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"What should I be doing, as a queer person, to support Planned Parenthood right now, especially in light of recent events?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Grace Manger Says:

You should be speaking up and fighting like hell. And most importantly, recognizing that even if attacks on Planned Parenthood do not directly affect your daily life, you still have a responsibility to see underlying connections between all oppression.

Planned Parenthood is too often framed as a place for cis-women who sleep with cis-men and absolutely no one else of any gender or orientation. For this reason, the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood are all too easily seen as “a straight woman’s problem.” This, of course, is not true, and plenty of queer and trans folks go to Planned Parenthood for a long laundry list of reasons, like STI screenings and treatments for STIs, UTIs, and yeast infections; access to safer sex materials; and, at some clinics, even hormone replacement therapy. But but but! Even if they didn’t—even if Planned Parenthood offered abortion services only and nothing else—these attacks would still be a queer issue, and we would still have to voice our support and show up for the fight. Let me tell you why.

First, a little back story. This past summer, a series of illegally filmed videos were released online by a pro-life organization with segments cut and pasted together that gave the impression that Planned Parenthood clinics were profiting off selling fetal tissue. The truth quickly came out, including plenty of expert opinions that the videos were heavily altered and misleading, as well as a reminder that it is perfectly legal for a person to opt to donate fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research.

Republicans in Congress took this opportunity to introduce extreme pro-life legislation to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood. This loss in funding would have meant lack of access to birth control and family planning services for the most financially in need, among many other basic healthcare services Planned Parenthood provides. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed this bill, but, thankfully, President Obama vetoed it.

On the bright side, more and more people are standing with Planned Parenthood and sharing their stories of how Planned Parenthood saved their lives. Additionally, in a twist of the best kind of irony, the two people responsible for these videos were indicted for tampering with government records, and one of them was also indicted for attempting to purchase human organs. On the dark side, though, opponents of Planned Parenthood have become violent and aggressive, terrorizing staff and patients outside of clinics and sending constant physical and cyber threats. On November 27, 2015, an armed man entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and shot 12 people, held others hostage, and killed three. It’s clear that these attacks are not ending any time soon.

In addition to all the many medical services Planned Parenthood provides, Planned Parenthood clinics are also community spaces where people can learn about their bodies—spaces where they are trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies. We live in a society that teaches women (in particular) that they do not have autonomy over their own bodies; Planned Parenthood is trying to turn that thinking on its head and defend what should always be ours to control.

Now, I know you didn’t ask for a current events lecture, but stay with me. Knowing the facts and educating yourself on these issues is so hugely important, because we can’t pick and choose whose equality is worth fighting for. We can’t say gay people should be able to get married and trans people should be able to safely use public bathrooms while looking away when black people are murdered in the street or when low-income women get kidney infections after repeatedly untreated UTIs. These injustices are related, and meant to divide us amongst our own personal struggles. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “None of us are free until we are all free.”

So, Anonymous, all of this is to say that you, “as a queer person” have a million ways to get involved. You can start by calling someone out if they make a callous and inaccurate joke about how Planned Parenthood “sells dead baby parts.” Arm yourself with knowledge on this issue so that you can confidently educate those around you. Spend some time thinking about how bigger themes on this topic relate to other queer and trans issues that maybe have directly affected you. You can also use the hashtag #IStandWithPP to acknowledge all of the life-saving services Planned Parenthood provides and show your e-support in this fight. When in doubt, you can just share this post with your friends and followers to pass the knowledge along through the Internet.

That’s a lot of heavy stuff I just threw at your face brains, but if you’ve read this far: Hello! And thank you! You’re great. Thank you for showing your support, and have the best day ever.

***

Grace Manger manages all content and development at The Parents Project. A graduate of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, she now lives in Portland, Oregon where she writes for Bitch Media and works as a case worker for Planned Parenthood. In her spare time, she can be found reading feminist theory, writing letters, and doing handstands around the world. Follow her on Twitter @gracemanger

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“Is it okay to call myself gay when I am bisexual? Gay has become such an umbrella term that it feels much easier, but I will stop if I’m not allowed to.”

