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Posts tagged ‘gender’

Medical Autonomy Chronicles: The Virgin Pap Smear

ETA: 18 Sept. 2010 After this post was linked at FWD/Forward in the RR, it was brought to my attention that this post possibly could be triggering to some people. This post should have a trigger warning for a graphic description of a medical procedure done on a young virgin girl. The procedure was upsetting to her, and the description could be potentially upsetting to readers who have had similar experiences or who have been sexually assaulted, or medically raped/assaulted. My most sincere apologies for not having the forethought to include this warning sooner, and to anyone whom this lack of thought may have hurt. ~OYD

Where did it come from?

A conversation starts about shaming in OB/GYN care, which is an important one.

Suddenly all of these people have flown out of the wood work to make sure that all of we lady folk know that getting our pap smears and pelvic exams is Just! So! Important! Medical and non-medical alike.

They need not even all be lady folk themselves, but experts who have lady relatives who have had their lives saved by paps, so they must impart to us the urgency to spread our thighs and allow ourselves to have invasive medical procedures that we do not want. Medical procedures that can be painful, traumatizing, and even, as has been show, unnecessary.

But there is a whole slew of thing that keep we peeps, and I say “peeps” because I am certain that there are people who do receive pelvic exams and paps who do not identify as women who may also feel bullied or forced into these medical procedures that they do not want as frequently as people feel the need to force us into them.

Why with all the pressure? Even when most of the information I found says every 2-3 years (I think it is worth noting that the Australia site is the only one that has information specifically for people with disabilities)? Even that information is varied. It seems that people, even medical providers pressure people to get paps every year. Especially if you want birth control. There seems to be this habit of holding birth control hostage if you are unwilling to submit to having a metal or plastic instrument shoved into your vagina and having bits of your cervix dug out.

Even on virgins. Oh, yes. In the U.S., for I can not speak to other nations, there is this fixation with making sure that doctors or other practitioners are the first ones to shove things into the genitals of virgins girls seeking birth control, whether or not she is seeking it for sex. Even though there are several good medical reasons why she could want birth control that don’t involve wanting to partake in heterosexual intercourse.

When I was fourteen, I was having period cramps from hell. I was bleeding like a stuck pig for three days straight out of ten. I would need to miss at least one day of school a month due to period cramps because I couldn’t get out of bed from the pain. Sometimes I would vomit from the pain.

Eventually, the cramping started coming when I wasn’t having my period. I was having cramping so bad that I was begging to miss school during this time as well. I remember my mother thinking I was a hypochondriac around this time of my life. She would sometimes groan, and often joke to her friends that I always thought something was wrong with me. I would often try to hide pain from her because I didn’t want her to laugh or make fun of me. She even had our doctor convinced that I was making things up. When I finally got in to see him, he chucked, and without really examining me, told me I had Mittelschmerz, and that what I needed was to stop coddling my body during my cramps and to get up and start being active during my cramps. This would not be the first doctor my mother convinced to laugh at my pain in my life.

So, I tried following his advice, and I would damn near pass out during gym class or band. The pain was so bad that I couldn’t eat and it would bring me to tears, dizziness, and I would dry heave. Finally my mother took me to the doctor again, who finally did an ultrasound and determined that I had large ovarian cysts that were causing me to have painful periods. I needed to see a gynecologist for a consult.

On top of being worried that anyone at church would think that I was having sex (because I knew so little about sex education at the time that I thought that the GYN was only for people having sex or babies), I was nervous. Incredibly nervous. I thought for sure that everyone thought that I had done something already and was lying about it. The gynecologist was the brother of my science teacher, and we were in a relatively small town. I was so worried that someone would KNOW WHERE I WAS. Also, that I was A LYING SEX HAVING SLUT!

Yes, I had cysts, and the doctor said that the best treatment was going to be to put me on the birth control pill (OH THE MORTIFICATION!) because it would help reduce them and ease my period. It was supposed to reduce my period and help them be shorter and lighter (let’s get this clear, for me this was a lie! I still have 8-9 day periods that are reminiscent of a butcher shop). He wanted to know if I was sexually active (OH MY GOD DID HE JUST SAY THAT WAS HE TALKING TO ME *FACE FLUSHING SCARLET*), and even though I said no, I had to have a pelvic exam and pap smear anyway, because that was routine procedure for prescribing birth control. (Wait. What?)

My mother had dropped me off and signed all the consent forms. How nice of her. I had no idea what was going on. What? OK. I guess so. What did that mean? You want to put WHAT? WHERE?

