Artwork by Tea Sherman
It was January of 2020 when I decided to do something. I'd spent the last three years ignoring my body, tucking the parts of me I didn't want to waste away, deep in the pit of my stomach.
I remember my fiance and I had returned from holiday in New York in late December, and upon our return to the west, it came to my attention that my heavy flow had ultimately become unbearable. I had been off testosterone for about a year at this point, the oils leaving my body, and through the months I became softer and rounder than I had before, a stunted puberty allowed a reconciliation. After spending a weekend in bed due to debilitating pains which left me unable to walk and eat unassisted, I decided to call my doctor and had the good fortune of being able to select a Black OBGYN. This was something that I found particularly meaningful as the history of gynecology and anti blackness run parallel, which informed both my fears and hopes for this particular type of doctor's appointment. Thankfully this was pre-covid, giving me the privilege of having my partner in the examination room with me.
At this point in my life I had become accustomed to the idea of uterine issues. My mother had uterine surgery in 2017 to remove the grapefruit-sized tumor that had married itself to her uterus, as well as the organ itself. Although this was not unfamiliar to me, the diagnosis of PCOS in no means provided access to a clear plan to manage my condition.
PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is classified as a hormonal disorder that causes the enlargement of ovaries and production of small cysts on the outer edges of them. Symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual activity, unpredicted hair growth such as on the face, acne, irregular weight gain, and mood disorders. Many fat people recount doctors automatically assuming they have PCOS and not testing for it even though every type is different because everybody is different. Same for black and/or gender marginalized folks.
After my examination and follow ups I was informed of the cysts on my uterus, and my other health issues that could be related, but the main course of action seemed to be birth control, which after much trial, I found I ultimately had an adverse reaction to.
Only through my own regimen of uterine and vaginal self care have I been able to find solace in my body. And through my discoveries of beautiful things from the Honey Pot Company’s mint aloe pads to the tenderness of Black lesbian intimacy, I began to discover new examples of being, only to be reminded of the gravity of the situation of Black menstrual health with my paternal grandmother’s uterine cancer diagnosis.
“I kinda knew that I needed to have it done because everyone in my family has had a hysterectomy.”
She (my grandmother) told me that in the beginning she didn’t get herself checked out because her husband was bedridden, COPD taking over his body. She wanted to wait so they wouldn’t be bedridden at the same time, but time only brought his passing—and the cancer's progression. The human body reflects its predecessors and so we must pay attention to patterns, to the ways Black people with uteruses have been used and discarded in this conversation, and the gravity of that effect on our bodies. Through chemo my grandmother has remained resilient and she insightfully recounted her story to me this past week. This is also what I wish to carry with me. That resilience is also in my genetics, it is also a pattern I internalize.
Tea Sherman is a Bay Area-born visual artist and teacher who is passionate about community building and reproductive justice. He is a current undergraduate student completing a BFA in animation as well as co running OSS, an Oakland-based education collective. Find him on Instagram @geyavek.
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