The following article was published in Contemporary Sexuality, a publication of AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) May 2013, Vol 47. No. 4. I am publishing it here with their kind permission.
A note about the following article. I could not copy their edited copy of my final draft. Their edits made it better, apologies for the uncorrected errors not found in the final copy. Blogger refuses to let me put the symbol < right next to anything else, I've had to put a space between it and anything else. I hope your eye simply removes that space.
Finally, thank you for those who have donated to my Movember fundraising attempt. I had aimed at ten donations and fell far short of that. I decided to go ahead and publish anyways and hope that some others would feel moved to make a small donation. Links to make a donation in a variety of countries can be found on an earlier post.
< 3 A Graphic Discussion About My Testicle
The first time I received an email with the notation < 3 on it, I was struck silent. The person sending me this is someone who thinks that “darn” is a curse word. He would never, ever, ever send a pictogram of testicles in an email. Imagine how disappointed I was to find out that < 3 represented, not testes but ‘heart.’ I desperately wanted to tell my correspondent how I first interpreted his email but, in a mammoth bout of self restraint, managed not to.
I have drawn probably at least a couple thousand sets of testicles in the last many years. I do a fair bit of abuse prevention training and, in one part of the training, those attending, people with intellectual disabilities, are presented with an outline of a body. They are asked to call out the parts that need to be drawn on the figure. Now, in fact, they don’t often call out “testes” or “testicles” … no, they use the words that we all use, most commonly, “nuts” and “balls.” There is usually a lot of laughter during this exercise. Of course we end up discussing words that are used to talk to doctors or to police and thus “nuts” morph, verbally, into “testicles.”
I am a man. There are many stereotypes about masculinity that I, as a gay man, don’t buy into. I don’t like sports. But some aspects of the stereotype I fit. I do like balls – my own included. As someone who has strongly advocated for the rights of people with disabilities to be sexual I’ve always been kind of pleased to hear, “That Dave, he’s got balls man!!” Yep, I do, I’d think. Figuratively and metaphorically I < 3 my < 3.
I was standing in front of an audience of 300 somewhere in the wilds of Connecticut. I felt my leg begin to go numb, I thought it was about how I was standing, so I moved around a bit. At break I sat down to rest, I didn’t know then, that that moment would signify my transition from standing and walking to sitting and rolling. By noon, I knew something was very wrong. By two, I had to, for the first time in my career, halt my presentation before finishing and head home.
The first rest stop was alarming because I couldn’t get out of the car. Joe had to assist me. I’d hold on to him and then drag the one leg along. I knew I hadn’t had a stroke, but I knew something was wrong. We arrived home at about two in the morning. I’d convinced myself that I’d just gotten over tired, that I really needed rest. 36 hours later having fallen over in the bedroom, forgetting that I could no longer walk unassisted, we were on the way to Emergency.
They brought me a wheelchair so I could get into the building. I saw this person, then that person, all as part of the process of checking in and being assessed for what level of emergency I presented to them. Finally, I’m changed into a gown; I’m laying on a bed in the hallway waiting for the physician to come. When he did he asked a few questions. In my answers I told him that I had a small infection on my upper thigh but it didn’t seem to be anything too serious.
He lifted my gown.
He took a good look.
He said, “Oh, my, God.”
Twenty minutes later he returns and pushes me into an examination room. He isn’t alone. He is with about four other doctors. This is Sunday, these were probably all the doctors they had there that day! They look, they all look really concerned – and slightly fascinated – one said, “I’ve never seen this outside a text book.” Then they began talking about me, forgetting I could hear. It was clear that I needed surgery within the next few hours; I would not survive until morning. They called someone, I don’t know what her position was but she must have been senior. Could the surgeon be called in they asked her. I would die without immediate surgery. She authorized the call.
I wake from surgery.
Coming too was a relief. I’d signed a consent form for surgery after being told that there was a “good chance” that I’d not wake. I saw Joe’s face. He looked tired. He looked worried. I asked him if everything went well. He didn’t nod his head. He glanced over to the doctor who was, by then, standing there. The doctor answered, “It went fine. You came through the surgery well.” Then, the doctor left. I saw Joe’s eyes follow the doctor, he looked shaken.
I fall back asleep. It’s a fitful sleep. I was feeling nauseous because of the anesthetic and I knew something was wrong. I wake again and Joe is sitting beside the bed. “Tell me,” I said. He said, “They had to amputate one of your testicles. It couldn’t be saved.”
I was stunned. No one had mentioned to me anything about my testicles. The paper I signed for the surgery said nothing about amputation. Make no mistake, I would have agreed – life with one ball is still life with one ball – but I didn’t know how or what to think, how or what to feel, how or what difference this would all make. I was completely confused and totally frightened. My body was altered, made different.
