Monday, September 17, 2007

The Diversity That Got Me Through the Beginning of my Cancer Journey

When I'm bored, I sometimes check out a particular message board that's associated with a yearly festival for women. I'm not going to link to it because I don't want anyone to feel like I'm recruiting people to gang up on them. I wouldn't even be posting there if it weren't for the fact that I was mentioned on it a while back. If you've read some of my recent posts, then you'll know what board it is, so I don't need to mention the name again. That would just be over-kill.

There aren't a whole lot of people who post there regularly--maybe twenty, tops. However, of those, there's a small coterie of women who are vehemently and unapologetically transphobic. I've had conversations with some of them on other blogs and I don't think those conversations went the way they would have liked, so I was pretty sure that our interactions on this board were going to start off pretty badly. Predictably, they did.

It's not altogether awful though. I was happy to find out that it's a fairly diverse group. Well, not very diverse but more diverse than a lot of places on the net. The mix is assorted enough to spark some provocative discussions. Still, it looks a lot like America: mostly white with a few people of color and people with disabilities thrown in.

A few days ago, I was participating in one of the discussions and some people expressed the view that they needed time to be away from anyone who isn't "woman born woman" in order to relax, heal, and survive this world. The conversation went in several directions and at some point I wound up writing about some of the different people who helped me get through the beginning of my journey with cancer.

Basically, the point of it was to show why I don't feel like I need to be in the presence of people just like me in order for me to heal and survive. I think the diversity of experiences and feelings that each person brought into my life is what made it possible for me to juggle a situation that was so over my head that I knew I couldn't manage it all alone.

I don't think I've ever discussed some of these people on my blog and I wanted to put my comment here because it's really the only way that I have of acknowledging some of these people that I may never see again in my life. So, here it is:

This is exactly how I feel. I see no reason to assume that I don't have a significant amount of shared experiences with another individual simply because of who I think they are nor do I assume that I DO have any particularly meaningful shared experiences with someone just because of who I think they are. I dropped those assumptions when I left fundamentalist religion and life has been unimaginably more interesting and fulfilling since then. When I became extremely sick, going through radiation, surgery, et cetera, the people who came into my life and helped me through it...they came from all sorts of places:

The black, mid-western cafeteria worker at the dorms of UW-Madison who brought me home-made food from her house because she saw I wasn't eating right and the school-fare was just above inedible.

The white, het, male middle-aged orthopedic oncologist who treated me at his private practice for free for four months until I was able to get some coverage because he didn't want to see me have to be treated at the Charity hospital here.

The college students (boys and girls) in my dad's class who sent me books about disability empowerment and woman-centered spirituality.

The prominent, crotchety, elderly het, white, male biology professor at Northwestern who made me get up and come to work at the lab 40+ hours a week to teach me to always test the limits of what my body could accomplish.

The economically-disadvantaged, black, female cashier at Wal-Mart who would always stop her line and say a quick prayer with me whenever she saw me in the store.

The middle-class black, gay boyfriend of my partner's white neighbor who sat and talked to me for hours on the day before my surgery about all the things his mother used to say to comfort him when he was scared.

The rich, white, het, female surgeon who was the mother to my brother's girlfriend and didn't even work in the oncology ward that used her few hours off to come sit with me in the hospital while I was recovering from my surgery and tell me about all of the amazing stories of recovery that she'd seen in her years of practice.

My black, lesbian cousin who was recovering from two strokes but still found time to call me each week to see how I was doing.

My het, black Puerto Rican, female sex-worker roommate who would constantly tell me how sexy I was, how she wished she had my lips, how lucky my partner was to have me...even though I felt like shit and looked like it too.

The Persian-American medical student who convinced a plastic surgeon to come and do the stitching on my back so that I wouldn't have any scars because she heard that I was supposed to be getting married in six months and I had planned to wear a strapless dress. When she told the other med students on the ward that I was a biology student and I was trying to keep up in my classes by studying while I was hospitalized, they finagled a way to get the date for my next surgery pushed up so that I could be healed in time to maybe start and complete the Spring semester without interruptions.

My hospital-phobic brother who came and sat with me when I had tubes coming out of everything except my ear holes and read Hillary Clinton's book to me and surprised me with an autographed copy of Tavis Smiley's "Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing and Hope in Black America".

My male German partner (who had faithfully sat with his grandmother every day after school as she died of brain cancer before we met) who knew what he was in for with me but never once complained about having to go through it again even while he cleaned up my vomit, bathed and clothed me, cooked my meals, and even learned how to wash and comb my (now our) daughter's hair.

Each of these people understood something about what I was going through and what I needed to get through those times and they helped me make it through. If I had assumed that what I really needed was an all-female or all-black environment during my time of suffering, I would have missed out on most of these very meaningful relationships and all that they provided me with.


cripchick said...

oh bint.... i was going to leave a comment about how i have a hard time making friendships (or even conversation) with white/het/or nondisabled people but by the end of the post, i realize how much i need to work on it. i'm glad those people were there for you when you needed them the most.

(and props for what you wrote on the link you posted---right on.)

Hahni said...

You know bint, that thread at my place, and the impetus for it, spelled the end of my decade-long mentoring/friendship with that woman.

I'm saddened by it but accepting. When I said "friendship sucks" I was really trying to figure out if I had the desire to continue trying to make it work anyway.

Well, I know that's not what this post is about, but seeing that thread linked, which I've found too painful to even re-read, just kind of brought it all home.

Anonymous said...

I miss you!
Thank you for this
Much love

Ktrion said...

You are so fierce an beautiful!

Ravenmn said...

I have benefitted from women-only space in the past. I considered it a luxury and a privilege. Your post, however, reminds me of two things that were also true:

1. I've had crappy experiences in women-only space because some women are jerks.

2. I've had wonderful experiences by relating to other people once I left my misconceptions behind.

Bint, I'm so glad you had people like that in your RL. And I'm glad you had the strength to accept help when you needed it.