Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Father's Day to you, TOO, Google

Yesterday, I woke up feeling somewhat refreshed; I yawned and stretched and then grabbed my laptop to check my email.

Like a lot of folks, especially folks my age, I use Gmail, Google's email service.  I'm sure many of my tens of readers do, too, since Blogger is a Google site.  I love Gmail; it's the first email service I've used that I've loved enough to stop using other email providers.  That is, back when I had AOL mail, I also had a Hotmail account and a Yahoo account.  I checked all three on a regular basis.  Now, my AOL mail is long dead (RIP Steflutie), my Hotmail is officially my spam account, and I think I check my Yahoo mail once a month to make sure no one's emailing me there by accident.

Meanwhile, my work and grad school accounts are both hooked up to my Gmail, even though my grad school email is Gmail-based.  I just can't be bothered to check BOTH accounts.  Plus, my regular Gmail is already set up just the way I like it.

Last year, when Gmail put free voice calls in Gchat, it was a lifesaver for me.  My cell phone microphone had just broken, and I was waiting two weeks for my new smartphone to arrive (it was out of stock at the store).  I could make some phone calls at work, but my boss was discouraging us from using the work phone for personal calls.  So I quickly set up a Google Voice account and was able to make calls using my home and work computers.  It wasn't as convenient or easy as making a regular phone call, but I was able to make necessary phone calls during those two weeks.

These days, I don't use the phone call function, mostly since I've got a working cell phone again, and it's just much easier to use that.  But that didn't stop me from noticing something odd yesterday when I pulled up Gmail.

The "Call Phone" button had a line of text underneath it.  It said, "Reminder: call dad."

At first, I wondered if one of my siblings had somehow hacked into my computer, thinking they were doing the right thing.  Then I realized that neither of my siblings would know how to do that, and that both of them have been pretty great with respecting my decision to stay estranged from our father.  Then I wondered if maybe I had somehow signed into the wrong email account.  But no, those were my regular contacts underneath the offending message, and here were all of my emails.

And then I got what it was.  Granted, this all happened in the span of a few seconds, so if you're imagining me scratching my head, pacing around, shouting, "I must find the culprit!" you are both very imaginative, but also a bit wrong.  It wasn't my siblings or the wrong email.  Google put it there.

I mean, I understand why.  It's a good way to remind folks about the call phone function.  Great.  But seriously?  Not a good idea.

Like plenty of other people, I'm estranged from one of my parents, in this case my father.  A reminder to call him is like a bad joke.  But what about people who don't have fathers anymore, whose fathers have died?  What about people whose fathers have abused them, neglected them, deserted them?  What about people who have grown up with a single mother, or with two mothers, or who were raised by a sibling?

So, Google, if you're listening, please don't ever do that again.  It's enough that Father's Day is all over the place commercially.  But invading my email, putting up a reminder that stayed up ALL day?  It made me seriously angry and uncomfortable.

Also, you need to have a way for people to complain about shit like this.  Your "Help" section doesn't let us do that.  Bulllll.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Letter to Medical Professionals

Dear medical community,

Hello!  How are you?  I hope you're well.  Because I'm a bit pissed off at you.  Don't worry, I'll explain in detail.

When I was fourteen years old, I woke up on Rosh Hashanah with an impressively horrible stabbing pain in my abdomen.  My brother thought my appendix was bursting, but I had no other symptoms besides the worst pain in my life.  By the time I could get to the doctor's office, the pain had subsided.  A couple of weeks later, on my fifteenth birthday, I sat in the waiting room again, needing to pee, waiting to have an ultrasound.  There was a medium sized cyst on my ovary, on the other side, making it highly probable that the pain I had was from another cyst on the other ovary rupturing.

I saw a pediatric endocrinologist after that.  She was one of the more respected doctors in the field, and is still one of the more prominent endocrinologists at Children's Hospital in Boston.  I hate her, eight years later.  She diagnosed me with Poly-Cystic Ovaian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal imbalance that would explain the cysts, as well as the fact that in 3 years, I had only had my period about 10 times.  She decided that she wanted to check and see if she could feel any additional cysts.  Without telling me what she was going to do, she performed a pelvic exam.  When I was in pain, she told me that "it shouldn't hurt," when clearly it did.  I was so upset afterwards that I cried and couldn't concentrate when I got back to school later that day.  When I told my mom what happened, she was furious.  I was only fifteen; I had not been asked for my consent to have this exam, I was not even told it would be happening until it had already started, and it was incredibly painful.  I regret that my mom and I didn't file a complaint with Children's.

