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How to Save a Life

October 19th, 2014 by

Six and a half years ago, I started taking a medication that changed my life, drastically, for the better. There is no doubt in my mind that without starting this medication, I would not be writing this today–I would be dead, probably a couple of times over.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you will know that I am chronically ill. My health is not always under control, but sometimes I am granted respites from the tortures that are concocted for me by my body.

Before I began taking this medication, I was very ill. My stomach had lost the ability to empty into my intestine, and my intestine fared no better, no longer able to push food through it. I suffered from frequent blockages and bacterial overgrowths. I couldn’t eat much, and what I did eat, I couldn’t absorb. I lost a lot of weight very quickly. I was told that if I lost any more weight, I’d be given a feeding tube.

Despite the severity of my symptoms, it took years for me to be properly diagnosed. Six and a half years ago, I was finally given a diagnosis, and, even better, prescribed a treatment. It was a medication in the form of subcutaneous injection, a delivery method that frightened me and fully realized for me the gravity of my situation.

In all actuality, as scary as needles are for some people (a group of which I have previously counted myself a member), they are, in and of themselves, not terribly dangerous, and not particularly painful. Six and a half years after that first terrifying needle stick, I do not blink an eye at even the most particularly painful poke.

Since then, I have dealt with situations so much more painful than needles: all manner of trials and tribulations dealing with my health insurance and this medication. From figuring out how to dispose of half a dozen cold packs and a giant styrofoam container each month to making sure someone was home for the delivery man, from finding a place to empty my sharps containers to dealing with a supplier shortage, from prior authorizations to a shipment of the wrong needles to a shipment of the medication without needles, I have been through the fucking mill.

I currently await something far scarier than that first needle stick. In three days, I will give myself my last injection. In three days, I run out of medication, and I cannot get more.

Let me explain as best I can. I still don’t quite understand the situation myself. Insurance companies don’t aim to be understandable, or friendly.

A little over a year ago, I started a new program at a new school, and consequently switched health insurance. This is something I only undertook with much trepidation. In fact, health insurance played a key factor in my decision for what graduate program to attend. (It shouldn’t have had to, but it did. Uninsured, the health costs I would accrue over only a year would be more money than I have made in my entire life.) Fortunately, the health insurance at my chosen program covered all of my medications, even the injectable.

When I transferred my prescriptions over, I was filled with apprehension. What if my new pharmacy wouldn’t fill it? What if my new health insurance didn’t pay for it? What if they refused to deliver it to my tiny little post box at my tiny little apartment?

Unbelievably, the process of getting my prescription was completely smooth. It was a dream. They didn’t have to deliver it–I could just pick it up at the pharmacy. My insurance covered it, and paid for it without a fight, or even a prior authorization. The medication even came in prefilled syringes so I no longer had to deal with the not-really-a-big-deal-but-still-a-minor-hassle of drawing the medication up into the syringe and making sure I got every last drop.

I should have known it couldn’t last. I’ve been burned by insurance companies before. Earlier this month, the insurance plan year rolled over, and my insurance decided to use a new formulary (meaning a list of the medications that they’d cover). Under this new formulary, my medication is considered a “specialty medication” and only 50% of the cost is covered, meaning I can no longer afford it. Without warning, one of the key factors to my health and happiness was ripped from me.

Before you ask–there are no alternate treatments, there is no appeals process, there is no one I can talk to, there is no one I can send H2O2 after with a hickory stick. There is nothing I can do.

There is, however, something you can do. I don’t like asking for help–not from my family, my friends, or even my readers.

But this is also an opportunity–I’ve been considering recently, unrelatedly, starting a new blog. My writing has taken a turn for the steamy as of late–some of it erotica, some of it just more graphic than what this blog usually sees. It doesn’t seem appropriate for Lab Coats and Lingerie, but I have nowhere else to put it.

Instead of a new blog, I’m starting a Patreon account. If you want to be a patron, you’ll get access to exclusive writings about my fantasies, my sex life, and other things I am too shy to talk about here. If I can get one hundred and twenty readers to pledge $1/post, and if I post once a month, that will be enough to cover my medication. I may post more often, and you can set a monthly limit for how much you are willing to contribute. If you want to see what sexy thoughts lie within my twisted brain, and you want to earn my undying (literally) gratitude, then consider pledging, and please share the word. If, for whatever reason, you can’t contribute, that’s fine too, of course. Lab Coats and Lingerie will remain here, free to read, and continuing to update. You still have my gratitude for reading this far, and for supporting me with your desire to read my words. It means more to me than you can possibly know.

