Health News Gender Race The World Policy

Gig and part-time workers have been left out of the healthcare conversation in the United States for far too long

It is no secret that the healthcare system within the United States is flawed. In large contrast to other countries, there is no universal healthcare. As such, the U.S. government does not provide healthcare for most of its citizens. Instead, healthcare is provided by multiple distinct organizations. These include insurance companies, healthcare providers, hospital systems, and independent providers. Such healthcare facilities are widely owned and operated by private businesses. 

Millions of people are left vulnerable to falling through the cracks as public and private insurers set their own rates, benefit packages, and cost-sharing structures within the bounds of federal and state regulations. 

Employer-sponsored health insurance was first introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. This method indicates that employers might contract with private health plans and administer benefits for their full-time employees as well as their dependents. By 1965 public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced as a means to compensate for some, but certainly not all, of the already existing flaws. 

Medicare ensures a right to hospital and medical care for all persons aged 65 and older, and later those under 65 with extreme long term disabilities or end-stage renal disease. On the other hand Medicaid, which covers around 17.9% of the American population, is state-administered and is meant to provide health care services to low-income families, the blind, low-income pregnant women and infants, and individuals with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid is largely dependent on criteria which vary by state. Individuals need to apply for medicaid coverage and to re-enroll annually. 

As of 2021, the U.S. ranks 22nd globally in terms of quality healthcare with countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada placing above it. In 2018, nearly 92% of the country was estimated to have health coverage, either through their employer or based upon other factors. That statistic leaves roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, uninsured. 

Those flaws intensify dramatically when it comes to the gig or part-time workforce. For one, it is no coincidence that struggles in regards to access to affordable healthcare also run along the lines of race, gender, and income in this country, just as it does with the countless other social issues which persist here. 

For one, those who work within a gig or part-time capacity are often not offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Not to mention that they are also not salaried, so their income is often limited or unreliable, leaving these workers with little opportunity or access to the healthcare system that is in place. Such workers are either required to purchase their own health insurance or apply for Medicaid. Now, while Medicaid eligibility varies between each state, many people who are classified as low-income wind up making too much money to actually be an eligible candidate for the narrow assistance program. At the same time, however, many of the private health insurance plans are extremely expensive, leaving workers stretched thin financially or in danger medically.

This dynamic effectively allows for inequality to flourish. This is no surprise considering that the gig and part-time economy is mostly made up of minority groups, thus being complicit in the racially skewed power structures which exploit people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or socioecomic status. That includes single mothers, previously incarcerated people, immigrants and Indigenous, Latinx or Black adults to name a few. In fact, nearly a third or 31% of Latinx adults aged 18 or over earn money through the gig economy. This is compared to 27% of Black Americans and 21% of white adults.  

Workers rights groups in the gig and part-time sphere have been advocating in the name of things like workers compensation for various minutia including maintenance of drivers vehicles, the right to organize, access to 401K, paid family leave and proper employment classification, among other things. This is especially important when you consider that, contrary to popular belief, most people are not using their gig or part-time job as a “side hustle” to compliment their salaried and health-insurance sponsoring full-time position. Instead, this is likely their primary source of income, along with perhaps a second or even third job doing something similar. They are doing as much as they can to make ends meet and survive within a world and system which layers on barriers to their success and sustainability. One that fails to acknowledge their exhaustion and that remains complicit in their vulnerability. 

At the root of what workers are demanding is dignity on the job. 

Workers are fighting to dismantle the system of exploitation that has further isolated and damaged vulnerable communities across the country. To put this better into perspective: there is an unprecedented number of care deserts in the United States. Medical care deserts are best defined as a region which is more than 60 minutes away from the closest hospital. Nearly 1 in 5 residential areas in America, or around 640 entire counties, fall under this definition. 

Also affecting access to healthcare and employment status substantially are child care deserts. Child care deserts are areas in which there are little to no licensed child care providers. An estimated 51% of all residents in the United States live in a child care desert. Plus, child care is especially limited among particular populations such as for low-income families, rural families, and Latinx or Hispanic families. 

Each and every person is deserving of the right to proper healthcare, especially that which is free of the leaps and bounds of a system that oppresses and makes it extraordinarily difficult to access or afford. 

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic without a doubt boosted the telemedicine industry dramatically, putting more accessible and affordable healthcare on the map. A rainbow behind storm clouds, telemedicine has the potential to help people in many ways beyond what we saw over the past year. 

For one, people don’t have to worry as much about transportation, making virtual appointments not only cheaper but also less time consuming. Similarly, because such appointments can take place right from your home, the patient is offered a lot more flexibility to accommodate their work schedules and things like child care. Not to mention stressors in regards to scheduling, the possibility of domestic violence or even religion that can make traditional medical care difficult.  Therefore, due to its asynchronous nature, this intrusive care modality can be much less anxiety-inducing for patients. 

One telemedicine option, Alpha, has been offering such services for much longer than those which were forced into it by the pandemic. Alpha is a growing platform that allows for patients to receive primary care or talk therapy from home. It specializes in holistic treatments for women ranging from regular checkups to ongoing mental health appointments, nutrition and reproductive care – including postpartum depression – acknowledging that women often carry the burden of handling healthcare for their entire families (spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, etc.) while also working. In this way, Alpha’s services are entirely patient led and personalized. 

Women’s health in particular is ignored, invalidated, and not taken seriously within the medical industry of the United States. Through the asynchronous telemedicine that Alpha offers, patients have a direct line of written conversation with their physician to ask questions or address concerns, unlike an in-person setting where phone calls are screened or a patient might see a different doctor each time they visit. This way, visits are much more private, personal, and accessible. 

Additionally, by allowing patients to pay with cash or in an a-la-carte fashion, the company stands by its mission to meet patients where they are. According to its website, Alpha has a few external/local partnerships in 43 states in the case that a patient needs a procedure done or to go to a lab to receive a test which cannot be completed from an at-home kit – remaining dedicated to combatting the issue of care deserts across the country. 

Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacobsen, highlighted a mission of the platform. “We educate patients on their medical condition. We are always involved with the patient because involving the patient in their care, making an informed and fair treatment plan and decisions about prescription medications is going to increase adherence to the plan by the patient.” 