-Question Submitted by buckybarnesfanatic

Kristin Says:

Okay, okay, okay, okay. There is a LOT going on here, so let’s take this apart a tiny bit, shall we?

You are ALLOWED to call yourself a giraffe if that is what you want to call yourself. Words, and especially identity words, are incredibly complicated things, and you have to pick the one that fits the way that you feel, period. That might mean not even PICKING a word! It might mean using several words in combination. It might mean telling someone your entire history with identity categories when they ask you how you identify, which I will refer to as the “Kristin Russo Method.”

Let me employ the Kristin Russo Method for a moment and tell you my own relationship with identity terms. Perhaps it will help!

I came out when I was 17 and when I did, I came out as bisexual. That word made sense to me because I knew as sure as hell I was crushin’ on girls and I also knew that I would one million percent still like to make out with a boy (especially if he looked like Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise, but that is another story for another day and also really makes clear just how old I am!!). That was as far as my reasoning went in 1998, because at that point I was clueless about gender being complicated and not operating on a binary. Are you still reading?! GREAT. So, I came out as bisexual and rocked out with my identity term UNTIL my mom was like UGH KRISTIN IF YOU ARE BISEXUAL WHY CANT YOU JUST BE WITH A BOY and I was like UGH MOM FORGET EVERYTHING I SAID I AM ACTUALLY A LESBIAN.

I legit just claimed that word as my identity only to quiet my mom. Then, I dated girls for a long time and the word stuck (even though it never felt quite right). Sometime later, I went to grad school and learned the word ‘queer,’ and was like oh THIS is lovely, this feels just like a warm coat on a chilly night, gimme that queer identity marker to roll all around in. Kaboom.

BUT THEN (and, dearest buckybarnes, this is really where I am circling back to you), just two years ago, I started really thinking about how I had tossed that word ‘bisexual’ right to the curb without a second thought. The reason I started to mull it all over again was because I was learning more and more about how bisexual people are completely fucking erased in oh-so-many communities! I experienced queer people saying rude, dismissive shit about bisexual people just as much as non-queer people! Oh, and then there was this whole report released by HRC!!! It really got me BUBBLING, let me tell you.

All of those thoughts were enough to make me unpack my own identity all over again, at the ripe old age of 34. I wanted to take back the word bisexual for myself, I wanted people to hear it and see it and have to think about it more and more, and I felt like my own experience could add to that conversation.

So, buckybarnes, here’s the thing. You’re right. Saying you’re “gay” is an easy answer to give to people. And, while you are honest-to-god allowed to do whatever you want (refer to earlier comments on giraffes), I do want to tell you that sometimes the easy answer actually makes things way more complicated for you (and me, and others) in the long run. I just want you to think about that as you go on your own journey with these words and with yourself and your heart and your attractions and feelings… because I wish I’d thought about that before I tossed ‘bisexual’ to the curb all those years ago.

No matter what you do or what you decide, identifying as bisexual doesn’t mean that you have to always give the same answer, and it doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes just say “Yeah, I’m gay,” and call it a day. I have those days, too (in fact, here’s a little anecdote about me pretending I had a boyfriend at the passport office!), and that’s a-ok. You may, find, though, that having people ask you more questions or wonder about the complicated nature of who you are is sometimes way, way more powerful than the alternative.

Have the best night.

x, Kristin

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“hi, how do you handle being intersex when you go to the doctor? my primary care doctor knows that I’m intersex, but I never know if I should talk about it if I have to go to the school nurse, the ER, or see a specialist. do I have to tell them? does it matter if I don’t? thx”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Claudia Astorino Says:

Awww, booooo, Anonymous—having to go to the doctor’s is never fun, but having additional needs on top of your medical needs isn’t always intuitive to navigate. When I’ve chosen to disclose aspects of my body that aren’t normative for women—or even to say that I’m intersex—I’ve had results that range from really positive to really awful (like, eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s awful #chubbyhubbyforevs). Based on these various experiences, I’ve created a few rules for myself that tend to end up making my visits a bit more pleasant.

