Monday, July 25, 2011

Learning my Lesson the Hard Way

[TW for STIs, slut-shaming, internalized societal shaming, emotional disturbance]

One of the things that I have fought so hard to end is the stigma surrounding STIs. It seems to be a commonly held idea that anyone who gets an STI somehow deserves it, that they're getting their comeuppance for daring to open their legs, that they're "obviously sluts" and that they're disgustingly gross people. (It's important to note that most of the people who are given this stigma are women.) It also seems to be a commonly held idea that it will never happen to you, that it's just one of those things that happens to someone else (usually those who "deserve it"). None of these things are true. How do I know this?

I was told by my gynecologist last Friday that I tested positive for chlamydia.

I never in a million years thought that  this would ever happen to me. I was always very careful, but for some reason, even though I knew it wasn't true, somewhere in the back of my mind I believed that if you were strictly monogamous that it was nigh impossible for you to contract an STI. I somehow forgot that previous partners of your current partner might have had (or still have) something that they passed on to your partner, who could in turn pass it on to you. Chlamydia is one of the sneakier STIs because most people who get it are asymptomatic, so aside from getting tested at the very beginning of our relationship, there was no way for us to know. Our mistake came in the form of us not getting tested; even if you are monogamous and you think that you're both clean, the only way you can know for sure is if you both get tested.

When my gynecologist gave me the news, despite everything I had learned, despite my vehemence in abolishing the stigma surrounding STIs and the people who contract them, I felt like I was the most disgusting person on the planet and that I was contaminating everything and everyone that I touched.  I cried for the rest of the afternoon of my diagnosis and it took quite a few days for that feeling to go away, although I admit that it's still creeping at the back of my mind. It's just so mind boggling to me just how effective societal programming is; it sneaks up on you without you ever realizing it and then once something like this happens to you, even though you've worked for a long, long time to prevent this from happening to other people, you realize just how little you've actually accomplished with yourself.

Despite the fact that I was emotionally distraught, I knew that I had to take charge of my health and immediately took the appropriate measures to do so, both for myself and my boyfriend, who also had to be treated as soon as possible. Thanks to the fact that I'm lucky enough to have insurance, I was able to get the antibiotics the same day. However, my boyfriend is uninsured and so he wasn't able to do the same. We also wanted to get tested for every other STI just to be safe, so I was going to bring him to Planned Parenthood with me this morning, but he works from 8 am-3:30 pm in Manhattan (we live in Staten Island), and Planned Parenthood is only on Staten Island on Mondays from 9 am-4 pm, so there was no way it was going to happen.

We spent all of last Friday, the entire weekend and all of this morning calling every place we could think of who might have been able to help us. We tried to get appointments at the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn or Manhattan, but they had no appointments until August 10th, and obviously he couldn't wait that long, so we tried to get an appointment at the medical clinic attached to the hospital my mother works at. They refused to help him because he was over 21, so they referred him to another clinic on Staten Island, but they warned him when they referred him that that particular clinic never picks up their phone. True to form, they didn't pick up their phone, so we tried to call the Department of Health, and they didn't pick up either. By the time I reached the mobile unit, I was in near tears from frustration and near panic.

After I was taken in, I was given my HIV test and then the woman who tested me asked me some questions. I told her about what had happened with our diagnoses, the fact that my boyfriend is uninsured and the trouble we were having in finding a doctor who'd be willing to help us, and without batting an eyelash or saying a word, she opened a cabinet and handed me a bottle of azithromycin. I stared at the bottle agape and asked her if she could do that, and she replied that, by law, she would have had to give me the antibiotics anyway, and she told me to take them home to my boyfriend so that he could be treated. I literally burst into tears because I was just SO relieved. If we couldn't find a doctor who would help us, he would have been stuck with the infection until at least August 10th, and I was so worried that that was exactly what was going to happen.

