder of the sexism, racism and uncomfortable pragmatism of capitalism and the rental market.

But, given the gross biases against me in almost ever other facet of my life as a queer, transgender woman, finding the one instance where some of those things could work in my favour was not a gift-horse I was going to dismiss.

It was a ‘category’ I’m now a part of that would enter my brain more and more as the year wore on.

The Pods

Even as things begin to re-open in my city after the first wave of COVID, while technically I could still be going to bars, parties, going on tinder dates or doing all the usual things that were part of my life pre-2020… the fact is that’s not the case.

It didn’t quite make sense to me at first. I was seeing friends, if usually only one on one. So what was different? Why was I turning into an emotional wreck?

There are many reasons for this, I’m sure, and many are things that have been discussed in every article and Facebook post we’ve seen for months now.

The anxiety of the world being changed and having no clue, even if those we love around the world do all survive it, when (if ever) we’ll get to resume anything even slightly like our previous lives. When our life goals or dreams will start being possible again. If we’ll still be employed in a week, a month or even a year.

But there’s another aspect to all this which hit me as I heard Diablo Cody’s comment in that podcast.

“Because, you know, as you get older you don’t have the space in your life to nurture those friendships any more.”

My friendship pool has shrunk enormously in the past few months.

Even friends I do talk to, many of them I just don’t see any more. Even ones who live a short walk from my new apartment.

People are becoming insular. I saw it described as ‘pods’. It’s a bit like polycules, in a way. We all pick a few friends we’re seeing in person, and sticking largely to that group.

I can’t even tell you fully how I picked my own little ‘covid pod’. It’s not even necessarily that they are the current closest friends in my life – there are other factors. Perhaps I don’t see some people because they’re immunocompromised, and they’re isolating even now. Perhaps they’re just not the right kind of friendships for me right now. Or perhaps I don’t feel we’re close enough that I want them seeing me at this extremity of my life.

There are some people I wish I could see, but for whatever reason they don’t seem to feel the same way about me. They haven’t haven’t chosen to see me. It stings. I don’t blame them for it – as I’ve said, the people I’ve chosen to see aren’t some perfect measure of the people I care most about. It’s some strange subconscious selection process my brain seems to have done based on everything from proximity to the kind of things we used to do together. I may not blame them, but it still… hurts.

Friendships are gone, or minimised.

Those people I mostly saw casually at parties and caught up with while hammered at 1am in the host’s kitchen helping to clean up… they’re gone now. Not in my life.

You see, it feels to me like by this point even if there is a vaccine magically mass-produced tomorrow and the risk of COVID is gone within a year… things won’t be the same. Some friendships are gone, never to come back.

Some people I’ve reached out to randomly had moved house. Gone through breakups. I likely won’t see them in the same social groups again, even of some shadow of those groups survive this.

People are hunkering down with their partners and families.

Which brings me to the next bit, and one of the main reasons I feel broken right now.

2020 is the very worst possible time to be single – or, at least, to be single and not want to be.

I’ve never been very good at being alone. To my detriment I’ve often stayed in relationships until long after their expiry date being passed has been obvious to everyone in my life but me.

I’ve had a habit for years now of saying yes to dates on tinder out of sheer loneliness, rather than because I was truly into the person. This is made worse because I am not only a sapphic transgender woman, but also one sort of vaguely situated somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Not entirely to one side… but enough that hookups and empty sex are not a thing I can do.

So in the past when I’ve gone on a million dates in the past, it’s been out of a desperate desire for intimate emotional connection, not to try and get laid.

This… doesn’t always work, to put it mildly.

I’ve been on a few dates since things “re-opened”. Careful ones, of course. One was even at a bar, as uncomfortable and strange an experience as that feels post-covid.

I’ve even been casually seeing someone, even if it’s not quite at the point where we’d put a label on it like ‘girlfriends’, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever get there.

But in every functional way that people refer to being ‘single’… that’s what I am.

So here I am now, and the closest people in my life are non-sexual friendships.

These are people I cherish dearly, and I know the feeling is mutual, but they also have partners. Romantic, intimate or even domestic partners.

I don’t. So when I have a breakdown, like the entire of this week, I talk to friends, and that’s it. When they have breakdowns… they go to their partners.

I’ve stopped watching lesbian romance movies – they’re too depressing. Instead I’ve been watching movies about complex female friendship. Life Partners. The Spy Who Dumped Me. Even Jennifer’s Body. At least those, even the genre ones, are a bit easier for me to relate to.

It’s hard to describe just how strange and depressing it is having the people you truly love in your found family not be actual romantic partners, in a queer community dominated by polyamorous relationships, during a time when friendships are so often vanishing and slipping by the wayside as people huddle in close to their partners and wait for this all to blow over.

To have nobody there when you wake up crying at 1am after yet another awful dream.

There are days when I genuinely don’t see how I can survive this – my life goals were ruined by this pandemic, maybe never to quite be a possibility again. Dating is even tougher than usual.

I’ve “been” to two funerals this year. Both via video link. In each case either I was too far away, or not “close enough” to the deceased – so not invited to the service.

It’s hard to describe just how horrible the feeling is of crying during a funeral service, seeing your family & friends without being able to hug them, and when the service is done, rather than going off to a wake for a few cathartic drinks with other mourners… the video link cuts out, and you’re left crying alone in your apartment.

More and more, as time goes on, I find my growing fear of dying alone is bleeding over from my nightmares into my casual thoughts.

But who am I to complain? I have a job, and a roof over my head, which is more than many people have.

So much of the week, though, I miss waking up in a busy sharehouse, having random beers with housemates whose plans fell through. I miss after-work drinks at bars. I miss house parties. I miss the weeks looking forward to them before going. I miss live shows. I miss dressing up to go out. I miss waking up next to a partner. I miss animated discussions about where our next holiday will be.