 “And obviously,” Jacobsen continued, “support the relationship between the patient and the provider. We know that a good relationship with the provider actually shows better patient outcomes.” 

Alpha encourages all employers to consider health plans which include telemedicine, citing its inherent ability to provide a less stigmatized experience for patients. More specifically, much of the patient demographic using Alpha are people either without insurance or moving in and out of insurance.

“It is a great fit for gig workers and very convenient, given the fact that you don’t have to take time out of business hours.” Gloria Lao, co-founder and CEO, added, “you can solve your medical issues at midnight on your couch and still get cared for.” 

It is surely going to be difficult to return to fully in-person treatments after the pandemic considering the cutting-edge programs which have emerged and its potential to drive affordability. Perhaps, with a more urgent shift toward progressive politics in the United States and as the unions formed by workers across the country begin to catch fire, we can expect to see more attention focused on finally making healthcare accessible, affordable, and non-discriminatory.


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Health Care Science Advice Wellness Now + Beyond

Here’s why your gyno wishes you’d leave your pubic hair alone

A recent study in JAMA Dermatology surveyed 3372 women in the U.S. on their pubic hair grooming practices. 83% reported some measure of “grooming” (defined as anywhere from trimming the hair to taking all of it off). 63% said they opted for complete removal at least once. “Grooming” was highest in both the 18-34 group and in white women.

The most common reason women reported for pubic hair removal? 59% cited “hygiene” as the leading factor in this decision.

But the perception that having pubic hair is somehow “dirty” is wrong.

Pubic hair is thought to have an evolutionary purpose.

According to Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist, it functions as a protective cushion for a sensitive-skinned area and, like eyebrows, traps microbes and foreign invaders from getting into that sensitive area.

The vagina also has a self-cleaning mechanism, which is why vaginal douching is no longer recommended: it can destroy the natural balance of healthy bacteria and normal acidity of the vagina, leading to irritation and yeast infections.

Some cite that shaving and waxing can increase the risk of infection because these practices essentially make little cuts on the skin.

This allows a direct passageway to blood for vulvar bacteria, outside of the defense system of vaginal mucus. Group A streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Staph’s resistant form MRSA all are common causes of skin infections.

Dr. Tami Rowen, an assistant professor at UCSF School of Medicine, has reported seeing grooming-related cases of folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle), abscesses, lacerations, and allergic reactions to waxing burns.

And a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 60% of women who removed their hair experienced some of these complications.

Complications were twice as likely for overweight and obese women, and three times more if they removed all their pubic hair.

[Image description: Private grooming habits between men and women.] via
[Image description: Private grooming habits between men and women.] via
Now, is this to say women shouldn’t remove their hair if they choose? No.

Human eyebrows also had an evolutionary purpose, but we can totally shave them off if we damn well please. And just because something may carry minor health risks does not mean we lack the right to do it.

We do all kinds of things to our bodies by choice that may involve some minor health risks, like waxing/shaving elsewhere, piercings, or tattoos.

But a YouGov poll showed that while only 56% of women ages 18-29 feel that they should remove their pubic hair, 72% do it anyway. We must get rid of false narratives perpetuated by society that dictate the choices we make.

“Hygiene” is only one of the reasons women give for removing pubic hair, but it is a harmful reason. It perpetuates a false stereotype that women who do not remove pubic hair are unclean. The argument that pubic hair is unhygienic is the patriarchy acting under the guise of science.

Your vagina is not dirty for existing in its natural form.

Do what you please with your body because you like it, and for no other reason.

USA The World

The Trump Administration continues to threaten women’s access to birth control

The Supreme Court had us fooled. Just a few weeks after SCOTUS struck down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana with a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld the Trump administration’s mandate that employers can refuse to let workers use birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) due to religious or moral objections. Only 2 justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonya Sotomayor dissented. “between 70,500 and 126,400 women would immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services,” Ginsburg stated in her note of dissent, using a governmental estimate. 

The Health Resources and Services Administration – a government agency under the U.S Department of Health and Human Services – ruled that birth control is essential preventative care and that contraceptives would be free and covered under employer’s health insurance without any extra copays in 2012. Exceptions were explicitly made for places of worship, but not for religious controlled schools, hospitals, charities, and any other groups or businesses controlled by religious groups. However, both the Obama and the Trump administrations began to include a wider range of exemptions after pushback from religious groups. 

The U.S. government has always had a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with birth control legislation since the creation of the ACA in 2010

In the 2014 case landmark case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court justices voted that for-profit organizations were exempt from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), although the RFRA was declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS in 1997 at the state level. 

The U.S. government has always had a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with birth control legislation since the creation of the ACA in 2010. The inconsistencies in legislation have allowed for the Trump administration to further their attacks on women’s healthcare. The RFRA has already been dubbed unconstitutional for states, so why does the federal government and the Supreme Court continue to allow the RFRA as an excuse to revoke women’s right to healthcare?

In 2017, Trump drafted new rules under an Executive Order that for-profit groups were officially exempt. The State of Pennsylvania, including several other states with their individual contraceptive mandates, challenged the government under the Equal Protection Clause. Despite, this, SCOTUS upheld Trump’s attack on contraceptives in the recent case Little Sisters of the Poor Saint Peters and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. The Little Sisters of the Poor are a Catholic organization that provides homes for low-income elderly individuals. The nuns who run the organization are against contraception and abortion. Regardless of their religious rights, organizations and businesses should not have a say in what medication their employees are taking. It’s simply not their business. Now that SCOTUS has furthered these dubious exemptions, it will be easier for conservative businesses to regulate their female employees’ access to birth control under “moral” reasons. By revoking access to birth control, bosses are directly harming the lives of women. Contraceptives directly save female lives.

Bosses have no business deciding what happens in their employee’s private life, including what medication they are taking.