One of the Nineteen

August 2nd, 2011 by

I spent one morning in high school leading my best friend around on a leash. Nothing fancy–just a length of cheap satin ribbon, hand-sewn around his neck with a long tail left over. I walked him down the school hallways and into my classes, where he would hop onto the seat next to me (on all fours, space permitting) and sit quietly until it was time to move on. Other students stared, either sidelong or with unabashed disgust. We soaked it up delightedly. At lunchtime, I handed the leash off to his girlfriend, and she kept him for the rest of the day. It was everyday casual fun to us–a running joke in which he was our plaything.

Why did it take a decade after that before I considered I might be something called “dominant”?

In 2007, still more than a year before I met the person who taught me the term “D/s,” Bitchy Jones was asking:

If there are twenty submissive men for every dominant woman – where are the other 19 women?

19 out of every twenty dominant women aren’t happy or comfortable with femdom as an identity or a place to live. That’s a lot.

That’s 95%.

95% of dominant women aren’t comfortable in femdom.

I was one of Bitchy’s nineteen women. I had no image of dominance other than the PVC-encased dominatrix, which–while fun to look at–sure isn’t anything like me. Femdoms were supposed to be tall, skinny, and busty, projecting feminine desire while sneering down at their groveling submissives. From the first time I saw such an image, I could feel the ache of a craving for something in it, but it paled beside the strength of my knowledge that I could never be that woman. I’m not skinny. I’m not busty. I’m not feminine. I’m not even especially tall. I’m a fat agender person who keeps medium-sized boobs under loose, comfortable shirts, and if I’m honest I’m a total softie with the people I care about. “Kink,” in my understanding at the time, was something for pretty, sexy, confident people: nothing like me. “BDSM” was an abstract fantasy, something harsh and angry rather than something that real people around me were doing with their loved ones every day. In that twisted model of the world, not matching the classic femdom image didn’t just make me not a dominant. With no understanding of the breadth or depth of possibility, much less awareness of the conflation of terminology, I actually believed I was not kinky.

I got an instant message recently from a friend I haven’t seen for a few years. She asked how I was, and I told her (among other things) that I’d been exploring the BDSM scene. She asked me some probing questions, confessing that the idea of dominance intrigued her, so I shared some of what I’ve been learning. She had no idea that BDSM doesn’t have to be about pain, or that you can still be dominant when you’re the one receiving pleasure. She felt guilty for being turned on by the idea of calling a man degrading names … and was amazed when I told her that some men are turned on by that too. This is someone with whom I’ve spent many a late night talking about sex and relationships, but BDSM had never come up before. I didn’t know she was interested in dominance or humiliation. From the sound of it, she hadn’t either. My friend, all this time, had been one of Bitchy’s nineteen missing dominants too.

The Edukink teachers tell a story about a man who came to an introductory BDSM event, for his first time, at quite an advanced age.

“What kept you away so long?” they asked him.

“Well,” he said, “I always knew I was kinky, but I was married for a long time and I figured my wife wouldn’t be into it. Not long ago, though, my wife passed away …

… and then I read her diary.”

There was a pause, in the class where I heard this, and then a collective gasp.

Hearing that story secondhand breaks my heart. My own lived experience, though–my own, even so little, wasted time–makes me furious. I’m furious because of how long I believed I wasn’t even worthy of love or desire, much less cool enough for “kink.” I’m furious because, while I’m writing this, kids are killing themselves to escape oppression instead of celebrating love for whomever they love. I’m furious because shame and shameless fiction are being used every day to justify abuse, while sexuality without shame is censored. I’m furious because we have pulled a mask over our own collective face, a painted illusion of what is “perfect” and “normal,” and we are suffocating ourselves with it.

I’m furious because not conforming to a stereotype robbed me of my identity.

I am furious and achingly helpless, knowing that somewhere out there, right now, there is another shy fat perverted gender-atypical teenager being told over and over that they cannot be beautiful, sexual, or kinky, and I don’t know how to find them and convince them it’s not true. All I can do is write and hope they hear me.

