Finding Freedom and Empowerment: How Remote Work Can Intersectionally Transform the Lives of Workers
As a queer, transgender, neurodivergent, and disabled person, navigating the workplace has always been a challenge for me. When I started my first job after coming into my new identity, transmasculine, I knew I was going to struggle. I was always anxious about how I would be treated, especially dealing with how often I would be misgendered. There was a small part of me that was terrified that I would be harassed by customers or discriminated against by my managers. Even simple things like using the restroom send me into a downward spiral.
But now, things are different. I am currently working as an online math tutor where I can work from home: a comfortable space where I feel much safer. I don’t have to worry about navigating gendered spaces at work. I can wear clothes that affirm my gender and make me feel awesomely authentic without worrying about violating a dress code or being misgendered by customers. I can use the restroom without fear of being harassed or judged by others. I can simply be myself without having to constantly justify or explain my existence.
Working online has not only allowed me to be awesomely authentic, but it has also given me the freedom and flexibility that I need to manage my mental health. As someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bipolar 2, the traditional 9-to-5 schedule was never a good fit for me. I constantly struggled to get out of bed in the morning, and I dreaded the thought of pretending to be fine at work. But now, I can set my own schedule, work when it is most convenient for me, and keep my camera off after crying spells. This has allowed me to prioritize my well-being, and work at a pace that is more comfortable for me.
As a disabled worker with chronic pain, the ability to work remotely has been life-changing for me. I used to wake up in the morning in so much pain, knowing that I would have to call out of work because I could not get out of bed. It was a daily struggle that left me exhausted before I even started my workday.
But since I started working remotely, everything has changed. I do not have to deal with an exhausting, long commute that aggravates my back pain, and since I often have to lay down, I can work from my bed or the couch, something I would not have been able to do at my in-person job. I have already noticed a huge difference in my physical and mental health.
When I'm in pain, I can take breaks when I need them, without needing approval or facing judgment from coworkers or bosses. I can adjust my workspace to accommodate when I need to get up and do my physical therapy stretches, which would be pretty awkward in person. And I can manage my energy levels more effectively, knowing that I work best in the morning and cannot handle mentally demanding meetings or assignments near the end of the workday.
"[R]emote work has given me the freedom and autonomy I need to make accommodations for myself."
But the benefits of remote work go beyond just physical comfort. As a disabled person, I have faced many challenges in the workplace. From inaccessible buildings to ableist attitudes from colleagues, navigating the working world as a disabled person can be draining. But remote work has given me the freedom and autonomy I need to make accommodations for myself.
Of course, remote work is not perfect. I still need to clearly communicate my needs to my boss and anticipate potential isolation. But overall, the benefits of remote work for disabled people are life-changing. It allows us to work in a way that is comfortable, accessible, and empowering, without having to navigate the physical and social barriers that come with traditional workplaces.
Working remotely has also had a significant impact on me being able to manage my ADHD. Before the pandemic, I struggled working in a restaurant, with its fluorescent lights, constant noise, and interruptions. My coworkers and boss did not understand my need for dimmed lighting and quiet breaks.
When I got a remote summer internship, I was thrilled. Finally, I could set up my workspace in a way that worked for me. I created a quiet, organized environment that allowed me to focus on my work without distractions. I was able to manage my time more effectively and took breaks when I needed them.
Working remotely also allowed me to create a routine that worked for me. I no longer had to worry about a long, stressful commuting. Instead, I could wake up at a reasonable time, exercise, and have breakfast before starting work. This routine helped me to stay focused and productive throughout the day.
One of the most important benefits of working remotely was the ability to control my environment. I did not have to deal with my coworkers' phones going off, street noise, loud conversations, or loud air conditioners, which helped me to stay focused on my work. I also didn't have to deal with the distractions of my coworkers, who would often interrupt me with small talk or questions. Instead, I could communicate with my coworkers through email or instant messaging, which allowed me to respond when I was ready.
"Through online Slack chats and LinkedIn connections, I have been able to connect with other queer and trans individuals who share similar experiences and challenges. These connections have been incredibly impactful for me, giving me a sense of belonging and support that I did not have before."
In addition to the flexibility and freedom that comes with working online, it has also opened up new opportunities for me. No longer confined to the office, I have been able to connect with others from all over the country. Through online Slack chats and LinkedIn connections, I have been able to connect with other queer and trans individuals who share similar experiences and challenges. These connections have been incredibly impactful for me, giving me a sense of belonging and support that I did not have before.
Perhaps the most significant impact that working online has had on my life is the way that helped me find purpose and meaning in my work. As someone who has struggled with feeling like an outsider for most of my life, finding work that aligns with my values and passions for DEI has been a constant challenge. But through working online, I have been able to work with neurodivergent, queer, trans, and disabled students who have struggled to find a mentor that truly understands their experiences and unique challenges in the classroom. This has provided me with a sense of purpose and motivation to help students that have a similar background as I do so that I can provide them the support I wish I had growing up.
"I am thankful for the freedom and flexibility that it has given me to be myself and prioritize my mental and physical health."
As I reflect back on my experience switching from working in person to online, I am grateful for the opportunities that working remotely has given me. I am thankful for the freedom and flexibility that it has given me to be myself and prioritize my mental and physical health. I am grateful for the connections that I have made with others who understand my struggles and helped me gain a sense of belonging. And most of all, I am grateful for a new purpose and deeper meaning in my online math tutoring career, now focusing on kids with similar stories as me.
Of course, I am not implying that remote work is the ultimate solution for everyone. Everyone's situation is different, and what works for me may not work for others. I am not saying that remote work is without its challenges. Working remotely can have its own set of problems, such as isolation and blurred work-life boundaries. However, for some people, including myself, the pros of remote work far outweigh the cons.
As I look back on my journey, I am amazed at how far I have come. Starting in place of fear and uncertainty, I have found a sense of peace and purpose in my work. Working online has allowed me to navigate the world on my own terms, without having to constantly explain or justify my experiences to others. For someone like me, who has struggled to find a place in the world, working online has allowed me to feel like I'm part of a community, even if it's virtual.