17.

I’m obsessed with a Sharon Van Etten song: Seventeen . You see, I’m not really sure if she’s writing it for a younger person, or her younger self. For me, it’s for my younger self. “I used to be free. I used to be seventeen…”I used to be seventeen. Now you’re just like me.”

You really have to listen to it. There’s a melancholic repetition of notes that never really resolves. It makes the song feel, I dunno, epic. Or just too sad. Or too correct.

I’m nearly feeling like myself again, after the surgery. I’m back to my household chores: laundry and vacuuming.

I’m becoming more comfortable in my body. I’ve been feeling really good about myself.

And then I took a shower tonight.

I still have steri-strips on my sutures. Or my suture areas. It’s not over yet, you know. I still don’t have range of motion in my shoulders. I still have some kinda gross scabs where my drains were. Fuck. It was only a week and a half ago that I lost my breasts.

I just happened to be listening to this song before I got in the shower. I was singing it to myself while looking down at my scars. I kept thinking, you know, seventeen year old Christina realized she was gay. She came out. And it was fucking hard. Of the most traumatic things to ever happen to me, it still ranks among the top 3. For years, it was the worst thing I ever experienced. And I kept thinking, you know, if I could talk to my 17 year old self, what would I say? I would say: It gets better… as far as the sexuality stuff goes. But. It also gets worse. You’ll have a tiny baby. You’ll finally get boobs when you’re 27 (after eating and drinking too much in Alaska) and then lose them when you’re 40.

As if 40 isn’t a hard age, anyway. I’m literally half way through my life. If I’m lucky. If I would’ve never met my biological mother, I would’ve never known to go to the doctor to get the ole’ boobies checked out. Being me, I would’ve never gone until something felt really wrong. And then, who knows. But I can’t really think like that because, here I am, in this reality.

***

I’m still in pain, but I pretend I’m not. My chest aches constantly. I mean, it’s not a sharp pain, just a constant, dull ache.  There is a lump of skin that now exists in my armpits where it didn’t before. My arms rub against it on both sides. I can’t feel half of my right armpit because a nerve was cut. I can’t really feel most of my chest, especially around the sutures. I’ll never get that back. It feels weird to shave my armpits. I can’t really tell where the razor is. My body is changed forever in so many ways.

But. It’s okay.

This is me now:

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Bathroom selfie!

I look good. I look fit. When I look at myself now, I can’t even picture what boobs look like on my body. What are they, anyway?

***

Tonight I went through my bras. I kept three sports bras. I don’t really know why. I guess my drawer just looks too empty without them. I’ll never need to buy an expensive, tight fitting one for rugby. I am keeping a few thin ones for swimming, and some other, cotton ones for an occasion that I can’t imagine yet. Maybe tank tops?

I’ve been out in the world to buy groceries and eat dinner. Without a bra. There are times I reach up to scratch my shoulder and notice there’s no bra there. I’m like, that’s sexxxxyyyyy. And then, I’m like. no. There’s nothing on my back, either.  No racer back sports bra. I feel…free. I feel naughty. I feel… I don’t know. I just feel different. I feel lighter. I can’t wait for summer and to feel less sweaty.

Another weird thing is my sternum is really out there. I’m not used to anything really touching that part of my chest, but now, when I hug, it’s the first thing to hit someone else’s body. It’s such a strange sensation. And there are divots in my chest where my breast tissue was. It’s just ribs and skin. That’s the void I keep talking about.

***

I guess that’s it for now. I’m doing good. I feel okay except when I listen to Sharon Van Etten, but that was true before all of this, too.

If you’re not into that kind of music, here’s a nice, new-ish country song to let you know my feelings.  Some days you just breathe in. Just tryin’ to break even. 

So, seventeen year old Christina: it gets better, but harder in different ways. And so much better in different ways.

It will all be worth it.

Some days you’re livin’/like you’ll never die.

 

 

 

 

The Healing: 6 days without

hi.

I’m bored. But I don’t have enough energy to actually do anything.  Two days ago I left the house with Gaby. I walked a few blocks downtown, and then came home to sit some more.

Yesterday was lovely outside, but I didn’t really feel like going out. I opened the window for a while, though. Even going down stairs to eat some lunch is pretty exhausting. I’ve been napping after lunch for several hours every day since surgery. I feel lazy, but I think this is what I’m supposed to do.

