This started out as a Facebook post, but I quickly became aware that it was becoming a blog post so here it is:
Its been a pretty big thing hasn’t it. I would say an awful lot of my female friends put the #MeToo as their status at some point over the last few days. Some told of their experiences, some didn’t, some I suspect, just didn’t want to go there, and some maybe just didn’t want to add to the tidal wave of HashTag Me Too status’ bobbing about on the sea of Facebook or Twitter, because of memories, or what it symbolises to them, maybe incredibly exposing.
I found myself starting to write #Me Too and thinking of my own experiences. The one that sticks out in my mind the most was when I was in my mid 20’s. I was in Ireland, I was dancing/physical theatre-ing in a production we had taken over to a festival there. It was after one particular performance and we were out celebrating the success of it, I was wearing a not particularly revealing open necked shirt. I was talking to man who had seen the show, he complimented me on my feet (we were working barefoot, should have known then) and then reached over and casually touched my scar and wondered out loud what on ‘earth was it?’
Just to expand a bit more, my scar is keliod, that means that the top half of it healed with a lot of excess scar tissue, it was a lot more raised, red and bumpy than it is now (30 odd years does wonders for the healing process) and was probably a lot more noticeable than it is now. The keliods sit on my sternum, directly below my neck and centimeters from my breasts.
When I think about it I can still feel his touch, there was no, it was like, it was a direct poke to my chest, a sharp jab, it hurt, I would even go so far to say that the shock knocked the breath from my body. Then my body responded, entirely involuntary, entirely instinctively, my arms came up and I shoved him away and then the unthinkable happened…….. I apologised to him.
Yeah, that’s right: I. Apologised. To. Him. For shoving him away, when he hadn’t asked if he could touch what is an incredibly sensitive area of my body. I apologised and left, found my friends and rationalised that he was curious and maybe I was harsh.
I don’t want to go to much into my #Me Too experiences because yes there are many and this is a blog about living with a Congenital Heart Defect so not only do I have the female perspective I also have a CHD perspective and what this whole #Me Too campaign is about for me, is not just recognition to how vast it is, but also one about consent.
I hold my hand up and say yes there has been times that I’ve deliberately worn overtly low-cut tops and deliberately shown off my scar to garner attention, but it still doesn’t give anybody the right to maul me, it is my body.
I guess, this is where it has for many years been confusing for me. You see, when you’re a CHD patient, a lot of the procedures, tests and all operations mean that you are often found without your top on, in your underwear and incredibly exposed. As an adult I have noticed changes in how I am dealt with in these situations to how I was as a child. Now this may be a generational thing, now they may treat children differently, I don’t know, I can only go by my experiences.
As I child I learned that even if I didn’t want to I still had to take my top off to be examined by a series of Doctors and Consultants. That I was told when going through puberty that the Doctor isn’t interested in my body (or how I saw my own body) and ‘you’ve got nothing to look at anyway so just get on the couch.’ I felt often out of control and too compliant something I felt for a long time in my teens and quite possibly into my early 20’s.
I became very good at laying there putting my self on the ceiling, and as I write that I am amazed how wrong that sentence is. I shouldn’t know how to put myself on the ceiling at 8years old!!!! I feel there was a blurring of boundaries, I lost ownership of my body, it was seen as a defect that could be corrected (you can read further about that here) and I learned very quickly that I had to go through invasive and exposing situations – topless treadmill anyone? Fucking embarrassing when you’re 13 years old, you didn’t know what a treadmill exercise was, nobody told your mum or you what to expect, so you’re in bare feet, in your school uniform, with no top on because of all the wires attached to your body with a small mercy that there is a female nurse with you. Don’t worry I’ve done the same thing in my 20’s with a male nurse – wasn’t allowed a t-shirt on, but this time could keep my bra on, being older and more confident I brazened it out – still not the best of situations really is it? Having to brazen something out.
When you’re only seen as a defective heart carrier and not a human, you begin to think of your body as being the carrier bag of the defective heart. You don’t feel your body, you don’t think what it stands for, only that you’ve got a dodgy heart, the heart or rather what is wrong with your heart becomes the main thing. I have spent so many years not engaging with my own body that it’s no wonder I ended up, not really caring about it, allowing boundaries to be crossed because I thought it was ok and apologising for someone elses bad manners, for thinking I was wrong. I think it’s a heady mix, of attitude, experiences and yes privilege.
But one thing I’m not sure of, is it just #Me Too? Is it #You Too and it should be #Consent? Its happened to both men and women, boys and girls, prehaps it should be #Education? We need to educate our children, bring those feelings we have about our bodies into a dialogue, “how does it affect you?” In hospital it shouldn’t just be about modesty covers, or gowns, or chaperones, it should be about how is this feeling for you right now, more explanation into what’s going on, not just the procedure but the why of the procedure, and yes this takes time but if we have more children growing up with a sense of who they are, with ownership of their own bodies, of being able to articulate their feelings, wants and needs, to be curious in a healthy consenting way then maybe there won’t have to be a #Me Too and maybe we will have more CHD-ers being more confident about their own bodies, being more kinder to themselves and their bodies and being more accepting of their issues.