Birth control pills have a wide variety of different usages besides preventing pregnancies. Many women are prescribed birth control to regulate their menstrual cycles. Nearly 30% of women on birth control pills take them to make their periods less painful. Combination/multi-hormone pills also can prevent uterine and ovarian cancer. It can help reduce the effects of menstrual migraines, control endometriosis, and regulate PMS and PMDD, a severe form of PMS, symptoms. By upholding Trump’s mandate, many women will no longer have access to the medication that keeps them alive, especially poor women and women of color who cannot afford to pay for birth control out of pocket.

Just recently, SCOTUS also ruled that employers can’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ workers based on religious beliefs. Employers shouldn’t be able to decide the fate of women’s health and lives either.  Birth control shouldn’t be politicized. It’s necessary, preventative healthcare. The companies that are refusing to use company health insurance for contraceptives are silent on Viagra prescriptions. I’m sorry, but if your penis can’t get up, it’s probably “God’s will.” Bosses have no business deciding what happens in their employee’s private life, including what medication they are taking. 

Donald Trump and his administration have been attacking women’s health and the ACA the moment he stepped foot in the White House. He’s not an advocate for religious groups, he’s a tyrant who uses the guise of religious freedom to directly attack poor women of color. With Justice Ginsberg’s seat on the line, women’s health holds a terrifying future if Trump is re-elected. The government should not be pandering to the qualms of religious and conservative run businesses. Women’s healthcare is not a political tool, it’s a human right, and should be treated as such.

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Race Policy Inequality

Indigenous peoples in the US are most at risk of dying from COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has caused substantial damage to the overall health of the United States. Millions of residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and over 146,000 people have died. Disproportionately affected are communities of color who have less access to healthcare and are more exposed to the virus due to being less likely to be able to social distance and quarantine. Aside from weakening the economy, COVID-19 has also revealed just how weak the US healthcare system is. Millions of people across the country are suffering because of the inadequacies of this broken system that lawmakers refuse to fix.

The Native American community, specifically, has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. The pandemic has spread so greatly in Indigenous communities, who have extremely limited access to mainstream US healthcare facilities, that back in May, Doctors Without Borders was dispatched to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, home to about 170,000 people. The Navajo Nation has had more cases of COVID-19 per capita than any other state in the US. American Indian and Alaska Native people make up 9% of the total population in New Mexico. But, they account for 44% of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases, which is a whopping fourteen times the confirmed case rate of white people in New Mexico. In addition, they constitute 59% of total deaths, which is ten times the mortality rate of white people in New Mexico. 

Doctors Without Borders are traditionally sent to conflict zones and war-torn countries around the world during medical disasters. The only other time they have had a presence in the United States was during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The team of nine doctors sent to the Navajo Nation stayed throughout the month of June. However, the fact that the US needed this organization at all to help care for its residents is telling of the state of healthcare and government in this country. COVID-19 has laid bare the egregious medical inequities in the US and, frankly, no population within the US is more affected than the Indigenous population.

Indigenous peoples are historically one of the most marginalized groups in the United States. Since the inception of the Americas, indigenous peoples have been killed in genocides, their lands have been destroyed, defaced, and forcefully taken by Europeans and those of European ancestry, and they’ve been repeatedly stripped of their histories and cultures.

Now, the majority of Native Americans live on reservations. The largest is that of the Navajo Nation, who declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020. This indigenous population has historically been so severely neglected by the US government that their life expectancy is 5.5 years less than the US all races population life expectancy. They also die at higher rates than other residents of the US in many categories of preventable illnesses, including type two diabetes and liver disease. Meanwhile, the Indian Health Service is consistently underfunded by Congress although they are responsible for providing care to 2.2 million Native Americans across the country. Such low budgets force them to restrict care, and furthermore, this funding doesn’t even come close to matching the benefits of programs like Medicaid, which are already limiting.

Additionally, reservations are rural areas and often remote in the case of smaller tribes with unpaved roads, lack of access to running water, food insecurity, limited access to the internet – which would undeniably help spread new information and resources about the virus as it is an ever developing story, let alone the fact that much of our social and occupational lives and education have become dependent on the internet – and depleted access to medical personnel. To make matters worse, the Navajo Nation suffers from overcrowding, making isolation even more difficult. Each of these factors makes them extremely, and disproportionately, vulnerable to a respiratory virus like COVID-19 which spreads quickly and affects people unpredictably. So far, nearly 9,000 people on the reservation have tested positive for coronavirus and over 400 people have died. Governor Lujan Grisham of New Mexico has stated this virus “could wipe out those tribal nations,” with the President of the United States’ response being “Boy, that’s too bad for the Navajo nation” and essentially calling for less testing.

These atrocities are systemic. These circumstances are intentional. When racial statistics about the effects of COVID-19 were first being released, Indigenous communities were being labeled as “other,” guaranteeing their erasure from the data. Even now, health experts have warned local and state departments that are including Native Americans in demographic data that statisticians are likely to undercount Indigenous COVID-19 patients “due to racial misclassification.” The United States’ history is bloody and brutal when it comes to indigenous populations. Time and time again, the government chooses to marginalize and disenfranchise Native peoples. The fact that they even needed outside help to intervene and provide medical care to their citizens while living in the richest country in the history of the world is nothing short of shameful. It is evident of deeply rooted bigotry in the United States.

Furthermore, Indigenous populations are suffering more because the healthcare system in the United States as a whole is a complete failure. The coronavirus pandemic has made this fact crystal clear. Healthcare is tied to employment, purchased privately, or tied to the Affordable Care Act. Private insurance is also disgracefully expensive and “Obamacare” is horrendous in a number of ways. This kind of healthcare which is tied to employment takes for granted that you have a job that provides the benefit of healthcare, but most of the time, this “benefit” also takes a large chunk out of your paycheck. Unemployment numbers are sky-high right now, again because of coronavirus, yet our government does nothing to make moves toward universal healthcare. The current healthcare system either does not work at all or barely works for the average American.

So if the average American is a middle-class white person for whom the system barely works, how could it possibly work for marginalized communities of color, especially Indigenous communities for which our government and upper-class refuse to provide adequate funding and continue to marginalize by colonizing their land?

A Native American community health center asked county, state, and federal agencies for help in Seattle back in March. Instead of tests, they received body bags. It was a mistaken delivery, but an apt metaphor.