If you’re like me, you wonder what I look like. So, here it is:

Photo from Christina

It’s pretty hard to look at. As you might be able to tell, I’m not so sure how confident I am about this new body. I’ll be fine, though. The most awful part right now are the drains, which are the tubes you see right there. They’re moving gross fluid away from my wounds, but those goddamn tubes are held into my skin with just one stitch. They are sore. They itch. They are annoying. I’m hoping they’ll get taken out tomorrow. After that, I’ll probably feel a lot better.

There’s really no sensation in my chest. There are areas around my armpits where it feels like I was numb, but it’s starting to wake up. My understanding is that I could feel like that for the rest of my life.

Since I last wrote, I’ve cried. There are a lot of reasons why. You can guess most of them, I’m sure. I don’t regret my decision, but hey, it’s been just a few days, so I’m giving myself some time to deal. It’s a lot to see my body change so drastically. To contemplate what it means to live without breasts for the rest of my life. They were literally just here and now they’re gone. I went to sleep with them and woke up without them. And now I just have to sit around waiting to feel better. All I have is time to think. And though pre-surgery Christina would give one million dollars for alone time in her house, post-surgery Christina feels lonely and sometimes pathetic. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want visitors, though. I don’t know what I want or how to feel. I want these drains out. I want to have enough energy to ride my bike. I want my life back.

One thing I didn’t think about is my inability to hug. Gaby and I are trying more, but it feels weird to me and my sensation-less chest. Maybe it hurts. I can’t really tell.

One very good thing that has happened to me is “The Healing Chair.” Someone told me about it just a few weeks before surgery. It’s a non-profit organization that lends out to breast cancer patients a recliner with an automatic up and down button. I’ve slept in the chair since surgery, and I spend almost all of my day in it. It’s been lovely, but I’m ready to move around some more. And I don’t like the label “cancer patient.”

I am just Christina. Who happens to suddenly be without breasts. Who will be back in the saddle in maybe a week.

 

 

 

Into the Void: Two Days Without

Surprise, motherfuckers. I’m back.

It was a long day at the hospital on Wednesday for everyone except me since I got to sleep through most of it. The WHOLE surgery team was made of women, so that made me feel super awesome right until the moment they knocked me out.

For the two weeks leading up to surgery, my fitbit recorded how my resting heartrate when from 58 to 100 on the day of. Today, it’s finally back down to a relatively normal 61. I can’t tell you how relieved I feel to have the surgery finally done. I was able to leave the hospital just a few hours after I woke up, so I’ve had some nice time at home to rest and heal.

Am I in pain? Kind of. My chest feels tight and my muscles sore, but it just feels like the soreness after working out super hard. I’ve felt worse after rugby games, honestly. The most annoying pain is caused by the drains on both sides of my chest. I’m hoping those can come out relatively soon. After that, well, I can pretty much do whatever I want. I’ve been practicing raising my arms so my shoulders don’t get stiff.

But what about my mental health? I feel great, actually. But there are moments of strangeness. Last night I was holding a mug. And ladies, you know how you bring your arms in and hold mugs to your breast? (Or maybe you don’t know because I didn’t realize until last night) Well, I did that, but my arms never touched my chest. So, I used my hand to reach for where a breast should be, to test my emotions. When my hand got to where it should have felt something, and I kept moving it closer to my body, well, it just felt like my hand fell into a black hole. I don’t quite know how to describe it. There’s a void or negative space where my breasts once were. It’s like my hand fell through time.

As you can see, I get to wear this cute, pink bra thing. It holds my drains so they don’t get tugged on, and it keeps my bandages in place, too. The next big step will be taking off the bra and bandages to really have a look inside. I’m not ready for that yet, but the time will come. And rest assured, you’re going to see it whether you want to or not.

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At this very moment, I feel awesome. I can’t wait to get theses drains out and move on with my life. The most amazing thing is it’s almost Spring. Having this done during the winter would’ve really sucked, but the thought of little tiny flowers poking through and a slightly warmer sun is really powering me through. I can’t wait to ride my bike again. Or grill a huge steak while drinking too many shitty beers. Or, maybe I should work on making my stomach as flat as my chest. That’s one of the disadvantages of being flat; there’s nothing up top to balance out what’s below.

Maybe in a few days when the reality of what’s happened hits me, I won’t seem so fucking chipper.

HOLY SHIT THE SUN JUST CAME OUT!

But. Maybe this is just me now.

Thank you to everyone for sending messages to Gaby and me, and especially those who’ve helped us with my drains and bandages.

