Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on a year

Three weeks ago, a surgeon removed my right ovary and fallopian tube in an effort to resolve ongoing pelvic pain that began six months ago when he removed several ovarian cysts from both ovaries.

So, here we are. Slightly older, less one ovary and fallopian tube, facing a year in which I have a lot of vague desires but not much direction.

I'm trying to figure out what it means to only have one ovary at 34. I frequently ask Intro to Gender Studies classes what exactly makes someone a woman, and they usually respond by listing primary or secondary sexual characteristics, including ovaries, breasts, etc. I follow up with the question, what about women who have hysterectomies? Or double mastectomies? Are they no longer women? Students answer no, these are still women. So, what makes a woman? At this point, they're usually stumped, and I admit that this is one of those questions to which I don't have a real answer (much to my students' frustration). And while:

a) I don't think that I've based my personal subjectivity on my gender identity, nor
b) do I think that my gender identity is based on pieces of matter I've never seen -- my ovaries, for example -- or reproductive capacity I don't intend to use, and while
c) I realize that my reproductive capacity hasn't really changed anyway,

I can't shake the feeling that something important, something critical to my sexuality, has been lost. And it's strange that I use the word lost, too. It mis-behaved. Given plenty of opportunity to straighten up and fly right, my ovary continued to maliciously produce hemorrhagic cysts. I didn't lose it, like a puppy or a friend, I conciously approved its removal. And I don't want it back, but I guess that I expect hair to start growing on my chin. Or strange upper-torso muscle development. Or my voice to sink an octave. I have this weird feeling that people look at me and some kind of shine is missing. Reproductive shine? What a weird idea for someone who knows a lot better.

It doesn't help that thirty-four seems somehow much older than 33 -- perhaps because it's only one year away from 35, which is half-way to 40, which is the end of life. Even if I accept that 40-year-olds can be attractive, a fact about which I still feel hesitant, I only have six years left. Six years, and half the original equipment.