Rectal Bleeding And The Supreme Court

You don’t really know empathy until you’re bleeding from your ass.

While traveling, I made two unpleasant discoveries in rapid succession: I had developed a hemorrhoid, and it had developed a fissure that was seeping blood. {1}

There’s two pertinent details worth mentioning.

First, I realized that it was a problem rather suddenly after the blood had already gone through my underwear and was beginning to penetrate the fabric of my shorts.

Second, I had forgotten to bring extra underwear.

Sitting in someone else’s bathroom, realizing my clothes were stained and the problem wasn’t immediately going away, I remembered similar scenes from Turning Red and the Big Mouth episode "Everybody Bleeds." It’s a scene that I imagine most uterus-having persons have experienced.

I borrowed the use of my host’s laundry room, as well as several "sanitary napkins" to avoid staining any furniture or my remaining clean pair of shorts.

I thought I was pretty understanding and non-judgmental about menses and the inconvenience of "sanitary products."

The non-judgmental bit turned out to be true.

The understanding bit… well, I got a very visceral lesson in the difference between what I thought an experience was like and what it’s really like. {2}

And that’s just the "lite" version without cramps that only lasted a day and (hopefully!) won’t recur every couple of weeks.

As much as I thought I understood what having a period was like, the experience of having a bloody bit of fabric stuck to my underwear quickly convinced me that I had no idea whatsoever. Non-uterine-having-folks, however unpleasant you think that sensation might be… it’s worse.

That distance between what you think you know and experiencing it is something all too common with well-meaning people with privilege. For example, there’s a particular type of (pretty much always) white male college student who has discovered libertarianism for the first time.

Now, I’m not talking about selfish libertarians here, nor am I talking about the willfully ignorant type of libertarian that gained such prominence with COVID-19.

No, to this guy — and this is why it’s almost always guys — libertarianism seems to make sense. Because that cishetwhiteguy has, invisibly, been standing at the top of a heap of privilege, so the idea of doing things solely based on "merit" seems really reasonable and fair.

Once you’re aware of privilege, the idea of merit alone seems hopelessly innocent, because privilege is real and embedded into society’s rules whether one likes it or not.

But something that seems to get lost in discussions of invisible knapsacks is that they are often invisible to the people who benefit from them. So our guy genuinely believes that things are essentially fair, that everyone starts off in roughly the same place, and has approximately the same chances.

He knows there are other difficulties are out there. He knows how hard it was to get to where he is. He may even be intellectually aware that there are other forces at work, that systemic racism and discrimination exists.

But he doesn’t know how much harder it is. Not really.

Because, thanks to the privilege he isn’t aware of and can’t feel, the best he can do to really grok that experience is to compare it to something in his own life… where he never had to deal with it.

Kind of like how my bleeding ass gave me just a little more insight into what it must be like for those who have periods.

I am sincerely hoping that a large number of the supporters and cheerleaders of last week’s SCOTUS decision gutting affirmative action fall into this category. The kind of person who just needs to have that knapsack unpacked. The kind of person who would realize that arguments about "merit" fall apart if you poke them. The kind of person who would advocate for addressing the issue earlier by investing in education in poor areas, by supporting historically disadvantaged families and communities, and so on.

But given the huge promises of support for families and children by the right wing after Dobbs, and the minor band-aid measures (at best) implemented in the year since, I’m not holding my breath.

So I’ll just settle for writing this, and hoping that they all get to experience bleeding from their ass. {3}

{1} One of the scans I did in my two decades as a nuclear medicine technologist was to evaluate for gastrointestinal bleeding. That experience is why I felt comfortable not hauling ass (pun intended) to an emergency room or urgent care. If you experience rectal bleeding that persists, or if it’s dark or tarry, please have it evaluated by a medical professional.
{2} The whole point here is that a written description falls short, so I’m going to spare you the details here. And uterine-having people, I can hear y’all laughing! 🙂
{3} I mean that metaphorically. Mostly metaphorically, anyway.

Featured Image by David Mark from Pixabay