Anyone who argues that Planned Parenthood is an "unnecessary" or "evil" organization obviously did not have the experience that I had. Whether they're your first choice for medical care or if you literally have nowhere else to turn, Planned Parenthood will always step up to the plate. The bottom line is, Planned Parenthood helped us when no one else would, and they literally saved our lives.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Birth Control Saved My Academic Career, My Relationships and My Health

[TW for menstrual issues and abortion]

When I first got my period at the age of 12, I was super excited. I was one of the last of my friends to get it and I felt like I was finally a "real woman." (I would, of course, learn later on that one's biological processes do not a "real woman" make, but that's another post for another time!) That excitement soon turned to fear, pain and frustration as month after month, year after year, I dealt with cramps that felt like a vise grip around my abdomen and an extremely heavy flow that lasted for a good five days, with my entire flow lasting about ten days total that eventually culminated in moderate anemia. I finally started taking birth control pills when I was 18 years old in order to control the cramps and the flow, and because of those pills, I was able to get my anemia under control. I truly feel that those pills saved my health, if not my life.

I was also able to get through college without getting pregnant. Yes, that's right folks, not only was I using birth control for medical reasons, but this feminist was also using birth control for exactly what it's supposed to do: prevent pregnancy. I began a relationship with someone not too long after I had started taking the pills, right at the very beginning of college, and it's thanks to those pills that I was able to graduate Magna Cum Laude with a 3.8 GPA and multiple honors in the four years it was supposed to take me to graduate. Thanks to those pills, I was able to focus on my education instead of on whether or not I was pregnant. Thanks to those pills, I didn't have to, and won't have to, miss classes and/or work once a month due to unbearable, blindingly painful cramps, and I will be able to maintain a healthy, stress-free sexual relationship with my current boyfriend and attend graduate school without having to worry about having an abortion or raising a child at the same time. Thanks to those pills, if I ultimately decide never to have children, I won't have to have them anyway.

I'm privileged enough to be able to pay only ten dollars per packet of pills every month, thanks to my insurance, but even that ten dollars adds up. If the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) includes prescription birth control as a preventative health care service that will be covered in full, i.e. without a co-pay or any other out of pocket costs, that's already $120 extra in my pocket every year. If I had had free birth control during college, I would have saved $480 over those four years. For women who are unemployed or underemployed, free birth control can make the difference between forgoing eating in order to afford their pills, thereby preventing an unwanted pregnancy which would put further financial strain on them in one way or another, and being able to eat properly all month. By preventing pregnancy, these women won't have to worry about starving themselves in order to afford the abortion or the costs of raising the resulting child along with any other children they may already have. And with abortion becoming less and less readily available to women, it's imperative to make preventing pregnancy easier and more affordable. As a matter of fact, by making the prevention of pregnancy more affordable for women, it will reduce the need for abortion, as well as make it easier for women with menstrual-related problems to obtain relief. Women do not need to suffer every month just on the basis of being women, and every woman should have the right to prevent pregnancy for as long as she desires.

This is exactly why the HHS needs to include prescription birth control as a preventative health care service that should be covered in its entirety by health insurance plans. If Viagra, the pill that helps provide the erections that help produce children, can be fully covered by health insurance, then prescription birth control, which prevents unwanted pregnancies, helps relieve all sorts of menstrual-related illnesses, shrinks ovarian cysts, etc., should be covered as well. Prescription birth control is one of the most ultimate preventative health care services for women, regardless of whether or not that reason is reproductively or medically related. HHS needs to do right by women and fully cover birth control.

This post is part of the National Women's Law Center and Planned Parenthood's Birth Control Blog Carnival. You can read the rest of the amazing posts at the link!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"It's that time of the month, isn't it?"

[TW for misogyny and gender essentialism]

Have you ever been angry? I know I have. I'm angry every single day of my life. But there's a huge difference in the way in which my anger, the anger of a woman, is valued as compared to the anger of a man. I think it's safe to say that just about every single woman on the planet who has ever been angry has had to deal with comments from men about it "just being that time of the month." As a matter of fact, whenever I find myself ranting about women's issues, or anything else really, in front of my brother and/or my father, they will often tell me to stop PMSing so much instead of engaging my anger and addressing why I might be upset. Or perhaps it's not "that time of the month," and you're just being an inflammatory bitch. Because, I mean, it's not that you have a legitimate reason to be upset: you just feel like stirring the pot because vagina.

