Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Of Shoes, Bees, and Perfume

I went out of town this past weekend to visit my friend Marni, author of the awesome Awkward and upcoming September release, Decked with Holly. I came home with four more pairs of shoes than I left with. I don't know what it is about shoes and vacations with me, but I think over half my shoes have been purchased on vacation. It's as if, upon arrival, I immediately deem all my thoughtfully packed footwear options loathsome, inappropriate, unworthy.

I often have some ridiculous excuse, too. "Oh, is it raining? I didn't realize it would be raining in the Olympic Peninsula!" "Oh, is there walking required? I appear to have only packed heels and dress shoes." It's not like these trips are a surprise to me; I'm the one planning them. I think I will have to chalk it up to some sort of weird subconscious need for a fun setting to buy shoes in. I was certainly happy dancing around in the store in a pair of peep-toe pumps on Saturday before I bought them.

By contrast, I rarely buy perfume on vacation. I've only done it once or twice. I don't know why that is. In theory, I like the idea of buying perfume on vacation. I like the idea of associating a beautiful scent with a particular place and time. But then, when the vacation arrives, I never find myself hankering for a perfume store.

I think it has to do with my impulse to tie scents to certain kinds of weather. Let's face it: what I think works in sunny L.A. in July is not going to be a "go to" scent for me nine to ten months a year in Portland. Based on that premise, I'm always hesitant to buy a whole bottle that will take me years to get through if I'm not sure it works in my ordinary life, and not just in my vacation life.

Speaking of vacations, seasons, and perfume, here's a fun thing that happened this sunny Spring weekend. I was covered in beeeeeeeees!

Spring flowers!
So pretty. So deadly...
Okay, that's not really accurate. I was neither covered, nor was it fun. I was in beautiful Ashland, Oregon, sitting on a bench, minding my own beeswax when I got stung. This is not a big deal for normal people, but I have an allergy to bees/wasps/yellowjackets/hornets that required a trip to the local ER even after I used my epipen Saturday evening.

The worst past of this scenario was that the bee, after stinging me, would not leave me alone. It flew into my hair and I had to get Marni to fish it out so I wouldn't get stung again. Then, on Sunday, I was basically chased into my car by a second bee. I've been trying to figure out what I did, because I was in and out of doors unmolested most of the time, then other moments were positively fraught with peril.

Marni kept blaming my shampoo (which admittedly includes a strong honey base), but I wasn't stung or chased immediately after I washed my hair. FN1. Upon further reflection, I realized both my sting on Saturday and my near miss on Sunday almost immediately followed the application of perfume. Yep. Saturday I sprayed on Hermés Un Jardin en Méditerranée right before I went outside and got stung. On Sunday, DSH Perfumes Spring Moss was the attractor. I put some on, then went to my car to look for my keys and ended up cowering inside the vehicle until the bee gave up and buzzed away. FN2.
Exciting ER times were had!

This is an exceptionally troubling realization for me, dear reader. My allergy has progressed to the point that I really can't risk things like camping or hiking in places where it would take more than 15 minutes for an ambulance to get to me or for me to reach an ER. And while death by bee sting is not exactly the way I'm hoping to go, I love my perfume too much to give it up.

This is complicated by the fact that bees seem weirdly attracted to me (I've been stung 8-10 times over the last 26 years, which is a ridiculously high amount) and the college has decided to install bee hives in the quad outside the building where I live. For serious.  They have attached two hives to the building, one by each entrance. while I've pointed out (loudly and repeatedly) that I feel this is a negligence suit waiting to happen, I take little comfort in the notion that David will be well-compensated when the college accidentally kills me with its urban bee population support efforts.

So what's a bee-allergy-ridden perfumista to do, dear reader? Give up my juice, at least until we move? Demand a plastic bubble for all future out of doors adventures? Become a vampire and hide indoors during daylight? FN3. I don't relish any of these ideas, but I like them more than dying. Also, I have to go to work which requires leaving my apartment, so I don't know what to do about the bees outside my building.