Also, the doc said it might be a few days before I got my appetite back. Puh-lease. I had several pounds cut off my body, but I already weigh more than when I went in. HA.

Alright. Now. Back to Netflix and snax.

No boobs ≠ boy: 15 hours

I’ve never really cared about my boobs. There are very few occasions I remember trying to shown them off, and I’ve never tried to hide them. They aren’t big enough to cause problems like back pain or the dreaded male gaze. They aren’t small enough for anyone to have commented on their smallness. Usually one sports bra is enough for rugby, and regular bras off the rack seem to fit just fine. I’ve never yearned for more or less of them. I’ve been pleased with them this whole time and never really knew. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…

As a cis-woman who’s only slept with other cis-women, my adult life has been full of breasts of all shapes and sizes. It would be incorrect to say that I don’t sexualize them, because, you know, I’m queer, but I’ve never stared at them on strangers or cared about their size or shape on my partners. I’ve always joked that boobs are just fine, but I have some, too, so they aren’t as exciting. In comparison to the way cis-men seem to lose their minds over them, I am not like that at all. They are demystified when they also belong to you. And when you’ve worked in a histology lab where your job is to throw out the cut-off breasts (and other samples) every week.

During my consultation with the surgeon, I asked if she could save my nipples and maybe give me a male chest. She said that she knows a great plastic surgeon who’s done FTM (female to male) transitions. But that would take some time and I’d have to talk to that surgeon first to see if I was a good candidate and all that. Then, my brain was like…Stop. I tried to imagine taking off my shirt to see a male chest in my mirror on my body. And it seemed, really, really wrong. I halted that conversation with the surgeon and was like, no, not really, sorry. Just cut them off and leave the scars.

Then a million things came to me at once (or, at least, what felt like a million things):

I am totally a woman.

Trans men might feel some sort of relief if they were in my situation.

Trans women might be pissed that I’m so apathetic about my breasts.

When I look at my new chest without breasts, will I then, maybe, in the tiniest amount, feel what trans people have felt their whole lives? Like my body doesn’t match my brain. Or, like, something is missing.

Of course, boobs do not a woman make. Really, I have no idea what it means to be a man or a woman or non-binary. I mean, I know a million genders exist, but I have no way of classifying them. I do know I’m a girl. Again, I don’t really know what that means.

As the sporty little kid who played with all the boys, there were times when I was little where I wondered if I was supposed to be a boy. Like, maybe the all powerful creator, or whatever, messed up just a little bit. I loved “boy” things, but I was told that was wrong. I asked for GI Joe’s one year for Christmas and got a cabbage patch doll. I was bombarded with Barbies any time there was an occasion to give me a gift. In fact, I had this massive, hand made Barbie house. When other girls would come over to play, they’d lose their minds at this thing and all the accessories: corvette, bubble bath, horse, hair twister, make-up barbie, two kens! My mom wouldn’t let me cut my hair, instead it grew down to my ass. I just wanted short hair and a 49ers jersey, pants, and helmet. It didn’t seem too much to ask.

As I grew, I realized none of that made me a boy; it made me a kick-ass girl. So, I played sports as hard as I could. I was told I could throw a ball like a boy (that’s a lie; my form was better than most boys’) And I loved it. But the one sport I wanted to play, football, was always out of reach. It “wasn’t for girls,” and there wasn’t even a team close to where I grew up.

Then I came out. And you’ve probably heard most of these before, in other writings and rantings, but here’s a summary:

-So, you want to be a man?

-So, you’re/who’s the man in the relationship?

-Who’s on top?

-Okay, but why can’t you dress like a girl?

-Why are you trying to look like a man?

-Why would you date a woman who looks like man?

-And, of course, very obscene comments/questions/threats about my sex life

Alas, after all of that, I am still not a man. I don’t want to be a man.

Here I am. A cis-woman in love with another cis-woman. Which, honestly, I’m tired of writing about and reminding you of. But this is really relevant right now because, you see, Gaby’s partner is loosing her breasts. Gaby is going to have to watch me go through this. Gaby will have to run the house for three weeks while I cry and complain and try to move around too much.

And all of you have cheered me on these last few weeks, but you’ve all forgotten the silent victim of this cancer; it’s Gaby.

I don’t know what it’s like to watch my partner lose her breasts. I won’t know the sadness of seeing her take of her shirt and find nothing there but angry, smirking scars where something beautiful once was. I don’t know the pain of having to put on a smile when people say, “this is great because you caught it early!” Or, “thank God she’ll survive.”