She and my pediatrician scared me into going onto the pill when I was sixteen, since that was the "treatment" for PCOS.  When I asked the simple question, "If I don't go on the pill, will that affect my fertility in 15 years?" they answered non-committally, and told me that, "If we don't take care of this problem, then you might have a lot of trouble conceiving."  I explained that I didn't want to go on it, that I felt like it would make me MORE likely to have sex before I was really ready, but they both ignored me.  I finally caved to the pressure about six months later, and was incredibly ashamed to be on the pill.  Even now, when I mention that I've been on the pill since I was sixteen, the reaction is very negative; a lot of people assume that I was already having sex very early, or at least expecting to have sex so early.

It took me a while to find a pill that worked for me.  The first two gave me severe morning sickness, which I hadn't been warned about when my doctors put me on it.  I would miss class in the morning every month, like clockwork.  I finally switched to Yasmin after a few months and had no problems.

Being on the pill did have benefits.  While I didn't love having my period every single month, it was nice to know when it was coming.  My cramps became less severe, my flow was much lighter, and each period only lasted four days, instead of six or seven.  It cleared up my acne a bit, and when it didn't clear up all of it, it let me go right back onto Accutane; I didn't have to start birth control and wait a month before I could start the acne medication.

But one thing became very obvious.  My breasts, which had been a slightly large B since I finished puberty, ballooned up to a large C.  And I started gaining weight.

Since I'd hit puberty, my mom had fretted hardcore over my weight, since I weighed more than she did.  But I was super healthy; 130lbs, 5'5".  Not skinny, but certainly not overweight.  Very, very normal.  When I started the pill, I was about 140.

By the end of high school, I was at 180.  Now, I'm struggling to stay below 195.

I've done Weight Watchers three times.  I've dieted and counted calories endlessly.  I've tried working out more.  And even regular lifestyle changes made no difference.  I would eat only as much as my slim friends, often less, and I'd gain.  I would walk and take the stairs significantly more.  No change.  Last year, I would walk about 3 miles a day just to get to and from work.  I gained weight.

My mom was in the camp of, "You must be doing something wrong."  If I was dieting, I was either cheating, or I needed to exercise.  If I was exercising, it was because I must be overeating afterwards as a reward.  But it was obvious that something was keeping me from actually losing weight.

My doctors insisted that it was PCOS that was keeping me heavy, and I just needed to try harder, since I was at risk for type 2 diabetes.  But I have a life.  I have other things I want to be doing other than obsessing over my weight.  And that was really the only problem; my blood tests were always fabulous, and I wasn't even close to being really at risk for diabetes.

All of them denied that the pill was causing the weight to come on and stay on.  Every last one of them.  For eight years.  Never mind that I gained 50 lbs.  Never mind that my breasts grew.  And, more importantly, never mind that almost every woman I know who has gone on the pill has gained weight.  I know so many women on the pill, or other hormonal birth control, that I've lost count.  It's the majority of my female friends, and plenty of acquaintances.  Only two of them haven't noticed any weight gain or breast growth.  Clearly, something's happening, and it's not just "water retention."

I went off the pill on May 31st in preparation for surgery.  I haven't been exercising lately (beyond walking to and from the T, and clubbing with friends), and while I haven't been eating ridiculously unhealthily, I haven't been making an effort to eat well.  When I went to Planned Parenthood on the 27th, I weighed 196 lbs, 5 lbs more than I did at the beginning of the month.

Today, I weigh 188 lbs.  I have been off the pill for almost two weeks.

So, medical community, here's my advice for you.  Stop lying.  Really, that's it.  Be honest with your patients.  That means:

Don't tell them that the pill is necessary for treating PCOS.  It's not.  When I got older, I did my research.

When your patient is deciding to forgo treatment, that is their right.  Don't pressure them.

