Gender and Health: Thoughts on how Preconceived Gender Bias can Be Physically Harmful

Friends! Hello! It’s been ages since I’ve written anything. Work has been crazy, but now it’s summer, and I can finally breathe. I want to start by acknowledging the fact that not only is my title really long, it only barely begins to scratch the surface of this issue. My thoughts below are entirely centered on this article that I have just read about trans women/transfeminine individuals experiencing period and PMS symptoms:

Yes, Trans Women Can Get Period Symptoms

Specifically, this sentiment jumped out at me:

Whether it’s in a conversation with our medical providers, friends, or even immediate family, trans people  – AMAB folks in particular –  have historically been met with violent opposition when discussing their feelings and medical needs.

We’re often told we’re exaggerating things, seeking attention or sympathy, and that our reality can’t possibly be as we describe it. Sometimes these verbal assaults turn physical.

AMAB = Assigned Male at Birth

This sentiment (other people denying the severity of menstrual pain) was not surprising to me, because I am constantly reminding the classes I see that debilitating periods are not normal. A person should be able to go about most of their daily routines while on their period. If PMS or menstrual symptoms are so painful that you can’t get out of bed or cause you to vomit because of how much pain you’re experiencing or in any other way make it so you can’t function for a day or more you should talk to your doctor. What I don’t say is that you might have to convince your doctor that you’re not exaggerating, or you might even have to switch doctors until you find someone who believes you. The downplaying of women’s pain is systemic in our health care system. This gendered bias does real physical harm to some women and non-binary AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) individuals. I think that it is this and the toxic nature of masculinity in our society combined that culminate in this experienced “violent opposition” that trans people tend to experience when “discussing their feelings and medical needs.”

I want to take a second to take a step back and explain that I am a cisgender woman, and I have a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies. In no universe do I believe that this makes me an expert on trans experience. I want to acknowledge that my thoughts on this are largely theory-based, and if anyone has any type of constructive criticism of anything you’re about to read please do not hesitate to let me know.

According to Sam Riedel, the author of the article I’m talking about,  trans people are often told that they don’t know what they’re actually feeling, exaggerating for attention, and seeking sympathy. This sounds familiar. Women are constantly told this bullshit. We are ignored and told that we’re too emotional to handle things or make good decisions, and our bodies are used against us constantly. Women with trans experience are not excluded from this. By the very fact that they are women they are susceptible to this damaging and inflammatory rhetoric. Pages and pages of books and articles have been written about this treatment of women, and so I’m not going to dive any deeper than that. What I do what to think about is what Riedel says about AMAB trans experience specifically.

Riedel says that AMAB trans folks specifically “have historically been met with violent opposition when discussing their feelings and medical needs.” I think that we can probably find the root of this in the toxic masculinity that we force on (more than) half of our population. This, either overtly due to transphobia or inadvertently due to internalized bias and genuine misunderstanding of trans-ness, gets projected onto AMAB individuals regardless of their gender identity.

Boys aren’t supposed to cry. Men don’t really feel pain. Man-up. Men don’t talk about (or have) feelings. Men don’t need doctors – just walk it off. All of these ridiculous things are said all the time. This rhetoric is so ingrained into our subconscious that it even affects the way we care for children. Immediately comforting a girl toddler when she falls and hurts herself but waiting to see if the boy toddler cries or is bleeding before he receives comfort. People who are assigned male at birth and/or perceived to be male or masculine constantly experience pressure to be strong and stoic. Men and boys who don’t meet these expectations are often ridiculed or even punished for failing to fit into the mold. Violence is an inherent part of masculinity expectations, so it’s not a big leap to assume that a person ignoring and subverting these expectations because of their gender identity would experience a heightened risk for violence for talking about their feelings or their medical reality.

Trans women are experiencing bias on two fronts. They are discriminated against for being the women they are and they are punished for refusing to follow the rules of the label they were given when they were infants. This culminates in trans people not receiving the medical care they need, which is a systemic problem in all areas of health and not just menstrual. This dearth of care is putting people in the hospital and is forcing others to experience sometimes debilitating pain silently.

