On the way into the deli, Stacy reached down to hold my hand and asked if I’d order her sandwich for her. On the way out of the deli, I reached down to hold Stacy’s hand and said, “We’ll have sex again, I promise.” It wasn’t the first time we’ve had either of those conversations. They always give her the wrong mustard and leave the pickles off her sandwich, and I haven’t wanted to have sex since — well, it’s been a while.
The joke was that we had to have sex before the election, because if Donald Trump won, I never wanted to be touched again. It was a joke. A joke. Because obviously Donald Trump was not going to win the election and on the very slim chance he did win (which he wasn’t going to do), it’s not like it would destroy my sex drive. And anyway, Hillary Clinton was going to be president. No doubt about it. A woman in the White House! The lead-up-to-election sex we had was euphoric. We were both giddy with hope because the world was about to be a whole new place where a woman who spent her entire adult life being demonized by the Right could follow the legacy of a black man who spent his entire presidency being demonized by the Right, after campaigning on the most liberal platform in history and embracing every kind of diversity.
I was wrong about what was a joke, and wrong about this also: I did need to be touched after the election.
I needed Stacy to stand beside me and hold my hand while I had another of what was becoming a series of pelvic exams. It was just some pain and symptoms that were supposed to add up to a specific diagnosis, but my uterus was swollen and my doctor needed to look at it again. I needed an abdominal ultrasound. I needed a transvaginal ultrasound. I needed another one. I needed a gynecological specialist. While I was at the imaging center, my doctor figured I should go ahead and get a mammogram. I’m 38. My mom had breast cancer when she was my age. My mammogram was suspicious. I needed a second one. And an ultrasound. A biopsy. An MRI.
My brain is a series of ceaseless numbers: 60 days since Donald Trump took office. Two days until my primary care physician hears back from my insurance. Four days until my biopsy. 24 hours until Congress votes on whether or not I’ll have healthcare next year. One week until my appointment at the imaging center. Ten days until my 30-minute appointment with the head of gynecology at Mt. Sinai. $100 copay. $1,000 deductible. 120 days since we’ve had sex.
The first time Stacy and I had sex it was different. I was afraid and I was shivering. I tried to play it off like I was cold, that my arms were tired. We both knew I was lying. I’d already lived ten lesbian lives by the time Stacy and I met. First love, toxic love, the illicit affair, the convincing myself a straight girl loved me back. I’d done the thing where I had sex with whoever I wanted wherever I wanted. In the park, in the car, on a hike, at the beach, in the dressing room, her house, my house, our friends’ house. Those times, I didn’t care what came after the sex. I didn’t want to go for pancakes, I didn’t want to watch TV, I didn’t want to shower together or take a walk or hang out and go out that night. It was fun. I had fun. (I really did!) I just wanted to go home to my books and my writing and my pets and the quiet.
It drove me crazy how much I cared what Stacy thought. Not just about me, but about TV and movies and music and biographies and fantasy novels and philosophy and queer stuff and politics and religion. And I guess I cared extra hard what she thought about having sex with me too because, for the first time ever, I wanted to ask someone to stay after and talk. She told me about the planets and the stars. I told her about the Oxford comma. Long baths, late nights. We kept talking and having sex until we were waking up and going to sleep doing both of those things in the same city, the same house, the same bed; promising to do them forever.
We used to cry when we talked about sex, one of us at least, every time. Because the way you feel about the sex you’re having and the sex you’re not having is a story you’re telling yourself about yourself and about your relationship and about every comforting and insecure thought you’ve ever had about both of those things. You’re wanted, so you’re beautiful; you’re desired, so you’re worthy. Not just of sex, but of love maybe. Of commitment. She could be having sex with anybody, but she’s having sex with you. She chose you. Or the opposite thing. It’s because you’ve gained weight. It’s because you’ve been depressed. It’s because she’s into something or someone else. There’s something wrong with you, as you always suspected.
But now there is something wrong with me, with my brain. I can’t bounce back from the election. I want to think of it as just politics, but it was more than that to me. It was my life’s purpose facing off against a culture that has destroyed so many of the people and things I have loved. Equality, empathy, and a promise to grapple with our own contributions to the darkness facing off against ingrained prejudice, ignorance, and backwards thinking. A prepared, capable, flawed woman promising to do good facing off against the bigoted bombast of a man promising to do harm.
There’s something wrong with my body, too. No one knows what yet. More probes are needed. More bloodwork. More images. More insurance approval, more appointments, more bills, more tests, more questions.
Stacy slipped her hand under the back of my t-shirt while we were watching basketball this week and gently traced her fingers up my spine. I shivered and let out a little purr that surprised us both. It’s not just the sex. I’m having a hard time being touched at all these days. I keep imagining myself with a robot body and my brain is inside it. I have work left to do, contributions to make to this world, but my body is a constant source of pain and anxiety. I try to forget it exists and just work; when Stacy touches me, I remember. And because she’s Stacy, I remember there’s a heart in there too. Bruised, exhausted, overflowing.
“Have you been thinking about having sex at all lately?”
I dropped my head and started to stutter out something guilty. I can’t think about sex because I can’t think about my breasts because I can’t think about the unidentified mass inside there. I can’t think about sex because I can’t think about my vagina because I can’t think about the pain and the uterus biopsy that’s coming. She kept her one hand under my t-shirt and reached for my chin. “Hey,” she said. “Hey, look at me. You’re okay. We’re okay. There are other ways to be close.”
She’s right. The closest I ever felt to her wasn’t when we were having sex. It was two months ago when she was standing beside me in that doctor’s office while I scooted down into the stirrups and prepared for a test that had sent me spiraling into a panic attack earlier in the week. The doctor tried small talk that was only making me more nervous, so Stacy smiled at me and said, “We rescued and adopted some feral kittens, Dr. Cox. Did Heather tell you?”
The doctor said no, I had not, but she’d love to hear about it.
“Well, they came into our backyard — how long ago, Heather?”
“Two summers,” I said.
“Two summers,” Stacy repeated. “Three black ones and two grey tiger-looking ones.”
“Their mom is a black tuxedo.”
“A black tuxedo. Her name is Bobbi Jean.”
The doctor said, “Just a few more minutes. You’re doing great.”
I was covered in sweat when the test was done, but I hadn’t hyperventilated. I hadn’t panicked. I didn’t realize Stacy had reached for my hand until it was over and she was still holding it. We went to brunch at a diner near the hospital. It looked like a cruise ship inside and Stacy ordered a drink that should have come with an umbrella. I didn’t want to talk and she didn’t try make me. She winked at me. She sipped her weird fruity Carnival cocktail.
We’re always filling in other people’s silences, the gaps in our story, with our own insecurities and hopes and fears and dreams and heartache. With the messages we’ve internalized from TV and movies. With the words we’ve heard from our churches and our politicians. We assign malevolent motive where there’s nothing but love. We castigate ourselves for offenses no one else thinks we committed. We do it with sex most of all.
Stacy has refused to fill in the gaps of our sex life with any story other than the truth: I’m sad and I’m scared.
We’ll survive Donald Trump and be better activists and humans on the other side of it. I’ll finally get a diagnosis with what’s going on with me and begin a course of treatment to fix it. I’ll reach for her hand. She’ll reach for mine. We’ll have sex again.
Stacy will have the Yankee chicken cutlet on a roll, no bacon, light deli mustard instead of honey mustard, add pickles.