Remember that this violence on Native bodies is global and has a long history. But this violence is not simply historical – it is alive right now. This violence endures, it is resilient.

Consider donating to help our Indigenous communities thrive:

First Nations COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund

Official Navajo Nation COVID-19 Relief Fund

Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund 


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Health Wellness

What you don’t know about living with high myopia

I was only six when I got glasses. I remember it well, some memories just stick to you, waiting to spread the glue every time they cross your mind. We were doing routine eye tests at school and I had to go into the nurse’s office. I can still clearly visualize her calling out my name, the first M in my class. I walked in, my tiny legs hanging off the high stool. I sat there while she flipped on the dreaded screen that peaks my anxiety, even today. I couldn’t read all the letters. As much as I twisted and turned, and squint my eyes, I just couldn’t read them. And so, she called in my mom. There was a lot of crying, a lot of eye doctor visits, a lot of not being able to understand until finally, I got glasses.

I hated them. There was an older girl who talked me through it, saying it wasn’t that bad, and when I wore them, I’d finally be able to see everything clearly, bright as day. I don’t remember putting them on. But I do remember the trauma that came after. The bullying. The taunts. The name calling. I hear it in my head even as a grown ass 26-year-old woman – the voices telling me that my weak eyesight was a cause of insult. And because of that, I’ve always been insecure when I wear them. I didn’t want to be all those names those kids called me. 

I eventually got contacts. While I felt better on the outside, my eyes continued to weaken. Over the years, I soared through the first few numbers. Dancing into higher numbers on each visit to the eye doctor. And damn, I hate that bloody test. Every time I sit in that chair and recite the letters and numbers up on that small screen, something within me stirs. I will myself to read them, knowing my eyes can only do so much. When I was younger, my mother would come with me, and when I’d hesitate across a letter, she’d urge me on, saying you can see it right? How can you not, it’s right there? But I never could. It was too hard. It was the one test I always failed. And I always continue to fail.

Sometimes I’d learn the screens by heart. My memory comforting me. I’d recite the letters off like I rote learnt them for a school exam. Breathing in as I went through them, growing smaller and smaller. But I’d always get caught. I’d leave the eye doctor feeling worse. I never had any excitement in getting new glasses. I’m getting better now, I wear them out more often and yet, every time someone looks at me for a moment longer, my mind lingers – what would they think? 

It was the one test I always failed. And I always continue to fail.

And I know it’s silly. They’re JUST glasses. Everyone wears them. It’s normal. But for me, it never has been. My number has always been higher than everyone around me. The reality is, I have high myopia, and that means my number may never stop increasing. I’m terrified of going to the eye doctor because I don’t want to know how much worse my eyes have become.

I’ve been to so many doctors, been told so many different things. One doctor told me not to lift heavy objects because it could damage my eyesight. One doctor told me to stay away from football matches and cricket games because the movement of the ball could damage my eyesight. But I can’t live in fear of things that are so simple, so mundane, so quintessentially everyday life.

The reality is, I have high myopia, and that means my number may never stop increasing.

The first two months of lockdown, I was nervous. What if something happened to my eyes? What if I needed new contacts? What if my glasses broke? And I know it was just my anxiety leading me into believing the worst. 

Two years ago, my eye number was stationary for one entire year. I go to the doctor every four months, get my eyes dilated, spend the entire day just lost in blurred vision and headaches. I usually have to take the day off work. But at my last check up that year, for the first time in my life, I finally had hope that maybe I could be applicable for lasik.

But I can’t live in fear of things that are so simple, so mundane, so quintessentially everyday life.

So I went in, high spirits, got the test done. Saw purple for an entire afternoon. And then went in the next day to hear that my number had increased by three. I was devastated. I love controlling the things in my life and my eyesight is the one thing I’ve never been able to push into focus.

A lot of people ask me about my eye number as if it’s so fascinating. I get a lot of “Oh, I didn’t know your number could be that high!” or “Can I try on your glasses?” or “Can you see how many fingers I’m holding up?” And it’s normal, humans are inherently built to ask questions, we thrive on curiosity. I know I do. But it’s tough. It’s tough knowing that I can’t get lasik. Knowing that my retina is stretching. Knowing that my eyesight is terrifyingly weak and I hate not being able to see the world without it being reflected back at me from the corners of my thick glasses. 

I love controlling the things in my life and my eyesight is the one thing I’ve never been able to push into focus.

When something happens to my eyes, I’m immediately afraid. Last year, I had a scare where I couldn’t wear contacts for a month to allow my eye to heal. And I was lucky, because it did eventually heal. And I’m learning to live with it. 

But my high myopia isn’t going anywhere. The only possible procedure is too risky. So if you’re reading this, and you too have high myopia, I feel you. I understand. I know it isn’t easy. But we’re doing the best we can under the given circumstances. 

I’m still functioning.

My eye number may be increasing constantly, but so is my strength.

And for now, that’s good enough.

LGBTQIA+ Celebrities Race Pop Culture

How Billy Porter and Justice Smith are saying “Black Trans Lives Matter”

Earlier this month, Billy Porter took to Instagram to demand that black trans and queer voices be included in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Porter is the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy Award for his lead role in Pose, a TV series about New York’s City’s queer ballroom culture. Since the killing of George Floyd, the attacks on other black Americans have gained public attention. Porter demanded that the public give the same attention to Iyanna Dior, a black trans woman assaulted by almost 30 men during one of Minneapolis’ peaceful protests. A viral video captured how the men beat Taylor, screaming homophobic slurs at her before she managed to escape.

Porter’s video condemns the bystanders who did nothing to help Taylor, “the black community’s relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community is appalling at best and eerily similar to that of white supremacists versus black folk.” He continued highlighting the hypocrisy of those in the black community that do not include violence against the black LGBTQIA+ community in their advocacy for black lives. “The tragic reality here is that black trans, as well as gender non-conforming, women and men are being killed in the United States by cis black men to such a degree that it is nearly the worst emergency for trans women on the planet.” Porter reminds audiences that the trans and queer black community is more inclined to experience violence than the rest of their peers, even at the hands of other minorities.

