Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sparkling Anyway

(A while ago ...)

I’m about to finish graduate school. With the end of the school year also comes the end of my super-fabulous, no-questions-asked, everything’s-free student health insurance. This makes me anxious.

I decide to make good use of my student health insurance before it runs out. I get my annual gyn exam for the first time in 2-1/2 years, and an eye exam for the first time in three. I also decide to get the extensive batch of blood tests that I will need in case I decide to start hormone therapy sometime soon.

So here I am, perfectly healthy, chillin in the dingy basement waiting room of the university health lab, sharing air with half of this week’s flu cases. Sometimes it goes that way.

It was surprisingly easy for me to get the tests ordered. I thought it might take some finagling, even lying. I was prepared for an argument with the insurance company, or to pay for the tests myself if necessary. I came in for my appointment armed with enough emotional energy to battle the medical establishment for weeks.

Instead, I explained the situation to the NP who is my primary care provider. She is queer and usually falls over herself trying to be trans-friendly. She made a few phone calls, confirmed which tests to order, and sent me down to the lab right then. Now, in the lab’s waiting room, I'm not sure what to do with myself. I have all this unused stand-up-and-fight in me. It's flying around my head with nowhere to go. I feel excited, bouncy almost, and also a little bit nervous.

The sign on the counter reminds me that today is national phlebotomist day. (A phlebotomist is someone who draws blood.) I didn’t know there was a national phlebotomist day. In my head I quip, “If I had known, I would have brought flowers!” But I don’t actually have the chutzpah to be that casually flirty. And besides, the receptionist looks grumpy. She wears faded black scrubs, and hasn’t dyed her roots in a while. She doesn’t smile as I approach her desk. Maybe she’s not even a phlebotomist. I keep my mouth shut about the flowers.

The receptionist takes my lab form and clips it to the edge of her cubicle. Looking past the cardboard wall, I can see through a door into the lab itself. A few microscopes, long metal counters – it looks mysterious, and not as sterile as I want it to look. I am reminded of that window behind a diner counter, where the waitress clips up your order, and you catch a glimpse of the greasy kitchen beyond. Then you spend the entire meal trying to shake the image so you can just enjoy your fries.

The receptionist indicates a row of square brown chairs against the opposite wall. I sit, twiddle my thumbs, try to relax. Soon, a different woman comes to get me. She must be the phlebotomist. I’m the only one waiting at that moment, so she doesn’t have a chance to mess up my name, yet. She just says, “Hi, come with me.”

The phlebotomist is cheerful, and absurdly heterosexual. She’s not just wearing pink scrubs: she’s wearing pink scrubs with teddy bears on them. Please. She leads me to a room where latex tourniquets are arrayed by color on the arm of an exam chair - pink, blue, and purple. That's the kids' chair. Grownups get plain old dusty latex-color. The phlebotomist leads me to the grownups’ chair and I feel slightly disappointed, but relieved that I don’t have to choose.

She glances at my lab sheet and asks, “So, how do you say your name?”



“Davey, rhymes with wavy.”


“Davey, short for David.” It’s not short for David, but that usually works. It does this time.

“Oh, Davey. That’s unusual!” Uh-huh. Never heard that one before.

But, the phlebotomist does know what she’s doing. I lay back in the cushy vinyl chair and barely notice as she finds a vein and fills three tubes. Meanwhile she’s not skipping a beat, chatting me up about finals and the weird spring weather. (Which is perfectly normal, of course. When is New England weather not weird?) Anyway, she’s good. Maybe I should have brought flowers after all.

The glitch comes when she’s prepping the fourth and last tube. She can’t read the doctor’s handwriting. She’s not sure what the abbreviation means. She’s so confused I’m not even sure what the confusion’s about. She pops her head out the door and whispers a question to a middle-aged person in a lab coat. She pops back in. She looks at the form again. She picks out a tube, changes her mind, picks out another one. I’m pretty much stranded, what with the needle still taped to my arm. The lab tech leaves again, has a longer conference with her supervisor in the hallway.