Yes, I will be alive. But perhaps a part of me dies, if just for a little while.

* * *

In all the papers I’ve been reading about lesbian vs. straight women choosing bilateral mastectomy, lesbian women deal much better. Why? They have a more supportive partner. Their sex life does not suffer, but straight girls have problems. Lesbians care less about the stigma of having no breasts because they’ve fucking dealt with society’s bullshit their entire lives. But, and this is the part I love, they find no benefit in having cancer and going through the experience. Straight girls do. Why? Because they’ve never had to examine their lives so much before.

I’m thankful to be a queer woman. I’m thankful this cancer is as tiny and stupid as it is. I’m very thankful to have Gaby as my partner.

Tomorrow is the big day. See you on the other side.

 

 

 

And now, the final stop on their farewell tour: rugby practice.

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Fuck football. Rugby has fewer pads and more tackling. And the coolest fucking people I’ve ever met. (also, 35 degrees and wet)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Workout: 9 days

It was only 7 days ago that I met with my surgeon and decided the fate of my breasts. My surgeon is a woman, which makes me feel infinitely better about all of this. When they called with my diagnosis, I knew exactly what I was going to do. You see, when I met my biological mom 20 years ago and she told me what happened to her, I set my mind to survival. In an awful, and very real sense, I’ve been preparing since then. I was worried that a man doctor might try to convince me to save them.

You see, I’ve been reading real, actual science papers about this process. There are several papers with men as the lead author saying things like, “The number of women choosing a double mastectomy has increased by 400% since the early 80s.” I don’t remember exactly the numbers, but it’s a lot. And, do you know what was more upsetting to that lead, male author? That women, even when they knew they could get reconstruction immediately, were choosing not to. He was concerned, “maybe women don’t know they can have boobs again, right now!” WHY DON’T THEY WANT BOOBS!?!?! He vowed to make sure women were more educated about reconstruction options.

So. Again, I figured a woman would respect my choices more, not question me or try to persuade me.

Strangely enough, my doctor is also someone who goes to my gym. When she walked into the exam room, she was like, “you look familiar. do you work out?” All of this was comforting.

Did I mention what the girls did for the last time today? They went to the gym. They worked out in the same room as the woman who will cut them off in 9 days.

Though I normally don’t look into the mirrors when lifting weights, I did today. I stared at my cleavage (what little there is) and saw how awkwardly my sports bra was fitting. Another thing I was very aware of was how I had to tug at the shoulder straps after lifting, you know, to hoist them back up. There were times I did this with a laugh and other times with tears in my eyes. I won’t rave about Orange Theory, but I do enjoy it. What I hate is the stupid band I have to wear around my sternum. Of course, I could buy one that goes on my arm, but they’re 100 dollars. Fuck that. So, I bought the chest strap at a discount. Only once has it popped off from exertion. I usually tuck it under the band of bra so it feels more secure.

I wonder: what will this strap look like on my chest when it’s the only thing there? And another question: how long will it be before I feel comfortable not wearing a bra? I mean, I just cannot imagine a time when I have nothing between me and the world except a thin t-shirt. But, like, half of the population walks around like that all of the time. On one hand, it sounds very liberating. On the other, is there anything better than coming home and taking off your bra?

 

otf

It’s hard for me to comprehend what my body will feel like without them. It’s my understanding that in their place I will have a numb or tingly patch of scarred skin. There is a reconstruction called a DIEP flap which basically gives you a tummy tuck and adds boobs. Overall, it seems like a pretty good deal. But then, you have two areas of skin without feeling and a huge scar that crosses your stomach. I considered this for a hot minute, but, what’s the point of having boobs that feel nothing and an area of stomach that feels nothing?

Besides the sexual component of my breasts, which I’ll write about soon, there is one intimate detail I’ll tell you now. I love to sleep naked (though I haven’t in a long time with all the kids in the house). I love to sleep with a fan and the windows open. I love to feel the breeze on my skin when I’m warm in my bed. I don’t mean it in a sexy way. I know that’s a tiny, weird thing to think about, and it’s even weirder to share, but that’s the truth.

The next time I go to Orange Theory I’ll have no breasts, an awkward chest strap with nowhere to be tucked, and probably my surgeon on the treadmill next to me.