Maybe I need to research the kinds of scents that are repellent to, or at least do not attract, bees, and then try to find perfumes that strongly feature those notes? I don't know. This is going to take some creative perfumey thinking. However, I feel I am up to the challenge. If anyone has any suggestions, please comment below.

FN1. Chased is an exaggeration. It feels like chasing. It's probably more like random bee meandering in my general direction, which makes my bee-related hypervigilance kick into high gear. I fear I have, at least temporarily, transferred said same hypervigilance to Marni.  Sorry, Marni.

FN2. The keys were later located in the trash, because all the medication from Saturday night still had me totally whacked out. 

FN3. This last option is particularly appealing to me for a number of reasons, but since I am already on a heavy daily dose of Vitamin D because of my lack of sunshine, it's probably not the best idea.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I know. I'm a neglectful fool, slack and lazy with your attention and hearts. I have no real excuse other than pleading busy. In the last three weeks I've had work plus: a public debate on reproductive freedom against a priest and a professional anti-choicer; gave a two hour lecture on the history of American feminism and the internal conflicts it still faces; and an eighty-person surprise party for my lively husband yesterday, which was a complete success thanks in equal parts to my lovely friends who pitched in and my ability to sustain a series of increasingly complex cascading lies. Apparently these people whom I love and have spent most of my adult life with had no idea I could carry a lie (I suppose knowing little to nothing about being both an an alcoholic's enabler and a domestic violence victim from the moment of conception) and were both a little frightened and impressed.

One friend: Well, I guess you are a lawyer.
Me: Yep. I have a doctorate in lying. (laughs) Actually, I've always been a good liar. That's why I don't do it anymore.
Other friend: Because once you lie once, you have to keep lying.
Me: No. Because it's so easy. It's so much easier to tell people what they want to hear. Once you start doing it, it's hard to stop. The truth is harder. That's why I don't care if people think I'm kind of a pain in the ass. I'd rather tell people the hard truth than lie to them. It's just my way.
Me: More drinks?

I have no perfume reviews for you yet, sadly. I will tell you that I wore L'Artisan Vanilia to the party (it was a bright, airy, afternoon thing) and for evening cocktails switched to slumberhouse Rume.

And to keep you tided over until the next few days when I can give you some reviews, I'll offer this: If you are missing out on either Downton Abbey (first season on Hulu Plus and Netflix Streaming) of Smash (Hulu Plus), you're missing some pretty entertaining hour long drama.

Downtown Abbey trailer

Smash trailer

They are both great shows with interesting characters and dynamic scripts.  You should check them out.

Also, I need to announce the winner of the Hunger Games drawing.  Without further ado:

True Random Number Service
List Randomizer

There were 4 items in your list. Here they are in random order:

Timestamp: 2012-04-09 05:40:25 UTC

Congratulations Beth! Please email feminine(dot)things @ gmail(dot)com with your mailing info so I can send out your package.

Thanks all for hanging on while I run around like a chicken with my head cut off.  Later this week I'll have review for you, along with questions about long distance moving and road trip travel suggestions.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Some thoughts on "Post-Abortion Trauma"

Trigger Warning: Not About Perfume. This piece is written in response to a panel discussion on Abortion I participated in recently at a local university. There were a number of issues I did not get to address, but promised students afterwards I would follow-up on. Because it may be useful to others, I am going to use this space to do that. For you perfumey types, I hope you'll indulge me.

I wanted to say a few words here about the concept of "post-abortion trauma" because it was referred to over and over during a panel discussion by the representative from Oregon Right to Life. The heavy reliance on this condition as one of the ills women suffer after abortions that mean we should make it illegal made me feel it was something I haven't really addressed in all my writing about reproductive rights, and I thought I'd throw it up here.

First, I think it's important to recognize that "Post-Abortion Trauma"/"Post-Abortion Syndrome" is not recgonized by the medical or psychiatric community at large as a medical diagnosis. It does not appear in the DSM-IV (last published in 1994) or in the more recent supplement (published in 2001). Further, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association do not recognize PAS/PAT as an actual diagnosis or condition. It is not listed in the ICD-10 list of psychiatric conditions.

