One More Time, With Feeling.

Happy New Year! Bold white text in front of fireworks.

2021 got off to a flying start with the post-Christmas lockdown. This was the third lockdown in the UK due to the pandemic, and by this point we were all used to the drill. Everything but medical facilities and grocery shops closed their doors to the public, and educators continued to deliver lessons online. While my office was open for a handful of staff including myself, I managed to persuade the senior staff that with a little help on behalf of a colleague who was in the office, my job could be performed entirely from home. I was very grateful for my colleagues’ efforts, without which would have been forced out to the office just as I had been during the November 2020 lockdown. Admittedly, a big proportion of the blame for this actually lay with the doctors who, despite me meeting several of the criteria, refused to list me as clinically vulnerable (which would have allowed me to work from home throughout the November lockdown). Unfortunately, this decision made by the doctor would continue to have a negative impact as the year progressed.

By the end of January, it became clear that multiple vaccines had been developed and trialled and would become available to the public. Workload in clinical trials increased as staff were re-assigned to vaccine trials, and the trials those people had been working on were assigned to the staff not involved in the vaccine trials. There was a buzz that I had not experienced before, having never worked through a medical breakthrough of this scale. Even from my home office the excitement was tangible, and news of the vaccine was inescapable.

Naturally, I was very keen to get the vaccine to protect myself, but it was announced that priority of the vaccine would be given to carers and healthcare workers, the elderly, and the clinically vulnerable. Upon discovering this I once again appealed to my doctors to register me as clinically vulnerable, but my request was refused. I was told that I would have to wait for my age-group to be called, and there was no indication as to when this would be. They assured me that they would contact me when I became eligible for vaccination, and that was all they could do. By the end of February, after several weeks of arguing, I gave up. 

March was a better month. As the cold weather faded and restrictions were softened, normality appeared to be within reach. I continued to work from home, periodically checking the careers website for an opportunity I had been waiting for for some time, and towards the end of the month the job I was waiting for appeared. That evening I submitted my application for the role of Clinical Trial Coordinator, and so began a tense waiting period.

Selfie taken after submitting my job application. I'm wearing no makeup and a simple black t-shirt, and am holding up crossed fingers.

The weekend after submitting my application I attended an online writing class lead by reporter and restaurant critic Jay Rayner, an excellent event that proved both entertaining and informative, which inspired me to fire off a pitch to board gaming website DiceBreaker. My pitch was accepted, so I spent April writing and honing an article about disability representation in table-top gaming, which was published soon after. It proved rather successful, even featuring on a weekly gaming news roundup according to the screenshot sent to me by a friend. I soon started to feature more board gaming content on my Instagram, and my following on that platform grew substantially.

DiceBreaker had been a pleasure to work with, so I was quick to write a second article, this time delving into the lore surrounding the Warhammer games. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to work with them since, but hope to do so in the future.

During this time I didn’t hear back about my application for the role of Trial Coordinator. There was no response until early May when an email appeared in my inbox offering me an interview; my application had been accepted!

A selfie taken before my job interview. I'm sporting a red blazer over a white shirt dotted with ladybirds. I have ladybird earrings and a necklace on, and bright red lipstick.

The interview was set to take place in a few weeks’ time and would be via teleconference, not a format I had used for a job interview before. The interview consisted of two parts. The first part was a test designed to emulate some of the tasks I would be expected to do in the new role, and the second part was a more conventional interview. Technical issues with the test delayed proceedings a few minutes, and so by the time the interview rolled around I was extremely stressed. Somehow I managed to remain calm enough to complete the interview, although I could not be certain of my performance. I did not have long to wait, however. A few days later, two days before my 25th birthday and while on annual leave, I received a phone call; I had got the job and would be starting work as a Trial Coordinator at the end of June.

Once I returned from annual leave, I began the unenviable task of processing as much data as I possibly could, and creating materials so that the person taking over my current role as a data management assistant would know the ins and outs of my trials. Fortunately, I knew my replacement well; an experienced and capable colleague who simply needed to be told the specifics of the two trials.

It was also at this point that I finally became eligible for the first coronavirus vaccine, although inevitably my doctors failed to notify me. After several hours of issues trying to book my vaccine, with the automated system claiming I was still ineligible, I finally managed to book the first vaccine. I was a little put out that, instead of crossing the road to receive the vaccine locally, I was forced onto busy public transport to cross town in order to receive my vaccine. However, I was simply grateful to finally be receiving the protection I desired.

Selfie taken in the vaccine centre, wearing a mask and holding up my proof of vaccination card.

