Cecilia’s reservations made Thrasher think of “a less dramatic experience” he’d had at the doctor’s office himself. When he had to get a testicular sonogram at 41, referred by his university health center, the receptionist had laughed at him, saying, “You just don’t look like what I was expecting. I was expecting someone younger.” He tried to deflect, but he still felt ashamed that she thought he wasn’t young enough to be a graduate student. “At a moment of great vulnerability, I was made to feel unwelcome,” he recalls.
I remember thinking, What if a trans woman who was femme presenting and had testicles came in, vulnerable and needing help? What if the receptionist said, “You don’t look like what I was expecting”? … This is part of why lethal health disparities plague queer and trans people at such high rates, and why viruses circulate more often in our bodies.
Cecilia stepped in to help Lorena navigate her Covid care at the hospital. Elmhurst Hospital, where she was treated, was at that time the epicenter within the epicenter of the pandemic, as then-Mayor Bill de Blasio described it. Lorena’s neighbors—“day laborers, nursing home orderlies, fast-food workers, and sex workers,” some of those mythologized as “essential” workers— couldn’t work from home to protect themselves from the virus. This wasn’t just a matter of geography, then; it was a question of labor too, and Lorena, a community organizer, was among those who carried out her work in person. Now, she worked the phones from her hospital bed, bailing people out of the jail at Rikers Island, another growing Covid hot spot, “desperately trying to free people before they, too, got sick.” The virus would take Lorena’s life not long after.
Lorena was the first person I knew to die from Covid; I had interviewed her for a story for The Village Voice in 2016. “There was a sad irony at the end of her life,” Thrasher writes, that “all the thousands of people she’s given condoms and syringes and food to on Roosevelt Avenue—none of them could be with her to hold her hand in the final, transitional moments of her earthly journey.” She passed away in the early hours of March 30, 2020, one day before Chris Cuomo began broadcasting through his own viral infection from the studio in one of his homes in the Hamptons.