I wish I had a concrete solution to this. How do we make medical providers confront their bias? How do we train clinic and hospital staff on the specifics of trans health when we face budget cuts and a deprioritization of informed healthcare? I spend my time going into middle and high school classes talking about issues related to this, but even now I’m occasionally met with push-back and defiance of scientifically proven fact. My job is often vilified and has begun to lose funding. We live in a scary and uncertain time.

As always, please let me know your thoughts.

~Tristin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day Without Women

If a day came where all women somehow temporarily disappeared the world would come to an abrupt and messy full stop. I truly believe this. This Wednesday, March 8, 2017, is International Women’s Day, and the Day Without a Woman strike is planned. Women are encouraged to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid spending money unless it is in/at a women-owned business, and to wear red to shoe solidarity. I really appreciate that the organizers acknowledged that not all women will be able to take the day off, and they have come up with ways that women can be supportive even if they can’t take the day off.

I have given this strike a lot of thought over the last weeks since they announced the plan. I am very conflicted as to whether or not I should take the day off, but I have reached a decision. I will not be taking the day off. I support the strike and all of the women who are able to honor it. I know that it will be a sacrifice for many, and direct actions such as this are so important. The world noticed the Women’s March, and it made a difference. I think that this strike will be similar. However, I work in somewhat unique circumstances.

As a Health Educator I believe that the work I am allowed to participate in is an integral part of the resistance. I know that I am biased in this, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it any less. I work in an organization with around 30 employees. Three of them are men. We also have one male volunteer. There is no doubt in my mind that each one of them is very much aware and sympathetic towards the fact that women are very important in the work we do. The majority of us work directly with clients under the age of 25, most under the age of 19. If we all took the day off a large group of a variety of vulnerable populations would feel the loss. But they already feel so much of the inequality and bias and neglect that the rest of the country exhibits on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, they are strong and they are resilient. We work with extraordinary young people, and I am constantly learning from and awed by them.

And this is exactly why I’m going to work on Wednesday. After our staff meeting, which is as much self-care and support as it is anything else, I’m going to meet with a regular group of 6th grade girls to make art. We’re making boards that represent all of the best things they see in themselves. And it was a struggle for some of them to actually think of positive aspects of themselves. We work on self esteem and confidence and positive thinking. We practice self affirmation and supportive-community building. Many of them don’t have support systems outside of school, and they get to come to group and laugh and have fun and remember that they are loved and that they are important. And I’m going to be there with them.

For all of the women participating in the strike, I support you. For all the women who are unable to strike, I support you. For all the women who haven’t heard about it because they don’t have the privilege or time that I do, I support you. I’m going to be at group just like I am every Wednesday supporting the amazing young women that I have the privilege to work with. Because that’s what this is about for me. Women building women up and making them see just how amazing they are in a world that tries to tell them that they are deficient in so many ways.

We will demand that our voices are heard. We will show the nation that women are invaluable in our efforts to exist in the world and to maybe even make it a better place. We will resist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today We Marched

womens-march-flag

Today I went to the Women’s March in Des Moines, and it was awesome. The crowd was so passionate and enthusiastic. There was also a feeling of commonality and camaraderie unlike anything I’ve ever felt outside of a Pride Parade.

We left early this morning and headed to Des Moines in a dense fog, and the closer we got the more pink “pussy” hats we saw in the cars alongside us. Groups of two and three and five women were at the rest stop. An older woman in a pink pussy hat stopped to pose with a younger woman at the entrance to the restroom. And then we watched as she went and got in the car with her husband. They were on their way just as we were.

The excitement was palpable from the minute we stepped out of the car onto the soggy street. We followed a family with three young children up the hill to the Capital building, and I just kept thinking how they were learning so early to stand up for their rights. As we got closer to the crowd gathered listening to the opening speech I felt like I was back in grad school. I had my backpack on and was surrounded by hundreds of people who felt just like I do. There was anger on some of the signs I saw in the crowd, but there was also a lot of support and hope there too.

womens-march-hands-off

We learned chants and call and response and set off to march around the capital building. There were so many people there that I think the end of the line was just leaving as the beginning was coming back. There was an estimated 26,000 people in attendance. More than twice as many as expected.

womens-march-crowd
This was after we had made it back around to where the speeches were setting up, and we were completely surrounded by a sea of marchers. 

