When people ask what I do, the conversation usually goes like this:
“I work at several theatres as a stagehand, and I am also an educator for *medical university I work for*”
“Oh really? What do you teach there?”
“I teach the med students how to do specialized exams.”
*breathe* “I teach them how to do breast and pelvic exams keeping the patients education, involvement, and empowerment at the forefront of the exam.”
It usually ends there. Which is kinda where I’m ok with the general public knowing it ends. With people I have any kind of relationship with, or who follow me on twitter, they know better. I am a GTA, or Gynecological Teaching Associate. I teach breast and pelvic exams to second & third year medical students, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and residents, using my body as the model.
Its a kind of amazing job that I fell into, and it is often the subject of incredible conversations. I get so many different reactions when I tell people about my job. People wonder what kind of person would seek out a pelvic exam; they ask how I have the patience to have students exploring my intimate bits. But the most common thing I hear, is “Thank you”. So many women will tell me their horror stories, and thank me for trying to make a difference.
Of course with an odd job I get all sorts of questions. My personal favorite is when people ask “aren’t you afraid of stretching yourself out/extra mileage/getting loose/him not feeling anything?” I love shutting them down. “I wasn’t aware being ‘tight’ for ‘his’ pleasure was something I should strive for. Besides, its primarily trauma, exercise, and genetics that determine the width and strength of the vaginal muscles.” Ok, I lied. I really hate getting that question, because so many women are concerned about my abilty to please men instead of anything of importance. I am worth more and interested in far more than that het-normative patriarchal bullshit.
But yes, when you teach with your vulva, the world forgets that you have a line of privacy you would like to keep and asks all sorts of inappropriate details about your body, your sex life, you job, and student. Sometimes I tell folks that a question is inappropriate, or if its far out there, I’ll retort back with an equally demeaning, dehumanizing, and personal question about their body/life/privacy. But mostly I patiently answer. I feel I owe it to the world. If these people are willing to be brave enough to ask, I feel I should be strong enough to answer. As an educator it is my job to educate, is it not?
When coming out and into my own as a GTA, I had no idea how much my world would change. I knew I would never receive a medical pelvic exam the same, that I would be more aware of how jaded and inhuman doctors become. I wasn’t aware of how much of a role model and source of comfort I would become for some. I’ve had 40something women ask me questions about their bodies, men ask about things on behalf of their female partners, 30somethings ask what their vulvas are supposed to look like, and dozens of moments when people are about to drop their pants and ask if something is ‘normal’. I’ve had women ask me questions their drs shrugged off, questions about birth control, about body function and arousal, about pregnancy and children. I need to remind them that I am not a doctor, but my thoughts are….
This has been my work for almost three years. I teach students to treat women as humans, to trust women when it comes to their bodies, and to educate them about their bodies so they can become more involved in their own health. My place in the world is to be the liaison between the world of medicine and the world of patient; to know what is medically necessary, and what is inherently offensive to do to a patient. I expect more from my health care providers, put up with less, and give those who I encounter the language to do the same.
It’s a fairly odd job full of bodily function mishaps, nervous hands, faces of awe (and disapproval), but it is my job and my passion. I teach with my vulva, from the heart, for womankind.
*note: Above I have used very cisgendered language, and I apologize for any offense this may have caused. When teaching we are to teach as a cisfemale, and the exam is structured around the cisfemale body. There is some minor talk about acceptance and open-mindedness in regards to people who identify anywhere under the GLBTQIA spectrum, but that is a whole other class that sadly I don’t get to be a part of.