The pill causes breast growth and weight gain.  Stop saying it doesn't.  I didn't gain 50lbs of water weight.

Do not perform a pelvic exam on a patient without informed consent.  It doesn't matter how necessary it is.  Otherwise, you will violate them.

I hope we've learned something here today.  Because if I keep losing weight now that I'm off the pill, you can be sure that I will never go back on hormonal birth control.  I've worked very, very hard to love my body as it is, and I've dealt with discrimination, nasty remarks from people who love me, stressful shopping trips, and the overwhelming number of negative feelings that fat people deal with in a thin-privileged society.  I have spent eight years fighting and wishing and trying very hard to love myself while knowing that other people hate my body.  If I find out that this all could have been avoided by having better doctors, you can be sure I'll never go back on the pill.  And I will be making a stink about this.



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Man Down

Trigger warning: Rape, murder, non-consensual crap

After reading a bunch of tumblr posts and short quotes about Rihanna's new video for her song "Man Down," I finally decided to take a time out for 5 minutes to watch it.  The video can be found here, although if you are easily triggered by sexual assault, this might be difficult to watch.

I'm not going to go into how I felt about the song.  As many of my friends know, I prefer to listen to alternative pop-rock (think Goo Goo Dolls).  I like to go out to clubs, so I have some favorite club songs I like (Ke$ha sets my teeth on edge ... except when I'm at a club), but otherwise I'm not so much interested in hip-hop.  I don't think I would ever have heard "Man Down" if I hadn't sought out the video, and while the song wasn't awful by any means, it's not my style of music.  Point is, I don't care very much about the song, or even the lyrics so much, with one exception.

The video

As for the video, it speaks for itself without the song, and even if you watch it, unaware of the controversy.  The video opens with a semi-crowded market, with plenty of people walking around; out of the shadows in a building window, Rihanna appears, looking immensely tense and unhappy, and she very slowly brandishes a gun.  She then shoots and kills a particular man, and disappears as the crowd runs from the gunshot.  We then cut to "Yesterday."

"Yesterday," Rihanna is walking/biking around, looking pretty normal and quite happy.  It's obvious, even if you don't know what's coming, that that dude she shot did something to change her from bright and happy to miserable and in the shadows, driven to kill.  We see her interacting with people happily, including children, smiling, enjoying life.

Then we see her go to a club.  She does dance with a guy a bit, pretty sexily, but then she stops dancing with him and leaves the club.  It doesn't look like she's upset (she still seems to be in a good mood); it seems as if she danced with him for a while and enjoyed it, and then decided it was time to go home.  But then the man follows her, even asking bystanders outside which way Rihanna went.  He catches up to her, grabs her forcefully, and rapes her.  When he leaves her, his shirt is torn.  Rihanna runs home, and frantically searches her drawers until she finds a gun, the one she uses at the beginning of the video.

The song

Like I said, I don't really care so much about the song, since it's not my type of music.  But one important thing I noticed about the song is that it never references the rape.  It's about how she shot a man, she feels guilty about it, that he meant something to other people (specifically, that he was someone's son), and that now she has to run.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it, since again, it doesn't reference the actual rape, but it seems to capture the guilt that many survivors feel for trying to seek punishment for their perpetrators.  We're encouraged not to "ruin the lives" of these perpetrators, and we're reminded of their humanity (that they're sons, boyfriends, brothers, friends ... normal people like you and me*).  Rihanna's motives are absent from the song, making the video very necessary to understand it, but when both are together, the lyrics become much more powerful.  You don't just know the motive anymore.  You GET the motive.  She's not saying, "He raped me, so I killed him."  She's singing about the guilt that she feels, the knowledge that she did something she shouldn't have, but we don't just know why she did it.  We understand why.

As a survivor

As many of you know, I was sexually assaulted as a teenager.  My assault wasn't violent, fortunately, but it still happened.  Part of my experience, along with the work I've done in sexual violence prevention, is that I cannot seem to separate myself from the feelings of a victim/survivor when hearing about sexual violence.  For example, I was having a conversation with a coworker, and we somehow got on the topic of Emma Watson, the actress who portrays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films.  He told a story he thought was amusing, that someone asked for an autograph from Watson, but the photo they wanted signed was a paparazzi photo taken up Watson's skirt when she wasn't wearing underwear.