What makes the whole PMS excuse so horrifically offensive is the fact that it uses women's bodies and involuntary biological processes as a diversionary tactic to distract men from the fact that maybe, just maybe, the angry woman in front of them has a legitimate reason to be angry. This excuse is, without a doubt, a silencing tactic. In other words, rather than addressing the issues that are causing women to be so angry, rather than accepting women's anger at face value and addressing it as a completely legitimate response to a completely legitimate issue, men are choosing to attribute that anger to an entirely irrelevant source in order to undermine and invalidate that anger. They think that by telling us that we're not actually angry, that it's just our poor laydeebrains and vaginas fucking everything up for us, we'll just stop being angry, or that we'll at least stop vocalizing that anger. What that would do is make it easier for men to continue to marginalize us and continue to invalidate our perfectly legitimate emotional responses to issues that concern us. The reason that men use this excuse so often is because it's easier to invalidate a woman's anger than it is to actually engage it, which would force them to examine their male privilege and the role that it plays in the oppression of women, something that most men are not willing to do.

For those of you who are going "Hey! Women pull this shit, too!" I want you to think back as hard as you can and try to remember the last time you heard a woman tell another woman, "Wow, you must be PMSing" when she was angry.

I'll wait.

Some men try to use this as a "joke" around women and think that they're being funny, that they're commiserating with us women, but they're really not. Is it any funnier coming from a woman? No, it isn't. It's not funny coming from anyone, but at least coming from a woman, I would know that she was being sarcastic and referencing the crap we women face every single day, things that men will never have to deal with. Men's anger is always taken at face value and never questioned, mainly because men are expected to be angry. One of the main traits of traditional masculinity is "rationality," so whenever a man gets angry, it is assumed that he has a perfectly legitimate reason to be angry because of that inherent rationality. Men can get angry at just about anything and they will never have to worry about being told, "Wow, your testosterone levels must be through the roof today!" Their anger will always be engaged in the appropriate manner to the situation, and they will never have to worry about someone thinking that they're just being a raving bitch. That is what male privilege is all about. In the meantime, women's anger is almost always attributed to them having their period or simply being angry cunts.

Let me just cue you in on something: no matter what stage of her menstrual cycle she is in, a woman's anger is ALWAYS LEGITIMATE. If she is menstruating, if she's just about to menstruate, if she's nowhere close to menstruating, her anger is always valid. That in and of itself is a perfectly acceptable reason for women to be pissed off about this "joke" whenever it is told. For ME to be pissed off.

But maybe I just have my period or something.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The "Who Deserves AIDS" Epidemic

[TW for homophobia, AIDS-related death, slut-shaming, etc.]

In the last week or so, I have encountered a phenomenon that is not entirely new, but is still entirely reprehensible. I've named it the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic as a nod to the AIDS epidemic (although according to my research, it is now officially classed as a pandemic) that has swept the world. For those of you who are unaware of the story, AIDS was first officially reported in mid-1981, and it was given the name GRID (Gay-related immune deficiency) and 4H (standing for Haitian, homosexual, heroin and hemophiliacs, the four groups "most likely" to get the disease) before being properly named. Misinformation and stigmatization abounded; it was believed that you could get AIDS from holding hands, sharing a drink, kissing, even simply breathing around someone with the disease. For a very long time, research into the spread and prevention of the disease lagged, if it was even being done at all, because people believed that the disease only affected certain groups of people, people that they didn't care enough about to help. It was only when people realized that it wasn't a "gay disease" that they started paying more attention.