I wonder, though, this morning when we were running, rowing, and lifting, did she look across the room and feel sorry for me? Could she tell from knowing me only a few hours that I’m struggling? That, even though I know I’ve made the right choice, that I’m afraid of what happens when it’s all over?

That the uncertainty of how long it takes me to really heal is what scares me the most.

 

 

10 days left with the girls

It’s called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. Some call it pre-cancer. It’s considered a Stage 0, like, the very, very beginning . In Situ means “in place.” (which I learned years ago while doing archaeology. If you find a cool artifact, you want it in situ so you can get the most information about it. Its integrity hasn’t been lost.) So, that means it hasn’t spread anywhere (most likely). That’s very good. It has a nuclear grade of 2 out of 3. That means it’s not the most aggressive, but it’s also not the least.  Treatment is a lumpectomy with radiation OR a mastectomy. Why am I choosing a mastectomy when I could keep my boob? Because radiation treatment is a daily thing for up to six weeks, it can shrink your breast, burn it, or, in very rare cases, go into your lungs, heart, or ribs. I’m not into all that mess. My cancer is only in one breast, so why get rid of both of them?  Because I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life, and at my age, and with my family history, my chances of getting cancer again, and even worse the next time is something like 40%.

I do have the option to reconstruct them, right now, but I don’t want to. The recovery is long and painful. And sometimes involves a lot more surgeries to make them look real and even and all of that.

I don’t have time for all that. I have rugby to play and a family to attend to. Also, graduate school.

I hope that answered most of your questions. Of course, there will be more detailed discussion of the choice to remove and not replace in the coming days and weeks.

Now, on to something more fun.

After a few days of feeling really sad for myself, I decided to try to make this fun, or at least, not awful. I’ve had to ask myself a lot of hard questions. One question that is the most difficult is this: What do you do with your breasts when you know they’ll be gone in 10 days?

So far I’ve:

  1. run up and down the steps without a bra and without holding them. Just to remember what that feels like.
  2. Stood naked in the mirror and touched them a lot. Maybe for the first time, admiring their beauty
  3. had to explore my own gender identity (but I’ll save that for another post)
  4. worn real bras and not just sports bras
  5. been much more aware of their presence. Like, I’m just really, really aware they exist.

Aside from all of the sad, selfish stuff I’m feeling about them, I promised them a farewell tour of some of their favorite things to do. I wanted to make their last days attached to my body fun for them, not all doom and gloom.

Yesterday they did this:

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They tried to take in a little sun, maybe for the first time. 

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They went on a nice hike with some friends

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They tried to make an imprint in the snow. 

Stay tuned for more adventures as the girls live out their last days on my chest.

So you’re going to die.

One of my favorite episodes of the Simpsons is from season 2. As a family, they go out to eat sushi. Homer, ever hungry, is picky at first, but ends up eating everything on the menu. He orders Fugu, which is pufferfish. The story is, if it’s cut incorrectly, it’s poisonous. Since the head chef in is having sex with Mrs. Crabapple out in her car, the young chef cuts the pufferfish, we fear, incorrectly. Homer learns of this and heads to Dr. Hibbert, where he is handed the most wonderful pamphlet:

so die

So you're going to die

He’s told he has 24 hours before his heart explodes, so he makes a bucket list and tries to accomplish everything in a day.

Good news: Homer doesn’t die. He does, however, fall asleep in his arm chair while listening to Larry King read the bible on tape. In the morning Marge finds him looking dead, but she touches the warm drool from his lips exclaiming, “you’re alive!”

I cry every time I watch that episode.

The past few weeks have been sort of that way for me. I mean, in the sense that I feel like I just went to the doctor and she handed me a pamphlet with the bad news. Three weeks ago I had a mammogram. Then I had another. Then a biopsy. Then they called to say I have cancer, but the best kind. Then, Tuesday, I spent three hours weighing my options. My biological mother had breast cancer when she was 32 and my biological grandma when she was 70. There didn’t seem to be much of a choice.

In two more weeks, I’ll no longer have breasts.

And as quickly as you’ve read all that, that’s as quickly as it’s come at me.

I’m not telling you for your sympathy, or for you to feel sorry for the kids or Gaby. I’m telling you because, as has been my way, I’ve written to you about real life things in order to share with you, you know, real life shit. Until Cyrus was born so early, I never knew so many women struggled with miscarriages and still born babies. Until I wrote about sexual harassment happening to me, I never realized how many women it affected. I write about being queer a lot, and most of you say you’ve learned something. So, here I am telling you that I’m only 40 and I have cancer, and in a very short time, I will have no breasts and huge scars across my chest. That’s a lot to process in such a short time.