Porter’s sentiments were echoed days later in a post by actor Justice Smith, best known for his roles in The Get Down and All the Bright Places. Smith wrote about his experience at the New Orleans Black Lives Matter protest which took place June 6, 2020. 

In an Instagram post, Smith wrote, “As a Black queer man myself, I was disappointed to see certain people eager to say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but hold their tongue when trans/queer was added.” He cited the killing of Tony McDade, a 38-year-old black trans man shot and killed by police in Florida on May 27, 2020. McDade was killed only two days after George Floyd, whose murder inspired numerous protests across the country and even around the world.

The Human Rights Campaign lists McDade’s death as the 12th violent death of a transgender or gender-nonconforming person for this year alone. Tony McDade’s murder, like the attacks on so many other members of the black LGBTQIA+ community, remains largely underreported. The circumstances surrounding his death are unclear due to the police still reviewing evidence. Smith compares the lack of solidarity towards McDade to white oppression, suggesting minorities have been conditioned to appeal to whiteness. This is evidenced by the long history of white colonialism around the globe, from enslaving black people to the enforcement of European beauty standards to this day.

Smith continued his post by stating, “the revolution is not about appeal. It is about demanding what should have been given to us from the beginning. What should have been given to Black, queer, and trans individuals from the beginning. Which is the right to exist. To live and prosper in public. Without fear of persecution or threat of violence.”

Less than a week after Smith’s post, the Trump Administration announced on June 12, 2020, that it would be eliminating the protections for transgender patients. These protections were created in 2016, during the Obama era and kept transgender people from discrimination when seeking health care. To reverse these protections is, at best highly irresponsible and at worst, endangering lives already. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people are already at more likely to experience violence than their peers and to deny them access to healthcare during a global pandemic is incredibly evil.

On June 14, 2020 thousands of Black Trans Lives Matter protestors gathered around the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Protesters centred black trans women, demanding justice for the largely ignored killings. The very next day, the Supreme Court ruled to protect LGBTQIA+ Americans from job discrimination. Although it isn’t the same legislation, this critical decision protecting the queer and trans community from workplace discrimination may be able to stop or limit the Trump Administration’s plan to reinstate gender discrimination in healthcare. 

However you feel about celebrities, it is important to note their immense platforms and potential influence. Billy Porter has an Instagram following of 1.5 million followers. When he and Justice Smith share their concerns on social media, they have a much bigger audience than you or I do. In an industry as hyper controlling as Hollywood, I for one am glad celebrities are going off-script to raise awareness on important issues.

By asking their audiences to become more politically conscious, Porter and Smith are doing stardom right.

Editor's Picks Health Care The Pandemic Love

Check your privilege: Immunocompromised people are not disposable

I won’t spend too much time detailing the situation we’re in because everyone with access to news and/or the internet already knows the (massive) puddle this is.

Here’s the catch, we collectively are in this puddle. And believe it or not, that fact sort of helps me cope.

Some background into me in case you’ve never read anything I’ve written prior to this and have no idea why this subject means so much to me. I’m a lupus patient who was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in March 2017 so suffering, especially when it comes to health issues is kind of my thing already. It’s a norm for me to worry about my own health on the daily.

I weirdly feel like it’s for the first time that an impending health issue is upon me except I’m not the only one facing it.

Now with this public health crisis happening, I weirdly feel like it’s for the first time that an impending health issue is upon me except I’m not the only one facing it. Getting to the crux of why I decided to write this piece.

It was out of the need to acknowledge the fact that I’m not the only spoonie (someone who has a chronic illness) who is facing the “The virus only affects the elderly and those with an underlying disease! Nothing much to worry about!” messages going around. Messages that make me panic in my shoes because there are so many of us.

This is something that I don’t entirely expect someone who has never had an autoimmune disease to understand coherently, but not all of us are privileged enough to have a working immune system at a young age. To not have to worry about a deadly virus that’s spreading like wildfire because some of us might actually be its prime victim.

Not all of us are privileged enough to have a working immune system at a young age.

You see, with an autoimmune condition, even if you haven’t had a flare up in a while, your immunity is essentially still very much compromised. Your immune system does not work in the way it’s supposed to. And a lot of us are on immunosuppressant medicines which makes it 10x harder for us to fight viruses and bacteria that enter our body.

So essentially, in an effort to prevent our bodies from self-sabotaging, we make them susceptible to various and hoards of other illnesses in the process. But it’s not like we can do much about that either. It’s either the medication or being bed ridden and helpless, unable to lead a (near) normal lifestyle.

Which is why, it becomes quite privileged, insensitive and quite frankly, ableist for people to take anything related to their health in jest – especially a life-threatening virus that spreads so easily.

This messaging of trying to ease people’s anxiety about how the virus only affects a certain ‘small’ minority of the population then comes across as highly ignorant to us. It implies that someone with an immune-system issue is very susceptible to this deadly virus and you couldn’t give less of a shit about it as long as it’s not affecting you.

This also goes for everyone who actively ignores the social distancing instructions that have been passed across the world in an effort to contain the spread of this virus. If you think you’re healthy enough to escape it, you might give it to someone who isn’t healthy enough to even survive it, and you need to deeply consider those that are immunocompromised. You need to understand that your privilege and not acknowledging it is putting someone else’s life in danger.

I have every right to be angry and offended because this implies that you don’t care if I live or die

If I have an autoimmune condition and I repeatedly get told that the virus ‘isn’t so bad’ because of the mortality rate as compared to other viruses in the past, I have every right to be angry and offended because this implies that you don’t care if I live or die. You might be asymptomatic and immune to the virus, but not all of us are.

These messages and ideas reek of ableism because only an able-bodied person who has never suffered at the expense of a chronic illness would consider such a situation to be taken so lightly.

It makes us (those with immunity issues) feel extremely left out and lonely, which is anyway a feeling we experience regularly considering how debilitating it can be to battle against your own body every day. On top of that, we’re well aware of how badly this virus could complicate our conditions were it to affect us.

This is a kind request to everyone reading – check your privilege before you make loud statements about what anyone should or should not worry about – especially in times of crisis. 

