My IUD And Me: A Lesbian Love Story
Since I stopped needing birth control, I’ve realized that being gay affords me a particular privilege — but queer women still belong in the reproductive health conversation.
I go to a male gynecologist. I have a theory that guy gynos have to overcompensate so extremely — in order to hold onto the small number of patients they’d likely first nabbed through a fluke when there were no lady doctors available on ZocDoc — that a lot of men actually end up being pretty great gynecologists.
Something I particularly love about my gyno is that he talks to me at length, in his office, at the beginning of my appointments, before I offer my naked bits up to his inspection in the next room. Then, once he’s all finished down there, I get dressed and go back into his office, where we debrief. I had hated, in the past, when I’d just moved to New York and was still shopping for doctors, that so many of them — men and women alike — would ask me all the do-you-smoke and how-many-partners-have-you-had questions with my feet still in stirrups, my skin bristling under the drafty paper gown, before they expeditiously sent me on my way, as if I was just another product on a conveyer belt of vaginas. My gyno, now, takes his time, talks to me when I’ve got clothes on, treats me more or less like a human.
Up for discussion during my last visit, earlier this summer: my IUD. I’ve had a ParaGard, the copper-releasing kind, since I was 19. I chose ParaGard for two reasons: It’s nonhormonal, and hormonal birth control (namely, the pill) had really fucked my shit up earlier in high school; ParaGard also works longer than hormonal IUDs — I could leave it in for up to 10 years, which, at the time, I figured would last me right up until I decided to have children. My insurance covered 100%. Win-fucking-win.
Back then, I was dating a guy I’d end up being with for nearly five years. I thought we’d get married. I thought I’d be having his kids. Then came the Great Gay Awakening of 2012–2013.
Now, talking to my New York gyno, I wanted my IUD gone. In the few years I’ve had my ParaGard, it’s given me zero problems — there was some light bleeding and cramping during those first couple months, but ever since, I don’t even notice it’s there. I recommend it to everyone. No pills to constantly forget, no monthly appointments or insertions or payments. It’s been a gift. But now I just don’t need it anymore.
I told my doctor this. I’m in a long-term relationship with my girlfriend, and have no plans to sleep with men basically ever again. Seriously, ever again. I have seen the light.
“Is your IUD giving you any problems?” he asked me.
“None at all,” I said.
“Let’s just leave it, then,” he said. “No need to put you through the removal yet.”
I thought about pressing him harder — Dude, you heard me all the times I’ve told you I’m gay, right? — but I ended up dropping the subject, mildly flustered. Did he think we should leave it in, just in case my lesbianism turns out to be just a passing fad? I felt insulted. But when I left his office, I considered that my doctor was probably just taking a practical route – he didn’t see the need to subject me to a painful process before it was totally necessary.
And hell, what do I know? Never say never, I guess. I could end up sleeping with someone who has a penis again (I would very much hope consensually, but anything, unfortunately, is possible.) I have an expensive piece of medical equipment inside of me that might come in handy someday, so might as well leave it be.
Emerging onto the Upper East Side of Manhattan, awash in midsummer sun, I realized that I had — have — the monumental privilege of birth control just in case. Being a lesbian means I have to slog through a moderate amount of shit in the general scheme of things, but when it comes to the big BC, I’m far luckier than straight women, bisexual women, and everyone of any gender who actively need to avoid or terminate unwanted pregnancies.
Since July, when the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress first started releasing secretly recorded (and, allegedly, heavily edited) videos accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue for medical research, the United States has been embroiled in the fiercest fight over abortion rights in decades. Last Tuesday, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards defended the organization’s use of federal funds before the House Oversight Committee, in the first of multiple hearings to come.
While some Republicans in Congress have refused to pass a budget unless Planned Parenthood gets defunded, 13 governors opened investigations into the organization (none of which found any illegal activity). Across the country, state legislators are threatening to defund and shut down dozens of abortion-providing clinics.
I went to a Planned Parenthood for the first time long before the federal court fights reached fever pitch, when I was 16, to get on the pill. At the time, I was using spermicidal squares with my boyfriend that were uncomfortable and weird and I probably inserted wrong. I was terrified of getting pregnant. My parents were spottily employed and deeply in debt; Planned Parenthood was the only sexual health option I had. That’s my story — a relatively ordinary one. A thankfully ordinary one. Just another among thousands.
Now that I have my IUD (and, perhaps even more relevantly, now that I’m in a long-term relationship with a cisgender woman), I no longer fear an accidental pregnancy. In this sense, I’m remarkably privileged, particularly in a cultural climate where safe, practical, and affordable access to abortion and birth control involves more impediments than ever. I kind of wish I could just give my IUD to someone who could make better use of it, though the practicalities of that exchange would be pretty unsanitary.
This all isn’t to say, though, that queer women at large aren’t a part of the reproductive health conversation — if anything, I’d argue we should be even more thoroughly represented.
We, too, need cancer screenings and STD tests, pelvic exams and pap smears. Many of us need birth control, for a variety of different reasons (plenty of which have nothing to do with contraception), and many of us need abortions, for just as wide a variety. When it comes to people who have uteruses, we’re as alike as we are different — all the more reason our definition of reproductive health bears aggressive expanding, particularly to address the needs and experiences of trans and gender nonconforming people who are severely neglected across the gamut of healthcare, and who are often erased in the realm of so-called women’s rights.
These days I’m thrilled that I’m incapable of getting pregnant on a drunken whim, but eventually I do want to have kids — when today’s gay blessing will ultimately sour. I already dread the expensive and complicated processes queer people must endure to adopt or conceive children. But there, I’m getting far too ahead of myself. In a few years, when I get my IUD removed — either because my 10 years are up, or because I’ve decided to have kids, or both (???) (gulp) — I’ll deal with whatever has to be dealt with. Hopefully, queer family planning will have a larger space in the reproductive rights conversation by then. But for now, I’m lucky in very many ways; in all likelihood, not needing an abortion is one of them.
Back when I’d started to seriously consider eventually marrying the guy I was with for so much of my young adulthood, the chance that I’d go ahead and have his baby if I accidentally got pregnant grew the teeniest bit as time went by. I have absolutely no desire for kids in my immediate future, and I didn’t then either, but if I’d ended up staying with that ex-boyfriend another year, another couple, another few — who knows? I love babies. At the time, I’d loved him. What if we’d had a kid together before I figured out I was gay? An unintended pregnancy could yield far more dire consequences than that, but I’m grateful to have avoided it nonetheless.
A shout-out, then, to my IUD, which has seen me take the blissful nosedive from straight to gay, which served an active, valiant purpose for a couple short years before becoming an extraneous instrument just chilling out inside me, biding its time. (I promise this essay isn’t an ad for nonhormonal IUDs, but seriously, if you’re in the market for birth control, they’re the best.) Another shout-out to Planned Parenthood for taking care of me when I had no place else to go, and for taking care of so many thousands more. Finally, a shout-out to uterus-owners everywhere who assert the right to their own bodily autonomy against the beating waves of junk science and puritanical misogyny. Arguably one of the only good things to come out of large-scale assaults like this summer’s on reproductive rights: It’s a reason for all of us, full-heartedly and unwaveringly, to stand up. To stand together.