A good morning to everyone. There’s nothing like waking up, reading the daily news, and coming across a dishy item about a 39 year old rapper who takes his teenaged daughter to the gynecologist and demands that the doctor check to see that her hymen is still intact. I rubbed my eyes and wondered if it was true. But I’m sitting here listening to the podcast, Ladies Like Us, with Nazanin and Nadia, and T.I. Tip Harris is the guest. He’s talking very frankly about his life… and that of his children. And then I saw an article in the Washington Post about these revelations, which are just so completely fucked up that I can’t even fathom it.
T.I., otherwise known as Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., has made it an annual habit to accompany his 18 year old daughter, Deyjah Harris, to the gynecologist. Apparently, this began when she was 16. After Deyjah’s birthday party that year, he put a sticky note on her bedroom door that read “Gyno. Tomorrow. 9:30.”
He continues: “So we’ll go and sit down and the doctor comes and talk, and the doctor’s maintaining a high level of professionalism. He’s like, ‘You know, sir, I have to, in order to share information’ — I’m like, ‘Deyjah, they want you to sign this so we can share information. Is there anything you would not want me to know? See, Doc? Ain’t no problem.'”
So as I’m reading about this, I picture this poor teenaged girl lying there on the table, no doubt in a flimsy hospital gown, and wearing no undergarments. It’s her first time being examined, which I remember from my own experience was very nervewracking and embarrassing. Her father and a male doctor are standing there talking about whether or not she still has her hymen intact. The male doctor, to his credit, lets T.I. know that the hymen can break for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with sex. Lots of women have lost theirs riding horses and bikes. I participated heavily in both of those activities when I was a teenager, but I remained a virgin until I was 30 years old and married for two weeks. I don’t think I still had a hymen when Bill and I finally consummated our marriage, but I sure as hell was a virgin. Just ask Bill!
But then T.I. says, “Look doc — she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bikes, she don’t play no sports, man — just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.” He added: “I will say, as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact.”
What the fuck! Where the hell is her mother? If I had a daughter and her father tried something like this, I would kick his ass. And what is up with the doctor, allowing this to happen? HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) allows for patients to give permission to medical professionals to share their private information with others. However, it seems to me that if T.I. is comfortable enough to force his daughter to go to the gyno with him in tow, she probably wouldn’t be comfortable in asking him to GTFO of the exam room. If she had, she would likely pay for it later at home. It saddens me that the gynecologist didn’t do a better job of advocating for his patient, whose private medical information is now international news.
Speaking of gynecologists, Canadian OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter, author of The Vagina Bible, has also weighed in on this. She shared the above video on Facebook. I see it was uploaded on November 1, which makes it especially timely today. She also posted on Twitter about why hymen testing is not a “thing” and T.I.’s actions are so completely inappropriate and abusive. Included in Dr. Gunter’s tweets is this screenshot from the World Health Organization.
The first gynecological exam can be very stressful. It certainly was for me. Here’s where I will share even more TMI, so if you’re squeamish, you may want to stop reading. I have no shame, so I’m going to write this very personal story for the interested. Regular readers may have already read this.
I am 47 years old and, to date, I have only had two “gyno” exams. Both were done at the behest of the U.S. government, because I was going to be moving overseas. The first exam happened when I was 22 years old and needed a Pap smear and pelvic exam prior to joining the Peace Corps and moving to Armenia for two years. At the time, I was still considered a “dependent”, since I was under age 23 and my dad was a retired Air Force officer, so I was able to get my physical done for free at a military treatment facility. Actually, I probably could have had it done for free anyway, since this was for a government assignment. But I spent my whole young life going to military doctors, so I wasn’t particularly afraid. In retrospect, I wish I had sprung for a civilian doctor.
Anyway… it was April 1995, and I had to drive all the way from Gloucester, Virginia to Hampton, Virginia– city of my birth. Fort Eustis, which is in Newport News and was closer to my parents’ home, has medical facilities, but did not do women’s exams at the time. In fact, the doctor at Fort Eustis told me that I didn’t “need” an exam, since I was sexually inactive. However, the Peace Corps required that I have one done, so off I went to Hampton– probably a good hour’s drive from home.
I arrived at the hospital on Langley Air Force Base, which is where I would have been born, had the hospital’s maternity ward not been full on the day I entered the world. I was totally unfamiliar with the place, since I had always gotten my routine medical care done at Fort Eustis or the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Virginia. I finally found the women’s clinic, which had pictures of babies all over the dingy walls. I filled out a typewritten form about the particulars of why I was there. I was alone and very nervous. A kind nurse tried to reassure me that the female doctor, an Air Force major who was an OB-GYN, would be gentle. I wasn’t so sure, but I tried to relax until I was called into the exam room.