It has been a long and exhilarating day, and I’m not doing justice to how amazing this experience was. One of the speakers was an 88 year old woman, and there were tiny babies. All of those people were there because they agree that Predator in Chief is unfit. He and his administration of inexperienced, biased billionaires are a farce that will do a lot of harm. But we’re not going to just accept it as the status quo. We’re going to protest and demonstrate and march and talk to our legislatures. One of the biggest themes that I saw in the signs today is that we will not be silent. This march and the original D.C. march and all of the other marches around the globe sent an important message today. For the first time in months I have hope. It’s going to be rough. The damage has already started with important sections disappearing ogg of whitehouse.gov. But the attitude today was not that we were there to prove our point and then to just stop making the effort. This was just the beginning. I have a feeling that I’m going to learn a lot about about organizing and marching and protesting and direct action in the next four years.

I hope anyone reading this can find a way to participate. Even if it’s just keeping yourself informed and making phone calls to your representatives. Or showing your support online. This is a marathon and not a sprint.

I’m exhausted from the long day, and it is entirely possible that this post is a rambling mess as I’m not going to take the time to proofread it. But I’m still holding on to that feeling of hope. We can be the change. We have to be.

womens-march-selfie

 

Minimalism?

Minimalism. I recently watched a documentary about minimalism on Netflix. It’s called, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” And it made me realize that I am not a minimalist. (Also, side note: I felt like the documentary as a whole was full of privileged white men talking about how they quit their six figure jobs and sold all their expensive stuff, while completely unaware of how their economic and racial privilege actually allowed them to do this. That’s just my opinion. You should watch the documentary yourself and then come back and we can talk about it. Seriously.)

So, anyways. I’m not a minimalist. I don’t want to live in a bare apartment with one chair and only five shirts. I know this is a simplification (pun intended) of what the minimalist lifestyle actually is, and that it will mean different things to different people. That said, however, I want to use my version of minimalism to de-clutter and organize my life. But I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a minimalist. (Wow, I’ve said that word a lot in just two paragraphs.) So, I’m not going to label this new effort of mine, other than to say that the end goal is a clutter-free and organized space. And less stuff. But not no stuff. So..

I’m about to show you a picture that I’m not proud of. I’m embarrassed that I allow myself to clutter in the way that I do. It’s a character flaw that I’m working on. It’s also tied fairly directly to my depression, and how well I’m handling it. But I’m not saying that as an excuse. So, here we go. My shame:

clutter

Okay, stop looking at it. Scroll so it’s off your screen.

This is my house after the holidays. I did a lot of craft projects for Christmas including making an entire quilt in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the crafting supplies appear to have exploded all over part of the living room and dining room. I also have a terrible habit of leaving clothes everywhere. But there it is. The before, if you will.

I’m planning on moving within the next few months to a smaller place, and I need to downsize, organize, and prioritize. A lot of ize-ing. And today begins the process. I spent all day yesterday watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, and so I have absolutely no excuse as to why I shouldn’t make a ton of progress today (other than the fact that I’m blogging about it instead of actually doing it…). I’m going to post a New Years Resolutions blog post in a few days which will explain more of my 2017 goals and thoughts, but this is part of it. A lifestyle change, and not just a clean-up. (I have a lot of mixed feelings about resolutions.)

Okay, I’ve gotta get to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperature Afghan, Because I Live on the Edge

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m making a temperature afghan, because that’s a thing I do now. Crochet. I feel compelled to make fun of it, weirdly. Oh, yes, I crochet, because I am a nerd. But, yes, I am a nerd, and I’m comfortable with that label. Also, if anyone ever tries to tell you that crocheting or knitting is super easy, just ignore their lies. I learned to knit a couple of years ago, and was never particularly great at it, but I enjoy taking something that seems so small (yarn) and making it into something big and useful (the blanket, obvs).