Suddenly this doctor, this man, whom I didn’t really know but looked an awful lot like my eighth grade science teacher, which made me really uncomfortable, was feeling my breasts, telling me that I needed to do the same thing in the shower (Uh-huh, OK, keep looking at the ceiling. That was nice of them to put a poster up there…). I had to put my feet in stirrups, which reminded me of riding horses as our friend’s farm, and certainly didn’t put me at ease. I was naked, and I had never been naked in front of any man who was not may Daddy trying to help me dress for bed, and that hadn’t been since I was about ten, and it wasn’t like this.

I was asked to slide down until I was squatting. There was cold jelly, and a metal thing, and even though he was talking to me through most of it, I remember the poster of the wooded lake on the ceiling, with the bridge over it, with one of those quasi-religious inspirational sayings on it. Suddenly I was being penetrated by metal objects and fingers…and it felt wrong and awful and I just was always told that this shouldn’t happen… not like this. Hot tears ran down my face. He asked if I was OK as he felt around inside me while pressing down on the outside of me at the same time. I could only nod, afraid of what my voice would sound like if I gave in to it. I don’t even know why they bother with gowns. They are laid open, and my whole being, my essence felt exposed on the cold crunchy paper. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I shoved them into my hair, and pulled tight.

I didn’t know that doctors ever did this.

(The poster has a lake…are those birch trees?)

And it hurt. And he felt my ovaries to check for the cysts. And he took his sample…and it felt like a sample of my soul left me.

For all the talk of how having sex outside of marriage or whatever message had been pounded on me for however long, and how it would leave me hollow and leave me feeling worthless and damaged, and for all the ways I had been told that casual sex would leave me reeling and feeling depressed and with a hole of missing self-esteem, nothing I did in my consensual sex life has ever compared to the way that pelvic exam and pap smear felt to me, a fourteen year old girl. A person rising on the crest of womanhood, not yet there but ready to fly, and having had myself violated before I took my first steps.

I left that doctor’s office with a script in my hand and a hole in the depths of my soul and a hollow in my heart. I walked to my friend’s house, because I remember that my mother was on second shift. A long and lonely walk toting my French horn, the plastic molding of the case banging against my shin. They were the kind of friends that had become a second family to me, who kind of took me in as the kid who needed looking after sometimes and loved me intensely. I remember the mother, telling her where I had been and what had happened. And while I have never experienced what I consider sexual assault outright, I can imagine that this must be an ember of that fire. I cried, feeling dirty and awful and ashamed, as she held me.

My friend’s mother looked me in the face and leaned against the carved post dividing the kitchen, holding my face in her hands, as I looked into her angular face, with her short wavy hair, and her kind, almost smirkish smile that always had a way of washing comfort over me.

“Being a woman is Hell”, she said, which surprised me a bit, this being back in my church days. “Going to the gynecologist can feel as embarrassing as Hell, but it won’t always be so awful”. She hugged me against her shoulder, and brought me some Texas Sheet Cake, because it seems that chocolate could always help me calm down sometimes. Or maybe is was a combination thing.

I wonder if maybe it is a combination thing. If maybe I had been informed a little more and had an iota of a clue about women’s health care, and what a pelvic exam and pap smear is all about.

Or, maybe if things like pap smears aren’t forced upon young people who are not sexually active, or upon people who don’t want them. If we don’t hold birth control hostage. If we don’t do things like force people to the outside of their own health care, we might be more prepared. We need to set clear guidelines (OH WAIT! ACOG!) to make sure that folks know what doctors are expecting and what is actually needed, so they can be aware of what is suggested to keep them healthy. This “maybe every year, but it is really only needed every so-and-so years, but, hrmmm…we feel like doing it every two years stuff” isn’t cutting it. We have a right to know the guidelines, and to insist that we only have invasive medical procedures as often as needed. Not as often as someone else who is not us feels like it. Even Scarleteen, a site I love, is vague on the expectations of the requirements for paps and pelvics. We need our medical professionals to stick to what ACOG has laid out (or, in my case, I would like them to just be aware of what ACOG has put out before I am), so we can get a standard measure of care. ACOG has said the risk of being treated for a false positive is not worth testing every year.


When I see articles like this, I realize it is more about making sure we control women, who just can’t be left to their own medical decisions! They are all so silly! This isn’t about shaming women for being nervous or embarrassed (for very good reason). This is about understanding that people have a right to autonomy over their own bodies. Yes, even teenagers! (I know, I am so silly, thinking they might be people who have thoughts about their medical care!) And health care is a part of that autonomy. An important part.