The doctor was a white woman wearing an Air Force uniform. I still remember her name, but I’m sure she’s long forgotten me. She seemed older and kind of masculine to me, although she was probably in her 30s. I was directed to pee, then get naked. There was a paper sheet on the table that I was to get under. A black nurse was also in the room, supposedly to “chaperone”. I remember thinking she seemed kind of over it and unsympathetic to how nervous and upset I was.
So there I was, lying on the table as this doctor also told me I didn’t “need” an exam, since I wasn’t sexually active. I told her I needed to get it done for my Peace Corps physical. She said “Very well,” then proceeded to use a metal speculum that was too big. It hurt, and I let out a surprised yelp of pain. Noticing that the speculum was too big, she removed it and used a smaller one, which also really hurt. I screamed and felt very lightheaded– I was probably hyperventilating a bit, but it also hurt so much that I seriously thought I was going to faint.
“Hon, if you can’t be quiet, we can’t do this exam.” the doctor said in a stern tone of voice. I HATE being called “Hon”, probably moreso now because of this incident. But since I didn’t want to go through this again with another doctor, I bit my lip and she finished. She told me to get dressed and see her in her office, which I did.
I sat across from her at her desk as she told me that she hadn’t gotten “world’s best exam”, because I had been so tense and uncooperative. However, despite that, it looked like “everything was okay down there”. She advised me to lose weight, since she somehow knew I would be gaining weight in Armenia (I actually lost a lot of weight in training, but gained some back). Then she asked me if I wanted birth control. Since I wasn’t having sex at that point and my periods weren’t a problem, I said no. She sent me on my way, and I drove all the way back to Gloucester feeling totally humiliated and violated. My parents– particularly my mom– were quite unsympathetic. I was very happy when I got a postcard in the mail, indicating that my exam results had been normal.
It took another twelve years before I had another “gyno” exam done. I had tried to have one done by the Peace Corps Medical Officer at the end of my Peace Corps assignment in 1997, but I ended up freaking out and refused. That was a similarly embarrassing incident that I’ll save for another blog post, since this one is getting long. For now, I’ll fast forward to 2007, when Bill was in Iraq and I was preparing for our first move to Germany. The Army required that I have a physical and be screened for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). I did end up having to enroll in EFMP because I was once treated for depression, but again– another rant for another day.
So in 2007, I was fortunate enough to have a kind friend who was very familiar with the medical staff at DeWitt Army Hospital (now defunct) at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. She helped me choose a very understanding physician’s assistant who, at that time, was doing well women’s exams. She has since moved on to cardiology.
Anyway, this P.A. was gruff at first, but then I explained what had happened at my first and only gyno exam in 1995. She then proceeded to give me a completely painless exam, which caused more tears– partly because I was so relieved to be done with it and partly because I now knew that the first exam shouldn’t have been so painful and traumatic! There was no chaperone when the second exam was done.
After the exam, the P.A. gave me a big hug and talked to me for a few minutes until I calmed down. The exam had been so stressful that my blood pressure was sky high. She was convinced that I had high blood pressure, and I had to prove to her I didn’t by submitting to a 24 hour blood pressure test which involved wearing a monitor that took my blood pressure every twenty minutes. I was left with a bruised arm and a diagnosis of white coat hypertension. To this day, simply walking into a military hospital makes my pressure shoot into the stratosphere. That’s why I haven’t seen a doctor since 2010, even though I know I could use some screenings.
I think about those times having those exams done, as bad as they were– and how much worse they would have been if I had been a teenager and my dad was in the room with me, demanding to know if my hymen was still intact. I don’t have a problem with the fact that Deyjah’s doctor was a man. I saw a female doctor and she turned out to be horrible. I think male doctors are capable of being kind and sensitive when they do pelvic exams and Pap smears, just as I know some women doctors are insensitive and cruel when they do them. Doctors who are treating teenagers should be mindful that teens aren’t always in a position to say no when their parents demand to be there for an exam. Deyjah Harris probably didn’t feel like she could refuse to allow her dad to supervise her gyno exam. BuzzFeed notes that Miss Harris liked several tweets criticizing her dad for not giving her appropriate privacy. My guess is that she would have preferred that T.I. not have inserted himself in the exam room and demanded a “hymen check”. And shame on the doctor for not telling T.I. that hymen checks are not a “thing”!
Now that Deyjah Harris is eighteen and in college, she is legally an adult. Why her father is still so interested in her virginity is beyond me. I truly hope someone understanding talks to her and lets her know that her body belongs to her, and that her self worth isn’t tied to virginity. It’s extremely inappropriate, possessive, controlling, and just all around fucked up that her dad cares so much about virginity, even pointing out that “virgins are no fun”. I just can’t stand it. It’s just totally creepy and misogynistic. Yuck.