So, what’s a temperature afghan you ask. Well, it’s a thing I saw on Facebook a few months ago where you make a color key where each different color represents a range of temperatures. Each day I take the high from my weather app and then crochet one line in that color. So by the end of the year I should have 365 rows. The color charts I kept finding didn’t accurately represent Iowa weather, so I made my own chart. Please see the very professional and polished example below:

temp-afghan-chart
Very Professional and Polished Temperature Afghan Chart

As the weather changes I’ll need to buy more colors, but Iowa is going to be pretty solidly within the colors I already have for a while. If I were doing the “real feel” I would need a ton of purple, but so far the high hasn’t been below zero yet.

So far it’s going well. I’ve managed to do one row a day for five days (I haven’t done today’s row yet). I’m a little nervous that once the weather starts to get nicer, you know, in May, that I won’t make time to do a row every day and I’m going to have to try and catch up occasionally. But, we’ll see. Here’s what I have so far:

temp-afghan-beginning

My mom has assured me that it will become less curly once I get more rows on, so I’m not letting it bother me yet. My mom learned to crochet from her mom, and so it’s a nice tradition that I’ve wanted to learn for a while now. And some day I aspire to learn more than just the single crochet stitch.

Today’s row will be “Jade” since the high for Cedar Rapids was 9 degrees fahrenheit. It’s the lighter blue color that the last two rows have been. Also, I’ve been sick for the last couple of days, and today I napped from 3:30-5:30. Laying down when it was full daylight and waking up when it was mostly dark was backwards and somewhat disorienting.  Today I’m grateful for sick leave at work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Periods

56df052b1e000087007037dd
Image Source: This Huffington Post article about why tampons are a human right.

Did the title of this post make you uncomfortable?

I have a really weird internal/emotional relationship with periods. Every so often I’m in a position where I am forced to confront the discomfort I feel when I think about being on my period. I’m a Health Educator. Part of my job is to talk to classrooms full of kids and young adults about periods. It’s important. If no one had taken my 5th grade self, along with all of the other 5th grade girls, and sat us down to learn about periods and puberty in school I would have known very little about it. As I’ve grown up and become a more aware adult I have learned a lot about what would have helped me when I was younger that no one ever told me, so I try and make sure to tell all of those things to the groups of students I see. I do my best to normalize periods and make sure that I never connect any kind of shame with these discussions. Because for a very long time I felt very deeply ashamed of this natural biological process.

I just watched this BuzzFeed video about free bleeding that is trying to raise awareness about the fact that thousands of women in the US face their periods without a guarantee that they will have any kind of period products. Pads and tampons and Diva Cups, and the other methods of controlling and catching period blood are expensive. Take a minute to watch their experiment.

I sat here uncomfortable the entire time I watched the video. How did it make you feel? They showed the blood on the puppy pads from their chairs, and I cringed every time. Because I was taught, accidentally and unknowingly, to be ashamed of my period. My mom is amazing, and she did her best to get me whatever type of period product I needed to make me comfortable. But I think that she is also very uncomfortable with periods. This was projected to me. The whispered conversations about whether or not I needed more pads. Not even liking to say the word tampon. I internalized these things, and spent years dreading the seven to ten days every month that I had to deal with this awful thing that happened to my body.

I remember very vividly the fact that the upstairs bathrooms of my high school only had partial doors on the stalls. For some reason they had decided to use doors that had one whole corner missing diagonally. If you were sitting it was fine, but if you needed to stand up to replace a tampon every person who happened by could see. I would hold off as long as I could before going to the bathroom. This made my cramps worse and also made me feel slightly sick.

But I always had the products I needed. One time my mom left work and drove across town just to bring me tampons because I didn’t want to ask at the office.