I didn't find it funny.  I couldn't really.  If someone had taken a photo of my vulva without my consent, and distributed it, that would be incredibly, horrifyingly violating.  My coworker brushed it off, saying that Watson should have just worn underwear.  But this is bullshit.  Sometimes, people don't wear underwear; there's no law that says that they can't.  And no one should be punished for it either.  Upskirting is illegal in the United States; going commando is not.  Second of all, how would the photographer have known that Watson wasn't wearing underwear?  And if she had worn underwear, THEN would it not be okay that it happened?  Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

Point is, I go right to the victim/survivor's point of view.  And that's what happened while I watched the "Man Down" video.

As soon as the man began following Rihanna out of the club, I started getting very upset.  When the video cut to a shot of him covering her mouth, I started crying.

Folks, it was kind of terrifying.  Especially because I often go to clubs, wearing "sexy" clothing, and there are times when I dance with male strangers, and then decide I'm done dancing at one point or another.  Not that I'm now too scared to do either now, but it's chilling to know that for some men, that's all it takes.  A sexy outfit indicates that the woman's a slut.  Stopping dancing with you indicates that she's a tease.  Go punish her.**  This could happen to me.

Like I said, I'm not going to stop dressing up, getting tipsy, going to clubs, and dancing with male strangers.  I have a good time.  And I already have known for a while that I'm taking a risk when I do that, a risk that there will be a rapist around, and he'll choose me as a target.  But I know that ANYTHING I do besides barricading myself in my room and never going anywhere without gay male bodyguards, will increase my risk of being raped, because then I'll possibly expose myself to rapists, and not have a way to deter the rapists from raping me.

Would I ever shoot a perpetrator?  Well, I haven't shot the friend who assaulted me.  I've passed up opportunities to track him down, too.  But I understand the anger and helplessness.  I understand the fantasy.  It's pretty fucking horrible.

Bottom line

Rihanna's "Man Down" video is a shocking, but good way to get people talking about sexual assault.  It puts us in the place of the victim/survivor, and demonstrates (maybe too simply, but well nonetheless) the way that such an experience can change a person, and make them do things that would have seemed out of character before.  I appreciate this video a lot, and I'm thankful to Rihanna for making it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Learning to live a philosophy

Over the past week and a half, I've had a few experiences that have struck me as rather odd, at least in terms of my own personal comfort and my reactions to situations.  Allow me to explain.

Growing up, after I hit puberty, I began to worry constantly about how fat I was.  My mother, whom I love very much, didn't help.  And by "didn't help," I mean, "actively and knowingly contributed to my insecurities surrounding my body."  When I weighed 130 lbs, she was worried that I needed to lose weight, since I now weighed more than she did, and was about 5 inches shorter.  As the years passed and my weight continued to increase, she worried more.  I'm currently at the point where I'm about ready to issue an ultimatum when it comes to her commenting on my appearance at all.

The end result was that I was miserable about my body.  Contributing to my insecurities was the fact that I had been sexually assaulted when I was 14.  While I didn't experience PTSD, the take-away from the experience, and from plenty of other experiences that weren't non-consensual, was that I was unattractive and should be damn grateful for whatever attention the opposite sex wished to bestow upon me.  My physical appearance and my sexuality had become entwined in a very obnoxious way.  I was fat, and therefore my sexuality consisted purely of being lonely most of the time, and grateful for whatever attention I got.  Consensual or not.  I was supposed to consider street harassment a compliment.  I was supposed to go out on a date with any dude who thought I might be worth his time.

It was totally uncool.

Over the past few years, I have worked extremely hard to live out the feminist philosophies that I find so amazing.  I knew that I needed to learn how to love my body, not necessarily regardless of what it looks like, but in a general, holistic way.  Don't love IN SPITE of flaws.  Love, including the stuff other people think are flaws.

