January 29, 2014

Fitting In

Sometimes we don't fit in. Movies and TV shows go out of their way trying to relate to audiences who didn't fit in during middle school or high school, and everyone has at least one period or instance of not quite fitting in somewhere or with some group. I was lucky to be pretty enough (and unassuming) to not get teased or picked on, at least not to my face (and if there was teasing going on behind my back I never got wise to it) and I was also lucky enough to find a very tight knit group of people that accepted me completely. High school was actually very pleasant for me. 

But sometimes we don't fit in with that one group of people we should always feel like we belong with - our families. That's when it gets rough.

Sometimes our families make us feel weird, unusual, or wrong for no reason. And not in horrible awful ways, but subtle ways. A little remark that lets you know you're the only one who believes in something, or that your clothes aren't quite right, or that you're into the wrong kinds of activities. And when we don't feel like we belong with our families we seek out anyone else who will accept us, or at least who will make us feel like we aren't the complete weirdos our families make us think we are.

I got lucky, again, that I found someone who doesn't make me feel like a complete weirdo. Actually, that's not exactly true… I found someone who really likes my weirdness, and participates in it with me. Someone who doesn't believe in the little things I sometimes hear from my family, who even likes the things my family doesn't seem to like about me. Having someone with the same values as I have makes me feel like I'm not totally alone, and it makes dealing with those snide little remarks a little bit easier. Knowing that I can create my own family how I want and that I'm far enough away from those related to me that I don't have to see them and hear their comments about my lifestyle, my beliefs, or my interests very often. 

January 20, 2014

In Which I'm Glad To Have Been Born When And Where I Was

I've been talking about race a lot lately. A lot more than normal, anyway.

Today The Boyfriend and I had the opportunity to see a morning movie (the best kind of movie - they're half price, usually not packed, and tend to have a less annoying crowd) and since 12 Years a Slave was still playing, likely thanks to its Oscar nomination, we figured that was the most appropriate choice for Martin Luther King, Jr Day. 12 Years a Slave is not an easy movie to sit through. They make it clear at the beginning and end that the movie is based on a true story - based off the first hand account as told in the book by the same name, written by the main character. 

[Spoilers] The main character, a black freeman named Solomon, a New York musician who appears to be well respected in his community, is kidnapped and sold into slavery with a name change and a very bruised spirit. Though he has two… colleagues, of sorts… with him, who together decide that keeping their heads down and not letting on that they're educated or - heaven forbid - are freemen, Solomon is soon alone to fend for himself. For years he's shuffled along from one slaver to another, some relatively decent (for slave owners) and some so horrible it was hard to keep looking at the screen at times, always looking for the opportunity to find his way back to his real life. He eventually finds it, in a sympathetic Canadian who takes a risk by contacting Solomon's former associates to send his free papers, and the end of the movie brought the whole theater to tears. Not even kidding, there was sniffling all around us. I had brought a few tissues because I'm still dealing with the after effects of the flu, but The Boyfriend and I ended up using them to dry our eyes before heading back out into daylight. It was rough. 

Martin Luther King Jr feels extra prevalent as an icon now than when I was a kid, and having the day off in remembrance of him makes me even more aware of this. Today MLK stands for more than just racial equality, he stands for all that is and should be right with humanity. He stands for racial equality, sexual equality, respect for animals, and respect for the earth. His words - spoken at a certain time and for a certain cause - are being attributed today to a whole slew of causes that are just as important as the one he campaigned and died for. 

I feel particularly lucky to have had the opportunity to be so reminded of what MLK stood for because I have a boss who, I imagine, feels particularly connected to the man's cause. Martin Luther King Jr Day is an important day for LGBT campaigns, and for a gay man (who gives his employees the day off, with pay) it seems appropriate that he wants us to recognize it. And I'm glad that today we saw 12 Years a Slave, and not The Wolf of Wall Street. 

