All this mansplaining talk lately made me think of something I wrote at the very end of 2015. Men, I love you. I do. I love so many things about you, which is another story for another post, but my point is that I am not anti-man. I've just hit a point in my life where feeling upset about feeling marginalized or being spoken down to isn't enough for me. Recognition and discussion have the potential for impact that marinating in hurt feelings never will. And if you think my words are whining, superfluous garbage, so be it. I no longer wear your muzzle.
I was walking through the grocery store earlier, picking up a few things to do some meal prep for the week, when I had a couple of self-discovery moments. First, when Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot" shuffles through the ear buds, it's really hard not to dance. Really hard. When the pigs try to get at me...
The other moment caused me to pause in my tracks. I saw one of the Hims. You know, a Him--one of those dudes that did something to you or said something to you and it put a placeholder in your life. Good or bad, there's a memory there. This one was particularly humiliating as his placeholder was in his office and he decided to give me a lecture about pre-marital sex while he held my birth control prescription hostage. I was a grown woman, I'd graduated from college, and that lecture was the last thing I expected. Looking back at my life at that point, with all the booze and drugs I was ingesting, if a doctor were going to make a moral judgment on this patient, the judgment should have been, "Praise be, she's using contraceptives!"
But I let him blather on and threw another brick on the "Things that are Wrong with Me" pile.
That whole scene played out in my head while I was standing there watching him, just walking through the store, probably to buy dinner for his wife and legitimate children and grandchildren. Although I never went back to that particular doctor, I hadn't realized the degree to which I had internalized that shame I felt that afternoon. His name, his nurse's name, which exam room we were in--I remembered it all from the freezer section.
At that point, I really just wanted to get out of the store and go home, but of course he was in the checkout line next to me so I turned up the ear buds.
And then I remembered a worse experience at a doctor.
We place a lot of faith in medical doctors. We expect them to have answers and knowledge. We expect them to be able to fix us in our acute situations. After all, they go to school for many years, internships, residencies, and on and on and on. Actually surviving the training shows a lot of gumption, whether or not someone will actually be any good at practicing medicine is an entirely different conversation.
I'd been in a long-term relationship with someone who I knew fucked around on me, but the extent to which it happened didn't become clear until after the relationship ended. I was embarrassed and ashamed. But most of all I was terrified. I wanted to get into my doctor immediately and get a full battery of tests done.
VIckie was correct, the rite of passage for our generation was the HIV test.
I wasn't able to get into my regular doctor, so I ended up calling around for the first available appointment who accepted my insurance. When I arrived at the clinic, I was still pretty keyed up. I'd managed to stay sober, so I was pretty happy about that. But my terrified had switched to pissed off. That's the bitch about trusting someone. I had only slept with the person I was in the relationship with for the past five years, yet there I was in that fucking waiting room, feeling stupid and used. Throw another brick on the pile...
When the doctor asked why I was in today, I explained that I wanted to have STD testing done, including an HIV test. I know I was pissed off and panicky, but I really just expected him to be professional. I knew the insurance wouldn't cover everything, but I didn't know how to put a price on peace of mind. So I asked that he just do the exam and get the samples so I could go about my day. And wait.
So he did just that.
But then he felt the need to be funny.
"Maybe you should start boiling your dates," he said.
A medical professional actually said that. I don't know if he was trying to break tension, being a judgmental dick, or implying I was a prostitute, but the right thing to say would have been something about when the labs would be back. He didn't know that the woman sitting on his exam table was a rape survivor who managed to get sober and thought she found someone with whom she was going to spend the rest of her life until it blew up in her face. He didn't know that, but I will not make excuses for his ignorance. He should have kept his fucking mouth shut. Me today, I would have verbally eviscerated him and filed a complaint with the medical board. Me then was so sad and tired that I didn't say anything at all.
My mouth gets me in trouble from time to time. I talk about things or use words that make other people uncomfortable, but I guess I feel like I have to now. I have to speak my truth and use my voice now because of all the times I didn't have the strength to in the past. When I think about it, I am always reminded of one of my favorite poems by the incredible Audre Lorde:
A Litany for Survival
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
- Audre Lorde