(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
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.