Health Care Health News Love Wellness

Communities like mine are being failed by the sexual health industry

At 23 years old, I’m still pretty sure that I have not had “the talk” with my parents.

I have had a “first-period briefing” and the mandatory “be-careful-of-what-you-wear briefing” that all young women have to endure. But none of that has culminated in the ultimate “talk,” where my poor mother has to explain S-E-X. 

Of course, through education, media, friendships, and relationships, it’s safe to say that I have figured it out. But my experience probably resonates with the vast majority of adolescents and young adults from ethnic minority backgrounds: open conversations about sex and sexuality is still taboo in families and communities of color. 

Culturally, I understand the challenge of talking to your children about something you might find shameful to address. However, from a public health perspective, parents need to begin to take ownership in educating their children about sex, especially when it comes to sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). 

In healthcare communications across the world, STDs are often branded as maladies that come as a result of promiscuity and a more “carefree” sex life – people are generally advised to get checked after each new partner, as opposed to just regularly, even with one, steady partner. As most communities of color do not actively advocate for multiple sexual partners or even sex-before-marriage, it is automatically assumed that by extension, they are not impacted by this problem. 

The statistics, however, are shocking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis have increased amongst all racial groups in the USA.

This is including African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic communities, Asian Americans and White Americans. However, the rates of increase are disproportionately larger for the ethnic minorities: the rate of reported chlamydia cases was five times higher for Black women than for white women and reported cases of Native American men with gonorrhea were three times higher than that of white men.  

In the U.S., higher rates of STDs among communities of color are directly correlated to a severe lack of access to healthcare facilities in poorer neighborhoods. Insurance coverage, or lack thereof, has been cited by the CDC as a reason that STDs rates are shooting up in communities of color.

By extension, socio-economic status, employment, and family background also become key determinants. 

However, even when access to healthcare is equal, this statistic rings true. In the United Kingdom, where the National Health Service provides universal healthcare regardless of employment status, gonorrhea rates were much higher among black residents than white residents in five major British cities

It is, of course, far too easy to put the onus on parents and families to do the educating. Research also shows that immigrant families are actually less likely to contract STDs than native-born people of color. Although the study itself credits familial ties for this discrepancy, the reasons could actually be innumerable and interlinked.

Teenage rebellion, exploration of the self and sexuality and a disconnect from immigrant parents’ cultures could all lead to native-born minorities participating in risky sexual activity. 

Yes, my mother and many other mothers may have opted to not have that conversation with their children. But in light of a systematically racist healthcare system that also shuts communities of color out of the conversation, society also needs to take some responsibility. 

Immigrant communities often come seeking healthcare with linguistic barriers, which leads to ostracisation and bias on behalf of health workers. There is a minimum attempt made to make services accessible, and this overwhelming sense of exclusion leads to many communities of color mistrusting the healthcare system. 

This distrust is likely to permeate generations. So, those who are native-born, but have immigrant parents, could internalize their parents’ experiences of discrimination in the healthcare system. This is probably why even after diagnosis, poorer communities of color are less likely to follow their HIV treatment regime.

It would also be much too simplistic to say that the correct educational background would tackle this from the ground up. With sufficient amounts of systematic and structural discrimination in education, just as in healthcare, young people of color are set up to encounter this sort of social discrimination despite their academic attainment levels. 

The power of media and healthcare communications, however, can tackle this public health epidemic. The messaging around STDs needs to change in order to include people and communities of color, both immigrant and native. 

This includes services in multiple languages, presented by people of color, who live in and understand the circumstances of these audiences. Contextualized, tailored, culturally appropriate media is required so that healthcare providers can include communities of color in this vital conversation and create a more inclusive view of public health. 

Looking back, I do wish my parents had been brave enough to have “the talk” with me. I wish they had let go of perceptions of shame and lust, and instead thought about the value of teaching me about safe, healthy sex. Optimistically, I believe that millennial parents of color will do away with these historical taboos as they have their own children.

I will certainly be making sure that my children, regardless of gender, know what a condom is and how to use one.

The Internet Pop Culture

Think twice before you tweet: social media influencers are real people too

Just because we dislike someone’s internet representation, doesn’t mean we should ridicule or shame them. Period. But hey, easier said than done. 

I don’t follow Caroline Calloway, American Instagram personality. I did at one point. She was funny, gorgeous, bold, and lived a fairytale life attending Cambridge. What’s not to like? But eventually, I lost interest and unfollowed. End of story. So I thought.  

I‘d occasionally see her in stories or posts by other Instagram “influencers” I still follow. Earlier in January one of these friends, Charles McBryde made a point to remind his followers of their friendship and posted on his story, “@carolinecalloway would never-and HAS never-intentionally scammed people out of their money….the people who are using this opportunity to take out their resentment on her should seriously reconsider the effect that has on a person’s psychology and get a f***ing life.” Scamming money? I had no idea what he referred to, so I researched. 

A female, yes another female writer, Kayleigh Donaldson (who also uses the internet to “influence” by the way) started a Twitter thread shortly after Caroline announced her “Creativity Workshop”. Caroline’s plan was to host events where she would talk, make attendees care packages, and feed them lunch. Basically, an inspirational speaker hosting a huge hangout for her fans. Nothing wrong with that. But due to inexperience and bad planning, Caroline canceled some stops on her tour and had to refund $165 tickets while profusely apologizing. 

Kayleigh updated her followers with screenshots and comments regarding this “scam”, continuing to bring attention to Caroline’s failings, not even calling her by name just “the scammer”. This hate-ridden thread inspired publications to write negative articles prompting hateful comments, nasty messages, and basic cyberbullying. 

There are many things wrong with this picture. Did Caroline get in over her head? Yes. Did she make mistakes? Yes. Did she own them and take responsibility? Yes! In fact, Caroline continued with her tour, embraced the title of “scammer” and compares her bumpy experience with the disastrous Fyre Festival for laughs. Just like everybody’s favorite celebrity to hate on, Taylor Swift, Caroline is taking her own “Reputation” and moving forward, waving goodbye to the haters. But the main problem with this situation? Kayleigh Donaldson and followers.