I miss life.

So I sat here, quietly, sobbing almost once every day since February, not letting myself admit just how much my life has been torn apart, and how I miss having even the tiniest little shred of hope for the future.

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Am I Adulting Yet?

When I left home, I moved into a sharehouse. From there, in with a partner who I would spend the bulk of my ’20s with. After that, when I began transitioning, I moved back into a sharehouse. What I’m getting at is this: I have always lived with other people. You can… probably guess where this is going.

I’d been planning to try living on my own this year. For the first time in a decade, I have a stable full-time job. Not the best paying in the world (it’s game dev, after all) but one where, frustrating bugs aside, I enjoy the company I work with and the company I work for.

So I’d been saving up. Figured out the suburb I wanted to move to. Thing is, it wasn’t supposed to happen until June or July.

Sometimes, the best things happen to us when our hands are forced. I had to borrow money. I had to scramble a bit, but suddenly knowing I had merely two weeks to find somewhere to live… I managed it. I found a 90% perfect apartment in the suburb I wanted, my application was accepted (in fact, my application for my backup apartments were accepted to – unlike every other time I’ve been apartment-hunting in my life) and just 9 days from first finding out I had to leave… I am living here, in this apartment, alone for the first time in my life.

I’d say I was about 80% excited and 20% scared. I’m quite an extrovert, and I need human contact to recharge my batteries, so to speak. So living without housemates outright terrified. But I am moving to within walking distance of about 6-7 very close friends, so that softened the blow a bit. Plus, I figured, who knows when I will get the chance again? I am dating right now, but the people I’m seeing… it’s quite casual. There’s no domestic partner on the horizon for me right now, so it seemed like the best time to give it a go. Who knows – maybe I’d love it?

It’s weird suddenly realising that I am alone here. No housemate to run social events by. No partner to check in with before buying new appliances, crockery or throw rugs. It feels… amazing. Not that I wouldn’t love to share my life with someone again, but right now, this feels like everything I needed.

I spent the last four years living with friends, who in a way acted as a buffer. I had little contact with real estate agents or the like, so I could quietly transition and get used to my new life.

Well, I’m used to it now, and things are… easier. I realised that before I transitioned, dysphoria’s attendant social anxiety, for me, meant that I would do anything to avoid interacting with strangers. Neighbours, shopkeepers, even delivery drivers scared me.

Not any more. I smile at my neighbours. I voluntarily go to a normal checkout at the supermarket rather than seeking out the self-checkout lane.

Is this… adulting? I hate the term, but life doesn’t scare me now. I can do all the household things, I can deal with my real estate agent, make smalltalk with the kid working the til at the local supermarket.

I don’t think I realised how much dysphoria-related anxiety had affected my life until recently. But now, it feels like I can be, with little care or fear. They’re just other humans.

So here I am, in The Sims buy mode, making my house and preparing to play single-player for a while.

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The Nostalgia Offset

I had a bad day yesterday. Emotionally, I mean. New Years is always a rough time for me. It’s the anniversary of beginning my transition, amongst other things, so for me the usual new-year ennui gets magnified into, sometimes, full-blown despair. Yesterday was that. When I get like that, I can tell myself a thousand times that things aren’t that bad (and they aren’t) but I still need to find a balm until it passes.

That balm is usually nostalgia. So I engaged in numerous forms of it last night. Now, I’m… Generation Modem. On the cusp of Gen X and Millennial, and yet not quite either. So for me, my nostalgia salve was these: An old-style video game I love. A ’90s low-budget film about feelings. A playlist of ’90s music. Listening to a pile of ’90s .mod, .s3m, .xm and other tracker files.

As I bathed in these and began to feel a little bit better. Then as I watched “Singles”, Cameron Crowe’s sophomore and one of many little ’90s films about Feelings I hadn’t seen before, and “Slacker”, a film I know I love… I had a funny realisation.

Image result for slacker movie vhs
Slacker
Continue…
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Blogging, Redux

Hi there! Yes, it’s me, I’m back. After server crashes, life changes, and vanishing into the ether (seriously, I used the tele-ether device sold by ACME Professional Supervillain Industrial LLC – I can’t recommend it enough)… I decided to try blogging again.

I didn’t loose the data from my previous blogs, but configuring them again turned out to be a nightmare. (Pro-tip, folks: if you used to be a linux sysad and think you can handle your own linux box with Ghost installed as your blogging platform, you’ve obviously forgotten how boring and frustrating it is.)

So I will be re-posting some of my transition blog posts, with notes now they’re nearly half a decade old. (Gosh, time flies when you’re uncomfortable getting used to casual sexism and homophobia.)

I will also be posting… whatever I want. I want to blog more. Now I’ve all but stopped using social media apart from the odd insta or twitter blast, I want to try and do this long form. I guess I’ll figure out the details later, but I paid for a year’s web hosting up front so… let’s see what happens?

As for a general life update…

I’ve gotten a bit into electronics, 3d printing, flight simming, and just general makery.

An example of some of the fun I’ve been having outside of business hours:

OpenForge dungeon tiles with magnet connectors
Simpit panels
Arduino Nano-based gaming console
Simpit-in-progress

Once I’m done with the simpit, I plan to get into 8-bit computers, too. Like, building one. I’ve already bought a few MOS 6502 (and Z80 in case I decide on that instead), plus a bunch of useful timer chips, sound chips, interface chips, etc. That’ll be much tougher, but I am apparently always in need of a new hobby.

I’m going to try to update here fairly regularly, if I can, but honestly, we’ll have to see just how I feel. It’s odd getting used to a full time office job again after nearly a decade of working from my garage, so to speak.

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