Getting a pap smear as a transmasculine personPosted: November 7, 2017
I don’t have a gynecologist. I haven’t had one for probably 15 years. The reason for that is because I felt so out of place there, so I let that aspect of my health passively slip away. I’ve always gone to the dentist twice a year. I was really into chiropractic care for years, consistently. I’ve gotten eye exams. I regularly go to a therapist and a psychiatrist. I even have a primary care physician, and more recently, an endocrinologist. But I’ve neglected and avoided anything related to my junk (this is just my preferred term for what I got going on down there…)
My last pap smear was in 2012, and I went through that because it was a prerequisite for getting testosterone gel. That was enough of a motivating factor to go through that. It was super painful and anxiety inducing, but I had done it! Since then, there’s been no reason to get it done again, in my mind. Prior to 2013, I’m not sure how long it had been.
About a year and a half ago, I was on a panel with two other trans-people, in front of a group of health-care professionals, talking about our experiences with health services. I mostly talked about my experiences with top-surgery consultations, but during the Q & A, the three of us were asked about sexual and reproductive health. I was super open about how uncomfortable I am with this aspect of health care, and how I have avoided it. I even felt a stubborn pride about it – something like, “if I avoid it, that verifies how little I relate to my junk.” This really makes no sense whatsoever, and why exactly is this a point of pride? My two peers were much more proactive – they had had lots of experiences with making sure their needs and check-ups were on track.
Two weeks ago, I was eating lunch with a super close friend. She was mentioning something about her menstrual cycle and about how she needs to get her routine check-up. I told her how long it’s been since I had a pap smear, and she seemed aghast. I said I wasn’t going to be getting one either. She said something to the effect of, “But you have to.” She sort of role played a scenario in which hypothetically something scary is found, like HPV or cancer, that could have easily been avoided by just getting regular screenings. The emotions she was pouring into it were what got me. I kept going back and forth between, “OK, I will get it done,” and “No way never again!” The conversation stayed with me.
A couple of days later, I had a lump in my armpit. I’d never had anything like that before. My spouse told me I should get that checked out. This was something that was more straightforward! I could definitely go to the doctor for something like this! I called and got an appointment for the next morning. Then it dawned on me that I should be getting a pap smear. I waffled back and forth for a while, wondering if I’d be able to get myself to call back. I finally did, pitching my voice as high as I could so it would be apparent that this request would not be totally incongruous. Blah.
The pap smear was just as painful as the other times I’d gotten one, but I would say it was less anxiety-inducing. What helped me get through it was trying to stay present in the moment, in the room. I did this by talking with the nurse practitioner. “This room is cold.” “Please use the smallest one possible.” “This is really hurting.” Etc.
I gotta admit I do not know the exact reasons pap smears are important – what is being tested, etc. But I do think I will be more on top of getting them every few years from now on…
To top this all off, on Saturday we were out in the woods with some friends. Sunday morning, I felt something chafing on my chest, and when I looked, there was a tick latched in right on my nipple! Eeaughhhh!!! My spouse tweezed it and pulled it in half. Half of it is still embedded in my skin. I’m thinking it will work itself out on its own. She talked to our friend on the phone – he regularly gets ticks and gets them tested in groups, after he’s collected a bunch. So far so good but lyme disease is a scary possibility. Do I have to go back to the doctor?!