So, gentle readers, that is my news. Again, I tell you because I’ve always seen it as my job to write to you about the shit that happens in our lives that we are afraid to talk about. I’m sure you’ve all struggled with something, too. Something, maybe, you didn’t know others struggled with. Or something you know others struggle with, but you’re afraid to ask or talk about it.

I don’t expect you to tell me any intimate details of your lives. And, in a very real sense, this is none of your goddamn business. But I thought I’d share this fucked up journey because…why not? I’ve already told you almost everything else.

There will be a lot of thoughts coming on this topic including gory details and a VERY FUN farewell tour, but I don’t want to try to cram it all into one post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Writing’s on the Wall

I have been in many romantic and sexual relationships with women during my tenure on this planet, and that has afforded me a unique position that I think most men in romantic relationships with women might not get. Women talk to other women. They talk about sexual abuse and assault because women believe you, and ALL women have experienced some sort of sexual assault, whether they are willing to admit it or not. Whether they call it sexual assault or not. The issue is, most women don’t like to call what has happened to them assault because we are always comparing our trauma to someone else’s. It goes like this, “yeah, he coerced me into having sex and I asked him to stop, but I said yes, and it’s not like he hit me, so I guess it’s not like So-and-So’s experience, so it isn’t really rape/sexual assault.” And since so many women have that story, they just call it sex. When I say this has happened to many women, I really mean most. I mean, actually, everyone. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

Here are some very upsetting numbers:

Nearly half of the women I’ve been with have been raped. And, no, not the “man jumping out from behind the bushes” kind of rape, but the “I know this guy” kind of rape. And it fucking happens all of the time, you guys. ALL. OF. THE. TIME.

In fact, I’ve never heard a story from a woman who has been sexually assaulted or abused by some guy she didn’t know. It’s always her “boyfriend” or her “friend,” or, you know, someone else’s friend at the party. Or the guy from class who’s just been trying to get her to go out with him. And these women I have loved blame themselves. Or they don’t use the “R” word for reasons I mentioned above. They don’t think their story is the worst, so they are ashamed to even say anything happened. They have been socialized to understand this is what it means to be a woman.

Growing up, I understood that a girl losing her virginity happened under this circumstance: the boy begs and begs and begs and begs until the girl finally says okay. The boy will hurt you. The boy will not understand that you are capable of feeling pleasure. If he does understand, he will not care. The boy will tell his friends. You will be called a slut. He will be called a hero. You are expected to do it again and again.

This is how it happened with most of my friends. This is the story I was told. This is the narrative I was expected to live, too. I was supposed to be okay with this, the way some of the women I’ve loved were supposed to be okay with this. And they were. They were so okay with this, that most don’t even tell this story any more. They are so used to how all of this happens, it doesn’t even seem like something worth mentioning. Because. It’s happened to all of us.

Endure this. This is what it means to be a woman.

This abuse is so embedded in our culture that unless I’ve been penetrated by a man, I’m not even considered a woman. Or, not a real woman. I’m something less, unless a man has touched me.  I know this because friends used to get confused about my virginity. “…but you’ve never had sex with a guy….”

Here’s another number:

1/4 of the women I’ve known and loved have had an abortion. The reasons are variable. One was 15 and it was her boyfriend. One was 17 and in a relationship with some fucking asshole. One was something around 20 and stuck in an abusive relationship. They all knew they were lesbians, but you know, lived in a world where they were forced to be with men. You can’t even know what that feels like. You can argue that they knew what they were doing, that they could’ve just not had sex. That they could’ve been more careful. They only knew that they were doing what they were told they should do by society. They were enduring womanhood. You can go ahead and blame the girl for a society that tells her that men’s sexuality is more important than women’s. That it is completely her fault that she begged and begged him not to. That she at least asked him to wear a condom. That he pulled it off without her knowing. That if she really loved him, she’d just do it.

1/4 of the women I’ve known and loved told me about their abortion. Which leads me to believe there are more. There are always more.

This also leads me to understand that more than 25% of women out there in the world have had one, too. My friends, if it is you, I’m proud of you for a making the choice that was best for you. No matter why you were pregnant in the first place.