Masculinity and I have an uneasy relationship to begin with. As a boy I was chided, teased and bullied because I wasn’t “one of the boys.” I didn’t want to play ball, I didn’t want to climb trees, I didn’t want trucks for toys. I was a “Nancy boy” who “seemed normal enough.” I had to take a test at one point about my maleness and they asked questions like “Do you prefer the smell of a fresh caught fish or the smell of perfume?” Well, I think that fish are smelly, not good smelly, bad smelly, and I was at that naïve age that still thought that honesty was the best policy. The results weren’t good news for my parents … they were all surprised that I wasn’t wearing my mother’s clothes (they asked her that in front of me).
But I knew I was a man. By then I also knew that I found boys more attractive than girls and yet I liked to hang around with girls more than boys. My proof that I was a man? < 3 plain and simple. I had balls, I was a boy, that was an easy equation to make and it’s one that gave me some comfort. Let others discuss my masculinity or my ‘maleness’ or my ‘gender identity.’ I knew that I was a man who thought other men were hot – and my self knowledge kept me sane while discussions about the fact that I thought hockey was boring swirled round me.
Then someone threw one of my testicles in the trash.
It’s a new doctor now. An older man. He is followed around my young doctors, very young, as he comes in to see me. He’s gruff. His bedside manner isn’t for me; it’s to demonstrate to young doctors how to be imperial. He asks a couple of questions of me. I answer. He turns to leave. I ask if I can ask some questions. He looks annoyed but he stops to listen. I ask the other doctors to leave. He’s outraged. They are there to LEARN. I am now annoyed and I said, “Well, they can LEARN that patients have a right to some privacy.” They leave.
This isn’t the best way to begin the discussion. For all the times that I have drawn testicles, for all the times that I’ve taught about what they are for and what they do, for all the hours I looked at them in a mirror as a kid, I discovered there were things I didn’t know. Like – what happens when one magically disappears? So I begin and say, “When I woke up I was told that I’d had a testicle removed.”
What did I expect?
I don’t know – maybe too much. I expected to have this man to be a little sympathetic. I’d had an amputation for God’s sake. Further, I’d had my genitals disfigured, cut off, thrown away. I was feeling a little … DAMAGED. But I didn’t get sympathy. He actually said, “Yes, so?” I start to cry. I want something from him. I want reassurance. I want him to spontaneously answer all the questions that I have.
Will I still be sexual?
Will I still be able to get and stay erect?
Will I still be lovable?
Am I deeply disfigured and damaged?
I squeak out a question about my sexual abilities. He says, “What are you worried about, you’ve still got the other one.” And he walked out.
I lay in the room a long time. My hand reaches down to touch where the surgery had happened. There are bandages upon bandages. I feel nothing, then I begin to weep as I realize that, where I’m touching, there’s nothing to feel.
I tried several more times with several more people to get answers. My questions were dismissed. Worse, though, was that I was made to feel “unmanly” because I was feeling “unmanly” and that I was experiencing girlish emotions. One nurse said, “It’s not like you had a mastectomy.” I wanted to say, but didn’t, “Yes, it’s like I had a mastectomy, except, no one cared.”
And … I’m not supposed to care either.
< 3 = < 0
It’s taken a long, long time to process what happened to me at the hospital, both the amputation and the lack of care or concern for my reaction to the surgery. I wondered for the longest while why ‘I’ didn’t matter, why ‘my’ concerns were considered silly or foolish. I asked myself questions.
Was it because I am exceedingly fat – did that make me into a non-sexual, non-gendered being?
Was it because I was gay – did that make any my questions about sexuality irrelevant – I’m not going to make babies with my boyfriend anyways?
Was it my age – I was in my fifties, so who cares if an old geezer gets off?
Was it simply my gender – men don’t have feelings anyways, really, do they?
In the end, I don’t know why what happened happened. I guess I will never know. I do know, however that I was lucky to work in the area of sexuality, I knew where to get information, I knew, maybe more importantly, what questions to ask.
What I was left with, however, was a scar.
One on my body.
One on my soul.
It’s hard to completely not matter. It’s hard to look into the eyes of someone paid to care and recognize that they don’t.
It was a ball. It was thrown away. Get over it.
Well, I guess me writing this means that I did, eventually, seven years later, get over it. Up until writing this down, I’ve never spoken about the loss of a testicle or the journey that resulted because of it. I wasn’t ashamed about that tiny loss of weight, but I somehow felt unmanly talking about the fact that my feelings were hurt because my hurt wasn’t acknowledged.
Perhaps I am a ‘Nancy Boy’ after all.
And if I am, I’m good with that.
And I’m good with < 3ing my < 0.