Coronavirus LGBT

Then End of Masks is Almost Here

Written by SK Ashby

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new guidance that paves the way for a post-pandemic future without masks that virtually everyone is bound to have complicated feelings about.

According to the new guidance, anyone who is fully vaccinated can stop wearing masks in most indoor settings.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” [President Biden] said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. “Get vaccinated — or wear a mask until you do.”

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues — even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an earlier White House briefing.

I've written about my own relationship to masks from time to time, but now that the end of masks is approaching it's almost all I can think about. And not just the act of wearing a mask. The end of masks puts my entire transition as a woman into perspective.

My medical transition has proceeded along a linear path as I've taken my pills every day for the past year, but my social transition was abruptly cut off by the coronavirus pandemic literally days after it began.

My closest friends were the very first people who learned how I really felt about myself. They more or less discovered who I am at the same time that I did and if it weren't for them I don't know if I would be where I am now. I told my friends I had decided to transition in early September of 2019, but I wasn't ready to tell members of my family until the following December. It took me two more months to summon the courage to tell my father and another two weeks beyond that to considering going out as my true self.

In the first week of March in 2020, I went out to eat for the first time ever without removing my nail polish. And that may not seem like a big thing by itself, but it was for me because that was the beginning of the beginning. That was my very first step into a new world, but I had no idea at the time that a global pandemic would prevent me from going out in a similar manner for over a year.

Now, this is the emotionally complicated part. Wearing a mask to go out for essential supplies meant I could do more than simply wear nail polish; it meant I could wear my real clothes, my favorite eyeshadow, and my jewelry. I could wear almost anything I wanted and no one would notice I'm not a cisgender woman because my face was covered. And that was very liberating, of course, but it also felt like a lie. Getting called "she" and "ma'am" for the first time was thrilling, but I also knew that wearing a mask is why people saw me that way.

Physically speaking, I've changed a lot in the last year. It's night and day how different I look now and I feel relatively confident that I no longer need a mask to be greeted the way I want to be. But emotionally, I'm still stuck in that first week of March last year when I decided not to remove my nail polish.

I'm tentatively planning to go out to eat next week after the two-week window of my vaccination passes and it will be the first time I've gone out in public without a mask on. I can't help but wonder if the bartender at my favorite place will misgender me as that is a concern anywhere I go, but I'm ready to handle it if they do.

Everyone will have a before and post-pandemic life that will be different in various ways big and small, but this is more or less the only life I've known. My previous life abruptly ended in 2019 and another life began in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has stretched across my entire transition up to this point.

Without proof of vaccination, there will be no way to know who is choosing not to wear a mask without being vaccinated, but I can't worry about that. I've done my part and my life has been on hold for long enough.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about all of this in the future because I've barely scratched the surface here.