I also understood that I needed to be more gung-ho about being true to my sexuality.  I needed to stop going on dates with guys I didn't want to date (or even more specifically, I also needed to stop wasting my time in IM conversations on OKCupid with guys I wasn't remotely interested in).  I needed to stop issuing cop-out excuses, like, "I can't go out on Saturday, but you know what?  I'll get back to you when I know my availability," when I really mean, "Sorry, I'm not interested, best of luck."

The issue here, of course, is that there are some actions I can take to combat these issues, but often, there are mental obstacles to get over.  It's one thing to declare war on fat hatred by going sleeveless.  It's another to be able to look in the mirror while wearing a sleeveless dress and think, "Wow, I look fab."  Likewise, with sexuality, it's easy to turn down guys at the club.  But it's hard to control feelings of inadequacy when all of your other female friends, who all happen to be slimmer, are getting male attention.  You almost feel like a failure because you can't break the hold that the patriarchy has over your brain.

Within the span of one week, I managed to have some significant break-throughs with these mental aspects.

Last weekend, I got a gorgeous new dress from*  It's relatively short, bright purple, and sleeveless.  I loved it instantly.  I tried it on, praying to the baseball gods** that it would fit, since not everything from Modcloth fits me, even if it's the "right" size.  It didn't just fit, it looked amazing.  I was so excited, I decided to wear it to my sister-in-law's bridal shower on Memorial Day.

I just somehow forgot that my mother was going to be there.  Like I said, she's my biggest critic when it comes to my appearance, even making unwarranted comments about my hair after I had just walked home in the sweltering heat from Longwood.  I instantly got nervous when she came to pick me up.  But she LOVED the dress.  And more importantly, I loved the dress.  And I wore it the entire afternoon at the shower, without a cardigan or shrug, showing off my arms in all their glory.  It felt fantastic.

Like I said, it's one thing to go ahead and go sleeveless.  But to get over the mental block, at least temporarily, and feel great about myself was completely unexpected, and completely awesome.

Cut to this past weekend.  Saturday night, a girlfriend and I got all dressed up and went out to a club in the Fenway area.  It was a mistake; the music was bad, the floor was sticky, and the majority of the dudes appeared to be in their 40s or fresh from the Jersey Shore.  Very weird.  My friend and I spent a while dancing together, just having fun, grabbing a couple drinks.  There were a few cute guys, but they all seemed to be hanging out amongst themselves, trying to look super cool.

Halfway through the night, a guy started dancing behind my friend.  Almost instantaneously, another guy, his friend, started dancing behind me.  My reaction?  I immediately moved, turned around, and said, "No thanks."  Twice.

This was new.  Usually, my first reaction when this kind of thing happens is fear and discomfort, but just to keep going with it for a few minutes.  Now, I was just ending it right away.  Weird/cool.  But I was finally living my philosophy, which is that if a guy is going to just start rubbing up against me without giving me an opportunity to consent or not, I'm not interested.

My friend seemed to be enjoying the attention she was getting from the first guy, so I went and grabbed a drink and spent some time texting a couple of out-of-town friends until she was done with the guy.  I had to reassure her, when the guy left for the bathroom, that I was okay with her dancing with him; I just didn't want to dance with his friend.  Later on, her guy came back, and I guess his friend decided to try his luck with me again.  He actually asked, so I said fine.  Within the first minute, I told him that I just wanted to dance tonight, thanks;*** that got him to stop playing that annoying game where the guy keeps trying to make out with you.  After a couple songs, I was bored and my feet hurt, so I said thanks and went to sit down till my friend was ready to go.

What was so weird about this?  I wasn't grateful for the guy's attention.  I didn't find him particularly attractive, I wasn't interested in doing anything with him, and I felt a serious combination of uncomfortable and bored while dancing with him.  You're probably nodding along, thinking, "Of course you were uncomfortable!" but I'm more interested in the fact that I was overwhelmingly BORED.  I was not interested in dancing with him, and I didn't enjoy it.  I was finally out of the mindset that would leave me feeling bad about myself for not getting "enough" male attention.  I know it might sound obvious that I shouldn't do something if I don't want to, but what's more important to me right now is the nuance of the situation.  I didn't dance with the guy because I felt obligated.  I danced with him because I was feeling bored while my friend danced with someone else.  And to my surprise, I didn't enjoy it.  Not because the guy was any more creepy than any other guy I've danced with at a club.  Not because I was too sober.  Not because he was a bad dancer.

