Saturday, December 26, 2009

Modern Gynecology

(The text formatting is weird, and I don't want to put in the time to figure it out. To see it in reasonable-sized font, with appropriate line breaks, click the title of the post (not the blog).)

I really dislike pelvic exams. I assume most of us do, who have to have them. I know it's healthy to keep on top of my preventative healthcare. But when I think about walking into that waiting room ... sometimes, I just need a little extra motivation.

Luckily, my favorite coping mechanism - snarky, inappropriate humor - has proven remarkably applicable to gynecological conversation. Who knew! In fact, I'm almost looking forward to my next appointment, because I know I'll have another hilarious story to tell.

At least, in retrospect it will be hilarious. In the moment, it's sometimes hard to see the humor.

Electronic medical records, in particular, have turned a visit to the gynecology office into a stand-up comedy routine. The medical assistant has to ask the same questions, in the same order, to every patient no matter what. The computer won’t let her go off script. Of course, I’m not your standard gynecology patient. They ask me all these questions that I just don’t have the right answers to.

“Do you know the date of your last period?”

“January, 2007.” Now that one should have been fairly simple except that it was unexpected. So then we had a little selective hearing loss situation.

“July 27th?”

“No. January, 2007.”


Once that was cleared up it got even weirder.

“Are your periods regular?”


Now how was I supposed to make sense of that? So she just picked one, flipped a mental coin, I guess. She couldn't get to the next screen without answering. My official medical record, if you were to read all my gyn exams one after another, would say that my lack of period vacillates randomly between regular and irregular. Whatever.

“Are you on birth control?”

“… no?”

I’m on testosterone, but three gynecologists in a row have been notably non-committal as to how unlikely an unintended pregnancy is for someone on this dose. The medical assistant didn't appear to notice my intonation. Oh, well.

“Have you ever had an abnormal pap smear?”


At this point the medical assistant turned to me in open disbelief. “And your last period was in 2007??”

How I would like it to have gone next is like this:

“Do you have my chart? My paper one? Because on the first page it says that I’m transgender and I’ve been taking testosterone for 3 years.”


“Which also explains the facial hair.”


“And the fact that I didn’t respond when you called for “Ms. …” in the waiting room.”

“Okay dear the doctor will be right with you.”

But I’m not really that bold, or that mean. It wasn't her fault, anyway. Instead I just explained, all straightforward and apologetic-like.

The next time I went in, for a follow-up visit annoyingly shortly after that one, I had exactly the same conversation with a different medical assistant. Word for word. It was creepy.

I considered making a handout. It wouldn’t have to list the questions, or even full sentences, just my answers. Something like,

  1. 2007.
  2. Umm…?
  3. Not exactly.
  4. No.
  5. Yes.
  6. Yes, really.

I could just hand it to the medical assistant and let her sort it out.

The third time, I had the same medical assistant from the first appointment. She still asked all the same questions, but this time she believed me about each answer the first time I said it, so it wasn’t quite as funny. Then she started asking the behavioral questions, which for some reason had been skipped during the previous appointments. The conversation got exponentially more bizarre.

“Are you sexually active?”

I refer you to the quantum physics non-explanation of my dating life. I think I said “yes,” just for simplicity’s sake.

“Is your partner a man or a woman?”

“Umm … no.”

I felt sorry even as I said it. But I couldn’t think of anything else to say that would feel honest. Note how I restrained myself from launching into an explanation of quantum superpositional dating, wherein, in this case, the term “partner” is a bit of an overstatement during an unquantifiable, but large, proportion of the time. Interesting perhaps, but not pertinent. The medical assistant was confused enough.


“She’s … ze’s … we … our genders are similar.”

That one took her a little while. I guess they don’t have a button for that in the electronic record system.

“Is there any possibility you might be pregnant?”

Given my recent (if largely uniformed) musings on quantum physics, the phrase “any possibility” may mean something different to me than it does to the medical assistant. Or maybe it's just that it goes against centuries of cultural habit to promise a positive outcome (i.e. lack of pregnancy) with so much certainty. I dampened the impulse to explain my completely irrelevant hesitations, and settled on “no” because I thought it would end the conversation sooner, which it did. Then it was time for the actual exam part of the exam, which I won't relate here, except to say it was far less amusing than the talking part of the exam.

It’s probably not nice of to mess with the medical staff so much. I could play along, I guess. Give away the punch line sooner, so at least they can attribute the confusion to my queerness, rather than feeling badly for not knowing which buttons to push. Sometimes I do consider dialing it back a few.

