World AIDS Day

By Brooke Davidoff

World AIDS Day was December 1st. I did not know that until 2010.

It was his 21st birthday when our flirting elevated to kissing. He told the bartender he wanted me for his birthday. At the age of 23, one of the only things on my mind when it came to dating was for me to not get pregnant before I was married.

Within weeks of seeing each other I went to Planned Parenthood and got on birth control. Blake and I went to the same high school he played football and wrestled. In my mind, that made him safe. He said he had only been with four other girls, and I knew three of them. I did not need to make him wear condoms because I was on the pill—so I thought. I never missed an OBGYN appointment for my annual Pap smear or birth control renewal.

Six years later I was married to someone else and pregnant. Following routine blood work I was called into my doctor’s office after hours. My husband and I arrived curious and apprehensive. It was that night when my OBGYN told me that I was HIV positive. Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV was not anything I had been told I was at risk for by my doctors previously. As a straight cis woman, I naively believed I was not at risk. I was then told about HIPPA and my right to not tell anyone about my diagnosis.

The symptoms of HIV would never have lead me to believe I had a deadly STD. I was handed a list of symptoms, dumbfounded as I glanced at them. Well yes, who doesn’t have these?

  • Chills
  • Rash
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Bad yeast infections
  • Feeling tired, dizzy, and lightheaded
  • Headaches
  • and much more

Accessing STD prevention is a barrier for gender minorities. Cis men can often pressure partners into letting them skip the condom by complaining about discomfort or a lack of pleasure. In my case, and the cases of many other cis women, this puts us at higher risk of contraction. I never made a guy I dated wear a condom when I was on birth control, but I should have. Furthermore, transgender people have higher rates of HIV infection than the general population, transgenderwomen being 49 times more likely to have HIV.  This is often considered a stigma against trans people, but this is a result of “social and legal exclusion, economic vulnerability, and an increased risk of experiencing violence. Disempowerment and low self-esteem make transgender women, in particular, less likely or less able, to negotiate condom use.” Also, unfortunately, “HIV-related stigma and transphobia create barriers to the access of HIV testing and treatment services by transgender people.”

Conversations about sex can be awkward, even with an intimate partner. You may feel like being in an exclusive relationship keeps you safe, but unless you and your partner get tested for STDs, you really have no idea if you are clean. HIV is invisible for years as it internally ravages your immune systems’ CD4 or T-cells. Once infected it can take years for someone to become sick. You will not be able to tell by looking at your partner. Get tested. Use protection.

Snap Shot

By Brooke Davidoff

Snap Shot

A snap shot,
falls out of a
book
and floats to the floor.
Frozen in time
her brilliant blue eyes
glow back at me
from years ago.

Her deck was illuminated
in the warm afternoon sunlight.
Eucalyptus and palm trees glow in the background.
She sat with a book and coffee in hand
surrounded by violet and magenta flowers
wearing a pink floral top and white Keds.

This was before.

Before,
I watched light
dance across her floor
as life
slipped
away.

I watched powerless
not knowing
that love can not keep someone alive.
Tightly I still hold onto pieces of her
trying
to ignore
shards of loss inside.

She comes to me
by starlight.
I believe she will help me
find my future.
She always wanted
what was best for me.
Even from beyond the grave.

 

My grandma Gertie died in August 2006 she was 92, and one of my best friends. She still comes to me in dreams often. She taught me to love without walls, to sing along to Broadway musicals no matter who was in the room. She taught me to believe in myself and the magic that life leads us where we are supposed to go.

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

 

Menstrual Health is Sex Equity

By Brooke Davidoff

For about half the population, periods are not optional: they are unavoidable and they are expensive. Not everyone has the financial stability to afford menstrual products monthly. Period cycles and spotting can, at times, be completely unpredictable. Adolescent and adult menstruating people both in school and at work should not be held back from everyday functions by their periods or the related financial strain.

On Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 this year, Congresswoman Grace Meng from Queens, New York, introduced a plan to end period poverty—sparking a movement to reach gender equity goals including:

– everyone being able to access and afford the menstrual products of their choice
– ending period stigma
everyone having basic information about menstruation (not just those who menstruate)

Difficulties in accessing menstrual products are a direct result of patriarchal oppression—this is a gender equity issue. “Two-thirds of low-income women surveyed in one 2019 study say they did not have the resources to buy hygiene products at some point in the last year, and one-fifth of those surveyed say they have difficulty accessing those products on a monthly basis. One in five girls have reported missing school because of a lack of menstrual products.”

Although, it would probably be more accurate to call this a sex equity issue. Menstrual products are a necessity for most people assigned female at birth. Ignoring this necessity is inequitable. A lifetime of menstrual products is expensive, irregular periods can cause bleeding more than once a month or when it is unexpected, and the fear of bleeding through your clothes can cause a burden of stress and anxiety.

But, there is good news! On October 12 of this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom passed The Menstrual Equity for All Act in California. The bill will go into effect next school year and it stipulates that free menstrual products must be made available in the bathrooms of all public schools serving students in grades six through twelve, all community colleges, and all California State University System schools.

Furthermore, while no similar legislation has passed in Missouri, The University of Missouri Kansas City also supplies free menstrual products in multiple locations! The Women’s Center (105 Haag Hall) has a collection of options. The Health Science Library on Hospital Hill also has supplies available, and even The Kangaroo Pantry offers free menstrual products–check their website for available hours and locations!

Combating Domestic Violence

By Brooke Davidoff

Unfortunately, “nearly three in ten women and one in ten men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner (or former partner).”  

Domestic Violence Awareness Month began in October 1987 to connect people seeking help with the organizations working to empower victims and educate the public. Progress has come a long way, but there is still much more work to be done. Stigma silences many victims of domestic abuse.    

Domestic violence a heavily gendered crime, (although cis men can very well be the victims of domestic violence, and they can and should seek help). Furthermore, “LGBTQ members fall victim to domestic violence at equal or even higher rates” than their cishet counterparts, and they also experience unique elements of abuse, such as the threat of being outed. Domestic violence is absolutely a gender equity issue, and much work needs to be done to educate about and prevent abusive relationships. For now, knowing what to look out for and how to get help is the best way to keep yourself safe. 

In a victimology class I took recently, we learned that intimate partner violence falls into four categories: stalking, psychological aggression, physical violence, and sexual violence.  People experiencing intimate partner violence don’t always know right away that they are being abused, and abusers tend to be good at manipulation, leaving victims to question themselves when they consider leaving the relationship.    

A few reasons people stay in abusive relationships: 

Some people in abusive relationships want the abuse to end, but the relationship to last, and they find themself waiting for their abuser to change. Financial dependence is another reason some victims feel trapped with their abusers. Shame, guilt, helplessness, embarrassment, and fear are only a few of the emotions that can cloud one’s judgment when trying to decide to stay or go. On top of that, there is still stigma associated with speaking out and admitting you are a victim.   

It is extra important for people to be aware of psychological aggression, because non-physical domestic violence can be difficult to recognize, but it can still cause potentially long-lasting trauma and emotional impacts. How do you know if you’re in an abusive relationship if there is no physical violence? Are you afraid of your partner? Are they extremely jealous? This screening helps you determine if it would be in your best interest to leave your partner for your own mental health and safety.   

If it is possible that you are in an abusive relationship, there are many ways you can seek help:

On campus you can always stop by the RISE office in Haag Hall Room 108. They are open Monday – Friday 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. You can also visit their website. 

Rose Brooks is a 24-hour emergency shelter in Kansas City.   

The Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP) is the only LGBTQ-specific domestic violence or sexual assault service in Missouri. KCAVP was created to provide support and services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and hate violence.  

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, you can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now  

If you need help, please reach out to one of these resources. There are people who can help you find a safe way out; you are not alone.   