As an adult I have embraced my period. I am no longer afraid of the noise a pad wrapper makes in a quiet bathroom. I am not afraid to carry a tampon in my hand as I go to the bathroom at work. (I work in an office composed almost entirely of women.) I can ask other women if they have a tampon if I’m out. I boldly buy my box of tampons, pack of pads, and bar of chocolate at the register regardless of whether the cashier is male or female. But this was not always the case. I learned to do these things as an act of defiance. An act of rebellion. Why should I be ashamed of this? Everyone knows that menstrual periods happen. I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to suffer in silence. I reject the idea that being on my period makes me less myself. I will boldly bleed.

And I have that luxury. I am privileged enough to never know what it’s like to not know where I’m going to get pads when I need them. I am in a position where I can talk with groups of students and try and project this normalization of periods. I can talk with groups of girls about what makes them feel embarrassed. Because it wasn’t just me who grew up mortified by this experience. We have a tendency to teach most young girls that bleeding is secret. It’s a private act that needs to be dealt with silently. But I will not be a part of that. I will teach that periods are just another part of growing up. Yeah, they suck, but you can manage this. Being in excruciating pain every month is not normal. Being in so much pain that you miss school because you can’t stand up is not normal. Cramps happen. An internal organ is actively shredding its lining and pushing it out of your body. But you don’t need to suffer in silence. There are a number of medical conditions that affect girls and women that make their periods unusually painful, and there are treatments for these. But because we surround menstruation in this culture of silence so many people suffer needlessly.

Speak up. Speak out. Have your period loudly until the people around you aren’t weirded out by it any longer. Support others who are on their period.

And if you can, donate period products to a local homeless shelter. If you are going to give a bag of supplies to a woman asking for help on the side of the street include pads and/or tampons. This is a necessity. Not a luxury. And no one needs to be ashamed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials Aren’t Having Babies, and Other Unimportant Things

So, I read this article that a few of my Facebook friends shared/commented on, because I always like to see what people are blaming on Millennials now. And I had a similar reaction to it as I do the others: resignation that older generations like to blame every problem on us and a simmering rage that they completely ignore the reality of our lived experience and the fact that it was THEIR actions which caused all of the bullshit in the world we all live in today.

The article is titled, “9 Brutally real reasons why millennials refuse to have kids.” The reasons are as follows:

  1. The world kinda sucks now.
  2. We’re poor as hell.
  3. Traffic and high rents make life miserable for the people that already exist.
  4. Pregnancy is… not… hot.
  5. Because these days, people have kids for selfish reasons.
  6. We’ll ruin them up with terrible parenting. (ruin them up?)
  7. We want careers. So sue us.
  8. Because they’re not going to fix anything.
  9. We don’t even need a reason;we just don’t want them, so stop asking!

I agree with many of these, and they do largely represent my views on becoming a parent. I am a Millennial after all, but most of them aren’t actually the deciding factor for me.

For me, really close to the top; possibly tied for first place with number 2 and number 9, is number 4. The others are part of it, but there are primarily three reasons that I don’t want to have a baby. I wouldn’t have chosen that title for number 4, but the sentiment still stands. Have you ever been in a room with a bunch of pregnant women and mothers discussing what happened to their body during pregnancy, giving birth, and after birth? It’s horrifying. Truly nightmare-inducing in a very real way. Not sarcastically. If I hadn’t already been sure of the fact that my body will only ever support my own life the conversation I witnessed between some of my coworkers about giant blood clots after giving birth would have been more than enough to convince me. Post baby bleeding for weeks. WEEKS. I’m inconvenienced by the 3-5 days a month that I have to put up with it already.

Add to that the fact that I know what happens to all of your internal organs as the fetus grows up out of your pelvis. They literally just squish up and crowd your lungs. No thanks. I have asthma, and my lungs need all the space they can get. And your poor bladder. I experience profound, sleepy rage when I have to pee in the middle of the night and can’t just ignore it. Dragging my stumbling self to the bathroom twenty minutes before my alarm goes off just to sit and experience this all-consuming rage at everything only to go back to bed and try my best to go back to sleep at the same time as my head hits the pillow. Because I refuse to get up even one minute before I have decided I have to. That’s not something a parent gets to decide anymore. I remember being terrified of our bathroom growing up. I would walk past the door very carefully not looking at it, and would go and wake my mom up so she could come with me when I had to pee in the middle of the night. And she did it. She got herself out of bed and went and sat on the side of the tub as her child peed and washed her hands, and then she went back to bed. And, because I have the best mom in the universe, not once did she project to my little kid self that she was filled with fiery rage.