Finally she comes back in, selects a tube without hesitation. But her conversational skills have gone AWOL. She barely looks me in the eyes as she giggles, “It says ‘serum testosterone.’”

“Yeah,” I say, flat-toned. I could have told her that. This time it pinches when she attaches the tube to the needle. She’s still smiling, but her cheeriness is starting to look a little desperate. The tube takes forever to fill. My blood probably clotted in the needle waiting for her to figure it out.

Finally the tube is full. The lab tech adds it to the collection she has lined up in a little rack. She’s all confidence and efficiency again, except for how she still doesn’t look me. “Hold this,” a piece of gauze, and then the needle is gone and the phlebotomist’s powder-blue gloves are unwrapping a bandaid for me. “There you go,” she coos, all cornsyprupy sweet. She sticks the bandaid on my arm and announces, “It’s sparkly!”

And now it’s my turn to be confused. My head swims trying to figure her out. Did she not notice that I’m a trannyboy? Were the name, clothes, haircut, and serum testosterone measurement not enough clues? Or maybe she does understand, and disapproves. Maybe she wants to push my buttons by giving me girly things. I mean, it’s not that I disapprove of sparkles – far from it! But everything else about the phlebotomist tells me she has ideas about girl stuff and boy stuff – from her own goofy scrubs to the gender-colored tourniquets on the kids' side. Then again, maybe she is just trying to give me the same kind of attention that would be comforting for her.

Whatever. This kind of speculation is never productive, and I push it aside with effort. I don’t mind sparkles. As long as I’ve gotta wear glitter on my arm, I might was well get into it, right?

“Thanks!” I exclaim, funneling my resentment into cheeriness. I'm only half faking it. Maybe the blood loss has made me alittle high - I don't know. But somehow, I'm actually beginning to enjoy this. I let myself lisp just a little. My voice slips back up into its naturally high range. “I can always use a little sparkle!” Half her smile falls into bewilderment as the phlebotomist snaps her gloves off, into the biohazard-red trash can. I stand up cautiously, wait for the headrush to clear, and then sashay out the door, faggy as the day is long.

I will always be wading through other people’s discomfort. I gotta keep sparkling anyway. Even, sometimes, when that’s what they want me to do. This time, Davey wins.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NY Times on HIV & Circumcision

On December 14, the New York Times featured a front page article (may require NY Times login) about how male circumcision reduces the risk of males acquiring HIV by about 50%, and the risk of transmitting HIV by 30%, during heterosexual (penis-in-vagina) intercourse.

I don't think this topic requires too much more commentary, beyond what I said in my 8/15 post about the World AIDS Conference presentation on the same study. Please, before you try to get your teenager circumcised, read the previous post.

I will point out one piece of information in the NY Times article that may be confusing, one that is infuriating, and one nugget of wisdom from hamakotaco.

The confusing bit: The NY Times article reports that circumcision "...does nothing to prevent spread by anal sex or drug injection, ways in which the virus commonly spreads in the United States. " The article does not mention that heterosexual (penis-in-vagina) contact is also a very common mode of transmission in the U.S. - according to some interpretations, the most common mode. Also, the study that this article is based on did not examine anal sex transmission at all, so if circumcision did have some effect on transmission/acquisition of HIV, this study wouldn't have found it.

The infuriating bit: Also from the NY Times article, "Dr. Mark Dybul, executive director of President Bush’s $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, said in a statement that his agency 'will support implementation of safe medical male circumcision for H.I.V./AIDS prevention' if world health agencies recommend it." Yet, last I heard, Bush continues to withhold funding from agencies around the world who provide condoms and other non-abstinence-based interventions. He would rather fund circumcision that condoms. Is he trying to bring about the apocalypse? Oh, wait ... Well, that's for another post.