Education, consistency, and plain ol’ listening to patients might help. Listening to women and people in general who have to have these procedures might be a step. Re-evaluating the reasons for insisting on them for simple things like birth control, especially for non-sexual reasons in virgin teenagers might be a step. Being more compassionate to people experiencing GYN care for the first time — or even in general — might be a step. Including women in conversations about their reproductive care might be a step.

But demanding, shaming, controlling, hostage taking of parts of care? That is not helping.

It could kill, and I venture to say it will do the opposite of what all of your concern-trolling of reproductive health is intending to do.

Kid had it right, learned it in Pre-school even: My face, my space. My body, my business.


Does Gender Matter?

Dovetailing into my thoughts from earlier on Star Trek and if race matters in movies like this, I thought I would also like to discuss gender, specifically, Kirk’s gender.  If Gene Roddenberry had originally decided that Kirk should be a woman, how would she have been received?  If only Kirk’s gender (and OK, the sexuality, let’s leave Kirk het for the moment) had been different, and all the behaviors associated w/ Kirk were to remain the same, would she still have been seen as “a true hero”?  If she had indulged in the same volume and manner of sexual conquests would she have still been held up by fans as admirable?  Would Riverside, Iowa still have a monument to the “Future Birthplace” of Captain Kirk, if she had been Jane T. Kirk and not James?

What if Kirk, in either gender presentation, had been queer?

Does gender make a difference in the people we iconize?  Does the acceptance of a characters perceived promiscuity change if they are no longer a straight, white man?

Would Jane Kirk be held up as a role model of leadership the same as James has?

The fine line…

So I was reading Whatsername’s review of Star Trek (it’s good, go read it), and we started discussing how some people (she is hardly the first person I have heard mention this) are reacting to John Cho playing Sulu, since he’s Korean Sulu is supposed to be Japanese, b/c George Takei is Japanese.  I (and The Guy) genuinely liked Cho as Sulu.  It wasn’t a huge part for this intro movie, but I think he did really well w/ it.  I am not the world’s foremost Trekkie, by any stretch of the word, so my opinion won’t count for the hard core fans out there.  But I have read in the past that Sulu was not supposed to be any specific nationality (“Sulu” not being a Japanese name at all and in fact named after the Sulu Sea).  Kind of “Generic Asian guy”, which is problematic in and of itself since apparently he is to be representative of all Asians everywhere (kind of like the monolith that people assume is Africa, Asia is a pretty big place and diverse even w/in borders of specific countries).  Nationality is glossed over WRT Asian actors all the time (Ando on Heroes is Japanese, but the actor who plays him is in fact Korean).  But Gene Roddenberry wanted to depict a future where there was harmony across Asia, long torn apart by war and disputes.  It was in fact Takei who pointed this out to the casting directors of the latest Star Trek, to reassure them that Sulu was not meant to be Japanese specifically (and if you research Sulu like a good nerd, one of his parents were supposedly Phillipin@).

To me, so what if John Cho is Korean and George Takei is Japanese?  Cho is a fine actor, George Takei, the iconic character was on board w/ it, and I wonder how much difference it makes what his ethnic background is specifically, and Sulu isn’t supposed to be any one nationality specifically.  So that brings me to what I believe is a fine line.  The fine line b/t the way, in American Cinema we seem to have the Interchangeable Asian and getting too concerned over specific nationality.  There is a fine line where it isn’t stereotyping and it isn’t broad sweeping.  We are dealing w/ iconic characters here, and I wonder how important race and gender are to keeping the spirit of the film.  Hollywood has this tendency to resort to the same names again and again when they want to cast an Asian actor (and seldom a woman other than Lucy Lu or Zhang Ziyi).  How many movies set in China or Chinatown star Jet Li or Jackie Chan?  

It is kind of like the way that I feel there is a huge oversight on the part of the casting of the Avatar movie, where they have erased race altogether, but then decided that the Fire Nation should be populated w/ brown people who are hell bent on oppression and control.  The source material was set in an alternate Asia, w/ subtle differences in culture blending from Inuit people to South Asians and everything in between. Arguably the Fire Nation is representative of Imperial Japan, the Earth Kingdom is probably drawn from both China and Korea since it has a vast range of looks and cultures (Ba Sing Se is very much like Bei Jing), but overall they all blend together a little at the edges and it is very distinctly Asian.  When they decided to make Aang a white kid, and Katara and Sokka white, it mattered. Perhaps Aang is supposed to be white, and not actually Tibetan influenced, as some believe, but I am as yet unconvinced.  The erasure of race mattered for this film, at least to me.  The difference, to me, is that the source material is set specifically in an alternate Asia.  It seems almost as if Asians have been erased from their own world altogether.