A little over a week ago I was driving with my boss to a client meeting and we got on the subject of race and sexuality in San Diego. I told a story of how The Boyfriend and I were approached in Home Depot by one of their marketing team and asked if we were planning on a major renovation in the next few years (kitchen or bath remodel). The implication I got was that Home Depot was looking for a way to get some publicity; The Boyfriend was having none of it, thinking that it was a scam at worst or a ploy to get him to do more work on his condo than he wanted at best. I had thought the marketing guy was looking for a couple they'd be able to promote about the cool things we did with Home Depot supplies/labor, and finding an interracial couple was a relative gold mine for publicity. My boss agreed, adding that we're such a good looking couple (awww) that they'd probably have promoted any work we did with Home Depot like crazy, adding further that we could probably easily exploit our relationship if we wanted to. (He also added that if we had kids we'd be pretty much exactly the perfect "family of today," but I didn't mention that kids aren't part of the plan.) 

My boss brought up the fact that I probably don't see my boyfriend as someone different than me because there's a different in our skin color. Which is true. I might have grown up in a predominantly white town, but while I noticed differences in appearance it was like I was noticing hair color - some people just have different hair color than I do, and some people just have different skin color than I do. That never made a difference in a person's personality or abilities, and I never got the impression that others felt any differently (though as part of the racial majority I'm not exactly one to speak with any authority on that, and I was occasionally guilty of saying things that were taken in a totally different context than I meant them or would have even understood at the time). Having since moved to San Diego, where there's far greater racial diversity, and living in the time I am, it's almost unfathomable that race is that big a deal to some people. Which is why watching things like 12 Years a Slave is so difficult. The characters in the movie believed in slavery. They used the bible to not only justify keeping other human beings in slavery, but blamed the slaves for their own circumstances using the same bible verses. They didn't want to hear that their slaves were potentially freemen in other states. They didn't want to hear that they might have had other names, that there might have been wives and children and humanity somewhere else. Slaves were property, no different from horses or dogs, to do with as they pleased because god gave them to the slavers. They had not only the right to own these people, but the duty to judge and punish and kill them for the slightest disobedience, real or imagined.

Our conversation turned to my boss's experiences as a gay man, living with his husband in San Diego and other parts of the country. My boss was born and raised in a very, very small town in Louisiana that I still can't pronounce or spell properly. He eventually moved to New York, where he met his husband, and they moved to San Diego together, living in Colorado and one or two other states in between. He talked about their experiences walking down the sidewalk holding hands, how it's still not normal enough to not get odd looks (whereas The Boyfriend and I are almost entirely ignored because our relationship isn't unusual here), and how they are introduced to so many hairdressers because straight people only seem to have that one connection to gays (but bless them for trying!). There's still a disconnect between the LGBT community and everyone else, just like there was between whites and everyone else just 50 years ago.

I wonder how Martin Luther King Jr would have felt having lines from his speeches being borrowed for other causes. I have to believe he would be proud, because a man can't repeatedly preach about equality for all, talk about respect for women, gays, animals, and the environment and not imagine that his words would be used for something even greater than he meant at the time. And I'm glad that I was able to think so much about his legacy today. There will always be differences between men and women - women can't help that men can't have kids, and that will probably always contribute to our lower pay and limit our career choices. But there aren't differences between whites and any other race, or straights and gays, and I'd like to think that one day, hopefully while The Boyfriend and I are still alive, we'll be able to see these perceived differences disappear completely and whites and non-whites and straights and LGBTs are 100% equal in every way.

September 24, 2013

Being Marshall

For a very long time I knew there was more good in humanity than bad. Bad things didn't happen to those I knew, bad things happened to people far away from me, or at least far enough away from me. Plus, they were sporadic, random, and not normal. But for the last few years it's been a struggle to continue believing that. Lately, especially.

I want to believe (need to believe?) that it's not just possible for two people to make a relationship last, but for two people to want to be with just each other for the majority of their lives. That they aren't just staying for the sake of commitment, or for the kids, or because their religion forbids divorce, or because the woman is financially trapped. But because they're in love enough, or attracted to each other enough, or respect each other enough, or just like each other enough to want to stay together.