Are you there? Listen:

There is no invisible line dividing you from the people who are allowed to have healthy, fulfilling, kinky sex lives. You don’t have to look like people in magazines. You don’t have to fit a prescribed role, gender or otherwise. You don’t have to be willing to fuck anyone, or limit yourself to fucking one person, or do either of those things but replacing “fuck” with “love.” You don’t have to be healthy or neurotypical. You don’t have to be between eighteen and thirty-five, or have any of the accepted mainstream fetishes, or make enough money to fill your closet and toybag with leather. Just the way you are right now, you already deserve to have healthy, respectful relationships, whether or not those relationships include BDSM or sex or love or none of those things. You deserve to explore what you want, to have clear and honest information available to you, and to express yourself safely. You deserve these things, not because I have invited you into my elitist kinky club, but because healthy, informed sexuality is for everyone.

And that fury I mentioned? That’s why I’m here. It’s why I’m writing down the story of my own exploration, even the parts where I’m vulnerable and afraid, and why I’m doing it somewhere publicly accessible. I may not be loud enough alone to be heard over the cacophony of messages informing us what we must be, but frankly, I do not know what else to do. Maybe, if I’m strong enough, I can at least make a counterpoint ring out a little more clearly.

Post-Transplant

July 30th, 2011 by

You know how when you’ve recently been in pain, the sudden absence of it feels better than if it had never been there? That’s how it felt to post Transplant. Letting go of my uncertainty brought a wave of relief I would never have gotten without questioning my gender in the first place. For the first time, my gender label was not just adequate-for-a-short-answer but actually right. It felt good–surprisingly good. After posting it, as promised, I updated my Diaspora and FetLife accounts with the new information, and then sat there looking at the “25GQ Dom” at the top of my profile and just grinned.

The biggest changes I’ve noticed in the weeks since then weren’t changes. They were ways things had always been which suddenly made a lot more sense. For example, people often refer to me with male pronouns or honorifics, especially online, and it’s never bothered me. On the contrary, I’ve usually been secretly pleased. What does bother me is when someone else corrects them–derailing the whole conversation just for the sake of planting a figurative “THIS ONE IS FEMALE” sticker on my face. The statement is that not only am I female, it’s that my femaleness is more important than what we’re talking about. I dislike everything about that, and it’s much clearer now why it gets so far under my skin.

On a related note, several people have politely asked me which pronouns I now prefer. The truth is that I’m not sure either, yet. If English had a widely accepted gender-neutral animate pronoun, I’d be all over that, but it doesn’t, so my options are gendered, plural, neologistic, or inanimate. Honestly, other than the last one, I don’t really care. I myself get to dodge the problem by using the first person, so pick whatever feels sensible to you and feel free to change it later. If I find I’m uncomfortable with your choice, I’ll let you know, but I won’t blame you for not being able to read my mind.

More problematic for me is the question of non-pro nouns. (Amateur nouns?) If I give up “female,” what does that mean for “girl”? “Woman”? What about “femdom”? Tentatively I’m avoiding them, to see if I feel the loss, and that last is particularly troubling. More than being an efficient descriptor of (in my case) anatomy and preferences, “femdom” as a label comes with some politics. It’s a one-word reminder that not all doms are male, and using it gives me the power to say “Look, I’m a femdom and I’m not a stereotype” to people who don’t yet realize that’s possible. That’s a power I’m reluctant to give up, even while I’m not certain it was rightfully mine in the first place. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just as valuable to do the same for “dom”–to be an example of something entirely unlike the stereotype, including but not only by not being male.

Setting aside vocabulary inquiries, I was surprised at how many of the responses to Transplant were along the lines of “This really got me thinking about myself,” or “I’ve been having similar thoughts.” It’s not just the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon; these were people I already knew, but neither of us had been aware the other was questioning their gender. When I settled on the term “agender” for myself, I felt like I was striking out alone in nearly empty territory (Google pulls up a few results from AVEN, but most of the rest are about a cross-platform scheduling tool). It turns out that I might have more neighbors here than I realized.

The conversation I was most nervous about having came a few days after publishing Transplant, when I got a chance to catch up with my mom (who lives in another time zone). I didn’t expect her to be upset, but I really had no idea what she would think. We didn’t have a lot of time to chat, but she told me she was proud of me both for being so thoughtful and for expressing it so well. Then she added (link mine),

“Not to switch focus, but you make me realize how un-introspective I am, mostly because I’m intellectually lazy and partly because I (and my generation perhaps) have never been comfortable stating — much less sharing — intimate issues. Understatement in my case. To me, you’re very brave, which must mean the same thing as very confident. A good thing.”

“Maybe,” I said. “You don’t see the part where I’m avoiding and ignoring it for ages before finally facing it down.”

“Nobody sees that part,” she pointed out. “That’s the beauty of having a skull.”