But why does that matter, and the the specificity of Sulu’s nationality not matter?  Should it matter?  Was Roddenberry really more ahead of his time than we are now?

Daniel Henney was cast as Agent Zero in the Wolverine film, and Agent Zero, as I understand it, is supposed to be German.  Should that have mattered?

How big of a difference does the race of a person make in a particular film?  What about gender?  What if Sulu had been played by a woman, like Brenda Song?  Would people have embraced her as Sulu, despite being Hmong and Thai and a woman?  What if Scottie or Chekov had been cast as women?  Did they have to be Scottish and Russian?  What if Kirk had been a woman (somewhere some Trekkie’s head just exploded)?

Does it matter more when dealing w/ iconic characters?  Are race and gender specificity so important?  Does the way a person looks in a role matter more or less than how well zie portray that role?

Where do we draw that line?  I am certainly not the person to make the call, not being Asian, but I do know that having Inuit people in Avatar cast as white is alienating as a Native woman.  I know that I am sensitive to the way that Native Americans are depicted in the Twilight universe.


That’s not Lady like…

dscn3618The Guy and I were taking care of some important errands the other day and decided that instead of racing home to catch The Kid at the bus we would just pick her up at school and have dinner on the base.  After calling the school we went to the playground to wait for her.

There was a class, my guess would be first grade from the size of the students on the playground taking advantage of the recent stint of excellent weather in Yongsan gu, and their teacher was on a nearby bench grading papers while the kids played.  A large portion of the students were using what seems to be a monkey bar replacement, using rubber coated rings hanging from chains instead.  It’s a popular structure.  As usual, some of the kids would swing one or two rings in, and kick the next ring over the support beam, out of reach, to attempt to make a longer reach…kind of a challenge to each other.  When they bore of this the kids will take turns holding a ring, turning themselves upside down and kicking the next ring back to place, and move on.  As I watched a short line of kids waiting to cross one girl swung out to flip over and kick the ring down in this manner, and while she was upside down her teacher yelled to her:

“Hey! [Girl’s name], that’s not Lady like!  Act like a lady, and let [Boy’s name] get that down for you!”.

There must have been visible anger rolling off of my skin b/c The Guy grabbed my arm and informed me “It’s not your place to say anything to her”.

And while he usually gets this kind of thing, I am pretty sure I do not agree w/ him.

First of all, “Lady like”?  WTF?  What in nine hells does that even mean?

I can tell you what it means to me.

Sit quietly.

Smile and nod.

Keep your knees together and ankles crossed.

Don’t speak unless spoken to.

Always sit there helpless and let a man rescue you and do everything for you.

Never have an opinion.

I could go on…

Further more, if it isn’t my place to speak up for those girls, whose is it?  It isn’t enough to make sure that my own daughter knows that she isn’t incapable of doing anything she puts her mind to.  If those around her grow up thinking that they have to conform to some gendered code then I might as well spend my time talking to walls.  It matters, b/c those girls are going to grow up to be her peers, her friends, her potential love interests, her support system when she isn’t able or willing to come to we, her parents (even though I hope that I am instilling in her a trust to be able to).  They are going to be the ones helping her form her own idea of who she is and what she is capable of.  She will go to them to share her dreams and aspirations.

And if the best lessons taught to these girls (and the boys too!) is that they must stand back and let one of the boys do everything adventurous for them, then I am not confident that they are going to be able to understand her dreams and desires.  I am afraid that receiving messages like this, from a public school teacher, is going to enforce the concept that boys are default, w/ the world designed around them, and that being a girl is an option like an automatic transmission or an audiophile stereo system.  Something other, something extra.  Something that is there and available for you to use, but something you could really live w/o.  We need to send messages to our girls that they can and should do things for themselves, that they can and should try to solve their own problems w/ their own know how.  We need to make sure that these girls know that the only limits on them are those that they place upon themselves.  It isn’t our place, or a teacher’s place, to put limits on what a girl should or shouldn’t do for herself.