I've felt like Marshall from How I Met Your Mother, the only character who has always believes in true love and the goodness of others, and his beliefs often prevail at the end of the episode. I haven't always believed in true love, but I have always believed in the goodness of others. But I'm a lot more quiet about it, and I'm starting to think it's because I'm so frequently disappointed.

There comes a point where I need to be OK trusting myself. I need to be OK with knowing what it is I want, what I need to do to get it, what kind of person I am and what my priorities are. And I am. Those values get challenged, a lot, but I always arrive at the same place. 

It still sucks when people you know break up, though. A while back I wrote about being surprised that my generation was divorcing, as if we were smart enough to learn from other's mistakes. I've spent most of my life with the understanding that people stay together in unhappy marriages or divorce and end up bitter and angry (for at least a little while). But we also know that certain relationships won't end - until they do. Family members, friends, and acquaintances have believed with every inch of their skin that they were in relationships that would last forever. I never felt that. I was told, and then I assumed, and once I kind of hoped because it would be cute, but I never believed. 

It's terrifying to believe.

After watching relationship after relationship fall apart how can I believe I can be different? I can hope and wish all I want but the happy, wonderful marriages I know are distant acquaintances - I have no idea how their real lives are; they could break up tomorrow and I would only be able to say how happy they seemed on Instagram (except for one - but I don't see them that often). 

Believing your relationship is secure enough to last is a risk - it's dumb to think otherwise. But at the end of the day you just have to trust yourself and hope your partner is in the same boat. 

I think this is a little bit harder to do as a woman. If we say we're going to marry the person we're dating it gets assumed all we really want is to get married, not that this person is that special; we sound less certain than men saying the same words because he's not romantic or marriage-hungry or whatever it is women are.

I made myself a promise after watching my parents divorce that I wouldn't marry if I wasn't absolutely positive beyond a doubt that I would never go through what they did. But the best I can do is believe that I'm making the best decision I can make and be OK enough to take a risk. I've worried for a long time about being naive in thinking marriage is still a good idea when so many end up broken or unhappy, but the belief that it's possible is valuable to me. I would rather take a risk and believe that I know what I'm doing than be afraid I'm just being naive and not pursue something that has the potential to make me happy.

September 22, 2013

Two Weeks

 We get to do this all the time.

I wanted to write One Week, Three Years Later, or One Week Part 3, or One Week something to continue my One Week series (part 1 and part 2), but the parts that were thoroughly out of the ordinary happened over two weeks (well, if I'm being completely honest it's been more like a month, but I've already written about a lot of the things that have happened (like my apartment flooding and the decision to move in with the boyfriend). So I'm going to abandon my hopes for a trilogy and instead focus on these first two weeks of cohabitation. Because this is so not normal.

Yet it is. Easily the weirdest thing about living with the boyfriend is that it's not weird at all. When we first decided to find a place together, then signed the lease, the boyfriend sent me a middle-of-the-day text, sounding all cute and excited, reminding me that we were going to live together in a couple weeks. I said it was going to be weird. And I fully believed it would - neither of us have lived with a significant other before, we haven't had any relationship testing experiences such as a move for either of us, and we had no idea how the animals were going to take it.

The move itself sucked. When we first decided to live together we said the fall would be a good time to aim for, partially because moving in cooler weather was just way more preferable than moving in the heat of summer. But San Diego thinks that September and October are summer and we moved at the tail end of a crazy heat wave - it was definitely mid-80s on moving day and we and our amazing helpers were so goddamn miserable. It was hot, the furniture was heavy (most of it really wasn't that heavy), there were stairs, and we had to visit three different addresses. Fuck. That. But we didn't have a choice so we sucked it up and did it (one of our helpers definitely picking up my slack when I just couldn't handle the heat for a few minutes). I've always said I love moving - the looking for apartments, finding the right one, packing, heavy lifting, unpacking, all of it. I used to do it often enough that I should have loved it, but this was not fun. Don't move in September.

