MY POWER, MY PLEASURE, MY PAIN

Colposcopy. The word is enough to make a vagina want to turn inside out. My friend is getting a colposcopy today. I'm going with her.

A colposcopy is a biopsy of the cervix. From my memory—which is not entirely accurate—a colposcopy goes like this: the duck lips, the bristly brush, the knife, the pain, the drive home. The cold duck lips are moistened with the biggest bottle of medical-grade lube, and they hold open your vagina and labia just like normal, just like when you're getting a pap smear. But then, this is not your average over-sized cotton swab. It's a sort of bristly brush, something that reminds you of barbed wire or a Furminator cat brush. It scrapes your external cervical wall, and goes into a tube. Then a sort of knife on a tiny wooden stick—or maybe it wasn't a knife—it goes into your insides, to a place you can feel but can't see, and it takes a bit of flesh. It'll just be a slight pinch. You breathe in quick. A part of you leaves. It feels like when you cut yourself shaving, but not at all because it's on your insides, right on your fucking baby-maker. The bloody tissue goes into a solution and the blue cap goes on the tube. I cry. You'll have some bleeding for a day or so. There are some pads in this drawer. 

I got a mole biopsied once. It was right on the top of my head, and the blood trickled down while the sutures were getting caught in my hair, matting my bloody hair to the back of my head. My doctor worked afterward, with water and gauze to clean it. She had kind eyes and light brown hair just past her chin. She'd gotten her hair cut between the first and last times I would ever see her. The first time was for STD testing. Because I'm on Medicaid, I've had more then enough strangers hands on me and in me over the years, medically speaking. The regional differences are more striking than individual differences. 

When my friend found out, we commiserated over bad bedside manner and the surprising pain of it all. My friend has had a colposcopy before. It's not fun. But once they find out you have HPV, they want to collect a sample of cells to see if they're cancerous. My last pelvic exam, I tell her, the resident was making lots of eye contact with me throughout our visit. She kept asking me things, kept making conversation while her hands were examining me, and then she told me how nice it was that I was thin, that she could easily feel everything, that there was one ovary and there was the other. And I guess it was supposed to be a compliment? Or maybe edifying. But I couldn't shake the feeling that she was flirting with me, you know, if her glove-hand wasn't several inches into me but we were at a bar or something. My friend and I laugh, and then we stop talking and go back to RuPaul's Drag Race.  

I got an IUD last January, a Mirena. My insurance covered the procedure. Getting an IUD is about as painful as a colposcopy. The person who put it in was young, another resident, I assume, with an older female supervisor. They were virtual strangers. Kiss From A Rose played out of the speaker on the ceiling. My power, my pleasure, my pain. I looked up and back at the thing that would go inside me. It was like a tampon applicator, but longer and thinner. This part goes in your cervical opening—ow—and then I press here and the device goes in. Okay? I look back up at the ceiling. The older woman grabs my hand. The hard part is just getting through the cervical opening. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow! OW. And there we—whoops. Your uterus spat it out, she says. I've never seen that before. The older woman pats my hand. We're going to do this again, okay? Your uterus does not like to be rushed. I breathe and nod or some combination of mini gestures, or because I'm stoic, I do nothing at all. The pain is extreme. But acute. I cry a bit. It's over. They don't say something stupid like: well that wasn't so bad was it, but maybe something like: take your time. There will be bleeding and cramping. There are pads in this drawer. 

Last night,  "Senate Republicans voted to gut the budget from portions of the ACA that are funded with taxpayer dollars. They did this because they can pass these budget changes with a filibuster-proof simple majority. That is what they got. Now, House and Senate committees have until January 27 to introduce repeal legislation. This is not a firm date and will likely be bypassed as it’s obvious to us all that the Republicans have no idea how they are going to replace the ACA. But this sets the stage so that when Republicans are ready, they can gut the bill with ease," (The Establishment). I'm scared. I'm angry.  I'm calling my representatives.

I barely get my period now. Initially, it was a couple months of cramping and spotting. Now I only cramp empathetically. Some of my friends hate their IUDs, but for me it's good. There is no one right choice. Listen: I'm going to keep talking about my vagina and the healthcare it receives. It is important to me that these stories be on public record. 

THE BODY BECOMES THE OBJECT

"Inevitably, especially in live performance, the body becomes the object of consumption as much as the sound coming out of it. I’m rarely comfortable with the outcome."
—Anohni, The Creative Independent 

I've been looking at the performative body, the object body, the subjective body. Simone de Beauvoir says: "The young girl feels that her body is getting away from her, it is no longer the straightforward expression of her individuality; it becomes foreign to her; and at the same time she becomes for others a thing." I remember feeling like I was becoming for others a thing. And I'm not just talking about being some slam piece. It was before sex. I was an object and knew I was an object starting at about age 10. I started doing talent competitions. We practiced hand gestures. We primped and preened for hours to spend minutes on stage. It's where I first heard socially about blow jobs. They were a good thing. I didn't know much else about them. 