Because I just wasn't interested.  And that was enough for me to realize that I didn't even feel any sort of thrill at having attention.  Didn't want it from him.  Didn't feel flattered.  It was a combination, where I finally feel great about my body, and where I finally don't feel obligated to give a guy anything just because he paid attention to me.  That combination did mean that I was bored more often than I'd hoped on Saturday night.  But otherwise, it rocked.

Finally, I seem to be getting more attention on OKCupid lately; fine.  Not thrilled or disappointed; just been noticing.  I got an IM from a guy over the long weekend, and he seemed okay.  I wasn't excited about our conversation, but he hadn't made any obviously stupid/sexist comments, and I figured I'd give him a chance.  During the second conversation with him, during which we made plans for a date, I got seriously uncomfortable.  Looking back over the chat logs, I could find several small red flags.  He didn't seem like a jerk, and (importantly) did not seem like a rapist.  But he did seem like ... a Nice Guy.  He seemed too familiar with me already.  Too presumptuous.  Too desperate.  Too excited.

I know what some of you might be thinking.  "Too excited?  Haven't you ever been excited for a date?"  Hell yes.  But there are ways to express excitement about a date TO the date without going overboard.  In this case, the guy was badgering me about taking the T to the restaurant together.  To me, a first date starts and ends at the restaurant; I don't want a ride, I don't want to travel with you, and for the love of all that is good in this world, I don't want you to know where I live.

I canceled the date and didn't feel that guilty about it.  I know the guy was disappointed, but I don't feel guilty.  I was dreading the date so much by Thursday afternoon that I was feeling panicked, and who the hell wants to feel that for a first date?

Last night, another guy IMed me.  Right off the bat, I wasn't that interested; he made a sexist comment about how I seemed to be smarter about tech than the average girl,**** and he also badgered me for my personal contact info.  He got blocked the moment the conversation ended.  And it makes me feel really good that I can make these calls.

By loving my body, I don't feel like I'm unlovable by default.  By sticking up for my sexuality, I can enjoy it instead of being obligated to dudes.  I'm aware of the fact that by refusing to diet myself tiny, and by refusing to give a guy whatever he wants, I'm decreasing my getting-laid-ness.  But there's good getting-laid-ness, and there's bad getting-laid-ness, and I only want the good kind.

* is a clothing website for women that sells a lot of retro/vintage apparel, as well as apartment items.  They tend to be pricey, and their items tend to run small and run out of stock quickly.  However, I've had excellent experiences with their customer service, and the items I've purchased and kept are fabulous.  If you have the extra money, and see anything you like that's in stock, it's worth a go.

** Yeah, I'm a skeptic/atheist.  But I'm also a baseball fan.  So I have a deal with myself that if I have to pray, it's ONLY to the baseball gods, as they are the only real gods.  They don't like me right now, I think I have a five game losing streak.

*** As I was typing this, I first typed, "I asked if we could just dance."  Then I realized, with glee, that I had not asked him if we could just dance.  I had TOLD him I just wanted to dance.  I began typing it wrong because usually the story goes more along the lines of, "I wish I had said something dfferent."  Finally, not this time.

**** First off, sexist.  Second off, whoever things I'm tech savvier than the average person is an idiot.  I'm tech savvier than your grandparents.  That's it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Surgery is a go

On Tuesday morning, I met with my surgeon, and I scheduled a date for my surgery.  The appointment was pretty interesting, and I'm looking forward to having this surgery over and done with.

The doctor mentioned that one of the risks of having both of my legs done at the same time is that I'll increase my chances of blot clots.  I have to have both done at the same time, though, so I asked, "Should I stop taking my pill then?"  The doctor was surprised, checked my records, and recommended that if I was having surgery in late July, I should stop taking my pill in June.  Which was the next day.  Whoops.

In other news, my sister's car crapped out, and so instead of selling mine, I gave it to her.  All in one week, I've gone from owning a car and taking birth control to neither.  And what's weird is that I started the pill February of sophomore year of high school, which is also when my dad gave me my first car.