1) I only disclose information about my body that is (I think is likely to be) medically necessary. So like, if I have a sore throat and go to the doctor’s, it’s probbbbbbably highly unlikely that my XY chromosomes are the reason I’m hacking up a lung. If the reason I’m getting medical care CLEARLY has nothing to do with my being intersex, I don’t mention it.

Now, I’ve put “I think is likely to be” in this rule as a reminder that if I think that my being intersex might be relevant to my medical care, then it may be worth bringing up to my doctor.  For instance, if my doctor may say something to the effect of, “Well, [health concern] is highly uncommon in women,” I may say, “Well, that may still be worth exploring since I’m not a biologically typical female. I’m an intersex person, and my form of intersex is complete androgen insensitivity. Is [health concern] likely to impact me?”

2) If doctors ask questions about my body that are medically relevant, I answer them (although I don’t have to give them all the details). I had an appendicitis scare, and the doctors performed an MRI of my lower abdomen to see if my appendix was inflamed. After doing this, one of the ER nurses said that she’d observed that I didn’t have a uterus, and asked me why.  I said, “I was born without a uterus.” In similar instances, I might follow up with, “I didn’t have a hysterectomy or other procedure you might want to be aware of.” These medical professionals are likely making sure that they’re ruling out any possible reasons why I may be having a set of symptoms, and answering these questions helps them to do that. However, I’m not obligated to provide further details. Read on, intrepid Anonymous!

3) If doctors ask questions about my body that are NOT medically relevant, I’m not obligated to answer. So. The thing is, doctors are people. And we people are living at a time in history where intersex people aren’t highly visible or well-understood. Many people don’t know what it means to be an intersex person, and sometimes these people wear white coats and stethoscopes and hold medical degrees. Sometimes, it is clear that medical professionals are asking questions about your body that aren’t medically relevant, and you might feel really uncomfortable with this. Well, Anonymous, I’m here to say it loud and clear: YOU DON’T HAVE TO ANSWER THOSE QUESTIONS, AT ALL, EVER

Let’s go back to that appendicitis scare I had. After I stated that I was born without a uterus the attending nurse asked me, “Um, why is that?” Hopefully, this nurse was trying to ask me if there was other medically relevant information she should know about. In response to situations like this, it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “That isn’t medically relevant in this case,” and state that I haven’t had a hysterectomy or other procedure they might want to know about, as suggested above. Another way to respond to questions like this is by asking another question: “Is that medically relevant?” or “Can you tell me how that’s medically relevant?” and wait for a response.

What doctors need to know is information that is medically relevant. That I’m intersex and my form of intersex is complete androgen insensitivity and I have XY chromosomes and I was born with testes and blah blah blurgh blah is usually not medically relevant information. Under those circumstances, I don’t need to report this info. If I feel comfortable providing this information, I can choose to do so, but I’m not required to.

Occasionally, you may have an encounter that makes it clear that doctors are asking questions about your body out of curiosity, and that’s not appropriate or okay. You are visiting them to stop hacking up your lungs or prevent appendageddon—not to teach them about intersex people.

Let me tell you a story.  Several years ago, after I moved to NYC, I went to try and find a doctor to serve as my primary care physician. During my first appointment with a physician we shall refer to only as Dr. Doodoopoobutt, I was asked why I took a daily estrogen pill. Since Dr. DDPB was going to be my GP, I came out to them as intersex, and told them my form of intersex. Dr. DDPB responded by asking a series of inappropriate questions, including, “So, um, do you have a penis? Oh. *pause* So you have a vagina, then? Uh, what do you and don’t you have?” Later, when I was lying on the exam table, I was terrified that Dr. DDPB was going to try to insist I should pull down my pants so they could inspect my genitals.

Today, if this situation had happened, I would have the confidence to say, “Those questions aren’t medically relevant. Can we move on?” or perhaps to say, “Those questions are medically irrelevant and they’re insensitive. I’m going to leave now,” and walk out the door and buy a hot chocolate and sit on a bench in Central Park and watch the squirrels stealing soft pretzels right out of the garbage cans, because eff that noise you know? But at the time, I didn’t know these options were open to me. Dear Anonymous, know that if any medical professional acts in a manner that’s inappropriate or disrespectful, you don’t have to sit in that plastic patient’s chair and try to deal. You are fully within your right to let them know it’s not okay, to leave, to go get that hot chocolate.