 

My Gender Non-conforming Kid

By Brooke Davidoff

When Chelsea came home from Target with us, my son said from the back seat that he wanted to be a mommy. 

We had gotten into an deep conversation in the isles—other parents and kids were looking on as we weighed the options. I made sure he knew that if he chose a baby doll and opened the box, he couldn’t change his mind, it was non-refundable. But he articulated that he needed to buy this doll.

Chelsea had big brown eyes and pigtails, a flowery summer dress, and a pacifier. Chelsea was my son’s first Baby Alive doll, and she slept beside his bed in a painted shoebox with pillows and blankets.

My kid was 7.

Dr. Theresa Tanenbaum is an Associate Professor of Informatics at UCI, a trans woman, and a friend of mine who said, “I’ve been a girl my whole life, but I didn’t always know it. As a result, many of my childhood experiences were defined by cognitive dissonance. Growing up as a trans girl is like being gaslit by the whole world and still finding the strength and confidence to say ‘No! This is who I am.’”

She is a wealth of knowledge about the kind of trauma and pain trans women experience living in a male body most of their lives. I’ve know her since she was in 10th grade and she helped me understand that it’s not my place to guide my son to masculinity. As a single mother, I thought I needed to get him into Boy Scouts or sports, but she helped me stand back and allow him to lead his own journey. Part of the trauma trans people face is the internal struggle of living a double life.

One day my kid decided he needed a dress. I had never imagined I would have this conversation with my son, but he was crying saying he didn’t feel like he fit his own skin. So, we went into the little girl’s section and he happily picked out a pile of glittery rainbow sundresses to try on. He fell in love with one and we took it home. He wore it almost every day after school until it didn’t fit anymore.

Theresa also said, “As a kid, I yearned for ‘normal’ girl experiences, but wasn’t allowed to have them. I suffered in terror from ‘boy’ experiences. Not knowing I was trans, all of it was so confusing. My socialization wasn’t the same as a cis girl, but it wasn’t anything like a boy’s” 

I can’t imagine what it feels like not to fit into my skin. But I do have empathy for those who live that way. I am trying my best to help my child feel at home in his body. It isn’t easy to understand what a kid needs when showing gender non-conforming behavior, but parents and guardians must be prepared to support transgender and non-binary youth. At the moment, I call my kid non-binary. Some days he calls himself a boy, some days he wants to be a girl more than anything. He might be a woman one day, or a man, or maybe he is neither, but it will be his decision. He still has to figure out what gender means to him, how pronouns make him feel, how he wants to present and be perceived. Gender identity is a huge part of our lives and kids need to be allowed to take their time figuring it out.

We need to work better to educate ourselves and others: kids are just kids. No one fits into a neat box. In the end, we should all just be kind and respect other’s lifestyles, decisions, and privacy.

 

A Story in Learning to Say No: Part II

By Brooke Davidoff

When I read that this man wanted to come spend the weekend at my apartment, my initial response was to panic. If being on a boardwalk in public with him was uncomfortable, how much worse would it be if we were alone? 

I didn’t own a couch, and I told him I didn’t have anywhere for him to sleep. His response: Will we have privacy? Those words triggered a panic attack from thousands of miles away. I was sweating, and anxiety and fear blanketed me immediately. I pictured myself trying to get away from him, sleeping in my 10-year-old’s room to escape being alone with him.

He was looking at flights and rental cars, sending screen shots of options for his arrival before I had even accepted his offer. I messaged two single male friends to see if I was overreacting, projecting, or reading this wrong. 

I was diagnosed with PTSD over four years ago. I have survived multiple traumas, the majority due to negative, unwanted interactions with men. I realize I am sometimes overly alert and standoffish with men. Maybe he did want to help me move… but his interest in our privacy made me think otherwise. My friends reassured me that he had boundary issues, letting me know I could and should say no.

He had already booked himself a ticket. 

