the other day i went to family tree, a nearby non-profit community clinic that offers low-cost sexual and reproductive health education and services. i went for two reasons: first, because i’ve been experiencing minor problems lately (and i am a bit of a hypochondriac when it comes to all things vaginal), and second, to explore birth control options.
the first time i went to family tree–which also happened to be my first experience with sexual/reproductive health care–was two years ago.* before i made that appointment, i had scoured its website to learn about fees and payment options, and came across the minnesota family planning program, which offers coverage for family planning services to low-income minnesota residents. as a broke college student at macalester, i was eligible. since i wasn’t willing to use family insurance to cover my visits, this was a very, very, good thing.
when i went in the other day, i knew that my short-term coverage had expired over the summer; i planned to re-apply when i returned for school. unfortunately, i was told when i arrived that i wouldn’t be eligible to apply again until may 2010. the reason for my visit was semi-urgent and i could not wait to sort out the situation. this presented me with a dilemma: pay for the visit with family insurance–which would probably provide full coverage–or pay out of pocket.
of course this should be an easy decision. i mean, full coverage versus no coverage? duh. except that if full coverage also means disclosure (my parents would be receiving the statement from the insurance company), and if that would lead to assumptions and questions about who and what i am/not doing, it gets complicated.** in the end i decided to suck it up and hand over my insurance card.
when my parents receive the insurance statement, the ensuing phone conversation will be awkward at best.
you see, my mother always says that the most important thing in one’s life is health. except when you read the fine print you understand that what she’s really referring to is health from the waist up. i’ve always thought that this was her way of avoiding the idea that her daughters may be sexually active–i mean, why would we need sexual or reproductive health care if we’re not having sex (which she desperately wants to believe)? and by extension, why would we even THINK about our vaginas if not in the context of sex?
this has been frustrating because it means having to be dishonest and secretive about something that i shouldn’t have to hide. it’s also concerning because hello, vaginas are more than (hetero) sex. my vagina isn’t just about what i put in it and what comes out of it, and i definitely don’t want anyone else to make judgments or assumptions about my values or worth because of those things. moreover, this line of thinking contributes to a normative understanding of vaginas that is limiting and limited, rendering it difficult for women to learn about and take care of their bodies.
sadly, i’m sure i’m not the only one who has had to find alternative means of receiving reproductive health care. i’m also sure that there are tons of women who don’t receive it at all. i wish i could offer suggestions for ways that we can make these situations easier to navigate. unfortunately, i can’t even have an open conversation with my mother about vaginas without feeling dirty and out of line.
meanwhile, i’m still waiting on that phone call..***
*prior to that, i had gone to a crowded free clinic in jamaica, queens (in ny) to get a few tests done, from which i left feeling like a number.
**just for the record, the reason for my visit had nothing to do with sex.
***can anyone tell me how to say ‘reproductive health care’ in mandarin?