My mom is a smart lady.

Admittedly, I’ve had some uncomfortable realizations along with the relief. I’ve noticed for a long time that I can be a bit misogynistic, and that observation used to produce some cognitive dissonance. How could I not like women, if I am one and I don’t dislike myself? (Or, at the times in my life when I did dislike myself, that wasn’t why.) Now it makes–well, no, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s easier to understand, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I don’t want to give myself an excuse for judging people prematurely. What’s going on, I think, is that there’s much about traditional femininity which I dislike (reasonable), and I’ve absorbed its tropes sufficiently to apply them as a template to women I don’t yet know well (not reasonable). I’m trying to catch myself on this consciously, now, so I can knock it the hell off.

Given how long I’ve been reading myself wrong, I was pleased to hear from maymay that Transplant “[is] also REALLY illuminating because it so perfectly matches how I read you, gender-wise. And it’s odd because that’s very rare. It’s NOT androgynous. It’s truly ‘not-a-gender.’ […] I’ve actually mentally been trying to remember to use ‘she’ and ‘female’ with you for a while, and I thought that was odd for a while, but now I get why I was stumbling over it in my head for so long.”

This raises an interesting question. The way he’s contrasting them, to seem androgynous is to have both masculine and feminine aspects, whereas to seem agender is to have neither. So where does that put me in the eyes of people who are attracted to a gender? Have I just removed from my dating pool anyone who identifies as a straight man or gay woman (that is, someone attracted to women), bisexual (attracted to men and women1), or just attracted to gender itself? If I have, that’s an awfully small sliver of potential suitors I’ve got left. This is a point of genuine insecurity which I haven’t really resolved yet. Just like I need to be sexy including my fat, not in spite of it–as Chaos has written too about her disability–I need to be attractive including my (lack of) gender, not in spite of that either.

On the other hand, why would anyone’s attraction to me have changed? All I’m adopting is a new word; inside, I’ve felt the same or similar gender-wise as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, a group of peer educators once came around to one of my classes to give a presentation about sexuality and gender identity. They needed a volunteer for a demonstration, and one of the presenters (a friend of mine) called me out, knowing I’d be an interesting participant. He drew four lines on the board, each marked M at one end and F at the other. I was to pick a point on each line; one was for my physical sex, one for my gender identity, one for my gender presentation, and one for my sexuality. I put my first point solidly on the F end of the scale, and the rest muddled about in the middle wherever they belonged. If I did the same exercise today, ten years later, it would look almost exactly the same2.

I’ve never felt or been treated like someone who fits neatly in the “female” pigeonhole. What’s new is just the realization that it might mean something. I was lucky to be born in a little magic bubble of time and space3 where I grew up surrounded by the idea that boys and girls can be whatever they want, so I didn’t think much of it when I didn’t take to ballet and ponies very much. I remember that the notion of a “tomboy” appealed to me, but I wasn’t actually any good at sports or tree-climbing either, so I reluctantly had to discard it. When I was a little older, I considered whether I might be trans, but I didn’t feel like a boy, so at the time (still stuck on the binary) I assumed that was the end of it. The majority of my friends, after puberty or so, were always male. I wasn’t exactly “one of the guys,” but I wasn’t one of the girls they got crushes on and dated, either. Hurt by that, I figured I was just a faulty girl. It never occurred to me that I was a perfectly good something else.

Getting ready for bed the night Transplant was published, I stopped to take a look in the mirror and had a startling realization. Gendered standards don’t apply to me any more. I’m no longer supposed to look like women, because I’m not one. All I have to look like is me. The shape I already am. The only shape, minor variations aside, that I can be. I set my own standards now, and that power is incredibly liberating. For what might be the first time, when I looked in the mirror that night, I didn’t compare what I saw to anything else I’d ever seen. I just looked and accepted. That’s who I am. That’s all I need to be. All the confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety may’ve been worth it just for that.

  1. Some people use “bisexual” the way I use “pansexual.” I don’t know how common this is, and given that the word “pansexual” exists, I find it confusing. So when it’s not otherwise specified, I interpret “bisexual” to mean “both,” not “any.” (Besides, the “it applies to the whole spectrum between two points” argument doesn’t include me anyway.) []
  2. With the possible exception of the first solid F for physical sex. Since then I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, which among other things means I have higher level of androgens (male hormones) than is typical for someone with two X chromosomes. So I actually am, arguably, a little more physically male than the average cis woman. []
  3. Berkeley, California, 1985 []