4) If doctors ask questions about my body that are NOT medically relevant, I reserve the right to lie about it.

Yep, you read that correctly, Anonymous. Real talk:  I may choose not to be truthful in answering questions about my body related to my intersex if I know it’s not medically relevant—and especially if I don’t feel comfortable with a particular healthcare provider. I have mixed feelings about this—I want to be clear about the fact that, in general, I don’t advocate lying to health care providers, and that coming out to medical professionals can be a positive experience. That being said, you are not required to come out. It can be painful when clinicians are less-than-sensitive about my body after coming out to them as intersex. I’ve dealt with a lot of damaging words and procedures from various doctors at multiple medical facilities during my childhood and adolescence—I value myself and my emotional health too much to put myself in a similar position again as an adult.

In what situations might one lie? There are often standard questions you’re asked to fill out on medical forms or asked by clinicians that you can’t answer truthfully without coming out and having a conversation about it afterward. For example, I’ve never gotten my period, but I’ve never had a medical appointment where I didn’t have to report when my last period was.  Although I tell doctors now, “I don’t get my period,” or “I have amenorrhea,” and go from there, I used to simply lie about it when I was younger because I didn’t know that, “I don’t get my period,” was actually an acceptable answer. My go-to was, “The first of the month,” and then sit there white-knuckling it because I was nervous they knew somehow I wasn’t fessing up.

Finally, I am fortunate that I have never felt truly unsafe when visiting medical facilities as an LGBTQIA individual. However, this is not always the case for LGBTQIA patients. If I felt that my safety was at issue by disclosing my intersex, I would not hesitate to lie to protect myself, and leave the facility if I was able to. Remember, you can always find a new doctor. Keeping yourself safe—even if you have to lie—is okay. #safetyfirst #always

Well, Anonymous, I hope that this helps you out! Before appointments, I’d recommend spending a few minutes thinking about what information you’re comfortable disclosing and how much—it will make you feel more comfortable during the appointment and feel empowered that you’re taking control of the conversation about your body (which is not what most of us have experienced being medicalized as kids).

Fingers and toes crossed that your next appointment goes great! <3

***

Claudia Astorino is an intersex activist living in NYC.  Claudia serves as Associate Director of Organization Intersex International’s USA chapter (OII-USA), coordinates the Annual Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) events in NYC, and writes for Full-Frontal Activism: Intersex and Awesome (her personal blog) and Autostraddle. Help support our contributors here on Patreon!

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**Content Warning: Abuse**
“I’ve recently realized that I’m gay. The thing is, I was sexually abused when I was a kid. What does this mean? Am I gay because I was abused? I know I didn’t chose this, but I can’t help but wonder if these two things are related.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Rachel Halder Says:

First of all, congratulations on realizing an important and beautiful aspect of yourself—that you are gay! It sometimes takes a lifetime for someone to admit this to themselves, and you’ve overcome the first and arguably hardest hurdle. That must be celebrated!

Secondly, I am impressed with your vulnerability in stating that you were abused, and in allowing yourself to voice your concern in these two things being related. Abuse of all kinds is traumatic, and it takes deep, personal reflection to even acknowledge its influence in our lives.

I, too, am queer and an abuse survivor. I knew I was queer since I was 15. Or at least, that’s the first time I can remember admitting that I fantasized about women. But I didn’t allow myself to act on that until nearly 10 years later. Why?

I first encountered sexual abuse at three-years-old. I didn’t consciously allow myself to realize this though until I was 22. Even though I shoved that traumatic memory deep into my subconscious, it still affected me in many ways, including that I was seemingly unable to act upon my attraction to women.

There’s this really pervasive thing that exists in our society called shame. Unfortunately, we are all plagued by it, without even realizing that’s what it is.

Shame is the thing that keeps us in the closet. And shame is the thing that keeps us from talking about our traumatic experiences with sexual abuse.

We cannot talk about sexualized violence without talking about shame.

We cannot talk about gender and sexual identity without talking about shame.

