Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What's Really Killing Dykes

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

801 words

If health providers want to be useful to the dyke community, they'll dump their tits and twat health care model, and focus on what really kills us. Like coronaries. And smoking.

It's not news that heart attacks put females in the grave way more often than breast cancer, but I hadn't thought much about cervical cancer until last week when the New York Times reported that the end of the pap test was near, or almost.

A vaccine has been out for a while against the strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) which are the main causes of cervical cancer. Now, there's a genetic test for HPV which may supercede the pap test as the main screening tool.

No more, "Undress and put this little napkin on." No more climbing on a table, sliding down in the stirrups and spreading our knees in a vulnerable position until the inquisitor jams a speculum up in there and scrapes a bunch of cells from our living flesh.

I almost hired out a brass band and set up fireworks to celebrate.

I know it's 2007, and we're supposed to pretend we're all liberated and bendy, and okay with strangers having their hands up our twats, but I'd rather let Torquemada loose on my toenails.

So do I dare hope? Is it really and truly the end of pap tests for me?

I'm too old for the vaccines. I'd seen the ads on TV urging young women to get vaccinated against HPV. "Be one less," victim of cervical cancer which also informs us that the vaccine only works on teens and twenty-somethings.

But, with the Times article, it finally sank in that the main cause of cervical cancer, HPV, is a sexually transmitted disease. Which means that even with an enormous incubation period, HPV and cervical cancer has nothing to do with me.

I'm a monogamous dyke and neither me nor my girlfriend has messed around with anybody else in a million years. Unless you can get it from toilet seats or sneezing, I'm pretty much in the clear.

So why am I still lining up for pap tests every year or two? False advertising, that's why.

By drilling into my brain the importance of yearly breast exams and pap tests, the implication is they are equal risks. And they're not. And not just for me.

Check out the women's mortality charts listed on the Mayo Clinic website, and you'll find cervical cancer isn't even mentioned.

Heart attacks kill 489,000 women in the U.S. each year. Cancers are all lumped together at the deadly number two spot with lung cancer alone knocking off 73,000 women.

Breast cancer gets a mere 40,000. It's colorectal third at 28,000, and cervical isn't even on the list. You'll die of kidney cancer first, and who ever checks for that?

Strokes are the number three killer of women.

All of which makes me want to ask why most of my health check-ups still focus on breast exams and pap smears, when I'm twelve times more likely to drop dead clutching my chest or hacking my lungs up?

Besides, dykes smoke like chimneys compared to hets, so probably the general numbers of heart attacks, lung cancer, and strokes are even higher for us.

This backassward prioritizing comes from all sides. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services actually makes a pretty big effort with their site on lesbian health, acknowledging homophobia and stress, but their first "See also" link is "Pap Test," the second "Breast Self-Exam," the third "Mammogram."

They do list heart disease as one of the most important health issues for lesbians to discuss with their doctors, but under, "What can lesbian women do to protect their health?" getting a pap test is second only to finding a dyke-friendly doctor. Smoking is only eighth on the list.

It was worse at the website of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York. Their Lesbian Health Services page was almost all breasts and cervix. There were programs to stop smoking buried in the site, but there was nothing about it in their outreach literature listed.

To be fair, the several times I've gone the health care provider usually asked questions about "general" health, like smoking and exercise before she handed over the paper gown and we got down to the real business of my tits and crotch.

All these years I've been missing the point. That somehow, women's health has been boiled down to the female aspects of our bodies. No lungs, or guts for dykes. No hearts. No little vessels waiting to explode in the head after a decade or two of cigarettes or homophobic stress.

You want to improve lesbian health? It's simple. Look for a way out. Quit reducing us to the time bombs of our sex.

Visit Kelly Sans Culotte at http://kellyatlarge.blogspot.com.

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