Of course, not all abortions come from rape or abuse. Some come from failed birth control (which is blamed on the woman). Some come from a total lack of birth control (which is also only the woman’s fault). Some come from wanted and loved pregnancies that are not viable (the woman’s fault). Some come from life or death situations for the mother (the woman’s fault).

Most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at 8 weeks. That’s just one missed period. That’s also her fault.

After enduring womanhood and hearing countless stories from partners and friends, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine most unwanted pregnancies come from a trauma associated with how the woman became pregnant. No person should be forced to carry the fetus of a rapist.

Consider this: trans men can also be pregnant. They can also be raped. And I apologize for not tackling this immense topic right now.

Consider this: I have been told by men what my body should and shouldn’t look like my whole life. I’ve been told by men how I’m supposed to have sex. I’ve been told by men that I am not officially a woman without having sex with them. I’ve been exploited by men who see my sexuality as an extension of their fantasies. Women are shamed into sex. They are shamed into complying. They are shamed into pregnancy. They are shamed for, finally, making a decision about their own bodies.

Everyone listen closely: you know someone who has been raped. You know someone who has had an abortion.

We need to start using the “r” word. We need to start talking about abortion, too. About real numbers. About how it’s saved more lives than it’s destroyed.

You need to understand that when a woman shares with you the intimate details of her body, she has thought long and hard about what she’s saying. She has broken through the social barrier we’ve put in place to keep her silent. She has weighed the consequences and decided that she’s willing to fight the onslaught of judgement about her “choices.”

You need to listen.

You need to listen and believe what has happened.

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Pride and Prejudice

It’s pride month. So, let me remind you that I’m a homosexual. I’ve been aware of myself and out for 21 years. In that time, society has changed drastically, but not enough.

Maybe it’s because of my age or the people I hang out with, but it’s very rare that someone asks me “when did you know you were gay?” or “who’s the man?”  It’s such a relief.

This is the time I dreamed of when I was 17 and sitting in that therapist’s office and he was trying to tell me that being gay was going to be so hard and weird and maybe I should reconsider. As he would go on about all of the challenges of being gay, I would try to imagine the day when I just lived without anyone caring if I was. Today is that day.

I’m so grateful to feel so much safer than I did 21 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is safe, though, or that things are just fine.

My fitbit app updated the other day to include “female health.” It’s a nifty period/ovulation tracker. I pushed the button to allow it to ask me a series of questions. They included what type of birth control I use. I clicked none. And felt judged. Now that that portion of the app is set up, I can go in and track things in my life like: sex, unprotected sex, and the morning after pill. Obviously, these things don’t apply to me.

And I really hate that my fitbit thinks I have sex with men. My fitbit has made an assumption about me based on the fact that I clicked “female” at some point in time. At least I’m a cisgender female. Think of those others who have clicked the same and then been faced with a menstruation app that doesn’t apply to them. I’m sure all of this seems like the stuff that makes your conservative uncle want to say something like, “all of these gotdamn people wanting everything to be sooooo POLITICALLY CORRECT.” But, if the people making the fitbit app update were a little more diverse, I bet this wouldn’t happen. Someone in that room would’ve said, like, wait not all women have sex with men or have a period. And they would’ve designed a separate button that says, like, “click here if you have sex with women.” I would’ve felt so included. I would’ve happily clicked the shit out of that button. I wouldn’t known that someone out there was looking out for me. Instead, I feel a little sad. Instead, I have to stare at those options of clicking protected or unprotected sex.

Speaking of sex.

I’ve had this skin problem on my right hand for years. In the past, it went away and came back. I would have a few months with no outbreak. But now, it’s been here since October. It’s eczema, I think. These tiny bubbles form under my skin that leak fluid. My hand itches like a sonuvabich. More specifically, my thumb, middle, and pinky finger and no where else. It never goes away. Something as simple as water can make it flare up. It’s the fucking worst.

But here is what is worse than the worst: this is, essentially, my penis.

I’ve been to the dermatologist and allergist. I’ve had patches stuck to my back. I’ve been prescribed some insanely expensive steroid cream (which only makes my skin crack and bleed). I’m not telling you all of this for a diagnosis. I’m telling you this because, as I mentioned before, things are better for queers, but not the best.

I had to suck up my feelings and tell the dermatologist that my partner is a woman. That my right hand is vital to my sex life. She smiled, but didn’t seem to care.

The allergist, when I told her, at least showed sympathy and said, “oh, my, this must really be affecting your quality of life.” I said it was. And I felt heard. Or nearly understood.

