Imagine a stereotypical cowboy, leaning on a rail fence.
Imagine Charlie Brown and Linus, leaning on a wall as they discuss philosophy.
Now imagine me, half naked with my feet up in stirrups, and an OB/GYN standing between my exposed legs and leaning on them like said cowboy or Peanuts character.
This friendly, fatherly doctor leaned on me, perfectly at ease, one arm on each leg, while telling me about my IUD replacement options… then gave my bare thigh a friendly stroke before I stood up to get dressed. A stroke.
I felt unsettled for hours afterward, thinking in circles but telling myself that he meant no harm— surely. Some people are naturally touchy-feely, right? He was trying to make me comfortable, yeah? Wouldn’t it sound vain to suggest that maybe my ob/gyno was… taking advantage in some way? Either of my person or my powerlessness?
Thinking in circles didn’t make me feel any less violated or less trapped in my body.
This wasn’t my first appointment with him. Yes, he’d made me a little uneasy in the past. The way he rested his hand on my leg, as if I were furniture and not a nervous, pantsless foreigner, fighting hard to understand a new language. Keeping his hand on my breasts a little longer than necessary— did I imagine that? So I came back for this last visit, and then wished I hadn’t.
Two other Unwelcome Touching Incidents from my past:
- When I was a teenage dishwasher, a late-middle-aged customer somehow sneaked into the restaurant kitchen. Before I knew it, he put one arm around me and called me “little angel doll” as he pressed two dollars into my hand and kissed my head. This was the weekend of my sixteenth or seventeenth birthday; my best friend came to visit me after work, bringing ingredients to make pot roast and cornbread for my birthday dinner. I told her the whole story, felt filthy, and desperately wanted to scrub that stranger’s kiss off my hair. Little angel doll!
- One day in my freshman year of college, a classmate managed to casually brush his hand against my butt. Being a charitable Mormon girl, I assumed it was an accident. The next time he brushed my butt, we were performing in an opera chorus together and I was two seconds from going onstage. THAT was no accident, I thought angrily, entering house left, and no one else on campus has any trouble avoiding my ass.
Neither of those memories persuaded me to stay away from my current gynecologist. It was a fictional predatory teacher character from Alice in Charge by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. From chapter 12:
“He was always finding a reason, it seemed, to reach over us or around us. If his arm brushed against my breast, I’d think Did I just imagine that because he’s so handsome? If I thought his hand grazed my butt as I passed his desk and I turned to look, his attention was somewhere else, and I’d think, That didn’t happen.
“Yet it was the kind of thing you didn’t talk about seriously with your friends for fear they’d say, or think, You wish! We didn’t cluster around him, though, like we did with some of our favorite teachers. We made sure we weren’t the last girl out of the classroom. And what could we report, even? He might have brushed my breast? He possibly touched my butt? He was undressing me with his eyes, I think? Right.”
Just as none of my other classmates ever accidentally touched my butt, none of my other doctors have ever given me the creeps or made me question my own judgment.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was undoubtedly hoping to help teenagers, not 30-year-olds, but Alice and I had the same reaction: That didn’t happen.
Will I ever know the objective truth about this man’s motives? No.
Even if I believed him innocent and harmless, I’d want a better doctor; he didn’t take good notes and made unnecessary comments about my stretch marks (!).
Am I under any obligation to frequent a doctor who gives me the creeps? NO. Neither are you.
LESSON LEARNED: Pay attention to your own instincts. Know when to walk away, and know when to run.