During this period, a topic which I had previously pushed to the back of my mind became increasingly difficult to ignore. For some time my feminine birth name had been causing gender dysphoria, and while initially I seemed able to shake it off, it began to cause more and more distress. My problem was that I knew changing my name would involve lots of paperwork, and take time and energy which I didn’t necessarily want to commit. However, after a particularly bad instance of misgendering I could ignore it no longer, and after some deliberation settled on the name Dax.

The name Dax comes from Star Trek, specifically from the series Deep Space Nine. In Star Trek lore there is a race called the Trill, some of which symbiotically join with a symbiont that lives longer than any Trill. The two beings meld, and all the past experiences of previous Trill joined with the symbiont are shared with the new host. Given that there is no restriction on the gender of the Trill involved, this essentially makes the symbiont non-binary. In Deep Space Nine, the symbiont that is depicted as joining with two Trill during the series is called Dax.

A blue and white necklace that opens up to reveal my new name, Dax.

Given that my new role as Trial Coordinator would involve moving departments, gaining a new line manager, new colleagues, and new trials to work on, it seemed a good time to change my name. As such, when I began work as a Trial Coordinator at the end of June, I also asked my colleagues, friends, and immediate family to start calling me Dax. This change was accepted willingly with minimal instances of dead-naming, but many difficulties still lay ahead of me. Issues with confusing legal requirements and an out-dated computer system meant that changing my name at work was not as simple as it should have been, and it took months of meetings before I finally received a profile which displayed my new name. I had even had my second coronavirus vaccine before the name change had successfully gone through. Fortunately, I had the support of a good friend who is also non-binary, and happened to be much more knowledgeable on the name change procedures than I was. Their help was crucial to my progress. Charlie – if you’re reading this – you’re a legend.

Shortly after successfully changing my name on work systems I got, as is apparently now an annual tradition, another tattoo. This time I had a triskelion inked onto my left shoulder.

My latest tattoo, this time on my left shoulder. A triskelion, a trio of spirals emanating from a central point, wrapped in barbed wire.

Learning my new role while working remotely proved quite challenging. While there was plenty of training material to read, I have always been more of a practical learner. My first task was to learn about the trials I was working on, and then I had to manage new responsibilities including some leadership skills. I enjoyed the work, however, so while I was daunted by the new responsibilities, I also enjoyed it. By my three month review I was ahead of where I was expected to be, and my new line manager who I got on with well was happy with my progress.

Shortly after this review in September, I was approached with an interesting question. The university where I work has staff networks for various marginalised characteristics including race, religion, gender, and sexuality, but none existed for disability. Given my experience of disability activism, I was asked about founding such a network. I set to work almost immediately, talking to people and spreading the word across all the faculties; a new network was coming.

Late September was also my first time returning to the office since the year before, an interesting experience. A new system of partial remote working and partial office working had been brought in, and the office space itself had been rearranged to accommodate this. Gone were the days of being tied to one desk, and in came the option to move around the office and even sit on comfortable sofas and armchairs if so desired. The system is far from perfect, but the general consensus was one of contentment.

Throughout October I generated as much interest as I could in the new network, and by mid-November it was official; the university finally had its own disability network. I found someone to lead the network with me and share the responsibilities, and got to work, laying out the changes the network wanted to implement to improve the experiences of disabled and neurodiverse staff across the university. I cannot help feeling proud of this network, and while it is still very much in its infancy, I’m proud of the fact that I was able to unite such a group in the first place.

Selfie ahead of the staff network's first meeting. I'm weaing my red blazer and matching lipstick, but this time have on a plain black shirt.

At the time of writing, it is late November. I’ve completed a deed poll to legally change my name to Dax and am currently in the process of obtaining photo ID under my new name, which unfortunately is proving very difficult. It will probably be the new year by the time I finally get the paperwork complete. I’ve also had my flu jab but still have some time before I can get my coronavirus booster vaccine, which unfortunately means that I will be most vulnerable to the virus over the coldest winter months (edit: since writing, the booster vaccine was made available to all adults earlier than expected, and so a few days before Christmas I received the jab. Unfortunately, I was deadnamed repeatedly throughout, and so what should have been a relief became a stressful and demoralising process).

In brighter news, Christmas and my third wedding anniversary are on the horizon. Hopefully I will get to see my parents so that I can give them their Christmas present (edit: today!), and I look forward to my brother-in-law visiting just before new year. It’s been a long and busy year full of ups and downs and I have to hope that one day, after almost two years, this pandemic will finally pass.

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