But yet. Here I am, still suffering with this stuff. Now, before you all start messaging me with other ways to be sexually active without my right hand, believe me, I know them. I’ve been having sex with women for 20 years.

Consider this: maybe a male friend you know has confided in his doctor (and you) that his penis has tiny, itchy bubbles, that it is constantly burning and flaring, that the skin cracks and bleeds. Would you offer him other ways to have sex or would you want to help him find a solution? Don’t you think the doctor would do everything in their power to help this poor guy?

So, why am I sharing with you these intimate details of my life? Easy. I want you to know that homophobia, or even lack of awareness of homosexuals, affects my life in a lot of strange ways. Several times a week, maybe even every day, I’m reminded by others that I’m not the status quo, that I’m not still fully included. And I’m white and cisgender. Just imagine how trans people feel. How people of color feel. How immigrants feel. How differently-abled people feel. How someone who is all of those must feel.

This is why inclusion and diversity are so important.

Your conservative uncle might also get annoyed with all the pride talk this month and all the rainbow flags. He might ask, “who cares if they’re gay? Why do they have to run around waving flags?”

Because. Every other day of the year is straight, white man day. And though there is no specific flag for that (though some might argue stars and bars), I see it everywhere, all the time. And I’m reminded, even when I look at my phone or visit my doctor, that I am still an outsider.

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This is the Day

There is finally an answer to the ultimate question we’ve all asked for years: today.

Today is the day Cyrus’s button, that fucking port in his stomach where the feeding tube has been hooked up thousands of times, is coming out. Fuck. I’ll even do some math. The tube was inserted about 6 times a day for nearly 8 years…2,735 times is a conservative estimate. For more than two years, the first two of his life, he had to be hooked up to a pump for a better part of the day. Then came the bolus feeds. Then came those times when he’d be out of the house for more than a couple of hours and someone would’ve forgotten the tube. There would be a trip back to the house to retrieve it.

His life revolved around that goddamn tube. If the button broke, which it did many times, he couldn’t eat until it was reinserted, either at home or at a hospital. There were times it fell out and the hole closed and had to be re stretched. There were times when the tube that connected to the button would break. There were so many fucking times that he’d cough in the middle of a feeding and milky liquid would fly everywhere. My house smelled like the sweet rottenness of dairy, soaked into the carpets, the couches, the beds, the sheets, his clothes. There were times when I forgot to feed him.

It was hard to find a babysitter; the tube is a scary thing. He had to go to a particular preschool because they were willing to tube him while others didn’t have the insurance coverage for it. My dad has never tubed him. Very few of you have ever done it. He had to have a doctor’s note in order for the nurse at his school to give him water. Tap water. A doctor’s note. He needed a doctor’s note when he required more tube food in the day. In order for the school to feed him, a doctor had to say so. A doctor has controlled most of his food intake: how much, when, what, how. Until Gaby came, made a nutritious, real smoothie. Of course, I had the instinct to ask the doctor, anyone in a white coat, if it was okay. I had to ask if it was okay to feed my kid. I had to relearn that part of myself.

As I wrote a bit earlier, he has gone without a full day’s feeding since October 1st. It was that time that he was given a tube, secretly, while he was sleeping. When his button broke on November 27th, that seemed a sign that it was time. He hasn’t used the button since.

His eighth birthday is in 15 days. He got the tube in July of 2010. That’s a lot of years for everyone to have to deal with that thing.

He is really excited.

It feels impossible to tell you how ecstatic I am about this. Today is the shedding of the last layer of weighted sadness I still wear from the NICU. The final symbol of all that pain, all of those muddy days of mere existence.

Since he was born, people have said eventually he’d outgrow all of his preemie problems. I was naive to think that they meant “soon.” I suppose in the span of his life, 8 years isn’t a long time to deal with all that’s been thrown at him. For me, though, that’s been the first 8 years of my parenting experience. Doctors, therapists, surgeries. That’s all I’ve known. That’s all he’s known. That’s all you’ve known of him, too.

That’s not even 1/100th of who he his.

If you see me this week and I’m staring into space, I promise I am not sad. If you see me crying, I’m not sad. If you see me drinking too much, I am not sad. I’m light and airy. I am made of sunshine.

The grass is turning green. The buds are forming. The birds are singing. Cyrus’s long winter is over.

The long days of sunshine that pull life from under the dark soil are finally here.

 

 

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