Queering Up the Pap Process

Hospital waiting rooms are never fun. There’s this strange stillness that takes over everything. Time moves slower. The lights are brighter, but still manage to dim the surroundings. Everybody around me is speaking like Teddy Ruxpin in need of new batteries. I can’t stop my legs from nervously shaking.speculum

It’s been nine years since I’ve had to go through this.

I fill out the mandatory paperwork, ensuring to check and double-check all boxes for accuracy. My vision wanes a bit when I’m nervous, too. I ask my wife to proof some of my answers. I hand the papers back in and then just wait. I listen to the names called from behind that heavy intake door. Name, after name, after name and it seems that it’s never mine and I’m impatiently okay with that. I don’t want to go back there as much as I just want to get it over with.

“Jovannah Radtke?” she speaks with such nonchalant ease that I barely recognize the sound of my own name with all that’s going on in my head. I turn to my wife and whisper, “fuck, here I go.”

At this point, I can already feel the tears welling up.

We go through the regular vitals check process in near flawless fashion. (Save for the fact that the nurse had to take my blood pressure three times to get an accurate read.) Once all of my vitals have been determined normal, we go to the room. She tells me to wait here, to remove all of my clothing, including bra and underwear. She then points to what looks like a large one-ply paper towel and tells me to put that on. She closes the door and I immediately start crying, feeling near edge of a full on panic attack.

This is the moment that I should probably tell you that I identify as genderqueer. While, by definition, this means that I don’t readily identify with either of the binary gender norms (male or female), my gender identity goes a little more left of center toward the masculine end of the spectrum. I bind my chest, as to appear to have pecs vs. breasts; I am in the research phase of the top surgery process; I am considering a light dosage of hormone therapy, but don’t necessarily identify as transgender; I wear only male clothing and have for nearly three decades; finally, I have a vagina that I do not identify with at all, I would nearly venture to say that I just prefer it not be there.

The doctor knocks, my heart does too, and we meet each other for the first time. Her, fully clothed white coat MD; me, completely naked female body that is as much a stranger to me as this lady. I start shaking, noticeably. She asks and I don’t hesitate to hand her my truth. I tell her in enough detail, how terrified I am of the idea of having anything inside of me, especially any part of an unknown person. I tell her in enough truth, that I can’t stop my voice from matching the shake of my body, that has now started shaking enough to knock a few tears loose.


And she… well, she is brilliant. She never refers to me in gendered terms. She asks all the right questions, including whether or not I want her to verbally walk me through each step as she’s examining (for me, this is a resounding “no”). She goes out of her way to create this safe space for me and I can’t wait to tell her how grateful I am for her kindness, for her acceptance, for her authentic care.

Then it’s over with. I feel a sudden rush of overwhelming relief, the kind that comes in one big wave and I could probably pass out from the exhaustion of trying to keep up with my thoughts for so long. She tells me when I can expect my results. She’s more than hopeful that I’m completely fine and gives me some great advice on the top surgery process. I feel seen and accepted in my genderqueerness.

Overall, this experience reminds me of the shock I felt upon visiting friends in Scottsbluff, Nebraska for the first time after coming out. Growing up queer, I was beyond familiar with both the tall and true tales of hatred, exclusion, and violence toward people like me. However, I was pleasantly surprised during that trip, just as I am pleasantly surprised during this gynecological visit; the people are nice, the people are non-judgmental, and I am safe to spite all real and powerful anxieties.

While I am not necessarily looking forward to the next trip or visit, I do know now that my gender doesn’t have to be compromised for the sake of my body’s health. This is what great healthcare professionals can accomplish in a day.

joviJovi Radtke is a Spoken Word activist who recently relocated to the Bay Area after calling Sacramento their home for a little more than 18 years. They can be seen hugging strangers, freelancing in web development and graphic design, adventuring with their wife and dog, and trying to write their first great American novel.