Asylum Androgyny

Hysteria, from the Greek word hysteros, meaning womb.

Bethlam Royal Hospital. London. 1889.

I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. My femininity was revealed prior to introductions, leaving me prejudged. Prematurely diagnosed. Exposed as a reincarnation of Anna O., they scribbled vapid notes, making a fool of me and shaming Dr. Breuer. Lacking both elegance and perception, they scratched pencil to paper, summarizing my being into regurgitated medical terminology. Vomit – a hollow medical degree laced with privilege and void of philosophy.

I was overshadowed by my uterus, condemned to a diagnosis of ‘hysteria’ by virtue of my physiology. No discussion, no assessment of the functionality of my organs, no mention of the possibility that, if it truly were hysteria from which I suffered, perhaps the solution may be found in biology, not psychology.

Female. Uterus. Hysterical. 

No regard for the complexity of human anatomy, no consideration given to the intricacy of the endocrine system. My body, forced into a rhythm of menstrual regularity, revolted. I am a woman. I am hysteria incarnate. A silk gown drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood and bones. A medical experiment.

A week later, I presented myself in my masculine form. I expressed experiencing dreadful jitters, anorexia, insomnia, fatigue, and bilious emesis. With no uterus to cloud their judgement, they scratched pencil to paper: Possible negative reaction to serious outside stressors or a malfunctioning of a pivotal physiological system. Endocrine system should be thoroughly tested. 
And it was, for no man would naturally experience symptoms of hysteria without a womb to cause them. I am a man. A silk robe drenched in sweat. Barefaced, bare feet, blood, bones… and flesh.

How does one suffer from having a womb? Simple. You become seen through it, overshadowed by it, understood amateurishly by virtue of possessing it.

I was once a man who suffered from hysteria, cured by denying the simplistic approach of a gendered body.

© Leila Chammas, March 1, 2017.


What If I Wanted To Say ‘Yes’?

I’m sitting in the waiting room for what I know will be at least half an hour – and that’s considered quick. If my appointment is at 9 AM, I’m expected to be there at 8.30 AM to check in but I know I won’t be seen before 9.30 AM. I can wait half an hour, that’s not a big deal. Only it’s not just half an hour; it’s a whole hour from the time I check in to the time I’m escorted from the waiting room to an examination room and then another half hour between getting my vitals checked and waiting for the doctor to see me. Still, I guess that’s fine. Thankfully I don’t have to do this often so I can spare the time. I finally get into the examination room and I sit on a chair against a wall. No need to get up on the exam table just yet. The CNA sits down at the computer but it’s positioned perpendicular to my chair so I’m seeing more of her back and profile than her face.

She logs in quickly, click, click, click. She’s probably done this a thousand times already. “What brings you in today?”
“Just here for my annual physical,” I say.
Click, click, clickity-click click
“Any pain today?”
“No”- Click
“Have you fallen in the past 7 days?”
“Nope” – Click
When she asks the next two questions, she maintains the same speed with which she asks and clicks to indicate my response, which throws me off a bit.
“Do you feel sad or have little interest in doing things?” “No” – Click “Has anyone threatened to hurt you?” “No” – Click

She asks quickly and mechanically and I wonder how many times she asks those questions per day, how many different people she asks per week. I get it; when you assume the answer is most likely going to be “No,” you breeze through the questions.
So, I’m sitting there, kind of facing her back, wondering if anything were different if I said “Yes.” Would she just Click something else and move on to the next question? What if I hesitated to answer? Would she have turned around to check if my eyes were watering or if there was some other reason behind my hesitation?

I’m looking at her back/profile knowing that it probably doesn’t matter whether I had said “Yes” or “No.” She just needs to check a box on the form. I just wonder, had I wanted to say “Yes” to either, would I have felt comfortable or courageous enough to say it? Would I have felt too alienated by her position and the rapid click, click, clicking as she mechanically fills out the form? Could such a brief interaction move me to open up about something for the first time or confirm my suspicion that it doesn’t really matter?

I don’t know but every time I get asked those questions and say “No,” I wonder if I’d ever say “Yes” if that ever actually were the answer.

© Leila Chammas