But the actual living together part has seemed pretty normal. We spent every night together (with maybe two exceptions) the last year, and for a few weeks we actually lived together at his place, with cat and dog, while my apartment was a disaster zone. So having our own place, a place that neither cat nor dog had lived in, and room enough for both our belongings is actually so far really easy. The cat and dog are being... cat and dog... but honestly they're adjusting to sharing the same space pretty quickly. It definitely helped that the cat is no longer living in the dog's home, and obviously the dog being the sweet non-confrontational creature he is makes things better, but they're sharing the bed and walking around the condo together without major issues (Chloe being a cat doesn't count as a major issue). 

We are settling into our weekday routines of dog walking, lunch making and cooking dinner, in between washing and putting away our endless collection of coffee mugs, pint glasses, plates and stemware (which is funny because I think we have 5 forks between us). Our place is right by a dog park so Argo gets to go several times a week. We're also by the big dog park that he knows, and he's gone there a couple times already. When my lazy ass starts running again it'll be nice to have a regular partner.

The boyfriend had the internet switched over on moving day so there was no lapse in coverage. We also discovered the basic cable package he was already paying for to watch football also comes with a bunch of channels, so we've been watching more regular TV the last two weeks, and by TV I mean we can watch Breaking Bad when it airs.

I also went through my colposcopy, giving moving in stress some medical company (it went OK).

For the most part we're settled. We're in need of a bookshelf and need to figure out what to do with our patio, but the important parts are set up and functional and the living room and kitchen have already been able to entertain friends. My deadline for being art-on-the-walls settled is end of October for our first out of town visitor, but Black Friday is going to be our fancy-pants TV and Blu Ray buying time. I have a feeling after that the boyfriend is going to want to do Super Bowl Sunday here, so maybe we'll have replaced our IKEA couches by then. But it's all exciting - this is the party of moving that's more relaxed. Having a few boxes of books not put away isn't hurting anything for the time being, so we can take it easy. In the mean time, we have painting and fixing up the boyfriend's condo to get it ready for tenants to take care of. 

September 16, 2013

Colposcopy: 15 Minutes With A Flashlight And A Scalpel

Should anyone looking for more information about what a colposcopy is and what it's like, I hope this can help. Regular readers: prepare to be educated.

After 8 years of perfect Pap smears, a month ago it came up abnormal. The doctor found a small lesion, which she called LG-SIL, or low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion. She acted like it was no big deal, and more or less explained that women get Pap smears because cervical cancers often come with no symptoms, and tends to be discovered way later than it could have. As long as you have a history of normal Paps you get them every two years. An abnormal one means you get them every year, after whatever procedure is necessary to return it to normal. 

So today I went in to get a colposcopy (medical professionals call it a colpo - I guess they deal with a lot of -oscopies). As soon as my ID and insurance were verified, they sent me to the back for a urine sample for a mandatory preggo test (negative, yay!). I didn't even get back into the waiting room because the medical assistant was waiting to take me to the exam room. She sat me down, took my vitals, told me to undress from the waist down and gave me a sheet as a cover. Usually, you sit like that for, like, 10 minutes waiting for the doctor to come in, but no sooner had I sat back down than the doctor knocked and came in.

She explained again to me what was about to happen: there was a device to my left that looked like a cross between a microscope and a hydra that she was going to use to get a better look into my cervix. It would stay on the outside of my body, so the rest of the procedure would very likely go like a regular old Pap smear: speculum, gynecologist, and some swabs. Should she see anything abnormal she'd take a biopsy to send to the lab, otherwise she'd take a scraping just to be sure there wasn't anything the Pap missed.