And finally, an exceedingly clever point from hamakotaco, guaranteed to win your arguments with any conservative men in your life: "Yes, well, chopping off your entire penis would also reduce the risk of getting HIV, but that doesn't make it a good idea." True that, my friend. True that.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Class Conversation Starters

Last Sunday I had the privilege to co-facilitate a wonderful discussion about how class affects interpersonal relationships. I hope it was only the beginning of a wonderful, challenging, and healing process for everyone involved. Several of those who participated asked for a copy of some of the conversation prompts. So, here they are.

These were intended as prompts for "Common Ground," a popular workshop game. In Common Ground, participants stand in a circle. For each prompt, they take one step in and then back out if the statement applies to them. If it doesn't apply, they stay put. Then the group discusses whatever thoughts, feelings, and questions came up.

Feel free to use these as Common Ground prompts or in any other way that makes sense for you. If you use the whole list, or a significant part of it, then a polite facilitator would cite us as the authors of the activity. (Since we're not using real names here, citing "us" might be awkward. So, if you intend to cite us, and don't already know our names, please post a comment including a way I can contact you off the blog. I'll send you our names, or the name of our group, when it has one, and feel very tickled that people are making good use of these ideas.)

Common Ground If ...

  1. you’ve ever had a close friendship across class
  2. you’ve ever had a romantic relationship across class
  3. you’ve ever had a relationship end because of class differences
  4. there are class differences within your own family
  5. you yourself have changed class over your lifetime
  6. most of your friends are people you go to school with, or went to school with
  7. most of your friends are people you work with
  8. you’ve ever been in a situation where your friends could afford something you could not
  9. you’ve ever been in a situation where you could afford something your friends could not
  10. when you were a kid, shopping for clothes was a special event
  11. being presentable was taught as an important value growing up
  12. being practical was taught as an important value growing up
  13. you were told that growing up to have a job that earned money was important
  14. you were told that growing up to do something interesting or important was important
  15. you ever don’t buy something because you could make it at home
  16. you’ve ever argued about money
  17. you’ve ever felt left out because of class
  18. you’ve ever felt self-conscious or embarrassed because of class
  19. you’ve ever felt guilty because of class
  20. you’ve ever felt proud because of class
  21. you’ve ever not invited someone over because you didn’t want them to see your home
  22. you’ve ever felt like you had to explain or justify something about your class
  23. anyone’s ever assumed something about your class which isn’t true

Monday, December 04, 2006

Christian Hegemony is Always in Season

So I'm not slacking on the blog-writing, or at least I'm not doing it thoughtlessly. It's just that I'm busting ass on lots of awesome work with amazing people, and it hasn't all made it into writing yet. It will. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here's a tidbit from a friend of mine. She's a baker in a bourgie grocery store. Actually, she's a fabulous baker, who makes a wicked dairy-free just-about-anything, in many places including the bourgie grocery store and her own kitchen. But that's not the point of the story. The story is about hamentashen in December. Remember what I said about Murphy's law of Jewish holidays? What did I tell you.
so i was having a meeting with my boss today, and we were talking about the things we don't make any sort of, like biscotti or little tartlette things, that he thinks we might have a market for if we would just start making them.

then he suggested hamentashen. my first response was "'s not purim." he said "what?" so i tried to explain to him that hamentashen were specific to a holiday which wouldn't occur until early spring and that you couldn't just make them any old time.

his response was "but other grocery stores do." so i told him that the fact that other grocery stores make them year round actually offends me, and it's not something i'm willing to do.

argh. the argument went on, with him trying to convince me it didn't matter, and me telling him i didn't care that it didn't matter to him, i still would only make them on purim.

then i went online and found a description of purim and the history and why we make hamentashen and all that, and printed it out for him, and then went home early.
Argh, indeed. Now, I dunno if it's actually wrong to serve hamentashen when it isn't Purim. But that's beside the point. Two out of two Jews in a workplace say that it's a bad plan. A thoughtful boss would take that into account. But, oppression has made him so stupid that he thinks he knows everything and doesn't need to listen to anyone else. As if there wasn't enough for small-town Jews to deal with in December, some white male gentile business owner has to be throwing his privilege around, making it worse. Hmph. Bah, humbug.