For a woman in the world of journalism and writing, Kayleigh should know better. It’s bad enough that women have important things to worry about in this modern age (wage gap, healthcare, child brides, to name a few) without every word they say being twisted by somebody on the other side of a screen who doesn’t “like” them. Obviously, we take that risk when we choose to post on social media, but be honest, how would you feel if you woke up and saw multiple articles online about your “failings” for the world to see? 

It’s easy to get caught up in the Twitter-verse. And did I maybe roll my eyes a bit when I saw the whole “Creativity Workshop” thing? Guilty. Caroline Calloway isn’t someone I’d choose to follow, or pay $165 to hang out with, but I know it’s wrong to stand by while a woman is unfairly treated.

It’s sad that girl-on-girl hate is so prominent, and that many of us (me included) choose to engage in it on a daily basis. We may not keep our Twitter followers up to date with the happenings of people we don’t care for, or write articles bashing them, but we listen to the gossip, we “like” the snarky tweets posted by girls about “that hoe who tried hitting on my boyfriend”, and we comment on the choices of people we know and don’t know. Daily.  

I too am guilty of this, and if Caroline’s viral story has taught me anything, it’s this basic truth: just because we dislike someone, doesn’t mean we should tear them down. Remember that little saying your mom used to tell you? “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Girl-on-girl hate—any hate—is detrimental to our culture. Instead of ripping each other to shreds, we should be supporting each other.  

Next time we see something we don’t like, stop. Before we jump on the bandwagon, retweet, or comment below the Instagram post, stop. Let’s first consider all the facts, research, and think about how we would feel in their shoes. Get all sides of the story and give people a chance before we comment.

My hope is that next time, we’ll think twice.

Love Life Stories Wellness Inequality

Here’s why we need a Fat Acceptance Month – and how you can help

Note: Denarii Grace uses both she/her and they/them/their pronouns.

As someone who is Black, disabled, and fat, Denarii Grace runs into a lot of spaces that aren’t welcoming or accessible to her. They have used that discomfort to teach others about what our identities mean and that just because we don’t conform to the status quo doesn’t mean we aren’t still worthy of self-love. Her activism runs through the intersections and asks us to consider what we can do to lift each other up.

I was very lucky to snag a few moments of Denarii’s time recently to talk about what why she’s working on a Fat Acceptance Month.

1. What do you feel is the most common misconception about being fat and the fat acceptance movement?

I think that the most common misconception is the idea that fat people – especially fat people who adhere to the fat acceptance movement – don’t give a shit about our well-being.

Health is relative and there are many of us who will never be what an ableist society considers “healthy.” “Health” should never be a marker of a person’s value. This is how ableism and fat antagonism go hand in hand. I’m a multiply disabled fat person. I’ve been fat pretty much my entire life. For me personally, I measure my “health” (if we wanna call it that) primarily on metabolic stats: my blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, liver and kidney function, that kind of stuff. Based on that, I’m super healthy despite the fact that I’m 5’7″ and weigh about 275 lbs in a society that claims that, at that size, I’ve got one foot in the grave.

Of course, as someone living with seasonal depression and PTSD, among other things, and living in a society that hates me for my size, race, skin color, disabilities, sexuality, spiritual practice, and a host of other identities, I also measure my “health” based on my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. None of these things can be separated from each other: so-called physical “health” is tied up completely in our mental well-being and our experiences with oppression.

2. What is the difference between body positivity and fat acceptance?

Like so many movements, body positivity was co-opted by thin privileged people (and so-called “small fats”), and turned into a movement about our “feelings” and our looks (which is part of it, but not the be all, end all), and then capitalists did what they do best – exploit and water it down until it’s practically meaningless.

Fat acceptance is about liberation from harmful, oppressive ideas about beauty and health. It’s about a “healthcare” system that acknowledges the painful, traumatic relationships that many fat folks have with food and our bodies and treating us as whole beings instead of shoving diet culture down our throats. It’s about representation in media and politics. It’s about creating spaces that are physically and mentally fat-friendly. It’s about creating a society in which size diversity is both celebrated and inconsequential, which sounds like a paradox, but I believe that that world is possible. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do the work that I do.

3. I know you’re working on creating a Fat Acceptance Month in 2019. Can you share a bit about that?

It’s in the beginning stages. I want it to be observed every January. In a Christian, Western context, the beginning of January is seen as the “new year” season, a time to dedicate ourselves to setting various goals and hopes for the upcoming year. In a fat antagonistic society, this means being bombarded with diet and weight-loss messages.

My hope is to counteract that messaging with healthier messaging about weight-neutral wellness, discussions about systemic thin privilege and fat oppression, and various other issues that we face that are rarely highlighted, even in so-called “progressive” communities.

Right now, I’m looking for folks to get involved in different ways. It would mostly be an online, digital, social media campaigns, infographics. Hopefully, I’ll get some articles written, interviews like this one, etc. I’m hoping for in-person events, too.

4. What do you wish you could tell your younger self or a teenager struggling with their weight?

“Fuck diets. You don’t need them because you’re perfectly fine and fabulous just the way you are. You aren’t on a collision course with death and, even if you were, your life holds value way beyond the numbers on any scale. Fat and fabulous is the way to go, love!”

I never heard any messages of this sort until I got to graduate school in my mid-20s and discovered Health at Every Size. That’s a long time to be starved (pun intended) of self-love and bombarded with erroneous ideas about the body you live in every single day.

To keep in touch with Denarii, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and Patreon. To join the Fat Acceptance Month listserv, shoot her an email.

Health Care Love Wellness

As a chronically ill person, I understand #DoctorsAreDickheads

Having health issues which impact your life really sucks. Having doctors that don’t take your concerns seriously and even mock you can make this so much harder. Recently, the #DoctorsAreDickheads hashtag has shed light on how common and degrading this can be for patients.

The #DoctorsAreDickheads hashtag was met with some pushback from the medical community. While some doctors understood that their colleagues often gaslight and are condescending to patients, others believed the hashtag was divisive and rude.

Twitter user Lindsey (@VMLDSMom) pointed out that many patients who have had bad experiences with doctors have a chronic illness, including people with rare diseases. This hits very close to home, as I have a chronic illness, which also is a rare disease, and I’ve had my fair share of doctors who were dickheads.

