Some years back, I had a vasectomy.
That statement, in and of itself, is nothing especially revolutionary or even noteworthy.
I had to argue with both my general practitioner and a urologist to convince them that I knew what I was doing and understood the full implications of it, but that’s standard procedure when a guy in his late 20s who has never had kids wants to undergo a procedure like that. (Side note: Studies indicate that men who have vasectomies before having kids tend to be happiest with the decision. I am not only happy about it, I’m relieved I made the decision when I did considering what has happened to my body in the years since.)
I had a laundry list of reasons, most of them genetic. Considering I still don’t understand how I passed sophomore biology in high school, that felt like quite a feat, but it’s hard to argue with someone who has a list of the conditions that run in his family that he doesn’t want to visit upon an unborn child as well as a brief summary of his own health problems, and this was almost a decade before my body fell completely apart.
And they both asked me how I would deal with it if I met a woman I liked - or even loved - and she wanted to have kids. I pointed out that it wasn’t really going to be an issue because my vasectomy would likely come up in conversation long before kids ever did. It’s not exactly something I keep secret, although it’s not something I tell everyone because there’s no real need for most people to know.
The most interesting part of it was when I told a close friend of mine, a very progressive/liberal woman, and she freaked out.
I don’t remember all of what she said exactly, but I do remember that she asked me how I could make such a unilateral decision about my own reproductive health. She went on to ask how I could make such a decision without thinking of the women I might meet and whether they might want to have kids.
It’s worth noting that, when I had the vasectomy, I was wholly single without so much as a dating prospect on the horizon.
In other words, this friend of mine was asking how I could, in good faith and conscience, make a decision about my body and my own reproductive health without considering or consulting all of the women I might ever be involved with in the future. Never mind that I was single, that it was my decision, that she and I had never been on a date together, that it did not affect her in any way, nor did it affect anyone else I knew in any way.
She wanted to know how I could do such a thing without considering all the women I might someday meet who might want children.
In that moment - and it was just a moment - I realized that this is the closest I’ll ever come to actually and truly understanding how women feel as dudes pass laws and talk about and think of new ways to restrict women’s reproductive choice. I had someone second-guessing a medical decision I made about my own health. She was a friend, which at least means she knew me, but in every other way, I was experiencing - at least in that moment - something like the pressure that politicians and religious leaders and social conservatives bring to bear on women for the same choices they make.
To be clear, I’m not claiming that I understand it or know how it feels when that happens all the time, when politicians start bringing up ridiculous restrictions, passing laws to close clinics for entirely specious reasons, trying to argue that women’s bodies are mystical things of magic and fairy dust which can stop pregnancies through sheer willpower or whatever it was that Todd Akin imagined goes on in a woman’s body, or claiming that a transvaginal ultrasound is necessary.
I am not in any way trying to argue that I understand how it feels to be constantly subject to people and structures and policies which systematically deny agency in medical care for one group of people yet coddle another and approve every procedure, device and prescription under the sun without ever questioning the disparity in treatment.
Because let’s be blunt - I’m a dude. I can’t understand that. I haven’t lived it. I can recognize that it’s wrong, but I’ll never be able to spend long enough in those shoes to really get it, y’know?
I just had that moment when someone else thought they knew what was best for me, what was right and what I should do, and it involved reproduction. And it was entirely based on their ideas and beliefs, not mine.
And in that moment, I was stunned. Bewildered. Confused. And fairly angry. I had taken decisive action to ensure that the genetic problems I inherited, the cycle of abuse passed down from father to son(s) for at least three generations (and probably more than that) and so forth all stopped with me. And my friend was telling me that I had no right to make such a decision on my own. That I should have sought counseling, that I could have done other things. And most important of all, what about all the unborn babies I would never father? How will women you haven’t met feel about this?
It felt condescending. Infantilizing. Disempowering. Disheartening. Disrespectful.
I don’t recall arguing any of those points with her, or arguing at all really. I vaguely remember making an excuse to get off the phone because I simply didn’t know what to say.
And then I had another one of those moments.
I had made another friend who, and this surprised a fair number of folks who knew us in the workplace, was devoutly religious. Her friends asked her how she could be friends with someone like me and she asked if they had ever actually talked to me. Most of the people I knew just shrugged because me becoming friends with someone who is profoundly dedicated to their faith seems like a Tuesday.
(Seriously. It’s a lesson I learned from Tom Peters - go to lunch with people, especially people who have different views. Have a chat. It could be a disaster or it could be enlightening and you’ll never know which until the lunch is over. And maybe not even then. I went to lunch with a pastor who refused to vote for George W. Bush because, although he was opposed to abortion, Bush’s stewardship of God’s creation was so offensive to him that he was voting for Kerry. I went to lunch with a seminarian who believed Jesus was an anarchist. I went to lunch with a guy who believed the Earth is only as old as The Bible says, yet sent his daughter to a math and science magnet school.)
We had been friends for some time and she asked if I was planning to have kids with the woman I was dating and I said I wasn’t and she asked why and I explained it. The genetics, the science, the vasectomy - the works. And she was even more blunt about it, asking me how I could - and I’m using her word here - “castrate” myself in defiance of God’s will?
(Side note: There is a huge difference - both physically and medically - between having the vas deferens cauterized to prevent pregnancy and having testicles removed.)
And all those feelings came flooding back. It was a lot of “Seriously?” and “How dare you!” and “Really. That’s really what you’re going with here.” I had been through it once before so at least it wasn’t wholly unfamiliar or a complete shock, but yet again, someone was critiquing my decision about my health and medical treatment.
As the years went by and my friend got to know me better, even she gradually came to understand, even if she didn’t agree with, my decision. Especially after I became disabled, but even before that.
So let’s tie this off here … pun intended. Again, I’m not claiming I have anything resembling even the slightest understanding of what it’s like to be a woman while dudes pass laws restricting your medical health options. I’m just a guy who made a reproductive health decision about his own body and had a whopping two friends question it along similar lines that people use when arguing about abortion and it gave me two moments that provided the faintest, briefest inkling of what women deal with every day.
I am, in short, just a dude who had the script flipped on him and thought about it for a second and realized exactly how intolerable all of this is.