I had a very strong feeling throughout the procedure that this was more of a liability issue, rather than a real medical concern. If I were to develop cancer and had a recent abnormal Pap that they ignored I'd have a case against them. Plus, Paps aren't perfect, and an abnormal result could indicate something more serious, so it really is better to be 100% sure it's nothing to worry about than assume it'll just go away on its own, even though it most likely will.

Since nothing really was going on inside my uterus there was no need for any anesthesia; the doctor explained even if she has to take a biopsy it will hurt more to administer the local anesthesia than the second or two it would take to get the sample. At first, everything felt a lot like getting a Pap smear - she found a smaller speculum to make it more comfortable (God, these doctors are amazing), I could feel the Q-tip as she cleaned and collected, and we chatted about my neighborhood and this restaurant that closed and how the owners of a beer shop down the street are reopening it, all while the medical assistant stood silent in the room. Then the doctor told me she didn't see anything abnormal, so she was just going to take a scraping.

She might actually have not used a scalpel... I couldn't see over the sheet what exactly was going on and didn't try to watch, but I sure as hell could feel everything and it felt like what I imagine a scalpel in your uterus feels like. Un-fucking-pleasant. She told me I would feel cramping, and seemed to hunker down to get this part over with as quickly as possible. I'm very lucky in that I rarely experience cramps, and the ones I do get are very mild. But this felt like the worst cramps ever. I kept trying to relax my legs and not tense up, pinching myself for distraction, but I ended up making some noise anyway. Any woman who has experienced bad cramps or a Pap smear will understand what that feels like, only times 10. Ouch. But it wasn't a searing pain and it was over as soon as she was done. 

As soon as she got the scraping she removed the speculum and told me I was free to sit up if I felt OK or I could stay laying down. The doctor housed her sample, cleaned up, asked if I had any questions, and was out. The whole thing took maybe 10 minutes. Crazy fast. I was allowed to dress, the medical assistant gave me a panty liner to protect against spotting, and I headed to the check-out desk for my paperwork.

Unfortunately, that's where it got a little scary. The medical assistant left her desk for a minute to retrieve the paperwork from the printer, and immediately I started to feel hot and lightheaded. This familiar wave rushed over me - the air in the room was gone, I was sweating, and I knew I was about to pass out. I held on to the counter and tried to focus on a word on the wall... but no one was around if I did pass out, so I found a chair in an exam room, sat down and fanned myself with a paper. The medical assistant found me after a few seconds and helped me to the exam bed to lay down, then went to get the doctor. When they came back they brought some water, a cold washcloth for my forehead, and the medical assistant took my vitals again, just to be sure. Apparently this happens - I guess messing around with your cervix has some other effects on the body. After a few minutes and normal vital signs I felt well enough to leave.

Things you should know about a colposcopy:
  • They'll give you a sheet of things to prepare yourself - no sex and no putting any creams or products in or near your vagina for three days before the procedure.
  • You probably want to take an aspirin or something before getting there in case you have cramps. I didn't and the pain was only during the procedure.
  • My insurance would have charged me $100-200 to have it done in a hospital, where the original appointment was made, which a super awesome nurse informed me of and let me change my appointment to a medical facility that wouldn't charge the fee. That being said, I still have no idea how much my insurance will charge me for this whole thing (but I'm glad I didn't need a biopsy!).
  • No sex and no tampons for three days after the colposcopy. 
  • There might be spotting and cramping (I didn't have any effects after). 
  • Wear cotton panties for breathability.
  • Results come back between 7-10 days, and you should expect a call from the doctor that performed the procedure.
I hope anyone reading this who is about to have a colposcopy or knows someone who is has found useful information here. This was the fastest medical procedure ever, and all in all not as bad as I was fearing. Also, anyone sexually active (under 30, I think) should get the Gardasil vaccine - protecting yourself and/or your partner(s) against 75% of viruses that cause cancer and warts is a crazy good idea.

EDIT: My results came back normal, as expected. Now I just need to schedule my follow-up PAP for one year from now to make sure everything is still all hunky-dory.