Vaginal Discourse

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a glut of opportunities to consider the ways in which society privileges cis bodies. More specifically, I’ve been reflected on how society privileges cis people’s medical needs.

A few years back, I was at the radiology department of a local hospital, because it was the third Sunday of the month and I played roller derby. (Seriously. Let’s hear it for the rad techs.) Anyhow, I’m about to get my chest or head or whatever x-rayed or scanned to make sure that everything is of the appropriate size and relative location, and I’m talking to the tech.

According to my driver’s license and my chart, I’m a woman, so I have to answer the usual questions, because if I’m pregnant and playing roller derby, it would be totally inappropriate to expose the fetus (or fetuses!) to radiation.

Now, there’s two basic ways a provider can approach that question. The first is pretty straightforward:

“Is there any chance that you might be pregnant”

Women (and trans* men) tend, in my estimation to have a pretty good handle on this one. Do I have a uterus and ovaries that are still functioning as if I’m potentially fertile? Has anyone been putting semen down there? What do I use for birth control? When was my last period. Etcetera. Remember, the question isn’t are you pregnant, it’s is there any chance that you might be pregnant.

In my mind, this is generally the most straight-forward approach (although that’s not really the point of this story). Usually I answer that one with something between a laugh and a firm no.

On this particularly night, when this particular body part or parts was behaving suspiciously, the tech took the other approach:

“When was the last time you had your period?”

I suspect the people that came up with this approach have a narrow set of expectations ranging from “four weeks ago” to “oh, has it been six weeks?” to “I’M BLEEDING OUT OF MY SNATCH RIGHT NOW!” (I’ve always wanted to be able to say that to someone in a hospital.) Anyways, there are those of us who have slightly different answers to that question– answers like “last year”, or “back when Duran Duran was a thing.”

One of my close friends who I regularly talked to when I had just came out once told me a story about this one time she was in the hospital. (Trans* ladies. Always in the hospital.) For obvious reasons, she liked to keep a pretty low profile about the whole FREAKY LADY WHO NEVER MENSTRATED! thing. So, when posed with the latter question, she answered two weeks. Anyhow, between the various tests they were administering to her and the miscellaneous Percocet-induced answers she was giving to various queries, “two weeks” turned out to be THE WRONG ANSWER.

Long story short, various VERY SERIOUS medical professionals were going to have to take VERY IMMEDIATE action to keep her vagina from exploding or whatever. She ended up having to come out to the doctors on the spot, which sucks because the only thing worse than coming out as trans* to strangers who have a buttload of power over you is coming out as trans* to the strangers who have a buttload of power over you that you’ve been lying to all this time.

My friend came up with a pretty kick-ass solution. From then on out, when asked about her body’s menstrual habits, she told folks that she was born without a uterus. Of course, she lived in a polite neighborhood and didn’t play roller derby, so this wasn’t a regular occurrence.

So I’m standing next to the nurses’ station in this ER, various body parts in various places, and the tech asks me to tell her the last time I’ve menstrated. As on a few previous occasions, I respond that I was born without a uterus.

Unlike on previous occasions, this particular tech’s eyes swelled as she involuntarily blurted out “OH MY GOSH I’M SO SORRY TO HEAR THAT!”

I know, right?

I doubt I would have gotten that kind of response (complete unprofessional as it was) had the tech realized I was trans*.

It’s not that I particularly want random strangers constantly feeling sorry for my abdomen. Still, that involuntary response betrayed an understanding that being a woman and being born without a uterus might, for some people, under some circumstances, be A THING.

Outside of a handful of close friends, allies, and fellow trans* people, I very, very rarely receive that level of visceral empathy.

If cis people regularly had to deal with having trans* bodies, you had better fucking believe that they would get that shit taken care of right the fuck away. Yet, because society views my gender and my gendered bodied as delusional and fake, my getting appropriate medical care is nigh impossible.

Nobody, and I mean nobody with anything resembling a position of power wants to take a stand in favor of giving trans* people appropriate health care. Even the normally wonkcrushworthy (it’s a word now) Elizabeth Warren recently said that providing a trans* woman with necessary medical care was “not a good use” of government money.

There’s no excuse for us not having universal health care in the United States. But even in much of the rest of the world, trans people don’t have access to appropriate health care, even when they’re able to pay for it themselves.

I regularly deal with health professionals who have various suggestions on how to improve my outlook. They usually give decent advice, but they tend to give the kind of advice that well-intentioned, privileged cis people like to give trans* people– good advice considering that it’s premised on a universe that I can’t imagine.

  • http://valprehension.wordpress.com/ Kasey Weird

    Ugh, I hadn’t even thought of it, but thank you for giving me one more reason to hate the use of the “when did you have your last period?” question. I think I’m currently up to:

    1) The use of this question is pretty clearly based in the assumption that the person you’re talking to will not know how to answer the “is there any chance you may be pregnant?” question ‘correctly’. It’s not like we know things about our own bodies and lives or anything.

    2) Um, given the variations in cycle lengths among the general population (or even for any individual person who menstruates irregularly), this question is the most useless thing ever unless your someone’s primary health care provider and know their history and what’s normal for them! For instance, my answer has been known to be something like, “um, I don’t know, whenever I got my last refill of BC? …Maybe two and half months ago?” which doesn’t tell anyone anything.

    3) Not all women have periods, and it may not be something they wish to discuss with you when they’ve come to you for a broken arm/concussion or anything else not actually related to whether or not they’re having periods.

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