But then I think, whose comfort am I more concerned about here? The medical assistant is just having a normal day at the office. I’m having a f*%$^#! gyn exam. If coming away with hilarious stories about the MA’s confusion about my gender makes the situation just a little bit less miserable, or makes it a little bit easier to contemplate showing up for the next time, then I think I’ll continue enjoying their confusion.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What Gentiles Should Know about the Holiday Season

by a cranky Jew
(revised from previous years and re-posted by popular demand. feedback welcome as always.)

I do not celebrate Christmas.

Please don’t tell me to have a Merry Christmas. This is comparable to telling a Canadian happy 4th of July.

Christmas is not a “secular” or “American” holiday. It is a Christian holiday.
If you celebrate it in a secular way, it is still a secular Christian holiday. (If I celebrate Pesach/Passover in a humanist style, without reference to G-d, is it then an “American” holiday? No. It’s a secular Jewish holiday, and it’s no more universal without the G-d language than with it.)

Some Jews do celebrate Christmas. That doesn't make it a Jewish holiday.
Jews may celebrate Christmas for many reasons. Many Jews have Christians in their family. Most Jews in the US grow up in predominantly Christian communities. Many Jews have tried to assimilate over the generations, and that has meant adopting Christian practices like having a Christmas tree. It's still a Christian holiday.

Chanukah is not a Jewish version of Christmas.

Christmas is an important holiday for most contemporary Christians, based on one of the central stories of the Christian faith. Chanukah is not even a particularly religious holiday. It is primarily a cultural/historical holiday commemorating a military victory of one group of Jews, who advocated maintaining a traditional Jewish culture separate from that of the ruling empire, over another group of Jews, who advocated cooperating with imperial rulers and assimilating into the imperial (Hellenic/Syrian) culture.

It’s kinda like the aforementioned 4th of July. Only older, and with miracles.

The only reason Chanukah is such a big deal in the U.S. is because of its proximity to Christmas.

Chanukah does not occur on December 25th.

It is an eight-day festival beginning on 25 Kislev by the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar /solar calendar. The corresponding date on the Gregorian calendar, the one commonly used in public life, ranges from mid-November through late December. Therefore, do not tell me to have a happy Chanukah unless you know when Chanukah falls this year, and that it’s not over. Cheat sheet for 2009/5770: Chanukah begins at sundown on Friday, December 11.

Chanukah may be spelled several ways
Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukkah, Chanukah, etc. That’s because it’s a Hebrew word, and it’s actually spelled like this: חֲנוּכָּה. Chanukah is probably the closest transliteration for the Hebrew - more like Channikke for the Yiddish. It sounds like it looks, only the initial H or Ch sounds like the guttural sound at the end of the composer Bach.

I don’t care how you spell it. Just don’t tell me how weird it is that it has multiple spellings. I’m over it. If you can’t say the Ch sound without spitting on me, then just say H and keep your germs to yourself.

There’s no such thing as a Chanukah bush.

Did you really need to be told that? Christian hegemony appropriated the tradition from Celtic pagans, and now is trying to impose it on Jews. We already have pretty stuff for the holiday. We don’t need Jew-ish-ified trees, wreathes, elves or mistletoe.

Some Jews Have Chanukah Bushes.

See above, under "Some Jews Celebrate Christmas"

Chanukah is not a good excuse to tell me about your best friend, neighbor, or distant relative who is a Jew.

If you didn’t care enough to tell me the rest of the year, then I don’t care to hear about it now.

Don’t try to impress me with how much you know about Chanukah or about Judaism.

It’s a safe bet I know a whole lot more than that about Christmas and Christianity. Not cause I’m so smart or so studied. Just cause y’all are everywhere.

“Happy Holidays” is not an acceptable secular substitute for “Merry Christmas.”
No matter what words you use, we both know you’re only saying it because of Christmas. Otherwise, you would say it in September/October and March/April, when I’m observing major religious holidays, as well as in December, when you are.

This is not about your Free Speech.

In recent years, a few people who should know better have said things to me about Christmas that sound suspiciously like the ultra-conservative "war on Christmas" rhetoric. Stuff like, "Department stores cannot dictate how their employees greet customers during the holidays. If they want to say Merry Christmas, that's their free speech." Or "People can't stop people from putting up Christmas decorations in the town square. That's their free speech."

Good try, but, this is not about your free speech. Employees do not have the right to say whatever they want while they're working. They sell their free speech along with their labor during the hours they're getting paid. And I'm only prepared to grant "free speech" that's free, as in not paid for - especially not with public money. Go ahead, speak about Christmas all you want. But don't use public funds to speak about Christmas.

Anyway, no one is trying to stop you from saying Merry Christmas to your friends and loved ones, or on your Christmas cards. That's exactly where the greeting belongs. I just don't want you saying it to me, especially not all day every day for all of December. And I really don't want to pay for your Christmas decorations through public funds, and be subjected to them in public spaces.