For most of my life I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. I was polite, I ignored red flags. I had since taken multiple classes on trauma and its affects on mental health and I had gone to therapy to help me address my PTSD, yet I still found myself afraid to say no. I still felt more worried about hurting his feelings than about his affect on my physical safety and comfort. I did not feel like my “no” was valid until more than one friend gave me permission to have boundaries.

It was not easy, but I sent him an email to cancel his flight. I didn’t owe him anything but the truth. I did not want him to come.

If a conversation with anyone triggers you, you have every right to not talk to or see them again. From childhood, girls are socialized to be nice and to be more in touch with their own and other people’s feelings. Women often feel a lot of guilt when we hurt others’ feelings, but in actuality: regardless of your gender, you don’t owe anyone anything, and your safety is in your hands. No one has the right to push their wants onto you. You are not here to accommodate others. If you have a gut feeling about someone, listen. 

Other peoples feeling are not more important than yours, and they are not as important as your safety or your piece of mind. Younger me would not have had the courage to say no. Saying no was empowering, I encourage you to try it.

A Story in Learning to Say No: Part I

By Brooke Davidoff

Moving across the country as a single mother is stressful. I moved here in June from Long Beach, California to live with one of my best friends from high school. There ended up not being enough room for my son and I at her place, and I had to hastily relocate without even unpacking. When I had found an apartment and was ready to move my stuff out of my friend’s basement, a male acquaintance in California offered to fly in to help. 

The last time he and I hung out was awful. 

I read his text message inviting himself to my new place. I cringed as his words flashed across my screen. He and I had lived on the same street when we were in middle school. We’re in our early 40’s now and had not seen each other since 8th grade, until that uncomfortable day two years ago. He had driven two hours to see me, and we had spent an afternoon together.

That day, we walked to the beach boardwalk across the street from my apartment. Immediately, he took my hand in his. We had never dated. We had never had a physical relationship. Our text messages had been G-rated, there hadn’t even been flirting. Maybe he’s overly friendly, I thought. 

We walked into an arcade, and my son went to play a video game—the man kissed me. It was random, unwanted and unexpected. I didn’t know how to pull away, and the rest of the afternoon was just as uncomfortable. Every time my son would walk away, this guy was in my face; his hands travelled all over my body like we were a couple.

We were not. 

He went home a few hours later while I sat with my confusion in silence. Questioning myself. Maybe I led him on. Jeans and a t-shirt shouldn’t have given off flirty signals—though I know now nothing I could have worn would have given him permission to touch me. 

Later that night he Facetimed me. He was drunk and begging me to flash him. I said no multiple times, he argued that he wanted to see them. I hung up. I didn’t speak to him for over a year. 

However, like many people, I give others second chances, expecting and hoping they have changed. We began texting again after I moved; I felt safe. He couldn’t drive up the freeway to see me anymore—I had states of distance to protect me.

But now he was inviting himself to my new apartment.

Hear the rest of Brooke’s story in Part II posting tomorrow!

Brooke Davidoff Brings Life Experiences to Women’s Center

By Brooke Davidoff

Hey there, I am Brooke Davidoff (she/her), a 42-year-old single mother and a junior who transferred here to major in Communications with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

I grew up in San Diego in the late 90’s and I majored in print and broadcast journalism at Palomar College.

I went back to school two years ago at Long Beach City College where I got my AA in Human Services. At Long Beach City College, I was the Social Media Chair for the Human Services Club and a writer/editor on the school paper.

My whole life changed when I was diagnosed with HIV as a pregnant newlywed. I was shocked to learn that during a pregnancy is one of the only times doctors test straight women. Within months of my diagnosis, I was picked up as a contracted blogger for www.thebody.com. Eleven years later, I now blog for two websites.

I am excited to work at the Women’s Center because my career goal is to go into HIV education and advocacy for other HIV positive women. The sexual, physical, and mental health of women and other gender minorities is a huge chunk of my passions. We all experience trauma in our lives, and I believe connecting with others who can relate to us helps us to heal. I hope to help teach other women that they are not alone. With the power of #metoo, women are finding the means to break our silence. Together, we can stand up for ourselves and each other!