Even when I see good news doctors, my past experiences with bad doctors continue to impact me. As I sat down in the waiting room a few weeks ago to a new doctor, my stomach felt like it was going to burst. Sure, this could have been a symptom of my autoimmune disease, vasculitis, but I blame my anxiety. I am afraid of hospitals because I nearly died as a result of medical negligence less than a year ago.

I found myself stuck in a Montreal hospital due to hives, being unable to eat or drink, and anaphylaxis-like symptoms in October 2016. I had no idea what was happening, and neither did my doctors. They didn’t seem to really care about finding what was making me sick. The hospital tested me for HIV, lupus, and syphilis – and that was it. A rheumatologist a spoke to before leaving said I was probably just stressed.

I asked them to continue testing me and to see a doctor to follow-up. They told me that they did not think I had an underlying condition and that I would have to go on a waiting list to see a doctor. I knew absolutely nothing about medicine, but I knew that they were wrong. I also did not want to spend all my time looking up possible conditions on the internet. I knew doing that would make my anxiety worse. After a year of Emergency Room visits and still waiting for a rheumatologist, I left Montreal. At the time, it felt like I fleeing to save my life. In a way, I almost was.

After briefly returning home to the United States, I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my family on vacation. My body felt like it was crushing itself, and my morale was low because my family was criticizing me for leaving school. The day after my birthday, I was hospitalized again for over a week. I almost didn’t make it that time. My c-reactive protein, which measures inflammation levels, was at a level akin to someone who had just had a heart attack. I also had to receive nutrients through an IV and was incubated. Not receiving treatment, or a diagnosis, put my life on the line.

Unlike the hospitals in Montreal, the doctors in Puerto Vallarta tested me for a variety of rare diseases until I was diagnosed with vasculitis. They took me seriously.  Although I am grateful for their care, I am now terrified of going to hospitals.

I am afraid, after what happened to me in Montreal, that I will be told that all my symptoms are in my head. Like most people sharing their story through the hashtag #DoctorsAreDickheads, I’ve had my symptoms played down many times before. I am afraid that they will miss something, and then I will have to fight for my life again and again and again. I can assure you, being afraid of hospitals is not the best thing in the world when you have a chronic illness. I have found myself at a hospital for a scheduled appointment or an Emergency Room visit every week for the past two years. This does not look like it will change any time soon.

I need to work on my anxiety and not be afraid of hospitals anymore, but it is hard. My anxiety and what happened to me are not my fault, but I need to take my life back. Hospitals will never be a good place for me; frankly, they aren’t for anyone. But I do need to find a way to feel safe and not terrified in them.

Health Care Gender & Identity Love Life Stories Wellness

How the quest for my period helped me define my gender identity

“Who actually wants to have their period?”

My OBGYN stared at me in shock. After confirming that I wasn’t pregnant, she was truly surprised that someone who hadn’t had a period for 10 months would actually want to take the steps required to recover it.

I felt uncomfortable, so I made a thinly veiled joke about how pregnancy tests were expensive.

I walked out of the office that day with a prescription for a hormonal blood panel, an appointment for an ultrasound, and my skin feeling too tight. The appointment had been entirely too much talking about my body, which I did not like. I was told I was underweight, an evaluation with which I did not agree. I was also told that I was a woman, which I was uncertain about.

After a barrage of tests, an invasive ultrasound, and a confession of under-eating, I came away with a diagnosis: hypothalamic amenorrhea. Months of having an eating disorder had put me so far into ‘survival mode’ that my body had thought my reproductive organs so non-critical to survival that they’d been effectively turned off.

A part of me was rueful over the achievement: I’d managed to destroy a part of me that I couldn’t control. This was the part of me that meant I was always told to ‘act like a lady’.

Unfortunately, the lack of menstruating also heralded health problems. For people with uteruses, a functioning reproductive system can be important to your everyday health. The hormonal shifts during a person’s cycle can impact insulin sensitivity or even help you lift more weight. That means that menstrual cycle can actually be used as a tool to get stronger.

Even if I wasn’t interested in my uterus, I was interested in getting strong.

My doctor helped me devise a strategy to get better. It involved lowering how much I worked out, increasing how much food I ate – and enlisting a therapist to make sure those processes happened safely.

In the past, I’d called my period the ‘red rabbit’. I could scare it off with a hard run, or a bout of stress. Now, I saw it as something that was inherently me – something that my body needed to do to stay healthy. It wasn’t something to be scared away, but something to be celebrated.

But now, as I feebly tried to recapture my period, I had to answer an important question: who was I? 

For much of my childhood, I hid my body behind baggy pants and polo shirts. I owned several too-tight sports bras that would flatten my chest and I deliberately avoided pink like the plague. I used teenage anger to fight against my own femininity. I associated it with my abusive mother and tried to be anything she wasn’t. I wasn’t a woman like her. I defined myself by my maleness.

But now, I was chasing my period like a dream. I was confused.

As my hormones shifted, my priorities did as well. When my period came back, I welcomed it as a friend, instead of an adversary. I started to express my masculinity in different ways. I kept lifting and putting on muscle mass. I cut my hair into a short pixie cut that I could spike into a mohawk. The obvious portrayal of those values made me feel safe enough to start wearing earrings and bold makeup.

When my period came back, I celebrated it by maxing out my deadlifts and flexing in a mirror.

I reached out to my friends and confided in them that I was confused. I told them about the femaleness and maleness in me. I didn’t think they fit, but they had to because I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t want to be confined by gender roles. I needed help. My friends simply smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

I didn’t need to be one gender or the other and I didn’t need to choose. I could be both.

Now, I often have my hair cut short. I flex, often. And, I am even comfortable in a dress and makeup from time to time. I sign my name “Mx. Leach” and revel in my “theys and thems.”

My favorite picture is of me arrogantly smiling into the camera while proving to all of my male friends that I have larger biceps than them, while my poor fiance is trying to get me to put my arm down so for once there’s a nice picture of all of us – but I do not care because I am wholly ‘me’ in the picture.

I am a human in a body that has periods.