I don’t know if I could do that. I might just get really good at cleaning urine out of a mattress or something. That’s how important sleep is to me.

The entire pregnancy/birth/parent process is terrifying and not infrequently disgusting to me. I have watched more than one mom lick food off of her babies hand because it was easier than juggling their squirming baby and the food and spoon etc. so they could reach a towel or wipe or whatever. You know what’s on that hand? Someone else’s saliva and chewed food. And who knows what else. Children have no concept of cleanliness for a lot of years. My nephew still occasionally wipes his nose on me instead of bothering to get a tissue or to use his own clothes. That’s a thing that he occasionally does because he doesn’t understand just how gross that is or adult boundaries. And I don’t even live with him. I shudder to think what substances he might have or still does wipe on his parents.

Which brings me to number 2 (I’m ignoring that obvious parental innuendo.) We’re poor as hell. In many cases I think that too many people say that they are poor with no concept of what it means to be truly poor. But this does’t hold up with many many millennials. We are drowning in thousands upon thousands of dollars of student debt and can rarely find jobs that pay us enough to afford the student loan payments let alone afford rent and food and transportation to and from our sub-par jobs. We live well below the poverty line in many cases. If we’re lucky enough (and this lucky is meant sarcastically, as we’ve just spent 4-8 years getting a degree to make us qualified) to get a job in our chosen field it is underpaid, and we’re often expected to have first had at least two years of experience even though no one will hire us so we can get that experience, so we often do unpaid internships and move back in with our parents if we’re fortunate enough to have that option.

When someone can’t even afford to take care of everything they need to survive, how could they possibly provide all of the things that a baby needs to thrive? Hey, mom, I know that I moved out eight years ago, but can my partner and I and our baby move back in with you? (Yet another thing that millennials often get criticized for doing.)

And finally, I just don’t want to be pregnant or give birth. We were raised to believe that everything is within our reach (a blatant lie fed to 90s kids through popular media) And that we could “have it all.” But I gotta tell you, “having it all” does not mean the same thing to Millennials that it does to older generations. “Having it all” to a Millennial often means having a job that we don’t hate that pays us enough to afford to live in an apartment, buy groceries, take care of our rescue cat, and occasionally do something fun. I often see articles stating that Millennials travel more than any other generation, but that is part of larger, often invisible system of sacrifice. Millennials are buying fewer houses, owning fewer possessions, and there is a reason why the whole DIY movement is happening right now. We can’t afford to buy that cool thing, but we might be able to make it.

We are largely educated, and have an understanding of the impact of humanity on the environment as well as working knowledge of all the harmful chemicals that go into our food. So we grow container gardens in the windows of our overpriced studio apartments and we own three chairs that we found for $10 at a flea market. And we recycle things into other things. And we live communally and without children. We live in the world that our parents and grandparents and great grandparents etc. made for us. Many of the people who are being criticized for not having kids graduated high school just a couple of years before the economic collapse of 2008. We graduated college in a world where B.A. degrees were being devalued, older adults were occupying the entry-level jobs that should have been available for us because they had found themselves recently unemployed, where the US government treats student loans as a revenue source, and where child care often costs thousands of dollars a year if it’s available at all. Gas was also at record highs, and commuting was becoming more necessary to find jobs.

We became adults during the worst recession since the Great Depression in a world that refused to acknowledge the effect this was having on us. So, yes. Millennials are refusing to have children. But it’s not because we’re lazy or entitled. It’s because we understand that we have the right to govern our bodies and it’s because we have lived first hand the reality of just how completely our society has failed us.