And that is not even to say what that does to the boys around them who see this behavior, passed on from a woman to the next generation of women.  This boy, who wasn’t nearly as confident as the girls were in flipping over to do the same task, now understands that his role is to step in and solve wimmin’s problems, b/c it isn’t acceptable for them to do it for themselves.  Here, we have a standard of masculinity that is being held up as something to strive for, and if you fall short, you are not only letting yourself down, but now all of those girls for whom it is your job to save.  That can be a pretty ridiculous standard to meet, and to have forced upon a boy of seven.  Instead, we should be showing him that the girls around him are just as capable as (and yes, sometimes at some things even more so than) he is.  That it is OK for him to wait and let her figure it out for herself.  That there is no shame in letting a girl (or a woman) help you w/ something or not jumping in and doing it for her.  That he is not the default.  He is not second class, but he is an equal to this creature that he is being taught is different from him.  That is just as hurtful.  These boys will also grow up to be peers, friends, possible love interests, and people w/ whom our daughters (and other sons) wish to share their dreams and aspirations.  They need to be prepared to share those dreams and be supportive of each other in whatever role they choose, not limited by their gender.

It’s a tough road to navigate, being a child whose whole world is filled w/ an onslaught of gendered material that tells them what they are and are not suppose to think/feel/do.  We don’t need teachers to enforce those, but rather to break them down.

And we, as parents, and by default the first teachers that our children know, need to be there to break those concepts down too, to smash them w/ a sledgehammer.  Our children are, whether they know it or not, depending on us to do that.  To make sure that the world is ready to accept them as is, not forcing them to change for it.

We talked it over.  I am pretty sure The Guy gets where I am coming from.  I try hard to remember that he is still seeing the world through his male privilege and might not realize or detect all the things that are thrown at us as girls and women and everything in between.  While I may have not chewed that teacher out on the spot about her careless remark (deservedly so!), I was able to have a great conversation about why that is important w/ him, after which I think he gets a little more why I feel so strongly about such things.  And I am pretty sure that next time he will be ready to fight that same battle w/ me.

Light a Candle for Angie Zapata

3224_68191113422_55051188422_1691612_80952_nThe trial Allen Andrade, who brutally and hatefully murdered Angie Zapata begins today (which is actually the 14th where it is taking place).  This is significant b/c they will be trying this as a hate crime, a first under Colorado’s hate crime laws.    Although there can never be true justice for such a devastatingly tragic crime, hopefully this will be the start of a stronger stance against such hate crimes.

No one should have to fear for their lives simply as a result of being themselves.  What a human being has or doesn’t have under their clothes is not only not grounds for horrific crimes, but it is no one’s business but that person and their doctor.

While this new standard of trying the murder of a trans* person will likely not stop this inexcusable crime from taking place, hopefully it will bring swifter and more just punishment to the detestable people who commit these senseless crimes.  Perhaps, finally, Trans Panic will no longer be enough of an excuse to let a murderer off the hook for their crime.

Stop the hate.

You can show support for Angie and her family by lighting a candle and joining the vigil.

Find more information at the website devoted to Angie Zapata’s trial.  You can follow the trial by following @justiceforangie on Twitter, or search the hashtag of #zapata.  You can also join the group Light a Candle for Angie Zapata on Facebook and use a picture of a candle as your profile for the vigil.

ETA:  More info at Questioning Transphobia

May Angie finally find peace.

The Bait and Switch…

I mentioned recently that I recently started watching CSI again, after years of not watching.  It’s on, and is some of the only Western programming I have access to on a regular schedule…hey, my brain gets tired of trying to do Korean all the time, and I need a break occasionally.  I mentioned that the way they killed Warick brown off of the show left a foul taste in my mouth.  I was deeply disappointed in their decision to have the only PoC character in such a brutal manner (admittedly, I don’t know the actor’s reason for leaving the show).  He’s gone, and it was more than a bit jarring.

Then, just a few episodes later, a stewing and tired Gil Grissom leaves the show, setting up two important things b/f he exits gracefully (I think it is important to note the differences in Warick’s and Gil’s leaving).  He a)  announces the addition of a new character, and b) names Catherine is successor, and rightfully so. (more…)

Way to go, Iowa!

Let’s hear it for The Guy’s home state! 

B/c this is great news!

I hope for a day when I can stop counting this as great news.  I hope for a day when it is no different to think that my friends in same sex relationships can enjoy the privilege of marriage if they want it (I also hope for a day when it doesn’t fucking matter if you are married or not, but one thing at a time). (more…)

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