This is significant because the term was first coined in 1981 by Vincent Rue, a pro-life advocate, in testimony before Congress, which means the medical community has had over thirty years to determine if it exists. FN1. Indeed, Rue himself acknowledged in his original testimony that what he believed he was seeing was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but choose to coin a specific term for PTSD as he believed it related to abortion. This does nothing for medicine; it is, however, one hell of a political strategy. In fact, most studies that try to replicate the results of surveys demonstrating the existence of this condition -- the hallmark of any scientific research being that the results are independently verifiable -- find that the alleged science supporting the 'syndrome' is largely without merit or foundation. FN2.

Science not withstanding, there are lots of women out there who have had an abortion, and who have also suffered (and perhaps continue to suffer) from trauma. And I think, if you really consider the issues, it is clear why.

One of my favorite quotes about reproductive issues actually comes from a Catholic Pro-Life Activist, Frederica Mathewes-Green. She said, "No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg."

Most women -- I won't say all -- but I can say most women, and certainly every women I have ever spoken to who has had the experience, has obtained an abortion because she was under duress prior to having the abortion. That may be because she has recently survived a sexual assault or because she is currently experiencing ongoing violence from an intimate partner in the form of non-consensual forced sex (i.e. martial/relationship-based rape or incest) or domestic violence or both. Other forms of duress include the inability to financially support the child due to severe and ongoing poverty that includes the threat of or actual joblessness, homelessness, hunger, and lack of physical safety. These are traumatic experiences in their own right. They require counseling in their own right. And particularly when they represent repeated or ongoing traumatic experiences, they tend to develop into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a phenomenon medically and scientifically confirmed and well-documented among victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Having an abortion is a difficult decision. I don't know a single woman who has taken it lightly. And yet, as someone who had one, and who needed counseling after, I can tell you with simple honesty that the trauma I needed counseling for was related to the circumstances that lead to my decision, not my decision to have an abortion. Had I never been pregnant, I still would have experienced PSTD and needed the intensive therapy I've received. When I grieve my situation, it isn't my abortion I grieve. I made the decision in the moment that was right for me; I don't think anyone I've known, then or since, thinks I would have been better served by having a child in those circumstances. What I grieve is that an entire community let my abuse, and my brother's abuse and my grandparents' abuse, go on for years without helping us. This distinction is an important one, because I suspect many women the Right/anti-choice advocates would like to diagnose with PAS/PAT are like me: women who experienced trauma they never received treatment for.

Further, I think it is critical to talk about even the small minority who might indicate that their abortion was a traumatic experience. First, any medical procedure can be traumatic, and I don't deny that. But imagine if -- every time a person had to have their appendix removed -- they had to face the following: taking time off work to travel a great distance to find someone to perform their procedure; extensive oppositional counseling they are required by law to sit through, despite already knowing they want the procedure to go forward; being sent away for up to 72 hours to 'reconsider' their decision to have the procedure; being called names and protested in writing and imagery each time they attempted to enter or exit the medical facility; not being able to tell people about the procedure for fear that they will be verbally and/or physically assaulted, disowned by their families and friends, thrown out of their homes, and shunned by their religious communities.

Abortions today happens in shame and silence in large part because anti-choicers are focused on 'personhood,' as though a pregnant woman is not a person; on the 'pre-born,' because they refuse to acknowledge that there is a period before viability wherein there is no distinct person, but rather a growing collection of cells that may one day be a person but at that time is dependent on a woman to survive; and on the idea that women who become pregnant were asking for it because they had sex.

There is incredible shaming that surrounds sex and anything that goes with it, from pregnancy (wanted and unwanted, because being a single and/or young and/or poor and/or unwed mother in this country isn't a status that is valued or protected by the same political activists who oppose abortion) to contraception for the purposes of preventing unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease to the consensual act of two people expressing physical aspects of love and care outside the bounds of marriage (some of whom are not even legally allowed to marry).