Shame plays these tapes in our head telling us that we did something bad, we’re gross, maybe even disgusting. Shame makes us feel like we have no reason to live, that we’re somehow worthless and wrong. The thing about interlinking homosexuality with abuse is that it doubly shames a person.

Once a man asked me, “So how much of your being gay has to do with your history with sexual abuse?” His inquiry completely shattered me. I walked away in dumbfounded tears, unable to fully grasp why this question made me so hysterical. Thankfully a friend helped me see how the comment had been humiliating because it not only insinuated that I should be ashamed of the abuse I’ve experienced, but that I’m also guilty for having that abuse “cause” me to “turn gay.” I felt doubly shamed. In one question that took two seconds to utter, my entire self-worth felt shat upon. I heard, “You are not worthy. You are not good. You are broken goods. And because of your brokenness you now do disgusting things. Oh yeah, but none of it is your fault.”

Experiences of sexual violation are prevalent in the human population in general. According to reports that I believe are drastically underestimated, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually violated. Yet, I’ve personally only met and spoken to one queer survivor open about her history with abuse. There are many who identify as straight who are survivors of sexual abuse. I’ve met and spoken to hundreds of them. My website Our Stories Untold documents their stories. They email me on a monthly basis. So I wonder, if sexual abuse is causing people to turn gay, where are all the gay stories on my website?

Would it be fair to ask someone, “So how much of your identifying as a heterosexual man have to do with your history of abusing children and women?”

Five years ago when I was in therapy for my sexual abuse trauma, I finally began talking about my attraction to women. I had a major crush on an openly gay girl at work—in fact I was totally in love with her—yet I felt paralyzed in doing anything about the crush, let alone admit to people around me that I was interested in a woman. Through therapy I realized the reason I felt terrified to “come out” publicly was because I had been abused—the idea that my abuse somehow “made me gay” was nearly too much to bare, and my biggest fear was someone making that assumption about me. It took my therapist repeatedly saying for months, “Your sexual abuse has NOTHING to do with the gender of the people you fall in love with” that I finally gave up trying to pretend that I wasn’t attracted to women. I freed myself from the cage I locked myself into. I allowed myself to become vulnerable with my multiple identities of both queer and abuse survivor. And I finally decided that what others thought about my life could not continue to dictate the way I lived, the people I loved, or the experiences I wanted to have. From that point on, I took my life back.

Let me do for you what my therapist did for me: Abuse you experienced in the past has nothing to do with the gender of the people you fall in love with. You can free yourself from your own cage. It’s tough, but you can learn to embrace the multiple identities you hold of both survivor and gay, and not let society’s false perceptions of how those two are connected to control how you feel about yourself.

I really don’t think my abuse “caused” me to be attracted to anyone. If anything, it gave me an opportunity to look deep inside my being and find true devotion and self-love for the human that I am. It offered me the opportunity to explore vulnerability and overcome shame in the most liberating ways. And it gave me a strength I never knew was possible. I’ve been in love with women, men, and a trans identified person. I love to love—as hard and scary as love can be—and I strive to open myself to love in any healthy forms it comes to me in. The most important love of my life though is myself. And loving myself means accepting both my sexuality and my abuse stories, and creating a life in which I can live fully and vibrantly as my unique, badass self.

You are worthy. You are good. You are not broken goods. And because of your unique and profound beauty created by your experiences and your heart, you can live the life you wish to live in the ways only you see fit. You can evolve, change your mind, and become someone new each and every day.

***

Rachel Halder is currently an MA in Religion candidate at Claremont School of Theology, studying holistic spiritual trauma healing for those who have been marginalized by the Christian Church because of sexual abuse and/or LGBTQIA sexual identification. She is passionate about interspirituality, believing that mystical spirituality is the origin of all world religions, and that at their mystical core all spiritual paths lead to Love. She blogs about sexualized violence at Our Stories Untold, about spirituality at Heart of Thought, and when she’s not writing or speaking you can find her hiking mountains or walking through the forest, communing with pachamama’s beautiful earth creation. Follow her on Twitter @raegitsreal

Help support our contributors here on Patreon!

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