How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
Table of doom. Photo via Mickipedia on Flickr
Dr. Lavender came highly recommended by a co-worker who hated going to the gynecologist. I was relatively new in town -- new enough and with a lonely enough vagina -- that I hadn’t bothered finding a doc for my yearly exam until I realized I needed to get back in the stirrups to avoid running out of birth control pills.
“Dr. L does self-love workshops with vulva puppets,” was the co-worker’s encouragement. I was her office mate who didn’t shave, and she figured a woman with plush vulvas hanging around was my kind of doc. I assumed she was right and was shocked at how soon I was able to slide into the doctor’s schedule. Pretty much from there, things went downhill fast.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the gyno (is anyone?) but I had high hopes for Dr. L. Far as I knew, I filled out the intake sheets as thoroughly and honestly as possible. And if there is any blame to be shared in this story, I suppose that was my biggest mistake. I still don’t know what sin of oversharing I committed, but I sure paid for it.
When Dr. Lavender walked into the exam room, she immediately asked why I was having painful sex. I’m foggy on whether or not I outright laughed in her face, but questioning me about my sex life was laughable at that point. I wasn’t having any, and if anything, I felt like that might be a more appropriate conversation. Undeterred, Dr. L repeatedly asked me about my supposed pain while I wondered what checkbox I’d inadvertently marked.
Note to everyone: When a doc presumes pain that a patient doesn’t have, that’s a good time to get up and walk out. Otherwise, you’ll end up like I did that day, with Dr. Lavender administering a cruel exam that had me clutching the table as I nearly shrieked for her to get away from me. Did I mention I’m a sexual abuse survivor? Aggressive lady with the speculum, BACK THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY VAG.
I should first say that as with recounting any story without notes, I’m at a loss for some of the details. Rather than knowing exactly what Dr. Lavender assumptively asked about my sex life, I remember my horrified expression. Unclear on how I must have responded, I only recall feeling infantilized and violated after her particularly traumatic exam.
But I what I do remember clearly is what Dr. Lavender said after I put my pants back on. “I can see why you’re having trouble. Your vagina is abnormal. We can help you with physical therapy.”
I stared at her, obviously not comprehending. Instead of explaining, she handed me a pamphlet about my pelvic floor and physical therapy. PHYSICAL THERAPY FOR MY ABNORMAL VAGINA. And then, like any helpful, empathic doctor, she left.
I’m not here to hate on that fact that her suggested treatment might benefit others with actual issues to address. But as has been proven in later years in a satisfying sexual relationship, there’s nothing “abnormal” with my vagina, nor do I need physical therapy on my goodies.
Perhaps not unlike, oh, anyone, my vagina and I just need to be in healthy, happy, consensual situations together. Then we do just fine.
I was barely out of the parking lot before I had my best friend on the phone, shrieking, “I have a fucked-up vagina! I have a fucked-up vagina!”
“No you do not!” she yelled back. “Did she tell you that?!”
“She used the word abnormal and told me my vag needs PHYSICAL THERAPY!” I yelled.
“Oh my GOD, Brittany!” the bff yelled. In case it isn’t obvious, my friends tend to be a bit less dramatic than I am -- and with good reason, as we all balance each other out. But that day, my friend was livid. “Your vagina is AWESOME! Not fucked up! Fuck her!”
By then I was half crying and half laughing, a vast improvement for me (if not for other drivers in my way en route home). And while I’m supremely lucky to have such a good friend to back me, I also had no idea how to respond to anything that happened that day.
Seven years ago, I only thought to take to the internets and proclaim how I’d been wronged. A seething (although, all things considered, relatively measured) Yelp review seemed like the way to air my grievances and appropriately spread the word: Avoid Dr. Lavender like I wish I had. If she treats you like a confusing science project, get up and leave! And to my shaken surprise and horror, a few others eventually entered the fray to admit that yes, Dr. Lavender is a crabby doctor lacking bedside manner and probably phoning it in as she nears retirement.
Of course, haters gonna hate. “I’m suspicious of Brittany’s review,” one user responded. Funny, I’m suspicious of gynecologists who HURT THEIR PATIENTS and pathologize them based on a questionnaire. And as any Yelp user will recognize, a spate of five star reviews from otherwise inactive users popped up soon thereafter.
Last time I checked, girlfriend was holding steady with three stars. (And it’s no longer weighted by me; I took my review down a long time ago.) If anything in this story is abnormal, it’s how this doctor treats her patients.
To recap, if your abusive gynecologist tells you that your otherwise awesome vagina is abnormal and needs physical therapy, you’ve got a few options.
1. Sit there and take it.
2. Push her away with your feet the moment she hurts you and put your pants back on.
3. Tell her it’s too bad that with all the vag she sees, she doesn’t recognize the greatness in front of her.
And then no matter what else happens, get the fuck out of there.