If women fifty or sixty years later still carry a degree of shame and sadness over an abortion, it likely stems from the circumstances that drove them to make that decision in the first place and the complete lack of support they received before, during, and after and/or a subsequent failure to obtain therapy for those related traumas. It is because she felt she could not honestly tell anyone she'd had sex, or been raped, and become pregnant without fearing of being called names or beaten or shunned or left homeless or even killed. And she had an abortion and continued to keep her silence because she lived in fear of being called names or beaten or shunned or left homeless or even killed. That is traumatic. The shamming itself is traumatic. The silence is damaging, deafening, to women who have abortions and the same silence likely only serves to continue the terrible circumstances that led her to feel an abortion was necessary in the first place.

[A woman] wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. Making hard choices because you have to in order to survive, to protect your physical, emotional, and mental safety for another hour, another day? That's traumatic. And it's related to the socio-economic circumstances that lead to abortion and the way abortion opponents work to shame and silence and punish the women who have abortions, not the abortion itself.

After having an abortion, a woman is often called: a baby killer, a murderer, a slut, a whore. She is told she will be going to hell, that her life and soul are forfeit. She is told she should beg forgiveness. She is asked if it is okay to kill her now, too. I've heard it all myself, some of it just this week in the wake of doing the panel. FN4.

But if a woman has the child, she is often still going to be called: a slut, a whore, a welfare queen, stupid, loose, and immoral. There is no winning position once unwanted pregnancy occurs. A woman with an unexpected, unwanted, and unintended pregnancy can only lose. That's the world we live in. It is a world that tells young women their greatest value is as an object of male desire and simultaneously punishes them for wandering into that trap or for trying to use that small wedge of power to save themselves.

If we want to start talking about kinds of trauma and naming psychoses as politically advantageous things, then I have an equally appropo name: "post-unwanted pregnancy traumatic syndrome." Because whether a woman has a baby or an abortion, if she is poor or undereducated, if she is unmarried, if she is dependent on social services to survive, and even if she is raped, she will be told it is her fault and she should be ashamed, most frequently by the people and organizations who claims to love her and have her best interests in mind.

Who wouldn't find that traumatic?

She heads for the clinic
and she gets some static walkin' through the doors.
They call her a killer
and they call her a sinner
and they call her a whore.
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes.
'Cause then you really might know
what it's like to have to choose.

~ "What It's Like," Everlast

FN1. Vincent Rue, "Abortion and Family Relations," testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Senate, 97th Congress, Washington, DC (1981).

FN2. See:

~ NE Adler, HP David, BN Major, SH Roth, NF Russo and GE Wyatt, "Psychological responses after abortion" Science 6 April 1990, Vol. 248 no. 4951 pp. 41-44, DOI: 10.1126/science.2181664

~ Joyce, Christopher (1989-12-16). "Reagan's officials 'suppressed' research on abortion". New Scientist. Archived from the original on 14 March 2008.

~ Edwards, S (1997). "Abortion Study Finds No Long-Term Ill Effects On Emotional Well-Being". Fam Plann Perspect 29 (4): 193–194. doi:10.2307/2953388. JSTOR 2953388.

~ Steinberg JR, Russo NF (July 2008). "Abortion and anxiety: what's the relationship?". Soc Sci Med 67 (2): 238–52. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.03.033. PMID 18468755.

~ "Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 2008-08-28.
Carey, Benedict (2008-08-12). "Abortion Does Not Cause Mental Illness, Panel Says". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-12.

~  "Is Post-Abortion Syndrome Just a Myth?," CBSNews, 2008.

~ "Abortion not seen linked with depression: Review of studies found no evidence of emotional harm after procedure," MSNBC, December 4, 2008.

~ Abortion Does Not Cause Mental Illness, Panel Says, August 12, 2008, New York Times,

~ The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion, Planned Parenthood research paper and literature survey.

FN3. Jones, Hughes, & Unterstaller, 2001, has a good and accessible review of the supporting literature. Link also here. "HOPE for battered women with PTSD in domestic violence shelters" by Dawn M. Johnson and Caron Zlotnick is also an interesting article on PTSD and treatment as it related to intimate partner violence, which you can find here.

 FN4. To be clear, those sending me the emails don't appear to be associated with the university community, but random people who showed up. I can only assume they were brought out by the anti-choice organization's mailing list as their emails are riddled with the same language the official representative on the panel used.