Then around 7th grade a guy told me I had a nice ass. I interpreted that as a romantic gesture and made him my boyfriend. We held hands. I think we even hugged once. I gushed about it in my diary. 

I can't separate who I am from the circumstances that made me that way. I was a girl who wanted to be wanted. Whatever you thought about me, I thought about myself, especially if it was praise. Now, well over a decade later, I still want to be wanted, but it feels more optional, and a little bit gross. Now it's more like: I want the wanting. I'm learning to map my desire separate from my thing-ness, separate from my objecthood. 

I don't think it's possible to perform as something separate from the object of who you are—that sounds impossible—but it seems like there are ways of acknowledging and manipulating perception, image, consumption, etc. ...Idk. We'll see. 

REQUIRED READING

Like every work ever made—or like every work I have ever made—I've been thinking about these themes for a really long time. Maybe forever. These themes may be the only themes I ever make work about.

In any case, I have been sorting my experience and the things I want to say from the pile of shit that doesn't need to be said right now and it's agonizing. 

Related to that, here is a list of books I have read on these themes:

I Love Dick // by Chris Krauss

I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris // by Elizabeth Hall

Sex Object // by Jessica Valenti

Shock Treatment // by Karen Finley

Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget // by Sarah Hepola

The First Bad Man // by Miranda July

Girls & Sex // by Peggy Orenstein

Zami: A New Spelling of my Name // by Audre Lorde

The Chronology of Water // by Lidia Yuknavitch

Bad Feminist // by Roxanne Gay

Birds of America // by Lorrie Moore

Life Before Man // by Margaret Atwood

Major Problems in American Women's History // by Mary Beth Norton

Theater of the Oppressed // by Augusto Boal

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality // by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha

Mating In Captivity: Reconciling The Erotic & The Domestic // by Esther Perel

Women Who Run With The Wolves // by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
 

Why read so much? Reading is calming and focusing for me. When I can look past my self-doubt and anxious comparisons to other people, I see ideas on a page. Some ideas I agree with and write down and try to keep in me forever, some sentences are the best I have ever seen and I do not ever try to be as good as them. (I am less than a sentence!) Some ideas seem outdated to me or like there's some shit I need to unpack in how they irritate me. Mostly, I just want to know what I'm talking about. When pressed, I want to speak eloquently and thoughtfully. I want to be fucking perfect and I suck at being embarrassed.

Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness.
—August Wilson
 

I'm at a point now where I'm reducing everything. I'm making notes about impulses and desires and why is this here and how does it relate back? Dramaturgical mapping. A lot of crossing out. I'm realizing this work it is not ever going to cover all the things I want to say; it's not a book, and not even a book can do that. It can't say everything. But, the hope is that it creates a depth in the work—like the way water slips into cracks—that will counterbalance all the things that want to be said. Like my brain can release me back into the rest of me, into my heart, and into my thing of a body, and into the presence of time and space, into the grace of failure.

If I need to, my references can be traced back; my bibliography is my security blanket.  

THE TITLE

My forthcoming piece is called I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I'M DOING I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN I JUST DIDN'T TRUST MYSELF BEFORE. The title for the piece comes from the advice column Ask Polly, in which a woman asks What Am I Doing Wrong With Men?  and Polly (aka Heather Havrilesky) replies:
 

"What if you tried asking different sorts of questions, questions about your life in the absence of men: Why isn't your work more engrossing? Why aren't your friends giving you their all? Why can't you feel your feelings unless there's a guy in the picture? Why can't you follow your own whims and honor your own values and desires and buy yourself a nice meal even when you're not on a date with some dude? When will you start giving weight to your own experiences? When will you buy a book and read it in the park and stare at the blue sky and say to yourself, HELL YES I AM ALIVE AND I CONTAIN MULTITUDES AND I AM PERFECT JUST THE WAY I AM, RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE, TERRIBLE AND JITTERY AND FUCKING PERFECT? 

No more questions, then. No more.

You caught me at the exact right time, because this is where I am today. I am determined to breathe fire today, and I'm not going to slow down just so some fucking hobbit can show me how to do it 'the right way.' I know exactly what I'm doing already. I've always known, I just didn't trust myself before.

Let's trust ourselves and turn our backs on those who don't. Let's breathe fire and magic together. Let's burn your stupid fucking questionnaires and scorecards to ashes, and then let's fly through the blustery wind together, brilliant and perfect and terrible. Let's never live under that mountain again."


In an effort to be transparent, I'm going to tell you: I'm just on the other side of a break up. It was a long and deep and loving relationship, and I am heartbroken. And, I am the one who chose to end it. There are all the reasons. Sahaj Kohli says: "The fact that someone loves you doesn't rescue you from the project of loving yourself." I'm not sure I'm actively pursuing self-love, but I am extricating shame and self-doubt in the making of this work. 

A friend repeated my title back to me in a correspondence recently, when I told her I didn't know what I was doing. She said: you know exactly what you're doing, you've always known, you just don't trust yourself. I said, yeah, okay, you're an ass, I love you, you're right.