Last summer, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. If you’ve ever seen the movie “50/50”, you have a pretty good understanding of what I went through, give or take a few details. For example, unlike Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, my odds of survival were very high. I also did not have the typical young urban professional office job at the time of my diagnosis. I was living in voluntary poverty at a commune near L.A.’s Skid Row, serving the poor and protesting military violence on a daily basis. Luckily for me, the “poverty” I lived in was extremely voluntary, so when the cancer crisis struck, I immediately flew to my cushy childhood bed in St. Paul and began chemotherapy at a plush hospital in Maplewood, MN. After several weeks of guilt-ridden angst about the comfort and privilege of my cancerous situation (What if I didn’t have health insurance? What if my parents had cut me off? What if, what if?) I accepted the fact that cancer is shitty, regardless of social class.
One thing that made it just a little shittier, and further sets my experience apart from that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is this: I’m gay. So if you’re a budding gay radical, what happens when the doctor tries to convince you that you must set aside sperm for future offspring in case the treatment causes infertility? You can:
A) Ignore the crucifix on the office wall and come out to him
B) Begin a rant about overpopulation and the thousands of children around the world in need to homes, or
C) Head to the sperm bank and give a donation even though you don’t really want to.
If you’re a budding gay radical who cannot let go of his passive aggressive Minnesota Nice, you choose letter C, which is exactly what I did.
At the sperm bank, a woman in medical garb (her name tag read “Chantal”) provided me with a plastic cup for what she called, “donation collection”, and a stack of grotesque heterosexual porn rags. I was already annoyed at this heteronormativity as I began my “donation process” with my pants around my ankles and my skin sticking to the cold leather chair, when I noticed a sign on the wall. The sign was obviously homemade, typed in Comic Sans on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper. It read:
10 Risky Behaviors That Lead to STDs
#1. Having sex with other men.
Again, I was faced with some options. I could:
A). Run screaming out into the hallway and chide the medical institution for their homophobia and unscientific bullshit, or
B) Quietly ejaculate into the cup while writing an angry letter in my head.
I chose letter B.
Fast-forward a few weeks – my hair is gone and I look and feel like shit. I still really want to go to PRIDE Twin Cities. To be honest, the entire parade is a blur except one outstanding image – a woman bouncing down the street wearing a fully-fledged sperm costume. It was like one a sports team mascot wears, complete with a flowing tail. And do you know who was underneath that silly sperm outfit? It was Chantal, the same woman who collected my “donation” at the sperm bank. There she was, dancing like an idiot in front of a crowd of unknowing homos, masking herself and her organization as allies for our community, when they clearly see us as sexual deviants and our sex lives as “risky”. So, I was presented with another choice:
A). Stand up, point an accusing finger at her and expose the homophobic hypocrisy behind her stupid costume or
B). Look on quietly and write an imaginary letter of complaint in my head.
You can probably guess I chose letter B and watched the proceedings, feeling sicker than cancer.
Before I knew it, cancer treatment was over. I returned to my college campus with a less than traditional answer to the “how was your summer” question, which I found out is too often asked without the expectation of a true response. Life returned to normal – a version of normality now dictated by the dilemmas of a cancer survivor, rather than a cancer patient. When someone asks, “Where were you on your 21st birthday?” do I answer:
A) At the bars pumping myself full of toxic liquid
B) In the hospital, pumping myself full of toxic liquid.
In truth, the answer is not important – the asker usually just wants to tell his or her 21st birthday tale and isn’t paying enough attention to differentiate between “bar” and “hospital”.
Photo by thaths