My first encounter with the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic occurred when I was still in middle school, long before I became a feminist and an LGBTQ activist. We were discussing the AIDS epidemic and one girl in my class proclaimed that (I'm paraphrasing due to the fact that I don't remember what she said word for word) AIDS was God's way of saying that homosexuality is wrong and that LGBTQ people deserved to get it. I was absolutely aghast. I don't remember what the reactions of the class and the teacher were towards this statement, but I remember them being mostly negative, thankfully.

Another experience I had with the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic involved Facebook (shock and awe!). I had watched a Biography special about Queen a few nights ago, and being the HUGE fan that I am, I was feeling a bit depressed about Freddie Mercury's untimely and incredibly unfortunate early death. I posted an innocuous status about the whole thing, ending with a melodramatic, half-joking "WHY FREDDIE WHY?!" The response came in the form of a Facebook friend's comment: "Because he liked to have sex?" And therein was my enlightenment! Mercury hadn't died because he had been exposed to a debilitating disease; it was because he just HAD to open his fucking legs! This poor person was not aware of the fact that having a lot of sex (even with multiple partners) does not mean you will automatically contract a deadly illness. It also does not mean that you deserve said illness. My friend and I attempted to educate this deluded soul, but alas, as with most instances of this type, it was to no avail.

The most recent experience I had with the "Who Deserves AIDS" epidemic was on Investigation Discovery, a cable channel that broadcasts crime shows. I was watching a show, "20/20 on ID," about a man named Philippe Padieu, a man who had seduced and knowingly infected his sexual partners with HIV. Padieu's defense attorney argued that Philippe was under "no obligation to disclose his HIV positive status" to his sexual partners, and to that I cry "BULLSHIT!" If you're intimate enough with someone to have consensual sex with them, especially unprotected, then you're intimate enough with them to disclose your status. The defense lawyer went on to blame the women he had had sex with (anyone surprised?), saying that it was their responsibility to protect themselves (it wasn't Philippe's responsibility to prevent himself from giving them HIV?!), and that it takes two to tango, resulting in the implication that these women got what they deserved by contracting the virus. I think that one of the women said it best when she said, "Yes, it takes two to tango, but it only takes one to pull the trigger, and that's exactly what Philippe did."

It is important for this part of the post to note that all of his sexual partners were white, middle to upper-middle class, presumably straight women, and at one point in the show, they were sitting in a group and talking to the host (also a white woman) in an interview. When asked why they allowed Philippe to have sex with them without a condom, the women replied that they had not received the education that is available to people today and so they were unaware that they were at risk. This is the same logic that I had used when arguing Freddie Mercury's case. However, they then went on to say that the reason that they didn't feel they were at risk was because they weren't intravenous drug users or prostitutes and those things just didn't happen to women like them. The host said, and I quote, "You weren't women about town!" And the women replied, "No, we were not," the implication of course being that if they were prostitutes, they should have expected to contract HIV and would have somehow deserved the diagnosis that they received. It really saddened me to see these women so readily putting down other victims of the disease, arguing their case under the presumption that there are actually people out there who deserve to get AIDS, while suffering from the disease themselves.

The argument that someone's sexual appetite and/or behaviors, sexual orientation, occupation, etc. is to blame for their deaths is asinine at best and incredibly hateful at worst. My friend said it best when she said that "Blaming someone's sexual appetite for their [AIDS-related] death is like blaming someone who enjoys long walks for getting hit by a car." It isn't someone's sexual appetite and/or behaviors that kills them; it's the AIDS virus that does that. The only thing that kills people with AIDS is AIDS and the related diseases that come along with it. Attributing one's death to their sexual behavior is tantamount to slut-shaming and arguing that they deserved to die because of it. The bottom line is this: nobody deserves to get AIDS. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you have a voracious sexual appetite. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you've had one partner. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you've had more than one partner. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you've had a THOUSAND partners. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you're a prostitute. You don't deserve to get AIDS if you use intravenous drugs. You don't deserve to get AIDS for ANY REASON.

The last thing that people with AIDS need is other people living outside of the reality of the disease judging and condemning them for the horrible prognosis that's facing them.